Monday, September 19, 2005


DSCN0849 Cafe Maspero, Pen in one hand, martini in the other.

All right, this is something I tell few people. See, people think I'm strange enough as it is. I try to make them understand my life, I really do, but I'm not surprised by the perplexed responses I get:

You mean you spend half the day with the shades down writing? And you make no money from it? Those little honorariums you get from literary magazines? No, those don't count, honey. We're talking real money here, the kind that pays the rent, fills the gas tank.

Then the other half of the day, you (unwisely) open the shades as you walk around the house thinking about your imaginary friends, excuse me, "characters". I see. Come to think of it, a couple of times I've seen you through the windows, nodding in agreement with this one, violently disagreeing with that one. Wouldn't it be more productive to, er, do a little dusting or something? Knit sweaters? Learn to speak Swedish maybe?

Explanations are useless. Either you get it or you don't. But here's a confession I've never made to my family, but which I decided to disclose for some unknown reason on the worldwide web: I hate vacations. I know a week in the islands, lying on the beach, drinking Bahama Mamas is some people's idea of a good time. But I'd rather stay home. Nor is the idea of traipsing around, dutifully eyeing every tourist attraction that any fool with a camera has already captured all that appealing. I mean, I don't altogether hate it, but still...I'm sorry, but I'd rather stay home.

Why? Because my work, that crazy and unrenumerative pursuit I've already described, is at home. And I love my work. More than a strip of white sand and some turquoise waters. More than the midnight buffet on a cruise. More even than the world's most avidly photographed attractions.

And besides, I live in an area frequented by tourists, and I frequently wonder how much they actually see. Sure, they visit all the right spots. As anyone in a tourist zone knows, they visit places that the natives never get around to checking out. Why? Because the natives are too busy living. Which brings me to my point:

I don't like vacations, but I absolutely love going to a new place to live for a week or two. The difference is that when you live in a place, you get up in the morning and go to work. You interact with the people of that place in a different way because they're working and so are you. You establish routines. And yeah, you'd love to go to some of those highly touted tourist attractions, but like the natives, you're too busy living.

This is where the great part of being a writer comes in, the part that almost makes up for the disapproval of friends and family, and the lack of monetary compensation. You can go absolutely anywhere in the world and LIVE there for a week or a month or as long as your budget allows. You don't even have to speak the language or get working papers, because you can carry your work in a leather satchel or a moleskine (as Bruce Chatwin famously did.)

DSCN0814 (Note the black satchel.)

Last October, in fact, I did exactly that in New Orleans. While my husband attended a weeklong conference, I got up early every morning and went to work. I wrote in Cafes and on benches in the shady area behind the French Market; one day I took the trolley and wrote on the beautiful campus of Loyola University. I wrote looking out on the Mississippi and late in the afternoon, I slunk into dark bars, ordered a martini from a table in the corner, and wrote some more.

DSCN0804 (Ted, trying out a potential writing spot for me)

I developed favorite spots where the staff recognized me, and knew my peculiarities. Most days I spent at least some time, scribbling on one of the benches in Jackson Square. There, I met musicians and painters and mimes, all of whom had come to do what I was doing: the work that some crazy God had given them to do. The work they loved more than a vacation. More than money. More than a week at the beach, drunk on Bahama Mamas.

And thus, I mourn New Orleans, a city and a people and a spirit that may or may not ever return in a particular way. I mourn it as someone who, however briefly, once lived there.



Melly said...

While I do like vacations, I feel the same about being away from home for too long. At about the second night I start being homesick.

I hope, Patry, that New Orleans will be rebuilt and restored. It probably won't be the same, but enough to give a home back to those who lost it.

Unique Designs from Zazzle said...

i like the word "slunk." I think I'll incorporate it into my vocab. ;)

Don't fret the nay sayers. Most naysayers have no concept of left brain activity.



Patry Francis said...

Thanks to Melly and Shane. Finding like minds is the joy of blogworld.

rdl said...

You are strange, strangely wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Oh Patry, this struck a chord with me. I have spent weeks on end accompanying my partner on his work trips. I'd find a cafe in the town, set notebook open in front of me, while my partner went off to a factory in the middle of nowhere to work.

I love the boredom of a small strange town, where there is nothing much to do except watch and write.

