In my former life as the advertising and exhibits manager for the University of Missouri Press, I got to go to a lot of conferences. These conferences were often in very cool places, and I often got to meet very cool people. The conferences themselves, however, were generally less than fascinating. Our books – though incredibly well-written, well-edited and well-marketed – appealed to a very small market. Our titles included Modernity without Restraint: The Political Religions; The New Science of Politics; and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism by Eric Voegelin (I’d never heard of him either; don’t feel bad) and Toni Morrison’s Beloved and The Apotropaic Imagination by Kathleen Marks. The conferences I attended as a representative of the press – the American Political Science Association, the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians – had no shortage of smart, passionate people willing to talk your ear off about their subject of choice, and I very much enjoyed going to them, don’t get me wrong.

But compared to Tales of the Cocktail, which is going on downtown through Sunday, those conferences were not in the same league. The smart, passionate people I meet at Tales press a drink into my hand and talk my ear off about vodka and whiskey and bitters, not Austrian politics, obscure religions and literary symbolism. The seminar I attended yesterday was The Negroni: An Iconic Cocktail; I learned a lot and got free samples of different varieties of negronis. Later this afternoon, I’m scheduled to attend Making Love to His Tonic and Gin. The description reads: “While we in our first-world country may think that malaria is something left for dusty history books, consider that even in our day of modern medicine it still remains a major threat to many cultures. Quinine and cinchona, the bark it is derived from, have a long and particularly enthralling story behind them that involve Indiana Jones-like excitement sprinkled with smuggling Jesuits, dying emperors (Alexander the Great for starters), the temporary relocation of the Vatican, snake oil salesmen and princesses being rescued from the fevers associated with the disease. ‘Well, this all sounds terribly exciting, but what on earth does it have to do with my cocktail?’ you ask. Stay tuned, because that’s where the story gets really interesting.” It’s fascinating stuff, even if they didn’t ply you with drinks. So yeah, the conferences are better here.

In my former life in Missouri, I attended kids’ birthday parties. They were usually held at skating rinks or indoor playgrounds, with apple juice for kids and grownups alike; over-sugared bakery cake; greasy, tasteless pizza; awkward, tense conversations among parents who don’t know one another. The kids’ parties I’ve attended here are just different. They are usually held at peoples’ homes with tons of neighbors and family, delicious homemade food, cold beer for the adults, fresh-baked cake and great conversation. It all speaks to how very different New Orleans is as a city, how serious we are about the things that are most important to us – food, drinks, friends, family. So yeah, the birthday parties are better here.

In my former life in Missouri, it rained a lot in the summer, and there were puddles, and kids jumped in them, and it was cute. But last weekend, after the heavy Saturday rain, as Ruby and I walked from our home in Mid-City to Brocato’s (because I can justify chocolate-covered cannoli if I walk to get it), she ran a few steps ahead of me splashing in puddles with the kind of glee that in other cities is probably unique to 4-year-olds but here is pretty ubiquitous. As she jumped with both feet into a big puddle on the sidewalk near North Alexander Street, water went flying, and something caught the light and sparkled.

"Look, Mommy,” she yelled, jumping again. “Puddle glitter!"

I looked down into the puddle and saw that, sure enough, it was a shallow depression full of rainwater, leaves and multicolored glitter. She couldn’t get enough of it, and it really was pretty to watch, standing in the humid air on the rain-washed sidewalk, oak trees still dripping, watching Ruby giggle and jump, as the glitter shone all around her in little splashes.

"Mommy,” she said once we were on our way again, bound for Italian pastries and gelato, “why was there glitter in that puddle?"

Some of Ruby’s questions are very hard to answer. This one was easy.

"Because, Ruby,” I said, “this is New Orleans."

So yeah, even the mud puddles are better here.