You can’t write about New Orleans without writing about Mardi Gras. It is the party that runs through it. If you have been hanging around here much, then you know I’m a hermit, so the hermit and The World’s Largest Party have a few compatibility issues.
But I was younger back then, so I did experience the Party and wrote home about it one, two, yes, three times in the column that I used to write for my home town newspaper. I think it is clear that this small town Wyoming/hermit was not well prepared for the Party. But I did get out alive.
Mardi Gras is not the only party going on around there. There is also St. Patrick’s Day. It looks like a lot like Mardi Gras only it is:
- Greener (and minus the purple and gold)
- In addition to beads and cups, they throw potatoes, cabbages, and brussels sprouts.
- And there is kissing.
Yes, you read that right. Kissing. Dudes with these tall, paper-flower covered poles walk the parade route picking gals to kiss, then presenting them with one of the flowers. My mom was visiting one year when a mini parade passed us in the mall and a gentleman planted a beery kiss on her. Luckily he’d moved on before she recovered from the shock of being kissed by a complete stranger in a mall.
There are also numerous festivals. In fact, there is almost always something going on, or something about to go on in New Orleans. A quick look at the calendar, I see we’ve already missed the Bayou Boogaloo, but could still catch the Oyster Festival. Oh, bummer. JazzFest is already over.
That was probably one of my favorite things to do, despite the high concentration of people. I think I did mention that I’m always there for the food? In a single morning at JazzFest (I always leave when I need to pee because I get PSTD at the sight of a Port-O-Let), you can graze through a more than decent selection of the best foods New Orleans has to offer. And if you graze with a friend and share? You can double your tasting.
At JazzFest I also learned to love the jazz and was introduced to a lot of different music types, like Zydeco. We don’t hear a lot of Zydeco in Wyoming, probably because the washboard wasn’t offered as a band instrument in my high school.
One of my favorite people watching moments happened at JazzFest. Obviously this is a family friendly event, so there is a dress code of sorts, a code very liberally interpreted by a young woman who chose to dress in paint. Green, gold and purple paint. Luckily, her pants were actual jeans. But I’d have to give her the award for creative use of paint. She was more covered than some of the dudes and gals she was with.
New Orleans certainly expanded my world view in new and interesting ways. I can’t say I loosened up that much by Louisiana standards, but by Wyoming standards I came seriously close to being Out of Control. I was home when some fake Beatles were touring. They ran out on the stage and everyone clapped. For the fake Beatles. Clapped.
I’m like, you can’t just clap for the fake Beatles. You have to scream and stuff. So I did. My family might have been a bit mortified, but the fake Beatles appreciated it. And pretty soon everyone joined in screaming and dancing. Made it feel like we were watching the real Beatles.
The Before New Orleans Me would have just sat there, so yeah, I was profoundly affected by our years in the Big Easy. And not just because I could scream for some fake Beatles. I got to know the people, see their strengths and learn from them. I got to live there long enough to love it. To know what it means to miss New Orleans.
One of the things I’ve loved about writing about New Orleans in my Big Uneasy books, is yes, visiting New Orleans again, but more than that, discovering what I learned. I didn’t know what I knew, didn’t know what I’d learned, until I went back in my imagination.
New Orleans taught me what it could teach a hermit about partying. But far beyond the party are the lessons about living with differences. They don’t just talk about it. They do it. It’s a huge melting pot, gumbo of a people place. They also taught me about perseverance through adversity. About knowing when to fight change and when to adapt to it. About living large. About being happy, even when you’re sad.
Thank you, New Orleans, for teaching this small town, high altitude gal to be a little more easy.
Have any of the places you lived or visited changed you? Had small or profound impact on you? Changed how you look at the world? Made sure you missed them when you left?
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