Travels with Mae: Scenes from a New Orleans Girlhood

Travels with Mae: Scenes from a New Orleans Girlhood

Travels with Mae: Scenes from a New Orleans Girlhood

Travels with Mae: Scenes from a New Orleans Girlhood

Synopsis

With a series of lyrical vignettes Eileen M. Julien traces her life as an African American woman growing up in middle-class New Orleans in the 1950s and 1960s. Julien's narratives focus on her relationship with her mother, family, community, and the city itself, while touching upon life after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Haunted by a colonial past associated with African presence, racial mixing, and suspect rituals, New Orleans has served the national imagination as a place of exoticism where objectionable people and unsavory practices can be found. The destruction of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath revealed New Orleans' deep poverty and marginalized population, and brought a media storm that perpetuated the city's stigma. Travels with Mae lovingly restores the wonder of this great city, capturing both its beauty and its pain through the eyes of an insider.

Excerpt

“It’s amazing,” said Gene, the rather Gene Shalit–like psychologist, who
journeyed from one small Massachusetts town to another for our college
staff meetings, “what you can learn about people’s background just by
looking in their freezers…. Take me, I keep bagels in my freezer”—the
year was 1978, when bagels were still a specialty food—“What about you,
Eileen?” he asked, searching out the only other “ethnic” face in the group,
“what do you have in your freezer?”

“Me?” I admitted with a smile, as the house came down, “Why, I have
watermelon!”

There are foods we eat in Louisiana which undoubtedly have a memory of their own. Sit me down anywhere with red beans and rice (sometimes personally delivered by my mother), hot sausage, oyster loaves, bread pudding, gumbo, shrimp stew, okra, ribs, stuffed crabs, codfish cakes, baked eggplant, smothered chicken, grits, peach cobbler, strawberry ice cream, biscuits, spinach, figs, black-eyed peas, fried chicken, Creole cream cheese, crawfish bisque—the list goes on—and I find myself miles and years away, right back in my mother’s kitchen, or my A’nt Fe’s or A’nt Georgiana’s or my grandmother’s. Proust was right. All of New Orleans—Mississippi mud, sweltering heat, mosquitoes, lingering airs of the Neville brothers—springs right up out of my plate: I can remember organdy dresses and tap dancing, my great-aunt Fat’s stories of Joe Louis and the man in the moon, playing hopscotch on the “banquette” with Connie and Sheryl, the . . .

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