George Rodrigue and I returned to New Orleans early August as though our old lives were a dream.
It’s hard to believe we threw parties in this house, I mused, as we settled into our sofa and BBC television.
“I barely remember going out to dinner,” countered George.
Meanwhile, artist Glenda Banta asked me on-line about our home, about sharing snippets of collections and décor (Ha!) within my blog and on facebook. I dreamed, or rather nightmared, as I thought about it, recalling New Orleans designer Nadine Blakein our Creole townhouse last May for a friend’s birthday party the night before we left for three days, which became three months, in Houston.
With southern grace she complimented our living room, yet I recall with horror her talented eye scanning our eclectic mess. I also remember that night as the last time I wore a dress, heels, or make-up, the last time I small-talked, the last time I sipped champagne.
(pictured, The Roaring Twenties in our previous life)
George and I have no use for decorators, and I mean that without offense to their profession, but nevertheless literally. If we hired one, it would become full-time work, sort of like our contractor on the payroll for twenty years, currently repairing our roof and garage. The decorator could live in the guestroom, I suppose, on call for shifts between museum exhibitions, as artwork disappears and materializes, sometimes one piece, but more often ten or twenty, on loan for a month, maybe a year, leaving us, as was the case upon our return a few weeks ago, with blank walls and empty nails.
To compound matters, we dissembled my office adjacent to our bedroom, creating a temporary studio for George, who sits at his easel for the first time since February after months of back and shoulder pain. This return is in his own time, now every day, some for thirty minutes, some for hours, as he heals slowly, at last nourishing his psyche as well as his body.
(pictured, for three weeks George has worked on this painting of a barn, surrounded in my office by my mother’s paintings of angels and planets; click photo to enlarge-)
A decorator in our home faces not only the hodge-podge of our legacy, my parents’ Asian and European furniture, everything from Thailand to Bavaria, and George’s New Iberia treasures, including his boyhood rocker and his father’s brick-laying tools, but also our disconnected taste in art, everything from 17th century South America to 20thcentury New York, from the novice potter at the craft fair to Warhol’s John Wayne.
Mix in Rodrigue, his student works, his Oaks and Cajuns, his Nudes, his Photography, his Sculpture, and, commanding it all with its presence, his Blue Dog, and you realize our self-induced and, admittedly, enviable challenge.
Although I took photos, I post in this blog, after much reflection, only a few. Tempted to share more, I’m guarded in this privacy, despite the personal vignettes within my writing. Several years ago, we ceased opening our home to fundraisers and strangers. Even with photographs, to do so now feels exposed to the point of no return, like, your consolation, admitting to the Shaun Cassidy poster taped for years to the back of my bedroom door.
(pictured: Before hanging in our living room, Rodrigue’s Shu-fly, 1999, decorated a window at Bergdorf Goodman, NYC; also pictured, 17th century crucifixion with human hair, Peru; puppet of Georgia O’Keeffe by Armand Lara, 2005; 18th century horse, a child’s toy from Peru; portrait by Fritz Scholder, 1997; click photo to enlarge-)
It so happens that today we hang a new piece of artwork, a 7-foot painting by Mallory Page, an abstract from her series “Tree House” (pictured below, on left), eventually headed to George’s studio in Carmel, but today filling the spot in New Orleans left by his Indians, Cajuns and Cowboys, currently on loan to the Amarillo Museum of Art.
The purchase was not without adventure. We planned to buy a Page last spring, but George’s health distracted us. Still on his mind, he sent me to her gallery immediately upon our New Orleans return, choosing a painting before the frenzy of White Linen Night.
For the first time since May, I donned a dress and heels. I tried eye make-up but felt clownish, settling for a lip pencil and a bit of gloss. Wearing a Jergens tan and dull-rooted hair, its only attribute that it now reaches mid-back, I drove, also for the first time since May, venturing towards the Arts District and a life that seems like it now belongs to someone else.
-click photo to enlarge-
Self-conscious in my world and attune to the vulnerability in her abstracts, I chose quickly and easily at Page’s gallery, rushing back the two blocks to my car. In the street, my 2007 Louboutin wedges caught a NOLA pothole, and as my ankle twisted, my flouncy dress flew to my waist. I sat on the hot asphalt shedding hot tears until a man, a male Jerusha Bailey,* offered me a hand.
“You shore have nice legs,” he said.
I watched him walk on, whispered thank you too late, and absorbed the first compliment I’d heard in months.
And I wondered without worrying if, like George’s mother, we now live, for better or worse, a bit lost in the past.
*Jerusha Bailey is a chain-smoking, offensive, sometimes redeemable, sometimes homeless New Orleans character in Patty Friedmann‘s Secondhand Smoke (2002), available at your favorite independent bookstore–