Jennifer's Journal


Monday, October 17, 2005

Once More, with Feeling

An editorial written by Erik Torkells in this month's Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel talked about Katrina and the damage to the gulf coast region.  As a sign off, Erik suggested that one of the best things any person who loves to travel can do to the help the region--or any other region hit by disaster--is to go and visit them as means of showing support.  That's so true.  And if you need a reason to return to New Orleans, I haven't seen a better one than this article that's making the Internet rounds:
 I Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans


      By Patti Nickell



     Twenty five-years ago, I followed a man to New Orleans.  A scant year later we were history and it was then that I really fell in love.  With a city.  The Crescent City, The Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot.

     Losing the boyfriend was bearable, but as I write this from my sisters’ home in Lexington, Kentucky following forced exile after Hurricane Katrina, I realize that losing the city is not.

      A quarter of a century ago I took New Orleans for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.  Now, after weeks of watching interminable and heart-wrenching images of its poverty and weakness, I choose to remember the richness of its spirit and robustness of its lifestyle.  This is what I can’t wait to get back to.

     Images come flooding in in kaleidoscopic fashion.  The first time I saw a jazz funeral, celebrating a life rather than mourning a death; the first time I sucked the tail of a well-seasoned crawfish; the first time I heard the happy tune from the Riverboat Natchez’s calliope or the distinctive clang and clip-clop of the Roman Candy Man making his rounds in his colorful horse-pulled cart.

     I think back to the glamour of my first Mardi Gras Ball when I had to make sure that my gown reached past my ankles (carnival protocol, you know) and the Woodstock-like atmosphere of my first Jazz  Fest (where I spent the entire afternoon mired in mud from a May deluge that turned the Fairgrounds into a quagmire.)

     I revel in memories of Breakfast at Brennan’s.  No egg-beaters and turkey bacon here; breakfast starts off with a Brandy Milk Punch or Ramos Gin Fizz and ends three hours later with a flambeed bananas Foster.  Those memories segue into ones of Friday afternoon lunch at Galatoire’s, where we regulars show up promptly at 11:30 to make sure we get our usual tables and preferred waiters.  You can generally still find us there as the dinner hour approaches.  Thinking of dinner, I drift in my mind to Arnaud’s with its cool, tiled floors and gently whirring ceiling fans where I can always get my favorite café brulot (a liquorized version of java) even on sweltering summer days.

     As a writer by vocation and painter by avocation, I have discovered just how nurturing New Orleans is to those who think (and act) outside the box.  A bohemian cousin of Paris’s Montmartre, it continues to attract those who would turn up their noses at the prospect of becoming Donald Trump’s latest apprentice, but who gladly strain their vocal chords hoping to emerge victorious in the "Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest” which signals an end to the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival.

     It was, in fact, Tennessee who best summed up the city’s appeal to eccentrics when he said, “In New York, eccentrics are ignored; in Los Angeles, they are arrested; in New Orleans, they are celebrated.” 

     He was right.  Just ask Evangeline the Oyster Girl or Ruthie, the Duck Lady.  Where else but New Orleans would you find a coroner who doubled as a trumpet player, or a District Attorney, Harry Connick, Sr., who would often show up for cabaret gigs with his famous son?  New Orleans’ motto has always been: if you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it.

     I can’t wait to savor a muffaletta at Central Grocery Store across from the French Market or a piping hot beignet at Café du Monde across from Jackson Square.  I can’t wait to rock with the Neville Brothers again at Tipitina’s or dance the night away at Rockin’ Bowl, surely the only bowling alley in the country that doubles as a dance hall.

     It can’t be soon enough for me to belly up to the bar at the Fairmont (which native New Orleanians still refer to as the Roosevelt) for a Sazerac, a local concoction that those who don’t know any better swear is made from lighter fluid.  Or to join the cadre of bon vivants who turn every Friday afternoon into an “Obituary Cocktail Party” (that’s after they stumble out of Galatoire’s, of course.) 

     Those who wonder if New Orleans will ever be the same again need not concern themselves.  Our Grande Dame has survived Spanish, French and Yankee occupation, yellow fever and malaria, fires and floods, pirates and privateers, carpetbaggers and charlatans, Boll Weevils and Formosan termites, Yellow Dog Democrats and Nazi-uniformed Republications.  It will survive Katrina as well.  In time, the Big Easy will shed its unease.

     Until that day, the words of Satchmo himself, will continue to resonate: Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans….miss it each night and day?

     Yes, I do.


    Oh, me, too, Patti.  Me, too...  As soon a New Orleans is ready for company, I'll be there.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Patti Nickell's sister in Lexington, KY, and I am curious about where you found her article. She originally wrote it for the Louisville Courier Journal.
It is interesting to find out how it made its way around the internet.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Blake said...

The article was sent to me via email by a relative who was born in the New Orleans area and thought I'd appreciate the sentiments expressed. Obviously, I did indeed. Where they found it, I don't know, though I suspect it came by email to them as well--which makes me wonder if the Louisvile Courier Journal has an online version of its contents. The piece touched a chord with so many during a difficult time. Please tell Patti thanks from me for having written it.

Warmest, Jennifer

8:24 AM  

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