I have never understood people who order soft ice cream and don’t get a twist — or a swirl, or whatever the particular soft ice-cream vendor calls the twinning of flavors, usually vanilla and chocolate.
At the same time, I am a creature of habit. I like to do the same things day-in, day-out. I have realized that it’s probably a form of self-medicating, that I don’t have a lot of talent for novelty. This week, my friend Terry Teachout celebrated an impressive milestone, one that involved making a big leap at mid-life. I congratulated him on it and he mentioned that he also admired my own midlife re-invention. I swear, I did not know at first what he was talking about. I felt as if I hadn’t attempted anything new for a decade. Um, duh much?
Almost three years ago, because of my husband’s job, I found myself living part-time in New Orleans. I treated it like a lovely pool on a May day; I took a long time to immerse myself. The first year, I spent as much time in Baltimore as I did in New Orleans. The second year, I still went home at least once a month. The third year — well, my beloved A-list status on Southwest may be in jeopardy.
It’s dangerous to find out new things about one’s self. I thought I could never live anywhere but Baltimore. Now I know I can and that opens up a Pandora’s box of possibilities. If New Orleans, why not London or New York or some bucolic retreat? (Actually, I am pretty sure I was not made for life in the country.) The other dilemma is that I’m always a little homesick. To paraphrase Buckaroo Bonzai, wherever I go, there’s somewhere I’m not. I get hankerings for the Abbey’s burgers and Iggie’s pizza when I’m in New Orleans; I miss Baru’s shrimp salad, lunch at Coquette and Lilette when I’m in Baltimore. I compare our two residences, too and it comes out a draw. In Madeleine L’Engle’s The Moon by Night, the hyper-intellectual Austin brood is always quoting “Comparisons are odious.” I agree, when it comes to my two cities, but it’s also inevitable.
The other day, my husband was telling me a story that centered on someone being “half drunk.” (It was a New Orleans story.) I interrupted and said, “See, that’s where you’re a pessimist and I’m an optimist. I see him as being half-sober.” To live in two cities that one loves is to be half-wistful, aware of the charms and possibilities of both. It’s also a rare privilege and I am grateful for it.