The remnants of a purple feather boa are stuck in the brushes of the vacuum cleaner, and the atonal mandolin player is once again outside my window — both are annoyance that won’t go away anytime soon. Today is Ash Wednesday, 2015, but the remnants of Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, will remain for sometime; Mardi Gras ends on the calendar here, but it never really goes away, just like the feathers stuck in the brushes of the vacuum and the glitter that appears in your underwear months later after countless washes.
The cup of cold water sitting beside me — spiked with a shot of apple cider vinegar — is a welcome relief from alcohol. I haven’t observed Lent in years, but this year I find myself eager to do so. My body and my mind need a break. I need to regain my focus. Sometimes you get caught up in the moment, and for me this moment has lasted longer than most. It’s nine days until my forty-third birthday and I’m longing for quiet and sobriety.
The days are getting longer now. The sunlight, while still slanted through the dormers of the old Creole Cottage we rent on Royal, is more insistent with each passing day. Despite the cold snaps, we are steadily moving towards that brief moment of temperate weather that quickly degrades into stultifying heat. It’s starting to become crawfish weather, wedding weather, and soon festival weather. But right now, nothing is going on in New Orleans, and right now I welcome this nothing.
Every city demands compromises, and New Orleans more than most. It’s not enough to meet it halfway, like you do New York City. It demands a kind of immersion and inculcation that is almost cult-like. For all of its friendliness, New Orleans is also very circumscribed. You are either all in or all out: I can see why so many outsiders don’t make it here.
When we first met, my wife used to tell me New Orleans was different, but she couldn’t really explain how.
“You’ll have to see for yourself,” she often told me.
This was early in our relationship when I was still cooking nightly in NYC and had a chip on my shoulder. Our first meeting was also our first argument — an argument over what constituted French bread. I didn’t see her again for months after that. Even now I qualify French bread with “New Orleans style” French Bread when I’m talking about what is found here. My relationship with New Orleans has been contentious since the beginning I suppose. I suspect this will never totally change no matter how long I live here, and no matter how long I love her.