The Air of Authenticity
If you will indulge me a brief moment of self-indulgence, there’s a point to be made about why New Orleans is not like any other place anywhere, a fact that becomes totally apparent the moment you depart what our founders rightly named Isle d’Orleans about 300 years ago.
That was an opening for you hecklers out there to make snide remarks about the people and the government of the Crescent City. And for all of you who continually carp about how terrible this small piece of real estate is, let me hazard a guess that when you travel, and you are asked where you are from, you respond, “New Orleans.”
That is probably an easier response, not requiring further explanation, over the more geographic proper Metairie, Harahan, Slidell. Mandeville, Houma, Hammond, or Westwego. And that is fine. Do whatever makes the most sense for you.
Your little stretch of the explanation about your home location does not change the essence of what we all share here. Where this little corner of the world differs from what many places possess is authenticity. I like that one-word description a lot. Because we are indeed quite authentic in our lifestyles, our music, our celebrations, our cuisine, our architecture, and our history.
The culmination of all of those attributes makes this place truly unique.
America has ceased being a Melting Pot. We are a mature country, and in most corners of the nation there is an American Way which has overtaken the ways of the original settlers, who were mostly people from other countries arriving here from across a big body of water or from great distances within the Western Hemisphere.
Then there’s us way down here at the bottom of a great river just before you arrive at a large Gulf of water. Our progress/rejection of the “old ways” has not been so complete as those developments in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles or San Francisco, to name just a few spots that are now more similar to each other than they are to how it was when they were first settled.
The ultimate truth about us, however, was noted by WWL-TV sportscaster, Doug Mouton, who, in an interview in this month’s New Orleans Magazine, spoke about Jim Henderson, recently retired, long-time sportscaster and play-by-lay announcer on WWL-AM for the New Orleans Saints.
Doug was asked during his fine interview with writer Ashley McLellan what advice he (Doug) could offer the new Saints’ play-by-play radio announcer, Zach Strief, as to how to approach broadcasting. Doug counseled Zach to follow the example of Henderson, “Be yourself. The listeners will recognize when you are not.”
Those are exactly the right words and some great advice. The people of New Orleans recognize when something is not the truth; when someone is “faking it”; when shortcuts are taken; and when insincerity is afoot.
Quickly let me add that maybe we are not such fine judges when it comes to electing representatives in government, or when we decide to try to run the yellow light, or when we really should not have that “one for the road.”
But when it comes to making a proper Sazerac, or a pot of red beans, a pan of red gravy, or preparing seafood for a feast unequalled anywhere on the planet, we won’t tolerate strange processes or ingredients. We know how it is supposed to be done because our mothers/grandmothers/fathers/aunties taught us when were young and curious.
And they learned from their mothers, etc. the right way which came down from the Old Country. New Orleans may be a lot of things: maddening, frustrating, surprising, celebratory, overweight, or whatever you wish to insert here.
What you cannot deny is that we are authentic. You may not like it but that is the ultimate separating point from other communities with which we share a nation. They have invested in progress. We have invested in preservation of our heritage. In that regard, we know who we are and what we are doing.
Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com on Wednesdays, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature about cocktails in New Orleans, every month in New Orleans Magazine.