Tonight I danced with Helen, 81, former president of the New Orleans Jazz Club and dancer extraordinaire, in the middle of Bourbon Street, in front of the Preservation Hall stage at French Quarter Fest. She was smiling and wearing a turquoise beret, patterned silk blouse, gold bracelet and capri pants. When we finished dancing, we both sat down on the curb where I reminded her of our first meeting.
I was introduced to Helen last year at The Columns Hotel by guitarist John Rankin who plays there Tuesday nights. She often gets up to dance even when there is no dance floor, as there isn't at The Columns. I see her anytime I am out to hear music, especially at the Sunday Nickle-a-Dance traditional jazz concerts in the Marigny, where she's always at the center of the room.
Several people who had watched us from the balconies or surrounding crowd came by to say hello. A middle-aged couple from England, visiting New Orleans for the first time, stopped to say how much they enjoyed her dancing. They were having a marvelous time here. A younger man asked her to autograph his water bottle. She signed it "Lovie" - an old nickname. Helen knows all the Fest performers and has planned out all three days in the Quarter where she intends to be through the weekend.
Today she drove, but parked way back along Esplanade to catch the 8 p.m. mass at a Catholic church there. After the last tune, she started walking back up Bourbon to Esplanade, several blocks away, first pausing to marvel at a gilded mime posed in the center of the street. He didn't blink! she said. I told her I'd probably see her Sunday.
I've often thought New Orleans is a good place to be old. Not just because the weather doesn't stay cold long in the winter.
Old people don't hide away here - they go out, ride bikes, Cajun dance and even wear costumes.
They don't care what people think. They're having fun - either not acting old or enjoying it.
I just haven't figured out which.