Friday, August 28, 2009

Fridays Five Favorite Things - New Orleans

I remember like it just happened learning of the levee break that would be the start of a new life for anyone who has ever called themself a New Orleanian. My friend Lucy is a newscaster in New Orleans and was in a helicopter flying over the city. She had been texting me to keep me up to date with the latest happenings in and around the city. It was just before lunchtime and we were with a group of friends (some old and some who just like us were taken in by the Kopieczek family) when I saw the red light on my phone turn on indicating I had a new message. It read - "17th street Canal levee broken. Lakeview gone. Expect 15-20 feet of water." I relayed the message to my family in a brief private moment so that the four of us could mourn alone. My sister said "I wish we had just stayed and drowned." Hearing that now does not make sense, but at the time, I think for everyone who had spent a lifetime in the invisible walls of our home, we truly could not imagine a life outside of them. Where would we go, what would we do, who would we be. In an instant, it was as though someone had stripped us of our indentity and told us to start over. I remember telling my mom that afternoon that I wish I was from Boise and had never even been to New Orleans on vacation. I wish I had never even heard of such a place. Maybe then it wouldn't hurt to much. It had truly manifested into a physical, not just emotional pain. I realized in the days that followed the initial shock of it all, that I would rather know the pain we felt watching our dear city under seige, than to never have known the love we have for it as well. I have said before that New Orleans is not where I am from, rather it is who I am. I think that in that spirit I will share with you my five favorite things about the place I call home.
  1. The accent - I grew up going to a daycare called Buster Bear. At Buster Bear, we had made friends with two children whose father's name was John (traditional pronunciation). Here's the thing about him, until I was about 12 I thought his name was Mista Jawn. That's how everybody said it. The day I realized his name was John and not Jawn was like the day I found out the Easter Bunny didn't actually exist. The accent here is thick and can sometimes be abrasive, but at the end of the day, there is nothing more New Orleans than someone asking "where y'at" when like would like to know where you are.
  2. The food - it's hard to imagine a place more defined by food than New Orleans. There is a great book called Gumbo Tales: Finding Your Place at the New Orleans table. It is an amazing depiction of the importance of food culture in New Orleans. Dining in New Orleans is a ritual. Red beans and rice on Mondays. Fried catfish and seafood gumbo on Fridays. And crawfish boils during Lent. We cook because we love to eat, and we love to eat because we love to share our history and our stories with a circle of friends. the New Orleans table is there for anyone who is looking to find it.
  3. The culture - when you grow up in a place like New Orleans, you do not realize it is different. You think that everyone has off of school for Mardi Gras and that everyone knows how to peel a crawfish. And when you learn they don't you think that they are the ones who are strange. We are from a place where we consider the unusual an everyday part of life.
  4. The people - we have learned that you can't count out the people of New Orleans. We are fiercely loyal almost to a fault. We are prideful of what we do best - share everything we know and love with those who are interesting in appreciating it. We will take you into our hearts and teach you all there is to know and love about our dear city because it's the only thing most of us have ever known. And we will thank you everyday for wanting to learn about us and understand what would make us want to stay in New Orleans and fight for a better city.
  5. The spirit - it is everywhere. On one hand it is almost so tangible that you can cup your hand and hold a little bit of it. Yet, it is illusive and inexplicable. It is something you see, something you taste, and something you feel, but how do you describe it. I don't know how, to be honest. I just know that when you are born there, it is just in you. And when you visit, you will want to take it home with you. It is that spirit that we have kept alive four years later. Through our darkest hour our spirit never wavered. We knew that it might take time, but New Orleans would home again. We are New Orleans. And as long as the spirit of the city courses through our veins, New Orleans will be reborn.

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