New Orleans Institutions...
I was recently asked to compile a list of New Orleans institutions: events, dates and phrases. I came up with the following, which is far from comprehensive, but is a fair representation of what I love about our home city:
- As much as I love Mardi Gras, on the list of top dates, events and phrases, it ranks about fourth. The top of the list is celebration, or as we say “Laissez les les Bon Temps Rouler”. New Orleanians don’t need much of an excuse to celebrate. We even celebrate at Funerals. Ever seen a New Orleans jazz funeral procession?
- Music, every day. Music is an event every day in New Orleans. The Live Wire concert listing put out by WWOZ (greatest radio station in the World) lists at least 20 concerts every single night of the year, even Ash Wednesday, when everyone should be too hung over to go to a show. I’m sitting in my office right now and I’m listening to a sax playing outside. Every day growing up, I listened to Millie, the Murray family housekeeper-nanny-factotum, sing Gospel tunes. Music is always omnipresent in New Orleans.
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is said often enough to be a cliché that other people eat to live, while in New Orleans we live to eat. Our cuisine is famous, and constantly evolving. As our population becomes more diverse, we are learning how our traditional Creole food mixes with cuisines from other cultures. We now have dishes like Korean pork po-boys and redfish tacos. And if I may plug Flambeaux wine, its spice notes pair beautifully with all of it. Here in New Orleans, wine is food, an important part of every nutritious meal.
- Mardi Gras!!! Parades, Mardi Gras Indians, masked balls, Zulu and REX, Frenchman Street, the Meeting of the Courts, and of course, Flambeaux! Adults in New Orleans anticipate Mardi Gras the way my three year old twins anticipate Christmas.
- Jazz Fest. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. ‘Nuff said.
- French Quarter Fest. A miniature Jazz Fest we locals would just as soon keep to ourselves. Instead of a big festival at the Fair Grounds with national acts, FQ Fest is a celebration of local bands playing on just about every corner of the Vieux Carre.
- Reveillon. More a tradition than a single event, Reveillon is our way of celebrating the Christmas season. Families host each other at Christmas feasts. Restaurants have gotten in on the act as well, with special holiday menus for Reveillon.
- Lundi Gras. The day before Mardi Gras, this one could be included in Mardi Gras, but it has become an event in itself. REX, the King of Carnival and the Zulu King (who needs no other title) arrive at the downtown banks of the Mississippi River to be introduced to the City. Then they each host an open-air concert with a parade (pun intended) of New Orleans Music.
- St Joseph’s Day/Super Sunday. Nobody but da Big Chief knows why, but the Mardi Gras Indians have always masked for the Italian patron saint’s holiday, St Joseph’s Day. The Indians are a New Orleans African-American tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. Every year, they “make a new suit”, the most elaborate costumes ever worn by human beings, all made by hand. That’s not idle bragging by the way. The head-dresses and feathered, beaded suits of the Big Chiefs are as big as a human frame can handle. Construction begins right after Carnival and continues throughout the rest of the year. And I do mean the rest of the year. Most maskers are still sewing frantically the week before Mardi Gras, praying they will be ready on time. Fortunately for us, they always are. Two weeks to a month later, the Indians get to wear that year’s suit one more time on a Sunday “around St. Joseph’s Day, Super Sunday, when Spy Boys look for Flag Boys, the Wild Man keeps order, and Big Chiefs give respect to each other.
- Festivals. Although New Orleans hosts Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest, festivals are a Louisiana-wide phenomenon. I’m not going to name them all, because no one can. Here are a few: Strawberry Festival, Rice Festival, Gumbo Festival, Boudin Festival, Po-Boy Festival, Seafood Festival, Shrimp and Petroleum Festival (yes, that’s really a thing, and it pre-dates the BP oil spill, when our shrimp got covered in petroleum), Zydeco Festival, Okra Festival, and my personal favorite, the Zwolle Tamale Festival (one of the years the Tamale Queen will avoid getting arrested for fighting, but hopefully not any time soon).
- Where y’at? That’s New Orleans for Shalom: a greeting, a good bye, a question, a statement, an expression of agreement, whatever you gotta say.
- Who ‘Dat!! As in “Who ‘dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints!!” You may think it should end with a question mark, but it’s an exclamation (possibly because in the forty plus years of the franchise, we’ve had some pretty terrible years, so we don’t want anyone to answer, “Us, that’s who.”)
- The Four Seasons: Carnival Season, Hurricane Season, Saints Season, and Duck Season.