Saturday, 1 February 2014

BE 7: boats, bonding, and beignets...or, 'what I did in the holidays'

a rather large boat...
some friendly feet for a pheeto...
beignets in New Orleans

7am Tuesday: the 3rd, and final, plane flew above the darkened Forth. Various signs of human habitation twinkled in the blackness; orange-yellow street lights, occasional twin-white beams from cars snaking along unseen roads, the scattered lights of households preparing for a new day, the glow of a lonely ship upon the river.
A tired goodbye to the last remaining RevGal in the chain; a chain linking back to where the 1st plane had lifted off - New Orleans, a cruise, a meeting of minds and hearts and voices, virtual friends moving from ether to earthy reality, shared pheetos and new friendships made.
So it was that the RevGals BE 7 came and went.
Delighted at last to meet up in real-time with some of the amazing community of women who have been such a support and inspiration over the last 6 years since I started reading the main blog and linked blogs.
Remembering the email from 5 years ago welcoming me into that community of blogging women.
Also remembering wishing folk a fabulous time each year as another BE swung by, while also quietly wishing wistfully that perhaps, one day, I might go and play.

As journey's end so, too, the arrival into New Orleans 9 days earlier was in darkness, followed by a mad shuttle bus ride to the hotel, weary collapse in an oh-so-cosy bed after travelling sitting for so long, and the building anticipation of knowing that RevGals were beginning to converge on the town.
New Orleans by day in sight, sound, and smell:
the Big Easy, bedecked in the green, purple, and gold of Mardi Gras, grooved and hummed to the sounds of street jazz bands, children rat-a-tat-tatting doing tin-can tap for any passer-by willing to throw a buck in a hat.  The occasional blast of a steamer sounded in the distance, while tourists, gator-like devoured the experience, snapping cell-phone cameras.  The wafting, weirdly alluring/appalling smell coming from cigar stores competed with fried oyster and crawfish poboys, beignets and milky coffee from Cafe du Monde, racks of ribs, and alligator being cooked in various eateries.  Eschewing the cigars, I opted for the oyster and crawfish, sampled some alligator and washed down both with copious root beer [ah, the joy of free refills].  Groucho Marx came to mind at one point re. the gator: 'get me an alligator on a stick and make it snappy.'
'Do do that voodoo [burger] you do do so well'
Neutralising bad magic? The BVM and voodoo burgers compete at a cafe in the French Market.
That first weekend was gloriously warm - eating al fresco without winter woollies in January was fabulous.
Sunday and Monday before boarding was spent meeting and greeting and eating with newly arrived RevGals.  We boarded 'Elation', a rather ambitious name, for further meeting, greeting, and eating.  In my ongoing inner life as a musical, the ear-worm of the day was 'Getting to know you'.  We began the process of telling our stories, bonding in laughter at some of those 'really can't tell this anywhere' else anecdotes, sharing deep thoughts and bad jokes.  Initial reserve disappeared quickly and I relaxed in this great company of folk; cue for second ear-worm 'I think I'm gonna like it here'.

Intertwined with the fun 'Galship' was the matter of attending a programme set up for the purpose of continuing education/reflection.  In this instance, we were exploring the Enneagram with Suzanne Stabile.  When it came to our Enneagram encounters, we were a mixed bunch - some were new to the whole thing, some had dipped in, while others were well-acquainted.  In the past, I'd been fortunate to do work on the Enneagram with Dorothy Neilson, so it was good fun to build on that foundation as well as compare two very different but equally fab Enneagram teachers.  Given my previous Enneagram background, this time around I was able to concentrate less on my own traits and characteristics and more on getting a better all-round sense of how it related to others - useful stuff and hopefully it will help as I move into my own congregation, work on committees, chair the kirk session, relate to my parishioners with hopefully more understanding, and such like.  It was not all hard work, however.  Dancing waiters at dinner-time encouraged some of our party to dance 'Gangnam-style' between mains and dessert; jaunts ashore to Progresso and Cozumel that included Margaritas and Pina Coladas served in gold-fish bowls posing as glasses; being gently rocked to sleep by the waves...more conversations, more laughter, stress and tiredness seeping away.

When we docked early Saturday morning, New Orleans was hidden in a cold fog worthy of an Edinburgh haar.  As some of the others shivered, I felt at home in the weather, smiled and put on the thick jumper [sweater!] I'd brought with me from Scotland.  Happily extending some of the 'Galship', four of us travelled across town to enjoy the hospitality of the folks at the Magnifcat House of Discernment - a place where young, post-college aged women are invited to stay and reflect on a possible vocation to the Religious life. Sisters Diane and Carmen were wonderfully kind, and over dinner with some of the discernees present, we pondered the nature of 'calling' and women in ministry both Catholic and Protestant.

Having the use of a car, the next morning, our wee group of 4 pootled up the road to worship at a church currently being pastored by another RG who'd also been on BE 7.  Great fun, and inspiring to see how two congregations, one black, one white, had come together as one.  Equally inspiring was the vote that they had taken the previous weekend to become an 'open and affirming' congregation.  I thought to myself quietly 'people: you rock,' and gave thanks.  After worship, and with RG friend, we decamped to Juan's Flying Burrito for enjoyable, extended food and fellowship.  Farewells to S. followed by a tour around the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina 9 years on.

In the midst of wasteland and desolation were signs of new life and habitation, but it is a slow process.  A signboard on one house commented on the cost of war in Iraq/Afghanistan and wondered when the government might look to helping out its own citizens.  Amongst the new builds, the innovative, sustainable housing of the Make it Right organisation [a.k.a. Brad Pitt's houses] were visually stunning.  Not being comfortable about taking photos of the housing, I opted instead to snap a sign by the levee which gave brief details of what had happened in 2005.  The conversation was somewhat subdued as we drove around the devastation and bit-by-bit regeneration; we wondered how many more years it would take for the area to fully recover...we couldn't help but agree with the sentiments of the sign we'd seen on the house earlier.

A small trip down memory land followed for two of our company - sisters - who had been born in, and spent their very early years in New Orleans.  Having phoned their mother for directions, we drove into the neighbourhood of their childhood; it was filled with cute, matching bungalows all along the avenues.  Our last supper together was had in the French Quarter accompanied by the sounds of raucous jazz coming in off the street.
An early night.
A morning flight, leading to Houston, leading to Newark, leading...home.

It has been a wonderful, wonder-filled, space for refreshment, relaxation and renewal [spot the Star-word!] which did not require the writing of an essay at the end of it.  A time to be and breathe in the company of some particularly excellent women.  Currently still a little jet-lagged, although the on-land sea-swaying seems to have stopped.
If I have the opportunity to go to another BE, I'll be there like a shot if I'm allowed :)
Thanks for the welcome, the hospitality, the fun, and the friendship RevGal sisters - it has been awesome, as are you all.


Mary Beth said...

What a marvelous recounting! I loved meeting and being with you at last. Xo!

revkjarla said...

sounds completely marvelous. I am sorry I missed this year!!!

Tracy Spencer-Brown said...

Love it! It was so good to be with you on the trip.

Pastor Julia said...

It was SO wonderful to meet you. Thanks for sharing your memories.