I'll begin with a story: Once upon a Jazz Fest week after I was out of college but before the storm, my friend Mary and I were discussing our plans for the fest (since we love Jazz Fest) and hadn't yet figured out when we were going to go or for how many days. At the time, Mary worked in the music department at one of the universities and happened to talk to a professor about the same thing. This professor was performing that weekend in the Economy Jazz tent and offered to get us in for free. Free is always good in my book so we agreed. Now, if you're going to the festival with a musician you have to be with said musician when you go in so we had to plan where to meet. Our professor friend came up with this brilliant idea:
We would rendezvous on Mystery Street.
Mystery Street is not too far from the Fairgrounds and has a place in Jazz Fest geography/history and has even made it into a few songs over the years. If I ever write a book about New Orleans, Rendezvous on Mystery Street will be the title. So we rendezvoused on Mystery Street and spent the day Jazz Festing it up like proper New Orleanians (you know, eating great food, listening to amazing music, dancing, drinking, and maybe getting a little sunburned despite our best efforts not too). It's one my fondest memories of being an adult in New Orleans and a story I think about often.
I've previously written about my inability to come to terms with not living in New Orleans. That's the problem when you move somewhere else - you no longer live in New Orleans. You can try your hardest to bring a little bit of home into wherever it is you do live but it's never the same. I can bring home bags of my favorite coffee (PJs) and Camellia red beans but all that means is that I went to the grocery last time I was in New Orleans. And it usually means I have to explain something to someone about a culture that they won't understand until they experience it (and even then, they may hate it entirely).
And so I am grumpy. I don't want to be but I am. I was even in New Orleans recently (the weekend before the Super Bowl) for a surprise trip to attend a baby shower. I always think a trip home will be restorative, like it will somehow be the cure for what's ailing me but this is never 100% true. Usually, it just makes it worse. This trip was awesome (I'm shocked that Heather and I kept a secret for so long and that glad the Hillary was truly surprised) but it was just too short. Going back for 48 hours is never enough.
The other thing that I struggle with this time of year is explaining that Mardi Gras is not the stuff of countless Girls Gone Wild videos (and I can't believe I just referenced those videos here - sigh). We moved to the area when I was in the 3rd grade and Mardi Gras was always and has always been about community and family not about booze, beads, and boobs. Having experienced Mardi Gras as a child, a teenager, a young adult and an adult, my favorite experiences were as a child catching beads and toys and having fun. It was fun to compete with your friends to see who got the most beads or if you got toys or a Zulu coconut (I have exactly one and no Muses shoes). Don't get me wrong, the party aspect of Mardi Gras is always there but there's absolutely no reason to dismiss the traditions and pageantry of Carnival season because of the behaviors of a small number of people who are mostly from away.
So what's a Misfit Toy to do? Do I take my social media break like a moron and pretend like the next few days are not happening? Do I make the king cake and wear my new Fleurty Girl shirt on Tuesday? Do I stay home like a petulant child and sulk?
Maybe I should just listen to the wise words of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and just appreciate that I've even been lucky enough to experience New Orleans and call it home.
"Appreciate the culture that you have in New Orleans cause you don't got it nowhere else...there's just a bunch of happy people all the time."*
Photos by me
*Quote from "Preserving the Heritage of the Mardi Gras Indians" by Chris DiBenedetto Where Y'At Magazine