I didn’t think that the first time we met. The first time we met I thought, “oh, Big Easy, you’re so small minded and painful.” In New Orleans’ defense, my first time here was Mardi Gras. I’ve since been told by numerous people, never come to New Orleans’ your first time during Mardi Gras. It’s a shit storm (nearly literally) and in no way an accurate representation of the city and its people.
Let’s briefly review that trip, shall we? Just so you’ll understand my initial perspective. We stayed in Metairie…NEVER STAY IN METAIRIE. And it was not long after the David Duke business. You might know how much I love bigots, so imagine how much I loved staying in bigot headquarters. (Just to be clear, I’m being facetious.) It. Was. Awesome. That was the first mistake. Second mistake? We pretty much only went out at night. Third mistake? We pretty much only went out to Bourbon St. Our first night on the parade route, a guy throwing beads off the float gestured for me to…reveal something about myself. He was wearing a mask and cape, and we made this weird eye contact. He gestured, I shyly shook my head “no.” This interaction repeated a couple of times. When I shook my head the last time, he swept his hand across his neck, gesturing to let me know I was cut off. It was a real ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ moment, to be honest. He then leaned over, pointed me out to the person next to him, they looked at me, and he shook his finger “no.” As in, “no more for you Miss Prude.” The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Well, okay. Shortly after that encounter we somehow managed to attract a little unit of bigots who threw around the “N” word like it was going out of style. They also tried to explain racial politics in New Orleans to us… from the white man’s perspective. Did I mention how much I love bigots? Angry bigots? Yes, so imagine how much I loved hanging out with them as we sloshed through a foot of sewage on Bourbon St. that night, AND EVERY OTHER NIGHT WE WERE IN NEW ORLEANS. That was mistake number four, and I was screaming “Uncle” by day two. I really don’t need to tell you anymore, do I? You get the gist. Admittedly, I did have a few great moments on that trip. For instance, I ate alligator. Don’t call PETA. I’m pretty sure they were free range. Alligator tastes like chicken. Fishy chicken. Oh, also, I now use the beads I collected on that trip to decorate our Christmas tree. There’s some dramatic irony there that really tickles me every year.
Anywho, on this trip I was determined to love New Orleans. To experience it with a fresh soul. To give the city and the people a chance to be loved. First step? It’s not Mardi Gras. Second Step? I’m staying in the warehouse district. Third step? I’m staying the hell away from Bourbon St. These things alone are such an improvement over my prior approach that it damn near guaranteed success. The areas of the city I missed before are absolutely gorgeous. Gas lamps, hanging plants, historic buildings…my friend calls it “drippy,” and that’s perfect. You know what else is perfect? How imperfect this city is. Come. Be you. Whoever you are. Check your perfection at the door…there’s no room for it here. None. I’m convinced that’s why they call it The Big Easy. Because life is so much easier when you’re not tip toeing around a bunch of rules. Rules of decorum, rules of morality, rules of the road. Oh screw the rules. Here it’s so EASY. And that alone makes you feel bigger… bigger and open… open and free.
Also, being bad is relative. What’s bad elsewhere, is not bad here. Not even close. My poor ‘must do what’s expected’ soul took a big cleansing breath, slammed a drive-thru daiquiri, and said, “WE’RE HOME.” Because you can be yourself in New Orleans. The creativity is flowing, the expectations are gloriously low, and you’re responsible for yourself. And so guess what? Go figure…people are happy here. I texted my husband and said, “I’m not coming home. Bring the kids, we’re moving to New Orleans.” He texted back, “New Orleans? Really?” Yep.
Today I touristed my way around St. Louis Cathedral. At the end of the day, I sat in the park reading for an hour while a saxophonist played songs from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Hello Dolly, and The Wizard of Oz. It was heavenly. Just before the park closed, the bells of the cathedral began to chime. Heaven.
Oh, New Orleans, you’re so perfectly imperfect, I just want to lick you. I’m not gonna’ because you’re filthy, but just know…the longing is there.
I’m supposed to head home tomorrow. I suppose I will. I’ll go, but I’ll be back, and until then, I am going to remember how it feels to feel like myself and to feel just fine. Big and Easy.