Ashes to Ashes, Mardi to Gras, Forever

By the time you read this, a great many happy Louisianans will be slumbering in their beds, wrapped in the warmth of a great party. Or — and this is more likely than not — they’ll be just wrapping up the party and moseying toward home. But not without stopping for a few beignets or a sausage roll or a full-out shrimp po’ boy, dressed, first. Some will go to church later to get Ash Wednesday ashes on their dry, headachy foreheads.

beads_mardigras_afterI have never attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans, except in spirit. I’m not sure I have the party cred. But I do love it so. Why? I have no connection with New Orleans, or even Louisiana, except through kind friends of my wife who come from Baton Rouge and include us in every possible activity that involves beer, a roux, and/or crawfish.

I know why, though. It’s because Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, is deep, deep, history-steeped, authentic South. So much happened here, continues to happen, good, bad, in between, always fascinating. No city anywhere is so perfectly cantilevered between good and evil. No mélange of aromas that you enjoy there can be duplicated anywhere else. No people smile like these people. The brand of inclusive abandon in the dance and music there is available anywhere else.

This is the city where, at 3 a.m., after a black-tie wedding, my wife blew a playful breath at me across a plate of powdered sugar at Café du Monde, giving me one of my favorite memories. This is where I drove a blimp — really — as part of my coverage of a PGA Tour event, high over the beautiful Crescent. (Same tournament, I rode out a rain delay with my cameraman, standing under the eaves of the media center, eating crawfish from a big plate.)

I was enraged when, after the hell of Katrina and Rita, some people seriously suggested that New Orleans should be abandoned. Sure, no one would build a city below sea level today. But would you tank Amsterdam? In the 17th century, back in the time of its roots, placed where it is on the river, New Orleans made sense. In the centuries since, it has cemented its singular place in our culture. It’s worth preserving. I’ve always thought that it’s astounding, a matter of great cultural pride, that we live in a nation that can hold everything from Boston to Seattle to San Antonio…

…to New Orleans. The one, the only, the magnificent, the smelly, the enchanting. Vive la ville, vive ses gens.

© 2014 Adam Barr, cher

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