I live in a suburb of New Orleans and have been writing here off and on for 10 years. I have been married 53 years to the same crazy guy.
Beauty of Louisiana
Arkansas to Louisiana: From Venison Steak to Boiled Crawfish
I moved to New Orleans, or a suburb of New Orleans, 45 years ago. This photo of Lake Maurepas is just outside New Orleans. Being a country girl from Arkansas, the beauty of the natural environment is what I love best about Louisiana. I grew up in rural Arkansas. When my husband was transferred here, we flew down to New Orleans to look for a house. While driving on St. Charles, we saw a streetcar. We didn't bother to move out of the way because we thought it was a museum piece. We were almost killed. Yes, we were truly that naïve.
MY FAVORITE THINGS
One of the things that won my heart about this area was the chicory coffee. There is nothing on this earth like a cup of coffee and chicory with boiled milk. I was hooked on the first cup. One of my favorites and something almost all native New Orleanians have every Monday for dinner is red beans and rice. I like the garlicky flavor and the smoked sausage we eat with it. I've come to be a crawfish lover. When we moved here and went to a company crawfish boil, I was almost nauseated, watching my husband's coworkers sucking on the end of what we in Arkansas called mudbugs. Now the smell of crawfish boiling at all the different houses on our street around Easter-time is pure heaven. One thing I have learned and that has changed me from a size 7 when I moved here 40 years ago to a size 12 is that in New Orleans, you must celebrate. And a celebration in this city means food, family, booze, and wonderful times.
When I first came here, I had trouble deciphering some of the local expressions, although now they seem the norm. When I first heard a friend say: "I had morning sickness when I was pregnant for my first child, " I wondered if she was a surrogate mother. Now I know it's just the New Orleans version of "pregnant with." My neighbor told me she was going by her mother's house, and I assume she meant driving by it for some reason. Now I know it means "going to." Although they have faded, there are other expressions, "making (buying) groceries; lockers (closets); banquettes (sidewalks)"; and on and on. My children, who moved here at four and five, use those expressions themselves now.
The people here are friendly, mostly religious, generous to a fault, love a politician who's a "rascal," and seem at their best when partying and playing, although they work hard too. I left my very expensive camera in a taxi years ago after a trip to Canada. The cab driver found me, returned the camera and adamantly refused the reward I offered, becoming a little huffy that I even offered it. That type of gesture is typical of most New Orleanians.
Although I'm not a fan of Bourbon Street, I like taking the street car ride through the Garden District in early spring when the azaleas are blooming. There's nothing more beautiful. I love Christmas in the Oaks in City Park and the lights in LaFreniere Park, which once decorated the home of our fried chicken king, who has since died. The grandboys had such fun watching our neighborhood light up with fireworks on New Year's Eve this year. I don't think it's legal, but every year for 40 years, it's been the greatest show ever. I enjoy taking my grandchildren up on the levee to look at the river. The youngest one is a big boy now, but he still talks about when he was little and had to go real bad and Grandma let him pee on the levee.
TAKE ME TO THE MARDI GRAS
When our children were small, we took our ladders with seats attached down to St. Charles and Girod and met friends at 8:00 a.m. on the Saturday before Mardi Gras. We stayed there watching parades, drinking beer, and catching beads until the last parade rolled after 8:00 p.m. At noon, we went around the corner to the park where we ate our fried chicken lunch. One year two homeless men who kept asking for money, saying they "just flew in from St. Louis," stole our whole container of fried chicken. I read them the riot act, but the chicken was gone forever. Later my friend, who looked a lot like me, said one of them came over and said he was going to choke her to death for yelling at them. She was furious because she got threatened instead of me. We were all somewhat buzzed, so it all seemed hilarious and we still laugh about it now.
One year, a young guy was wrapped around a stoplight, watching parades and catching beads, yelling a lot and having a ball. Suddenly there was a huge crash as the light fell over. The crowd went totally silent. He lay there for a moment, then staggered to his feet, yelling, "Throw me something, mister." The crowd clapped and yelled. He was so drunk he wasn't hurt at all, or if he was, he didn't feel it.
We always went to our spot on St. Charles every day until the end of Mardi Gras day and the last truck parade. Some of the trinkets we fought over, we wouldn't have leaned over to pick up anywhere else, but what wonderful happy times. I don't remember ever seeing anyone get angry in all those years. The biggest problem we ever had was when our friend dressed as a toilet and everyone kept trying to sit down on his lid. That is always a problem, no bathrooms except dirty portable potties. Back then, we paid a quarter a trip to use the facilities in a small hotel on St. Charles. Those days are over.
At some point, we burned out. These days, we go to our cabin in Arkansas during Mardi Gras. I wouldn't trade those crazy memories for anything, though.
New Orleans is unique. I wanted to give you a feel for what it's like to actually live a life here. It is a testament to the people of the city that New Orleans is thriving again after the devastation in 2005. I don't even want to mention the name of that wretched storm. I'll just call it the B**** as most of us here do. The city is emotional. Many of us cried when Jim Henderson said: "Hell has frozen over; pigs have flown; the New Orleans Saints have won the Super Bowl." We're emotional about sports, politics, family -- can one be emotional about food? It's a city that has life, breath, "flavor," and love. My son is in Paris currently and says it reminds him a great deal of New Orleans. I think of it as a city with its arms and heart wide open, waiting to show us all the art of living.
Although I grew up in Arkansas and still visit often, when we head south on I-55, we are definitely "going home."
Shoes of a Zydeco dancer during Mardi Gras
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A Brief Quiz
Quiz. (Cover answers below before beginning.)
1. Who is the coach of the New Orleans Saints?
2. What is the name of that great place that serves coffee and begneits in the quarter?
3. What is the name of the famous voodoo queen supposedly buried underneath the Superdome?
4. What name were the Saints called during their losing days?. .
5. What did N.O. Saints fans wear over their heads to the games during the losing days?
6. Who was mayor of New Orleans during Katrina?
7. Who is mayor of New Orleans at present?
8. Who is the famous stripper on Bourbon Street who is rumored to be getting close to 70 years old and who has never really stripped?
9. What was the redlight area in New Orleans called in days past?
10. What former governor of Louisiana recently got out of prison?
How did you do?
1. Sean Payton
2. Cafe Du Monde
3. Marie Laveau
5 Paper Bags
6. Ray Nagin
7. Mitch Landrieu
8. Chris Owens
10. Edwin Edwards