There are certain things I have never done that shock even me. It seems incredulous that I have never been to the opera. Or seen a NASCAR race (even on TV). I am embarrassed that I have never been to Japan or Nashville or Sweden for godsakes. But what really makes me hang my head is the thought that I have never ever seen the Mississippi River. Until yesterday.
The Mississippi is well worth seeing, wrote one of my literary heroes, Mark Twain. “It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable.”
Yesterday morning I woke up and while I was looking at the paper and sipping my coffee in the bar of the Hotel le Marais, decided I was going to walk over to the Mississippi River. Not that this was any big deal. The river is just four blocks away, although I doubled the distance by heading for Jackson Square and then crossing the train tracks to the Vieux Carré Riverview.
I sat down on a park bench and looked around. In addition to the joggers and strollers, there were three drunk young Goths singing gibberish a capella; a disheveled man facing the river preaching out loud to himself or to the audience in his head; a tiny blond saxophonist, blowing the blues, who made me think of Lisa from The Simpsons; a young woman wearing a bikini and tanning herself along the banks of the river, despite the fact that it was windy and cold out; several individuals with big smiles and dirty hair asking for spare change; an extended Vietnamese family spread out on several blankets having a picnic; lovers, some holding hands, others passionately kissing, one couple yelling at each other; and my favorite—an old man in a black cords and a green jacket, a porkpie hat on his head and an ebony walking stick at his side, reading aloud from Huckleberry Finn:
“Two or three days and nights went by; I reckon I might say they swum by, they slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely. Here is the way we put in the time. It was a monstrous big river down there – sometimes a mile and a half wide; we run nights, and laid up and hid daytimes; soon as night was most gone we stopped navigating and tied up – nearly always in the dead water under a tow-head; and then cut young cottonwoods and willows and hid the raft with them. Then we set out the lines. Next we slid into the river and had a swim, so as to freshed up and cool off; then we set down on the sandy bottom where the water was about knee deep, and watched the daylight come. Not a sound anywheres – perfectly still – just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes the bullfrongs a-cluttering, maybe.”
Sitting there along the banks of the Mississippi, watching a paddle-boat slowly make it’s way up the river, seeing the river all wide and smooth and lovely, I reckon it was as dramatic as anything you’d see at the opera. Or even NASCAR.