Sep 4, 200912:00 AM
Joie d'Eve

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

New Orleans: The Next Generation

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When I was about 14 or 15, in the middle of one of those marathon phone conversations that 14- or 15-year-old girls are famous for, my friend Peter asked me, out of the blue, “What do you think is the typical New Orleanian?”

I thought for a moment and then described my next door neighbor: “Well, kind of Yatty. Says ‘zink’ and ‘mynez’ instead of ‘sink’ and ‘mayonnaise.’ Hair up in pink curlers all the time. Kind of racist. Calls spaghetti sauce ‘red gravy.’” I thought for another moment and gave up. I couldn’t think of anything else that made someone a typical New Orleanian.

“Really?” said Peter. “That’s it? What about someone who loves jazz? Who sings everywhere he goes? Who never misses a Mardi Gras parade or a day at Jazz Fest? Who has a great sense of humor and a great sense of family? Who loves crawfish boils and drinks his coffee strong with chicory?”

“Um, I guess,” I said. “I guess I never really thought about it. So listen, do you think you’re going to be able to come to Trey’s party this weekend?”

Obviously, something about that conversation stuck with me, though. And when I left New Orleans and began to notice how different things were in Missouri, I realized he and I were both sort of right –– with the exception of the racism and the pink curlers, both of which were all too prevalent in Missouri, the kind of people that he and I were describing couldn’t be found in the Midwest.

There were people there who loved jazz –– but not the way we love it here. Listening to jazz in Missouri meant putting on a Miles Davis album; listening to jazz in New Orleans often just requires opening your window or walking down the street.

And of course there were people with senses of humor and family, but again, it was different. Having been steeped in the bawdy black humor of New Orleans, I had trouble adjusting to the more wholesome Midwestern brand and always seemed to be facing an awkward silence after saying something that turned out to be inappropriate.

And crawfish boils and strong chicory coffee? Forget about it. The best seafood in town was at Red Lobster, and the coffee everywhere was weak and watery.

Peter and I were ahead of our time. People talk all the time now about how the face of New Orleans is changing post-Katrina. They talk about what the typical New Orleanian is, whether we’re losing that, how to protect it, if it should be protected.

In the months after Katrina, I watched as newcomers poured into the city, full of hope and idealism and energy, and I was immensely thankful they were there. But at the same time, I was worried. What did these newbies know about boiling crawfish? What did they know about Mardi Gras? Were they going to dilute our culture somehow?

That was a huge part of why I decided to move home. It sounds incredibly self-important, I know, but I wanted to make sure that enough natives were here to preserve the traditions, to show these new folks how it’s done down here, to initiate them, to mold them into “typical New Orleanians” and feed them jambalaya and beignets and snowballs. And once my daughter was born, I knew that I wanted to raise her here, both for her benefit and for the city’s.

It was devastating to lose so many live oak trees to Katrina, but we’ve planted new ones where they were, and though it’s not the same, not at all, to have spindly new oak trees where the huge majestic ones used to be, it’s better than not planting any trees at all or planting some other kind of tree where the oaks were. And that’s how I feel about raising my child here. Ruby certainly doesn’t make up for the thousands of “typical New Orleanians” who are no longer here post-Katrina, but at least it’s a start at preserving the culture, and it’s better than raising her somewhere where she wouldn’t know what King Cake was.

I woke up last Saturday, the fourth anniversary of Katrina, with the same mixed feelings as everyone across the city, wanting to remember, wanting to forget. But before I could get too caught up in it, Ruby walked over and handed me an empty plastic cup from her tea set.

“Have some coffee, Mama,” she said.

I accepted the imaginary cup of coffee and held it to my lips. “Yum, Ruby,” I said. “This is the best cup of coffee I have ever had. What’s your secret?”

She smiled proudly at me and said, “It has chicory in it.”


 

Reader Comments:
Sep 3, 2009 04:59 pm
 Posted by  joev

Love the chicory at the end.

Folks who move here either love it or hate it; I haven't met anyone on the fence about NOLA. Thus, in regard to diluting, think about those of who love it as just a little extra spice.

As always, great writing Eve!

Sep 4, 2009 10:40 am
 Posted by  thomnola

Great as always, Eve.

Sep 4, 2009 11:16 am
 Posted by  missingneworleans

Sitting here at my work desk in Southern California w/ tears of longing running down my face...
I'm one Californian who truly appreciates the incredible uniqueness of New Orleans, both the place and it's people. The good old USA would be a much much sadder place with out this great city!

Sep 4, 2009 01:57 pm
 Posted by  armadilloz

I wish my daughter in Austin came to the same conclusion as you did. Several years ago we lost her to Texas, yet she loves to tell her Texan friends about our culture and how she misses it . . . even tries to simulate it and share it in the Lone Star State. I mean, I understand her career and all, but she and her husband would have been just as successful here doing the same thing but for Louisiana's benefit. Oh well!! Its too late, she talks with a twang now. It's so sad. But life goes on. Good story. Thanks

Sep 4, 2009 02:33 pm
 Posted by  scully

Great article!! I've lived in (and loved) Lafayette for over 30 years, but New Olreans will ALWAYS be home! Keep the faith!

Sep 7, 2009 05:59 pm
 Posted by  Jimmy

I think the question we need to ask ourselves is can we retain the great parts of our culture while we fight to clean the dirty underbelly that was exposed to the world during Katrina. I love Jazz, king cake, oak trees, and chicory but I would trade it all to say New Orleans was safe for all, that everyone had the opportunity to succeed. When hundreds of boys and young men are killed in a city every year, who cares what kind of coffee is served at their funeral.

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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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