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And so here we are. The final day of this current adventure. Another 9 hour train ride has landed me back in Houston, where I have 24 hours until my departure.
My hurried quest to find a cheap but reasonably decent hotel has placed me in chain food, main road, middle of nowhere…which I think isn’t far from the medical schools, but to be honest, when you’re as tired as I am, and its 37 degrees out, you may as well be on the moon because getting yourself 100m up the road feels like the most impossible mission.
Yes, a touch of the end of holiday fatigue and emotional vulnerability had arrived. That part where as lovely as it is to be away and experience, you yearn for the comfort and east of your bed and your dog, your full wardrobe, and cups of tea in your own mugs. I have truly loved every moment of New Orleans – staying out, exploring, taking everything it passed me. It’s here in my heart and my blood and I carry it with me. But the flipside is I’m aching, bruised all over from my uncoordinated, brave, cycling, sunburned, practically penniless and just need a really really good sleep.
So for my last day I wanted to keep things simple. Sleep in, relax, check out as late as I can, at midday, then I’d have approx 7 hours until I needed to be at the airport. Which might not sound much but when you’re out of money and energy, I know from previous trips where I reach this point, 7 hours can feel endless if you’re not careful.
Thankfully I had a clear idea of what I wanted to see and do with my afternoon – the Menil Collection and the Rothko Chapel – all located on the same couple of blocks – a few miles away. So I got myself an uber and headed straight there. Houston is so vast that to try and navigate public transport would not have been an effective use of time, energy or money. I know Uber has its problems, but honestly, as a solo traveller, it’s indispensable. It makes getting places, and ensuring safety, so easy and stress free. And its economical – most of my short-mid trips across NOLA and Houston being $6-$10, and never needing cash. It’s a godsend.
I got to talking to my Uber Driver, that morning, as I usually do. I told him I’d ben in NOLA and he told me that that’s where he’s from. That Katrina took him and his mom to Houston. This was a bit of a poignant meeting, as I closed my trip. As I’d mentioned before, no one really spoke of Katrina, and apart from being the subject of some Art that i saw, and the road works, there wasn’t really much sign of it. Yet it had been on my mind the entire time, never forgetting the pain and struggle of this city. My driver was a really sweet young guy. He said he likes the scale and job opportunities of Houston and to return to NOLA isn’t really an option. Which was one of the big issues and tragedies after Katrina – thousands upon thousands of NOLA natives being forced out of their city, having lost everything, and being treated like refugees. Knowing that they’ll never be in the financial position to return. And to NOLA natives, as i saw, and what made me fall in love with that place, is how their city and their culture means everything. I saw it in just two weeks, so can’t even imagine hoe strong it must be after a lifetime. It’s unique place and many never leave. They plan to be born and die in the city. So to be forced out, well, its heartbreaking.
His words were kind and at peace with these events. But I’ll never forget the following that he told me. He said “Katrina taught me a lot. It taught me how strong I can be. It taught me to survive.”
My mind went back to that city. And then to my own. Many of us who were here for our own disaster, say similar things. That despite the pain, loss, trauma, and heart scarring events – we all say that same thing – above all, we are grateful, we are strong, we are survivors.
It was a surreal and eerie moment. And I was so glad I met this lovely guy.
Which set me up well for an afternoon of quiet reflection and art.
The Rothko chapel was somewhere I’d never heard of but had two seperate people in Chch recommend it to me. I had no expectations, apart from well, a chapel painted with Rothko pieces, I supposed.
The chapel is set on a beautiful, lush, landscaped, block, alongside the main Menil collection gallery. Which I learned it’s also part of. The collection is a main gallery, and series of other smaller galleries and exhibits, all situated over a couple of blocks. Reading about it was helpful, as I learned that the collection itself was a private collection of incredible art pieces, with emphasis on Ancient, pop and surrealist that was donated and then set up in this amazing space. The Rothko chapel, Byzantine chapel and others were then added. The surrounding properties and land have since been acquired by the non profit organisation and they now look after the landscaping and appearance of the area. Meaning it’s beautifully kept with wonderful parks, trees, sculptures and every building painted in this shade of pale grey known as ‘Menil Grey’ to give all of the houses and buildings a consistency and build a sense of unity.
First up I went to the Chapel, which is set in its own park like grounds. Next to it is a beautiful reflection pool with huge obelisk sculpture. I didn’t even need to read about any of these pieces to sense the energy and that this was a space for calm and meditation. There was just something in the air and it was beautiful. I sat by the pool and stared into the coolness and beauty of the water, and sculpture. There was birdsong and squirrels running around everywhere.
