by María L. Trigos-Gilbert
Louisiana’s mysticism caught my eyes as if stoned by an invisible, but powerful, drug that made its way through my senses and my veins. At first, like most romantic stories, I didn’t realize my love for Louisiana. I took for granted the amusement that it had provided me. Time kept spending itself with little monotony. All of its components excited me, especially its true green and its enigmatic bayous. The people seemed to me as if they were Portuguese speakers who tried to imitate the English American accent. Even more they appeared to me as if they were borrowed Portuguese Brazilians who came here trying to find a more amicable jungle, this type of amicability was like a spiritual-materialistic mixture. Those were the initial impressions during my first fifteen days trip to Louisiana.
A year passed before my inevitable exchange, from Caracas, Venezuela to the closest tropical resemblance—Louisiana—though half Spaniard in mind and blood. As I expected it, the whole process took me awhile. I had to find my way around, not necessarily around the state or around the North American style, but around my own definition as a Latin Spaniard woman. That was the trick, as if there were one. I didn’t come here during those painful years of my adolescence. I came here totally grown, at least in my mind. Little did I know how much of my growth was there for me still. I had to unfold the unknown traits of my demeanor that I had ignored for quite some time. I say ‘ignored’ because perhaps in the deepest of my subconscious I knew what to expect and not to expect from myself and from the borrowed land. Possibly, I had been denying the undeniable, and it was the cultural impact that Louisiana made in my life.
A play, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a book, and even a poem can’t be done in one day, though some people may debate the previous thought. The truth is that life is still like wine. The excellence of a good wine is conceived only through time, though faultless vines and skillful caretakers help the rightness of any given wine. That isn’t so debatable, true? This is my case with Louisiana, first sight love, but after a while sensing a repetitive dullness which threatened both of my essences—the sane and the unhappy modes since the mode of a mood always seemed to change—at least according to a day’s events. I wouldn’t say that my senses have come to me, but more likely I have come to my senses. Don’t we always expect that? For the most part, that’s how it works.
For instance, one day I found myself repeating the words that I once heard. “Life isn’t so much of what you get, but what you do with what you get.” It felt like a cliché when I said those words to a friend, though the so-called proverb carried a gigantic truism. It seemed almost unbearable to say it and a lot less to hear it, specially when one didn’t want to see the other side of the coin. Later on I had to repeat the same words to myself over and over, I had to figure out Louisiana’s importance as if I were Christopher Columbus in a hidden part of North America. I couldn’t find the present in Louisiana’s history, only the past in the present. I felt as if regular hours had gone backwards instead of clockwise. This troubled me the most like fishing some air with my hands and taking it to my nose until it could reach my lungs. My imaginary problem wasn’t so much about the now, but about the here, the place and its individuals.
Time remained a bit balanced and steady like twin hours, with little variation from one minute to the next. That was the frightening part, to stay in a location that never seemed to change. It was as if Louisiana was the sun, and the rest of the world the earth. People and things moved while the hot and sweaty Louisiana kept staring indistinctly at those that moved. Louisiana’s normal growth stayed unaffected by those normal changes which the world produced at a fast speed. Perhaps the speed wasn’t as fast as it seemed, but because of Louisiana’s lack of movement every little change in direction felt as if the world had challenged the Southern State’s abilities to calculate velocity in real time.
There more I spent my time observing Louisiana from all perspectives the more I understood how much I was being observed. I was swamped by what I gave and got from different types of people, though as if made in series. Another fact that bothered me was the predictability that most individuals pretended to have. I knew from one second to the next what to expect and not to expect from the white, black, and redneck—whether white or black. It astonished me to see people smiling in different places, and I asked myself the reason behind those smiles. I never found a simple answer at least one that could satisfied me without experiencing some sort of trouble.
This wasn’t a matter of cultural shock. Actually what was occurring, was like a metamorphosis deep inside of me and about to detonate what used to be so private in everybody’s life—including mine. Perhaps I was about to ask the things that people didn’t question, I had to uncover what stayed untouched and beneath. What I discovered, made me fall in love with Louisiana’s people and its nature. This wasn’t a single step from morning to night indeed a considerable number of steps. The procedure took its time to achieve what Louisiana had planned, a mutually reliable adventure.
