Aug 28, 200912:00 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

School ties

As the college students now arriving in New Orleans begin to look beyond Bourbon Street, many of them will fall in love with the true essence of the city.

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Every so often, I think I did it backward. 
 


I grew up in New Orleans, which –– it must be said –– is not really the most wholesome place in America, and went to college in Columbia, Mo., which is frequently ranked by national magazines as one of the best places to raise a family. And then, once I started my own family, I moved back to New Orleans.
 


I don’t regret it, any of it, but sometimes I wonder what my life would’ve been like if I'd spent my late teens/early 20s in the city with drive-through daiquiri stands and the alcoholic neon chaos of Bourbon Street rather than the city with a 24-hour Wal-Mart and a really great corn maze in the next town over.
 


I thought about that as I drove down Broadway last weekend, past the signs that said “Josephine Louise” and “Butler”; past the minivans with their flashers on; past the dads lugging clothes and shoes and keepsakes and microwaves, resigned looks on their sweaty faces; past the moms almost vibrating with anxiety and the kids almost vibrating with excitement. 
 


Soon, I knew, the parents would drive away, and the matriculating freshmen would go out and introduce themselves to the city in the traditional manner: drinking something strong and primary-colored and then possibly vomiting in the street. This tradition is not unique to New Orleans. I did this my first weekend as a college freshman in Missouri, downing several cups of tequila mixed with Hawaiian Punch –– I can’t imagine why there’s not a formal name for this delightful cocktail –– and ending up sprawled on Julie Zerull’s dorm room floor, laughing hysterically while someone played the guitar and then breaking down in tears when the room wouldn’t stop spinning.
 


But before that ritual, there’s the ritual of saying goodbye.
 


“You can always come home,” my dad told me 11 years ago as we drove up Interstate 55, vast green farmland all around us, Steely Dan and Bonnie Raitt and Paul Simon on the stereo, headed to my new life in the Midwest. “Nothing has to be forever.”



As these 18-year-olds prepare to settle in to New Orleans and as they say goodbye, I imagine their parents are telling them the same thing: “You can always come home. Nothing has to be forever.”

 


Their parents might say that, and their parents might mean that. 



It’s different here, though. It doesn’t work on everyone, but for a certain group of people, there’s an elaborate magic trick New Orleans performs: It becomes your home. You might not notice it until you go back to where you grew up and try to order a Bloody Mary at a diner at 9:30 in the morning. You might not notice it until you go to a parade on Memorial Day and think, “This is it? You call this a parade? Some Shriners throwing Laffy Taffy and a dozen pickup trucks with kids in the back waving American flags is not a parade, people!” You might not notice it until you ask for a beer “to go” or until you go to see live music that ends promptly at 2 a.m. instead of continuing, ever-more-frenzied, until you walk out of the club and see the peachy-pink streaks of dawn. 
 


It might not be where you came from, but New Orleans, as many people know firsthand, can get in your blood and make you its own and render you both unfit and unwilling to live anywhere else.
 

This is a city that takes the idea of being a native very seriously, and some natives get snotty about the influx of students, refusing to consider them “real” New Orleanians. But just as it’s been said that converts often make the best Catholics, I think these converts often make the best New Orleanians.



Welcome, freshmen. And welcome home. 


 

Reader Comments:
Aug 28, 2009 02:29 pm
 Posted by  goofus

I'm staring out my window at a campus full of freshmen and wondering how their weekend will turn out.

Aug 28, 2009 02:41 pm
 Posted by  JGClingenpeel

Man, I missed out on New Orleans when it comes to the post-highschool/pre-responsibility years. I managed to visit a few times once I was old enough and grabbed drive-thru daiquiris in a gallon milk container with go-cups for the road. The first time I visited and was able to stay in a bar past 2am it blew my mind. I remember New Orleans from my childhood and teen years, and that's enough for me to call it home and make me yearn for it. Still I'm a little jealous of these freshmen. Just a little.

Aug 28, 2009 04:05 pm
 Posted by  joev

Ah, yes. For me it was returning to SoCal and cruising up the 15 North , August 27th, 2008.

Home was here and I've never been so happy. Thanks for such a warm welcome. :-)

Aug 29, 2009 10:36 am
 Posted by  yosoypitufina

I'm glad you're home, Eve.

Sep 1, 2009 09:32 am
 Posted by  Verarocks

And god bless them. How many folks did I grow up with here in New Orleans who took their parent's advice and came home after a year, or after a semester? And how shocked was I when I went to college in the midwest, and these other kids were getting toxically intoxicated, later proud of blood alcohol levels near .3%. "What did you do in high school?" I would ask them. It seemed shocking they had no concept of their own limitations.

Just as tourists come here and do things they would never do at home, these kids are a little less safe testing those limits so far from their parents. My heart goes out to the administrators at Tulane and Loyola and UNO et al. who have to deal with the fall out - and they do so, quietly and carefully.

And yet, I agree with you Eve - some of my favorite New Orleanians are the ones who came here to Tulane or Loyola and put down roots. They are grateful in a way the rest of us might not be able to be - because they know what it's like to live somewhere else, and they know how great it is to come home.

Sep 1, 2009 01:40 pm
 Posted by  pmrichard

I was fortunate (though my mother, after hearing all the gorey details when I was in my late 20's, surely won't agree) to have moved to New Orleans from Boston when I was 16. The French Quarter became my playground and for better or worse, I became entrenched in all that New Orleans had to offer.

I always KNEW I would return to Boston for college - THAT was home. However, life threw a curveball (as it usually does) and I ended up studying at Loyola University. I must admit I laughed when, during orientation, the dean tried to explain the evils of 3-for-1 at Que Sera, nickel beer night at Melius', drive-thru daiquiris, etc. to all the New Orleans newbies!

I eventually moved to Dallas and there is when I learned I'd been hooked. I wanted to go HOME - and it was DEFINITELY New Orleans I was thinking of. I missed this dirty, quirky city with it's incredible joie de vie more than I could ever imagine.

Thank God, I finally made it back (well, almost - to Covington -2 months before Katrina)!!

Welcome new students - I'm glad you're here!! Hope you breathe in the rich, humid air and find home!!!

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

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