Next to the pool, in the grass, was a small but perfectly created labyrinth formed, or flattened out. It was no bigger than 5 x 5 metres, and the grass merely pressed and worn to make the maze like shape. But it was very pronounced and easy to see. The sign told me it was in place for July only and was designed for meditation and release of old energy.
You follow the path in, walking the coiled and tight winding road, focussing on what it is you want to release. Which takes about ten minutes. You reach the middle and you release, and accept that release. Then you exit, and was you walk back over that path focus on letting everything go and out of you. On that healing and growth. I completed it all and it was a strange and powerful exercise.
So by the time I’d been though the two elements of reflection and meditation, I was in quite The Place by the time I went into the chapel, which I still didn’t know what to expect. \
It turns out that the chapel was created and built in 1971 as a place for united mediation and worship. A holy place without religion, open to all cultures, ethnicities, religions and beliefs. A neutral place of calm and beauty. For all. As you enter a row of different religious texts are lined up from all over the world, to be borrowed, and further emphasising the inclusivity of the place.
The chapel inside is simple. The 12 Rothko panels, huge, filling floor to ceiling on this hexagonal shaped building. Painted in slightly differing shades of indigo. Rows of seats. Prayer mats. A little stage. The lights dipping and swimming ever so gently every few minutes. Just a tad.
And nothing but calm, serene, powerful silence.
I think I’ll likely write about this more, some other time. But I was not prepared for the power of the place. I think having done the two exercises in release and meditation before entering, had already opened my mind and heart to the tone of the experience. But as soon as I entered and sat down, the whole gravitas and emotion was overwhelming.
I am not religious, but I am spiritual. And this was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life.
I lingered for about an hour, then took some time outside, afterwards, to get my bearings and understanding of what i was feeling and had just experienced.
But I couldn’t help but feel how symbolic it was that I had this experience on this final day of this journey, that was meant for self healing and growth. To have met that Uber driver, with his own story of strength. Then to have been though these meditations. They felt so important and weighed on me, in the best way possible.
I don’t know. You can read anything into any situation. That I know. But that day felt so meaningful and significant for me and to set me on my way, to propel me back into my normal life. Like a true end of a chapter, but beginning all at once.
For this I am very grateful.
In the peak heat of the day, took salvation in the coolness and calm of the Byzantine chapel, then the main Menil gallery itself. The Menil gallery was an architectural amazement – this long, light, white, peaceful like space. Just incredible. As were the works that lay within, I particularly enjoyed the surrealist gallery, and the room showing objects and curiosities that the surrealist painters would have had in their homes – African masks, taxidermy, dolls, phallic statues and totems, flamboyant feathered headwear. It was glorious.
Out of energy and emotionally and mentally exhausted from the power of the day, I took myself across the road to the galleries associated cafe /bistro. It didn’t look like much from outside, but like the rest of the collection, it was light, well laid out and beautiful. They had a happy hour, which was welcome. I took a seat at the bar. Ordered a Mojito and some crab cakes, and relaxed.
However, a few seats along, was an older lady who was quite flamboyant, bold and forceful in her ordering – never scared to demand origins or produce, or to taste six types of wine before ordering. I was hesitating at first, not sure I was in the mood for company – but we ended up chatting, and ordering a second wine, then a third. Then a storm hit, as it always does. So then there was coffee, and more wine. Then more beautiful food. And suddenly Lisa and I were fleeting, firm friends. We had confided each others life stories, secrets and fears. I promised I’d stay with her and her husband next time I’m in Houston. And we parted ways at 7pm, with a hug, a bit tipsy, and my feeling happy for this strange, lovely, meeting.
An Uber to collect my bags. Then to the airport. And that was me.
What a strange day. A day I had been dreading, as the last day with a late flight out, always feels disjointed, tense, exhausting. Instead it was this very surreal day full of powerful experiences and meditations, chance meetings, and the feeling inside of gears and cogs moving and clicking over to simultaneous endings and also beginnings. All in this strange, sprawling city where I knew nothing and no one and really had no expectations.
And if that’s not symbolic, or some kind of wonderful energy in place, then I don’t know what is.
To the past two weeks, thank you.
To my beautiful city of New Orleans, thank you.
To everyone I met, who kept me company, kept me safe, educated and helped me, thank you.
And now we go home, but richer and more enlightened than ever before – we march forward with heads held high, fire in the belly, love in the heart and the beat of the jazz in the veins.
We be kind to others and true to ourselves and leave ourselves open to all that life brings us.
Forever growing, evolving, nurturing, enriching ourselves and our identities.
And we create and accept – art, love, positivity, opportunity.
We let it all in.
I am grateful.