I’ve been praying for those affected by Hurricane Isaac, especially those who are reliving the emotional trauma left over from Katrina. I’m sure it brings back a lot of terrible memories. However, when I first started thinking about my annual Katrina anniversary post a couple of weeks ago, I decided I was going to focus on the positive. The truth is that our emotional attachment to New Orleans was no doubt heightened by our personal experiences just before Katrina and by our observations of the recovery since. It’s hard to say whether our connection with the city and its people would be as intense otherwise. In any case, our time in New Orleans has changed the way I look at life.
So here is a list of ten things I’ve learned from New Orleans.
- If you take a chance you will be rewarded. My natural inclination leans toward the safe-and-sure but New Orleans has shown me the pleasures of adventure. Whether it’s trying a new food, talking to strangers or dressing like a wench, a willingness to step out of my comfort zone has added a lot of zest to my life in recent years. Despite my steak and potato upbringing I now happily slurp raw oysters and suck da heads of dem crawfish with gusto.
- Any occasion is reason for a parade or a party. My first real experience with this philosophy was seven years ago on my birthday. It was the Saturday before Katrina made landfall on Monday. We had made what few preparations were possible in our situation and then went to a hurricane party. I suppose we could have sat in our hotel fretting but what would that have accomplished? Since then we have watched the people of New Orleans throw parties and plan parades for occasions that would slip by unnoticed in most other cities. When it comes to making the most of life, NOLA has elevated it to an art form.
- Music is the heart and soul of life. Music has always been important to me but my time in New Orleans has convinced me that it is the very life-blood of humanity. Music is the great equalizer in a diverse society. Rich or poor, black or white, old or young…everyone in New Orleans is drawn together by their love of music. It’s almost impossible to walk more than a block in most parts of the city without encountering some form of music. The elderly gentleman who has been a long-time fixture in the quarter, tap-dancing youngsters on Bourbon Street, a second-line honoring the dearly departed, a lone trumpeter on a street corner, Dixieland Jazz in an un-air-conditioned hall…the city dances and sways to the rhythm of its music. Whereas a musician in another city might be utterly ignored by the masses of humanity streaming by, people in New Orleans stop, listen awhile, dance with strangers in the street, then toss a few coins in an open guitar case before continuing on their way. They might be a few minutes later than they had planned but no one seems to question whether this was the right choice.
- Time is relative. In a city where many rely on streetcars or buses which have only a nodding acquaintance with anything as mundane as a schedule, starting times at most events are merely suggestions. Even those with their own cars don’t always fare much better because you cannot be certain of finding a parking space without several trips around the block. And of course we’ve already mentioned potential distractions for walkers. But that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Time in New Orleans seems to be slower and less defined. It ebbs and flows in a gentle, languid pattern, moving in and out of the hours, days, weeks, seasons. People walk slower, talk slower. It’s probably a survival technique which has evolved due to the heat and humidity.
- Even bad experiences can be a worthwhile part of life. At least in retrospect. If nothing else they have that element of “this will be funny someday”. No, a severe hangover on the day you’ve been invited to your first crab boil (I recommend sticking with the potatoes and bread) isn’t pleasant at the time. And you’re likely to spend much of the day knee-deep in regret. But with a little time and distance you’re more likely to remember the invigorating discussion in the bar with the guy from Germany which distracted you from more careful alcohol ingestion. Besides, it gives your husband a good story and provides you with a clever nickname for the scene of the crime. (Can you guess what it is?)
- Don’t judge. Some of the best food comes from rather sketchy-looking restaurants and those crazy folks who dress like pirates just might turn out to be some of the best friends you could wish for.
- The simple moments are what make life worth living. Watching fireworks over the Mississippi. Catching some live music while waiting for an afternoon thunderstorm to pass. Sitting on porch steps with friends on a lazy Sunday. Afternoon sex and a long nap. Late night talks with a good friend, feet dangling in a hot tub. Eating biscuits and gravy in a Bourbon Street diner with friends at 3 a.m. Watching friends shoot pool in a dive bar. These are the moments which, when strung together like pearls, make a life.
- Playing dress-up isn’t just for kids. Despite typically smaller homes, NOLA folks find room for a collection of costumes. Nary a month goes by without a good excuse to don a costume of some sort. Halloween and Mardi Gras are obvious but those are just the beginning. You’ve got to love a city in which many of the men own a red dress.
- It’s okay to be different. In fact, it’s better. New Orleans embraces the “march to the beat of a different drummer” philosophy with dedication and fervor. An hour spent people-watching will convince you of this fact. Try walking the streets of the Quarter dressed like a pirate on a random Tuesday. Only the tourists will even notice.
- Life is short so lighten up. Dance in the street. Eat beignets. Stay up late. Do shots with people you just met at the bar. Change your plans. March in a parade. Buy a fancy hat…and wear it. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of living in a city surrounded by water and vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, but the people of New Orleans grab hold of each moment and live it for all it’s worth. I’ve been watching, NOLA. And I’m learning your lessons.
Links to previous Katrina/NOLA posts:
- One Year Ago Today
- Two Years…Too Long
- Three Years Ago
- Four Years Ago
- Memory Lane Monday – New Orleans
- Six Years Ago
- A Confederacy of Lunatics
- Our Silver Wedding Anniversary
- We Survived a Week in the Marigny
- I think I’ll dance
- New Orleans adventures
- New Orleans is a seductress