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Five Life Lessons from New Orleans

Hi guys, I’m back!  I was away for a long weekend in my happy place, New Orleans. I’m still trying to get over the cocktail/fried oyster/beignet hangover. (As Kinky Friedman once said you have to “find what you love and let it kill you.” If New Orleans is trying to kill me, I’m going to let it.)

As long-time readers of the blog know, I met my husband in New Orleans — at jazz fest, in front of Solomon Burke, the world’s sexiest 400 lb man. Since then, it’s our go-to place for lifting out of any funk, and we needed a break after this summer’s disaster (The Vacation That Wasn’t… aka, my son’s fractured arm fiasco).

New Orleans never fails to disappoint. We gorged for a few days in the French Quarter and came home with lighter wallets and fatter tummies.

I’ve tried to understand the power of the place, beyond my own personal sentiment. So forgive the Monday morning blog fodder, barrel scraping, but this is what I’ve come up with — the life lessons New Orleans teaches me every time I visit.

1. Dignity is over-rated. I like gravitas as much as the next person. I’m a WASP after all, being uptight comes easily to us. But there is joy in letting your hair down, adorning it with feathers and publicly walking around looking like a debauched circus performer. Of course, I haven’t done this — but I admire people who do — and they are everywhere on display in New Orleans. AARP age women in 6-inch pink plastic heels, men in feather boas, dogs in tutus, and  white people  attempting to dance a second line — you are all ridiculous. And I salute you! You look very, very happy!

Lesson? Let go of your inner critic, chumps. Get up. Wear a bright color, shake your ass to the groove. Life is for the living.

2. Sometimes life is better without reservations. The best-scripted plans go awry — and it’s often wonderful if you’re open to it. To me, New Orleans is about serendipity. Biggest example of that was meeting my husband there. Falling in love with a Texan and moving to Texas was NEVER on my life plan. And thank goodness I was open to it anyway.

This trip, the serendipitous moment was stumbling into Galatoire’s without a reservation. Odds of this happening on a Friday night in the French quarter when LSU is playing? Probably infinitesimal, but miracles do happen people. The maitre did not sniff at us, he just asked my husband to wear the borrowed jacket, sent us to the bar to liquor us up for 20 minutes, and then sat us down to one of the best meals of our life.

This was a much better outcome than ANYTHING we could’ve planned. It took being rejected at  several other lesser venues first. It took a certain stumbling around aimlessly. It took hunger and the risk taking that results from delirium — “Hey, that’s Galatoires! What the hell? Let’s try it!”

Risk. Go off the grid. Let go of your plan. There may be something much better out there waiting for you. Wear a jacket.

3. Make a joyful noise. In New Orleans, horn sections held together with duct tape are a common sight. That right there is a metaphor — no matter how shabby your instrument, you can do something amazing with it.

New Orleans does music better than any city on the planet. This is undisputed, of course, but if you want proof, listen to my little homemade videos I posted here. The first one is John Boutte at the DBA club, and the second is Doreen, a street performer regular and classically trained clarinetist. Most people stand and worship for awhile, throw some money in the bucket. But more astounding to me are the people who don’t. Who walks past this?! Idiots, that who.

It’s not just that they make great music in New Orleans, it’s that they appear to do it with so little. With community and church and second-hand instruments. With $5 cover charges, or no cover charges. They give joy away in New Orleans. You can stand and rightfully worship and be transcended by such talent, or you can get lost in self-absorption.

Lesson? Get out of your head, chumps. There’s beauty everywhere. Be a worshipper.

4. Eat the gluten. Bread pudding is the secret to happiness. Zoloft has nothing on whiskey sauce.

5. Disaster can be overcome. This is the obvious metaphor for New Orleans, isn’t it? From the worst of calamities there is rebirth. Nothing is lost forever. Yes, you might have to hold your tuba together with duct tape — but you can still blow.

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  • “But more astounding to me are the people who don’t. Who walks past this?! Idiots, that who.”

    And this a metaphor for those who throw away a good marriage. Who walk away, not knowing the beauty that’s in front of them.

    • Agree, Jim! Well said, CL! Glad you had a lovely weekend; you do so much for all of us. I’m happy to hear you take care of yourself.