I took long walks around the fields of the bayous, and finally tried to stay alert to the sudden changes of Louisiana’s weather. Flowers talked to me, and the need to take many pictures arrived to preserve that beautiful side which steamed sticky dews on my skin. So many vivid colors from the petals of the flowers painted the panorama in front of me that it was impossible to resist such a magical invitation. Different kinds of oak trees from ground to water invited me to take notice of the magnificent view around me. I, the conqueror, ended up conquered and didn’t regret it a tiny bit. It felt good to see people for what they were, and not for what I expected them to be. Everything came to place at the right time. I left behind the child inside of me to come to terms with my surroundings before they had torn me apart piece by piece. That would had been something to regret, but it didn’t happen. I was ready to give up whatever I had set in my mind because the Spanish moss kept filtering itself through the bayous until it got to me. Something about Louisiana kept calling me; I didn’t have any kind of exactness to define the ongoing transformations. I perceived an everlasting presence from one Louisiana’s gods like a higher call. This was an unavoidable meeting, so I responded. I let my fences down, kept them flat on the ground. I got married to Louisiana without having to sign a bitter agreement, but getting an everlasting and unimaginable reward.
To come to Louisiana made me understand the world’s complexity. I met the Cayenne that France forgot. I met the Isleños that Spain left behind. I encountered the cowboys and cowgirls that remained from the wild west that once existed. I saw Africa’s reflections wondering around, but during those times rather than walking they were riding in expensive boxes as if protecting themselves from the outside world. I thought about those to blame for the undesirable outcomes, but realized the futility that was to dwell on the past. If they had thought this way years before I got here, I may had gotten a different picture from the one that I received without even asking for one. Absolutely the patterns would had been different, but the point was to keep everything’s precious worth intact.
Louisiana’s Spanish moss played an important role in this mutual analysis. The Spanish moss flirted with the ground, the water, the sun, and ultimately, my skin. Nature’s determined characteristics took the will out of my thoughts. Finally I melted just by seeing, feeling, and breathing what Louisiana had to offer me. I took all of it with much gladness. I regained the peace that I once knew because understanding Louisiana renewed my strength. All what bothered me, became my forever hope. Here I found a treasure. I regained those forgotten layers that inspired my writings, sculptures, and paintings.
Here in Louisiana I discovered that the ethnic collage had started to change. Some people noticed it while some others preferred to ignore it. This new composition in the collage was the Latin American side which started to penetrate what used to be so impossible from the remaining of an Invisible Empire. Yes, the picture has changed. Now I won’t only see the black and the white, but the natural tan around this Southern State. The mixture is promising. It gives us hope to end better than when we began. Yes, I say we because nowadays I must include myself in all of Louisiana’s events, whether mere or significant details. Louisiana for me matters just because its existence honors mine.
Louisiana will always form part of me. It doesn’t matter where I go or decide to live in the future. Louisiana will always bring me nice memories: Crawfish, catfish, shrimp, cotton, sugar, gas, petroleum, chicory coffee, even the jazz that isn’t my favorite. Louisiana’s mysticism has conquered me; its enigmatic sight has caught my needs and wants. It has made me feel as if we are the only southerners making up the South as if before and after us nothing else has existed. It’s a privilege to live in Louisiana, the eternal Southern Muse for so many artists. This is the state where God has decided to give his best shot. Simple, we have it all. We have so much that it has taken us a long while to find out the incalculable value of so much richness. That’s why when one finds a treasure must keep an inventory that no one can destroy just because of private wants. Some people say that God has had to give us so much natural resources because of our crook politicians.
Louisiana is the lost Eden. This may be why we keep trying to find the ones to be punished—Adam and Eve—Where are those when we need them to be accountable? God is the one who knows, but won’t allow us to have a tennis match. I guess in the end we have to pay the price, whether directly or indirectly. Still, Louisiana has always been the state where genuine peaches and angelic magnolias keep growing in spite of whatever poisoning snake, Louisiana has never been more alive than now.
To come to Louisiana is like the movie “Alive.” This movie shows how sixteen people out of forty five refused to die. So they lived to tell the story, but twenty nine of them died. Nature and time played important parts in those who died and survived. I remember that one of the guys who tried with all his being to find the green paths that were behind the frigid side of the Andes said, “It feels good to be a man in a day like this.” His explorer partner wasn’t so excited, indeed too tired to keep going. This partner responded to his friend’s words like this, “We’ll die.” His determined friend answered him, “Yes, we may die, but we’ll die walking.” Louisiana has become that other side of the frigid Andes where people come to find not the greener side, but the green side that’s here for us to enjoy. It feels good to be a woman in a day like this. We may die sooner or later, but we must die walking. There is not time to stare and lament, only time to leave Louisiana better than how we have found it. Life is a constant challenge, and so is Louisiana. I must tell you that the try is worth it because it pays well.