2.09.2010

New Orleans, the place where I wasn't born. (An introduction.)

Actually, I was born during a blizzard in Akron, Ohio. Go figure. Meanwhile, every single other member of my family including my sister and the vast majority of my cousins (first once removed, second, third, second once removed – what have you) was born within the bounds of Orleans Parish. My family has always used the anomaly of my erroneous birthplace to account for my dislike of spicy foods, olives, raw oysters, hot weather, and many other things that are supposed to be in my blood. At least I’ve warmed up to olive oil and onions.

I also didn’t grow up in New Orleans. After a dizzying succession of moves that I can’t quite list, we settled on the Gulf Coast of Florida for a while. There I developed a proper appreciation for large trees and larger bodies of water. But in an attempt at full-on culture shock, when I was eleven we moved to the D.C. Metro area – Silver Spring, Maryland to be specific. My laid back, laissez-faire southern parents were not ready for the East Coast. It made them miserable, and they spent the next seven years spreading it around.

And then, finally, in 1996 we moved “back home.” Whose home? I kept asking. Not mine, for sure – I’d never lived there. At 18, I did not take well to being uprooted once again, and was of a temperament that didn’t take well to much of anything at all. But of course New Orleans was familiar enough. My whole extended family was there, and I’d been visiting the town at least twice a year for my entire life. Indeed, my Grandpa’s house on Oaklawn Drive was the single most stable location of my childhood, the only place I’d spent time as a baby where I could still spend time – and, in fact, where I spend time now. Still, it took time to adjust.

Like six years.

But at some point, well, I just stopped being such a twat and realized that I shouldn’t be fighting the city, trying to make it something it isn’t, trying to make it work in ways that it never will. It’s true of anywhere really: learn how to live in the city as it is, don’t decide how you want it to be and then try to force it to behave that way. It would behoove many people to learn this. Ahem.

Given this roundabout way of finding a home in New Orleans, I’ve ended up with a unique perspective on it. I’m both an insider and an outsider. I lived there for nine years (and left rather unexpectedly in 2005 – want to guess why?), and I may live there again someday. I’ve been visiting there since… I’ve never not visited there. My parents were born and raised, as were some of my closest friends. And yet I, of course, wasn’t. I do feel like I missed out on some experiences – when people ask me where I went to high school, what to say? Well, my mom went to Ursulines…

But then there’s so many things I have done. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade with my aunt and uncle at their house on Severn. Coffee and beignets at Morning Call. Dinner at Mandina’s, Liuzza’s, Liuzza’s by the Track, Cassamento’s, Tujague’s, Jaques-Imo’s. 3am french fry po boys from Verti Marte. Late night breakfast at Camellia Grill. Way too much liquor at Turtle Bay and Molly’s. Way too much coffee (and far, far too many hours) at Kaldi’s, and then PJ’s, and then Rue. Brass bands at the Maple Leaf. My Grandpa’s dixieland jazz band playing at Jazz Fest. Endymion. Zulu. The New Year’s Eve Christmas Tree Bonfire, before it got ruined. Crazy thunderstorms on the lake. Hell, I went to University of New Orleans for eight years – that’s about as New Orleans as it gets. :P

I do believe that being able to be on the outside looking in lets me appreciate the city in different ways. Maybe even more than that, being away these past four years has strengthened my love and enhanced my understanding of the place. So I do, in fact, know what it means to miss New Orleans.

Some day I hope to come back to the city, to do it right – be on the inside looking in again. To have full time vegan New Orleans adventures! Until then I’ll visit, and I’ll write about it. And I’ll cook.

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