Throughout this year, several bloggers will engage in a conversation here and on their blogs — asking questions of each other and responding. Others are absolutely welcome to join the conversation, as well. Learn more about the ladies of Blogversation 2012.
Why do I love New Orleans? If I say it’s about the music, food, architecture and art, that doesn’t get at why NOLA is different from my hometown, New York.
I read a book last year called Letters from New Orleans, short observations by a guy who’d recently moved there about what his new life was like. He put his finger on something I hadn’t been able to when he said New Orleanians are unabashed.
To generalize, New Yorkers are concerned about appearances. It’s a fashion mecca where many people work at getting into the right see-and-be-seen restaurants and clubs.
I’ve been to music shows in NYC where people sit politely or furrow their brows in concentration. Maybe that’s just the kind of stiff folks they are, or maybe they’re too worried about appearing cool to risk dancing.
Meanwhile New Orleanians, generally speaking, seem to let their freak flags fly. Why wouldn’t they dance a little too wildly when their coworkers already saw them dressed in nutty costumes for Mardi Gras?
There’s a good reason that the Crescent City is also the No. 1 city for bars, wild weekends, and people-watching: every day can be its own form of Mardi Gras, from the Frenchmen Street area to the whole French Quarter.
Even those who’ve never been to New Orleans probably have a mental picture of the costumed kookiness of Mardi Gras and the whole Carnival season leading up to it, now in full swing.
But it’s so much deeper than drunk college girls showing their boobs to get beads on Bourbon Street.
In a city that celebrates its voodoo roots, there’s a love of Halloween and costumes.
There’s also a different relationship with death, as the traditional New Orleans jazz funeral includes both dirges and celebratory dancing.
I find it strange to go to a funeral where no one is crying — unless the deceased was a huge jerk (in which case, why are you there?), isn’t a funeral the perfect place to display the emotions you feel in that loss?
New Orleans unabashedly lets loose on death.
Even the homes in New Orleans are more unabashed. Showing the Caribbean influence of this Gulf of Mexico port city, it’s not unusual to see homes painted bright colors like teal or yellow instead of the muted, “don’t offend the neighbors” neutrals I grew up with.
Perhaps because I was voted strangest girl in my senior class (an honor that will stay with me forever, in spite of the election having been rigged by the staff of my high school newspaper), this celebration of eccentricity speaks to me.
Instead of self censoring out of fear that we’ll be judged, if you’re instead stifling a giggle at seeing the boss dressed in drag on Mardi Gras or getting praise and encouragement for the clever costume you made, that seems enormously liberating.
Spending three months of 2011 in New Orleans gave me the opportunity to settle into this different way of life. I felt inspired to invest more energy in what makes my heart sing than in worrying what other people think.
I have tried to bring that spirit back home with me to Brooklyn, and though I don’t live in Williamsburg, I’m realizing there’s plenty of room to be unabashed here, too.
The Huffington Post recently ran an article headlined Six-Plus Years After Hurricane Katrina, Now Is a Great Time to Visit New Orleans. The post is basically a NOLA to-do list for visitors, which concludes by saying:
Warning: your food will taste a little bland and everything will look a little less colorful when you get back.
I’m doing what I can to keep the color and the spice in my heart.
Who or what inspires you? Why?