Thursday, February 23, 2012

On NOLA, Abita Beer, & Grocery Stores Celebrating Mardi Gras.

The grocery store where I work does this crazy thing where Mardi Gras is celebrated very intensely.  Odd, right? For a kind of hippy grocery store in Western Massachusetts?
This year, Mardi Gras is being celebrated with all the fanfare of years past, plus is being extended until this Saturday, four whole days after the official start of Lent.
(Fun EnD Fact: Did you know this year that Ash Wednesday was also National Margarita Day? Yep.)
I lived in New Orleans from July 2001-July 2003. In the past I have found that my work's Mardi Gras fixation caused me to have a big old "I know more about New Orleans than you" chip on my shoulder, but this year, maybe it's the baby chicks being so darn cute, I seem to have lost the urgency of my protest.
This year I started to think of it as a very New Orleanian approach, just simply deciding that OUR Mardi Gras would last until Saturday & that was that.
I don't think any of the drunk people on Bourbon Street last week really cared about Ash Wednesday one way or the other. Probably celebrated National Margarita Day though.
The laws & traditions of Mardi Gras are sacred to New Orleans, but they are fluid too, & borrow shamelessly from whatever other culture or tradition they feel like. Look at the Mardi Gras Indians. 
I'm really conflicted about New Orleans.
It is so easy to love everything that is crazy & beautiful & absurd about the place, but it's such a frustrating place too.
Is it awesome or stupid that without question one stays up all night on Lundi Gras, puts on an elaborate costume at dawn, & marches in a 6am parade while still drinking? Part of loving NOLA is loving a city where you can't run errands for weeks at a time because you might run into a parade route.
Part of me does.
But then there's the "New Orleanians don't evacuate during hurricanes, we go to bars & party through it" attitude & I was always too practical to do that. Or not awesome enough?
General lack of amusement with potentially devastating hurricanes was one of the factors in my leaving, as was the horrible crime. Again, am I just a scardy-cat?
Since my first apartment at 17 in Providence, RI, I have loved walking at night. When I moved to New Orleans I was coming from San Francisco via Brooklyn via Providence. I thought what people said about the crime in new Orleans was basic fear of urban spaces. I was wrong.
New Orleans is a beautiful city, but it's also an ugly one. Floods, storms, crime, disease, garbage, filth are all jut as much a part of life as the gorgeous buildings in the French Quarter.
While I lived in new Orleans, I was employed as the database manager for the State of Louisiana Office of Public Health's HIV/AIDS Program, so I saw everyday the results of the other side of the picture.
Sometimes riding my bike during Mardi Gras season from one end of the Quarter to the other to get from my home in the Bywater to my work in the Central Business District was surreal.
Living in New Orleans was just completely insane. Everything that happened was a story.
I still find it one of the most beautiful places in the United States & I still miss it terribly.
A view of abandoned warehouses & train tracks from New Orleans is one of my most painted backgrounds. 
The first time I visited after moving away, in 2004, I was heartbroken to return home to Massachusetts & thought moving here was a huge mistake. But that was pre-Katrina, & Katrina reminded me pretty clearly of what my original objections where.
Last time I visited, during DnDnD2K09 , just the smell of the air as we drove along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi & got closer & closer was pure joy.
A memory from that trip that sums up the good: A Friday night crayfish boil at a neighborhood bar in the Marigny (the R Bar). I don't think I would have appreciated this so much when I  lived there, but after six years in Northampton, I sure did. The whole neighborhood formed a line with paper plates & received some of the best food you could hope to eat for free, & then sat on curbs everywhere to eat. The drink special was a PBR & a double shot of Jameson, $5.
My driving companions where looking glum & a man passing by told them not to worry, at least they were white. Then some near strangers bought us shots of Jaeger, tall boys of Budweiser in paper bags, & proceeded to take us down Bourbon Street on an adventure that included meeting miniature horses named Rascal & Dixie at a gay club. That's New Orleans.
This overly long post was inspired by my day at work, wearing Mardi Gras beads.
Here's your drawing, some Abita beers. I drew one on that road trip. They've changed the label since then. I don't love it.
 Abitas, Mardi Gras 2012, Greenfield, Massachusetts.
This really fine beer is now available at the River Valley Market for a very reasonable price (You can get Abita Amber at the totally fabulous Ryan & Casey's in Greenfield, too).
An Abita Amber tastes like everything good about NOLA, to me.
I don't think I'll ever move back. But it's still an excellent beer.

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