The movie “Elizabethtown” features a truly great cinematic moment as Orlando Bloom’s character, having just arrived in Louisville, Ky., first opens his car door. At the exact moment he does this, the movie sound track switches from car interior silence to the loud, electric-sounding buzz of southern insect life. Crikey, you think, that’s a lot of crickets.

This past summer, my younger brother Franklin accompanied me on my two day road journey from Chicago, Ill. to New Orleans, La. I was headed down to settle into my new apartment before attending the summer Institute for Teach For America. The second day of the trip, we awoke early in Memphis and hit the road for the home stretch. As we neared New Orleans, we hit traffic on I-10E, which takes you into the city.

Now, a little background on I-10 – In southern Louisiana, from the artery of 55S, which carried us straight down the country under spacious skies and through the gently swaying green and gold crops of America’s farmlands, I-10E departs to snake across the swamplands, suspended like a concrete ribbon above water and marsh.

In the slowed traffic, Franklin and I rolled down our windows and in rolled the warm, clinging air of the marsh and the wild, charged buzz of the bugs. Hearing it, I let out a laugh of surprise and delight, enchanted by my first taste of a novel new world.

As I sat with my leg dangling from the open window in the barely moving line of cars under the hot June sun, I did not foresee the way in which new sounds – sounds of all kinds – would become such a constant and strikingly immediate part of my experience in the very near future of my life.

Since then, I have come to know and love all sorts of sounds which are the marks of my new life and new job. As the eleventh and twelfth grade English teacher at West St. John High School, on weekday mornings I listen to my students ask each other about homework and laugh about their weekends, sing lines from Beyonce’s latest hit (“To the left, to the left?”) and holler down the hall to me, “Ms. W., do we have to work in your class today?”

The triple chime of the school bell signals the start of each class, when I pull the door shut and step inside the room to address my students.

In my class, I enjoy the charged, almost quiet sound of students intent on their work, the scratch of pencils as they scrawl ideas sideways across their paper for brainstorms or the ruffle of pages as they flip through books and dictionaries to find an answer.

Then, there’s the sound of one of my older students struggling to read a passage for a reading diagnostic, speaking softly, hesitantly, stumbling at sixth grade, eighth grade or in a few heartbreaking cases, third grade level words. There’s the rhythmic beat of the marching band’s drumline in a pep rally, a sound that gets inside your ribs and demands you move your feet.

And then there is the sound of New Orleans itself, which is, in a word, music. And by music, I mean jazz – that “bad and funky” sound, liquid and brassy through warm night air and dark, smoky bars.

Part of the magic of this place is the sheer abundance of music. On the local jazz station 90.7, every hour begins with “LiveWire,” a listing of different music available all over town, which takes a solid three minutes of fast talking at a minimum to announce (“And at the Apple Barrel, Margie Perez and the Frenchman Street Urchins at 10. Tipitina’s features Rebirth at 11?”).

“Take it easy, baby,” they’ll tell you down here. Over my months in this town of curling ironwork and old French architecture, of shrimp po’ boys, crawfish etoufee, and jambalaya, of stone walkways and the fading glitter of Mardi Gras beads which dangle from old oaks and lampposts year round, I’ve come to learn why New Orleans is the sort of place that is impossibly irreplaceable. Music fills the streets, and the spirit of the people here is unlike anywhere else I have ever been.

I couldn’t know that first day on I-10 that the way the sound of insects first greeted me in Louisiana would become part of the nightly lullaby of my uptown New Orleans neighborhood – Nor could I have imagined the warmth that would flood my heart while listening to a student make a brilliant comment during a discussion. Or the way I would come to smile softly with pleasure each time at “LiveWire’s” trademark closing line, “Now get out there, baby, and listen to some live local music.”

Wiener graduated from UR in 2006.



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