August 26, 1991|By ANDREI CODRESCU

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans. -- I was never good at geography. In tenth grade when the teacher, exasperated by my inability to distinguish South America from Africa, asked me to point out North and South on the world map I pointed South for North and North for South.

And I can't tell left from right either, which is why I don't drive. Consequently I've become such an anarchist that not only do I not recognize the borders of nation-states, I refuse to recognize the boundaries of continents.

My punishment for this geographic insubordination is to travel constantly everywhere at greater and greater speeds in order to experience huge and terrifying contradiction. For instance, one week I will be in Rio de Janeiro in the Southern Hemisphere where it is winter but winter there means that the beaches are full of deeply tanned bikini-clad people. The week after that I'll go to the mountains of Utah where it's early spring at the end of June and there is still enough snow on the slopes to ski.

This year I caught spring in several places going south to north, and then I caught spring sideways going east to west. But maybe it's the other way around. I looked at my recent travel journal and it sounds written by a madman. ''Camellias in New Orleans. Pussywillow in Ohio. Ice breaking in Maine.''

A poet I know, Maureen Owen, once wrote a book called ''The No-Travels Journal,'' which was a detailed journal of imaginary travels to exotic places. She described the spices, the tastes and the people, and managed to sound for all the world as if she'd been there. If not for the title no one would have been any the wiser. Her ''No-Travels Journal'' sounds much more believable than my real-travels journal.

But that's a literary complaint and my travels are really a literary punishment. In Copacabana the passion fruit, guava and lime drinks taste like the maracas of samba. In Utah the gritty snow makes me want to lie down on it and melt down into the runoff racing to the valley. In Ohio the bitter smell of pussywillows fills me with childhood. In New Orleans the heat makes me sleep and dream. Who cares what the map says? I know what places feel like.

NB Andrei Codrescu teaches English at Louisiana State University.

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