ShaanCho said...

I suppose really enjoying vacations needs a particular mindset which is lacking in me, since I get too restless too soon. So I fully understand and appreciate what you seek to convey.

I have never been to New Orleans, and never might, since it is located at the other side of the globe. But with internet, the destruction was right there at my desktop to see and feel. The city may never have the same 'pulse', but in many ways the reconstruction will make it superior to pre-Katrina days.

Patry Francis said...

Debra: Yes! I guess that's one reason why writers are never bored. You can plunk us down anywhere. And I suspect that when you get tired of writing, you then pull out your running shoes.

Santanu: I love your optimism and hope it is justified.

Anonymous said...

Poor New Orleans, I always wanted to go there and never could. May she rise again.

I enjoyed this post. Think of all the cafes in the world that are, at this very moment harbouring writers.

Robin said...

Ah, a fellow left-hander. Good deal.

Interesting post, Patry.

Interesting responses, too.

Jackson Square was my favorite part of New Orleans. Nope, it was the art and the furniture galleries tucked away in the smelly old buildings. And there was the swamp tour . . . where I got to hold an alligator named Elvis. Finally, I could convince my husband that I didn't make up garfish or water moccasins. I had never heard about the bead thing, though. That was an eye-opener for me. (Yes, I went home beadless, but slightly less clueless.) It's nice to reminisce a bit after being horrified by what happened down there.

Thanks, Patry.

Perfect Virgo said...

The black leather satchel is your passport through life. Luckily for us you slide in some manuscripts of beautiful words before the passport is stamped and you move on.

Vickie said...

Actually, Patry, I think the issue is that writers can write any vacation they desire so why do they have to take them? I had a lot of down time at work today and used it to write my blog entry. It was a good entry, but it did bore me because it wasn't what I was there to do. Does that make sense?

a river said...

A couple of years ago, when after years of no vacations, we (that's my family) all headed to London to meet my mother for three weeks of togetherness and sightseeing, the highligh of each day for me was the hour or two I went off to a cafe to write...

So, yes, I do know what you mean.

[maria from alembic -- I had to get a blogger account to finally leave a comment and to let you know how much I appreciated your comments on alembic]

Sir James Eric Watkins said...

That's just it; we have to "starve," at least for the most part. I have enjoyed your blog as far, and plan to mosey around a bit . . . if you don't mind.

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to personally extend an invitation, to you, to The Endless Saga. I suggest The Omega Horsemen via the creative nonfiction page for your possible enjoyment.

Patry Francis said...

kim: loved your blog and am hoping everyone will click on your name and find out why.

Danyel: I'll be keeping my eye out for you in your matching black satchel. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying Bliss tremendously!

easy: The spirit that is New Orleans has to go somewhere. If not there, it will rise somewhere else.

Robin: I can't believe how observant you are noticing my lefthandedness! And yes, I loved those funky little art galleries too. There was one behind the French Market, an art collective of some sort that I especially loved. Wish I had treated myself to a purchase. At the time I thought I couldn't afford it, now I understand I couldn't afford not to...

P.V.: You seem to be developing an impressive black satchel of your own.

Vickie: interesting perspective--writing your own vacation. I hadn't thought of that.

And Maria! Thanks so much for getting a blogger account so you can comment. I love reading alembic.

Sir James Eric Watkins said...

Oh god! After checking this piece out again, I envy you so much, the traveling and writing in such places would be a dream, more than a dream.

In New Orleans, I'd probably cry though . . . for sure. I don't even care any more; I mean, I've wore a mask my whole life. It’s good to feel the sun again.

Patry Francis said...

Thanks for the visit, Sir James.

Nick said...

Re: Why write poetry? Explanations are indeed useless. You either get or you just don't get and in all probablity never will.

Patry Francis said...

You are so right, Nick.

ainelivia said...

You too, I am usless at the holiday thing. I don't want to "see the sights", I want to experience the place and the people.

And yes how many times have I heard that statement. "you do this for fun, and you don't get paid!!??"

Thanks for sharing this, a wonderful insight into your inner life.

Patry Francis said...

Thank you, Esmeralda. The strange and wonderful thing is that the more you reveal your peculiarities, the more you find others who are exactly like you.

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