July 14, 2014
On our last day in New Orleans, T was telling a NOLA local about one of our excursions from a couple of days prior. “You know that area where you turn left on Claibourne and then go under the freeway?”
The local frowned and one corner of his mouth crooked up.
“I know what you’re thinking,” I said. “What were we doing in that part of town?”
“Exactly. What would you go down there for?”
“I read that Zora Neale Hurston lived in a house at this particular address when she was studying with a hoodoo doctor and writing Mules and Men.”
“Yeah, like eighty years ago,” he said. “The place is probably torn down by now.”
Back before I had gotten on the plane out of Albuquerque, I had written down the address from Valerie Boyd’s biography on Zora Neale Hurston, Wrapped in Rainbows. Now, on our second day in New Orleans, I was sitting next to T in the car as we cruised down Claibourne Ave and I studied the GPS on my iPhone. I directed T to turn right onto Amelia Street.
The neighborhood looked a little worse for wear. Yards unkempt, houses that appeared to tilt on their cinder block supports, windows boarded up. I peered at the house numbers, psyching myself up to hop out of the car, snap pictures all lickety-split and stealthy-like, then hop back in the car and speed away.
T said, “Is it like a museum? What’s it called? Is there a sign?”
Museum? I don’t know where she got the idea we were looking for a museum. And I suddenly didn’t have the heart to tell her that there was no museum.
There wasn’t even a house.
The numbers jumped from 2746 to 2742.
2744 Amelia Street no longer existed.
My heart sank.
“It’s not here,” I said. “It’s gone.”
“Do you want to circle back around? Drive through again and get a shot of the neighborhood at least?” T asked. Later, she admitted she’d been secretly hoping I’d say no.
I sighed. “That’s okay. I guess we can move on to Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo down on Bourbon Street.” At least Zora had written about Marie Laveau in Mules and Men. There was some connection there.
“Let’s get some coffee first,” T said. As we headed towards the trendier, more affluent part of town where we would eventually stop in at HiVolt for T’s vanilla iced coffee and my espresso shot, I was still lost in the daydream of Zora back in the day: living in New Orleans, studying hoodoo, and working on the book that would become an important collection of African American stories and culture, and that would have a significant impact on my writing as well.
“I wonder what that neighborhood looked like back in 1928,” I said.
“I bet it was really nice,” said T, as she drove us away from there as fast as she could.