  • I also LOVE New Orleans – the food, the music, the history. Haven’t made it to the Halloween haunted house tour in the French Quarter yet, but it’s definitely on my “to do list.” 😉

    It’s funny – XH and I went there for our 5th anniversary, and again when I was pregnant with D16. It was “our town.” But my first thought when I read your post wasn’t about XH – it was, “The girls would LOVE the French Quarter…and Nottoway, Oak Alley, and Destrehan” (River Road plantations).

    You know you’re on the mend when you’re looking forward instead of back…

    Thanks, CL!

  • CL,
    I love NOLA and live less than an hour away, and go into the city several times a year just for fun. Before you go again, remind me to tell you how to find the best snow cone on earth in the Garden District…. a little stand that has over 100 flavors. If you are a serious cook and want to try some of the best recipes on earth, get a copy of Chef John Folse’s book: The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine. There is an Oyster Bisque recipe (with a white roux base) in there that is to die for. There is also a fig cake recipe (using fig preserves) in there that is awesome, too..for fig lovers. Folse and Tramonto’s restaurant Revolution on Bienville St. has some specialties that are incredibly good. So happy to hear you had a great getaway!!

  • “The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week–yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.” (Tom Robbins, *Jitterbug Perfume*)

    Life is good? Naw, cher, life is *delicious*.

  • New Orleans – I was down there on business in 2004, first and only time. I still dream of oyster po’ boys from Mothers…..

    I’d pick up coffee and beignet from Cafe du Monde and walk down to sit by the river every morning early before the heat really set in. I love rivers, and what a show the Mississippi is! That lovely river smell of diesel and muddy water and swamp…..

    I’ll be back one day, but in the meantime I’ve discovered that I can buy Cafe du Monde chicory-and-coffee here in one of the Asian markets. Every weekend I put on some good jazz, brew up a big cup of cafe au lait, and relax.

    I swear, the first man who calls me “cher”, expecially if he can make jumbalaya, will have my northern heart forever!

  • I so loves me some N’awlins. Most recent visit was January, and it was the first one since Katrina. Third visit in all. I was so pleased to see the progress since the mess. Can’t wait til the next time. Each time, there are new and renewed pleasures. It’s a world of it’s own.

  • I was just there (my first time) in July for my daughter’s wedding. My STBXH decided he did not want to go to his daughter’s wedding so my other daughter and I went without him. We had been separated for about a year and was on the fence about divorce. That was the first time in several years where I actually relaxed and had fun. My brother in law tried to teach me how to “drink like a sailor on leave” and I failed miserably but damn if I didn’t have fun trying. Grenades anyone?! I came home with a new perspective–let him eat cake–all the cake he wants. I don’t care. He will just have to have cake without his wife. My life changed there. Nothing major happened, did not meet the man of my dreams (wasn’t looking either), no epiphanies, just a truly let my hair down and had a fun time.

    The next morning on my way down to get beignets there was this little brass quartet playing all the classic blues and jazz you could think of. I was there for an hour. I danced like only a white girl can’t but I didn’t care. I kept dropping money in their bucket and they played to the only member of their audience. Best therapy EVER! It was amazing. NOLA now holds a special place in my heart. I has given me back my life.

    • What kind of father skips his daughter’s wedding?! An idiot that’s who. Wow.

      And I think you DID have an epiphany in New Orleans — you came home with a new perspective, to let him eat cake without you.

      Keep dancing like a white girl, Redless! Nola has a special place in my heart too.

  • My dad (also a chump thanks to his second XW) goes to New Orleans every year with his current wife (his third, he finally found the right one). Maybe it’s the ambiance, or maybe it’s the Hurricanes, but it’s their favorite place to go.

    It may be my turn at some point. I need an excuse to take 900 pictures in a week as I always do when I go somewhere.

  • You just put New Orleans on my “to do” list CL, thanks!

    For those of us in the DC area, the Renfest is awesome, I went last year for the first time and had to go again this year. So many dress up in costume and everyone is friendly and happy and it’s just amazingly fun. I will be going in costume next year 🙂

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