Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans. When that's where you left your heart. The moonlight on the bayou a creole tune that fills the air. I dream about magnolias in bloom and I'm wishin' I was there." - Louis Armstrong


There hasn't always been a party on Bourbon and I am anathema to the single-mindedness of the rest of the country about New Orleans because of Bourbon, but in a city that celebrates survival in everything we do there has to be a street to do that on. I could do very much without the neon, however. The scenes you see on national TV around this time of year only tell a fraction of our story. New Orleans is the most unique of American cities: a celebration of culture rooted in a three-hundred year old mistake. We survive, we persist, and we party. Yet only the last third of that Trinity survives past state lines. You couldn't make a gumbo with only onions...

I write this at the end of another Mardi Gras season, perhaps pensive as I tend to be going into the Lenten season or just sad that the party's over. For the first time in years, I managed to make it to the French Quarter more than once as friends and family were in town. As we walked across Canal and back into history (architecturally, anyway) I caught myself skimming my hand across three hundred-year old walls as I'm prone to do. Mardi Gras is not the season for a historically-minded thinker as myself to be in the Quarter, I've come to find out. As my hand grazed alongside the walls of Arnaud's, I noticed a very pretty girl hurling chunks of blueberry-colored vomit onto those same walls. In an instant my wanderlust for historicity on Bourbon was replaced with a deep desire for hand soap. Bad call on my part. 

It's true I'm a stalwart for an old line of thinking: a line of thinking that preaches preservation, beignets, and the history behind them. Call me out on it if you want. In a city sculpted so precariously on marsh in between two water bodies, new is not a reminder of pain for many. It's a celebration of promise. For me it's the opposite. Every move off of the high ground is a risk. An adage in New Orleans should be "the further you move away from the cemeteries, the closer you are destined to be in them." Modern engineering has made us confident in our designs and dangerously at odds with Mother Nature yet sometimes she just laughs and floods the city anyway. The blame is placed, the city is rebuilt, and the celebration of new continues. In a city where survival is counterintuitive to the universe, celebration is the only force powerful enough to keep us rooted in tradition. 

I deeply appreciate those who come to New Orleans to celebrate with us. The revival of our city since Katrina has been in major part because of tourism. We love to make you feel at home. Hell, we hope you do make it your home someday. The only thing I hope you seek out when you visit are the first and second parts of my Trinity: survival and persistence. It's true we have problems. New Orleans is sinking, the murder rate is astronomical, and the Saints have to pay Jimmy Graham. When you're here we love to gloss over these things and take you out for po-boys and jazz brunch and walk it off with a lap at Audubon Park. It's the way we have come to extenuate our existence in America's most brilliant mistake. But don't think for a second we don't want to solve these problems that plague us. In these celebrations big and small we find the strength and courage to face whatever is thrown at us. Mardi Gras reinforces the feeling that we are special in this world and from there we resolve to never see the city like the world did in 2005. A Super Bowl championship throws the city into a frenzy and we realize nowhere else has such a special bond to a representation of their city like New Orleans does with their Saints.

As Lent begins, so does the time for America's most Catholic of cities to pause and reflect. For a couple of days the celebration ends and we wait. For someone who believes that new is a reminder of pain when framed in the history of New Orleans, you may think I take these days in stride. But I, like the rest of the city, realize the innate need of promise. After forty-six days a Savior will rise and JazzFest will be right around the corner. The celebration will begin anew, just in time for hurricane season. 

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