When I was back in Massachusetts this past weekend, I was asked by my uncle, "what's REALLY going on in New Orleans?" I guess my musings on eating, drinking, napping, my cats, and cable TV watching is not the scintillating reading that I thought it was.
Talking about The Real New Orleans is tough. First of all, I still feel like an observer here- like I don't have the right to make sweeping pronouncements about the state of New Orleans yet. I'm still learning about it. There are so many New Orleans universes contained in Orleans Parish- I feel like I've only experienced a fraction of them.
1) The "foodie" New Orleans. (I do hate that word, but chose it deliberately.) I have eaten some amazing food at some amazing restaurants. August, Cochon, MiLa, Boucherie, Coquette, Herbsaint, Brightsens, Emeril's, Mandina's... lemon ice at Brocatos, sno-balls at Hansen's, fried chicken at Willie Mae's... BBQ Shrimp Poboy at Liuzza's by the Track, french fry poboy at Parkway, roast beef poboy at Parasol's, Cochon du lait poboy at Mahoney's... tacos on South Claiborne, burritos at Juan's, lots of pizza at Reginelli's....
Been cooking too- really trying to honor the ingredients of the region. The beautiful Gulf shrimp, like nothing I've had before. Red beans & rice with 4 kinds of pork, smothered greens, shrimp and corn stew... grits, grits, and more grits.
People here LOVE food. You don't hear the guilt about enjoying food, and the self-flagellation for over-indulging. Food is love. You talk about what you had for lunch, what you cooked for dinner, what you found at the farmers market, and everyone has an opinion about where the Best of anything is found. I love it. It's like the spirit of indulgence and hospitality and sharing is directed through the food, in all its form. I mean, I bought pralines from some random lady on the street in front of my house! Can I get a HELL YEAH???
2) the drinkin' New Orleans. People like to have fun here, celebrate days that end in "y", absolutely. People also have some hard fucking lives to escape. But whatever your reason for drinking, tourist or local, you can always find the gamut sitting along any bar in the city. Tales of the Cocktail was almost the most decadent of the decadent. Liquor professionals plying their trades and wares in New Orleans.
Tom and I have developed a taste for Miller Lite since moving down here. It's refreshing, it's drinkable, and pleasant on a hot summer day. It's a surprise to us as much as anyone else. On the other end of the beer drinking equation, we've been finding some kindred spirits over at the Avenue Pub- we try to get there fairly frequently and love their love of beer. We recently found ourselves spending 8 hours there for a fundraiser//auction and had a great time, and also walked away having spent an embarrassing amount of money on rare beers.
Another surprise has been the Bridge Lounge- the dog friendly dark bar looks like a hole in the wall but is actually a sleek neighborhood bar that specializes in mojitos. I am also a Sazerac fan, which I need to get back to. We've been expanding our home cocktail mixology here as well- more booze in our collection, we've added a vintage ice crusher to our kitchen. We keep citrus on hand for delicious fresh juice cocktails.
Let us also not forget the only microbrewery in New Orleans - NOLA Brewing right in the 'hood!
Somewhat related to both food and drink in New Orleans was the drama that surrounded the Parasol's-->Tracy's drama. This was another time when I didn't feel like I had the right to be disappointed, which I was, but I was still so new that I didn't have the emotional attachment. The neighborhood has taken it more or less in stride though, so I'm following their lead.
On that note:
3) The Irish Channel New Orleans. I had the fortune of having my sole local contact as the President of the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association. She's fiercely passionate about the neighborhood, and has brought me into the community. I like the Channel- it's not overrun with hipsters and yuppies, it's close to Magazine Street, and the people are nice. It's not perfect- there are shootings and crack dealers and muggings and blight- but I love it.
I was lucky enough to be a part of a volunteer effort to bring a playground to the Irish Channel, and rally the community around it. I met so many people, went to businesses, and really got to understand the pride that people have in this community and how willing they are to fight for it against crime and drugs.
I'm now able to parlay that joy into my new job, working for Neighborhoods Partnership Network, an organization that is in place to unite, educate, provide resources, and advocate for neighborhoods and communities throughout New Orleans.
4) The musical New Orleans. We've been to a couple clubs, seen Kermit at Vaughn's, etc. I'd like to do more of that. We are still, you know, *us*. We are homebodies and we like to stay in and read and watch TV and hang out with each other and the cats. (We DO go out and about a lot more often than we used to, though.) I'd say the most amazing experience I've had was the second-line during Satchmo Fest. I absolutely cannot wait for more second-lines. The unfettered joy, dancing, interaction, music... it's just a party in the streets and something that strikes me as quintessential New Orleans, and something that actual New Orleanians do.
Like food and booze, music is yet another vehicle for expressing a lust for life that is truly inspirational.
5) The New Orleans in the Lower Ninth Ward. This is one area of discussion that I'm very cautious about, as my privilege, it is staggering. I have done and will continue doing volunteer work with an amazing organization called the Lower Ninth Ward Village - the brainchild of Mack McClendon. His goal is simple: he wants to bring people back to their homes in the Lower Ninth and to unite the community. I am hoping to help Mack and his brother Joe with the organizational type skills that I have in order to help their vision succeed. I figure as long as I'm not an asshole, people can laugh at my liberal white guilt or whatever as long as I'm actually providing something positive for Mack and his community.
I've seen some shit in the Lower Ninth that continues to be heartbreaking. Went to Mack's house, which is still under construction and may soon be foreclosed on. Seen the houses that still stand with holes in the roof, from people clawing their way out of the rapidly rising water to hope for rescue. Vacant lots. Overgrown lots. Lots with only a cement foundation left, after the surge waters knocked the rest of the house clean off of it and carried it for blocks. It's simply not OK that protection these people deserved was completely subpar and it's not OK that it's such a struggle for people to get back and rebuild.
Even after 5 years, people need help. People needed help before Katrina, and the oppressive and parasitic infrastructure here is hopefully starting to change. Tom hates it when I dismiss something that hasn't been done, or has been done late, slowly, or poorly, as "well, that's New Orleans." And he's right. Every citizen here deserves better than that. I think there will always be a prevailing attitude of laissez faire, but the potential to change is there- people are fired up after Katrina, fired up after the media dismissed the poor city dwellers who remained as savage, criminal animals, fired up even in the face of horrible federal, state, and city red tape to rebuild, fired up during and after the Saints' championship season.
And you just can't help but fall in love with that spirit, with the city, with the food, and the booze, and the music, and the people. I knew I belonged here from the first time I visited.
I hope to learn more about these New Orleans, as my exploration of them is hardly exhaustive. And I have so much more to learn and see and experience.
Tonight, the "real" New Orleans is contained in the Superdome and in the streets around it and in the streets of the French Quarter where they just had a parade and concert. Everyone here is PUMPED UP, I tell you what. City offices closed, companies and schools and post offices let out early, the local papers and websites were full of discussion of the Saints. It's one of the best reasons to celebrate and EVERYONE is. I've never seen anything like it except maybe for championship series of Red Sox. And this is just the first game of the season!
WHO DAT? TWO DAT!!