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Big Easy Living: Reflections on royal-watching

One of my few decorative items to survive Hurricane Katrina is a small ivory porcelain bell with a picture of Princess Di and Prince Charles on it. I bought it in the summer of 1981, during a trip to London shortly before the Royal Wedding.

I suppose it’s ironic that my wedding bell lasted far longer than that marriage, and came unscathed through disaster in a way that, tragically, its British namesakes did not.

I’ve never used the bell, nor displayed it prominently. It is, after all, a mildly tacky souvenir of a time when we all were swept up in the pomp and circumstance of the moment.

On Friday, almost exactly three decades later, another Royal Wedding will take place, amid similar pomp and circumstance. I am sure that, in London these days, you can find ivory porcelain bells bearing likenesses of Kate Middleton and Prince William. (My current favorite in contemporary offerings are the William and Kate Pez dispensers. No, wait, those William and Kate souvenir tea bags … can you save them after use?)

The world has changed a lot in 30 years. As John F. Burns wrote in a New York Times article Sunday, “The culture of 1981, in Britain, bore many hallmarks of the class-based nation Britain had been in an earlier age. The age of the cellphone and cable television, and the new horizons they opened, was yet to dawn. The vastly expanded choices in television, and fleets of jumbo jets, carrying millions of Britons across the Atlantic, were to lead to a significant Americanization of British culture, in idioms, dress and attitudes. But those, too, still lay ahead.”

Charles and Di didn’t even have their own website (for that of Kate and William, click here.)

Still, society’s fascination with royalty hasn’t much waned. Here in New Orleans, we understand the hoopla over tiaras and topcoats. And we understand, moreover, that royalty needn’t carry authority or sovereign power to awe. We know the allure of gemstone-studded gowns (theirs, diamonds; ours, Austrian rhinestones) and feathered headdresses (theirs, little hats worn to one side; ours, towering sprays that sprout from the collar).

Both here and there, our royals are born to the job; in both England and the Big Easy, they do it well. It involves showing one’s public face often and regally, and knowing things like the proper way to curtsy or which fork to use for the foie gras.

Over there, it’s a lifetime commitment, while here, the reign lasts a single season. In my mind, that makes it a bit more fun: They get one dysfunctional family to follow, while we get a new crop every Twelfth Night. And while the English have wagered on the who and when of William’s nuptials for years, only in New Orleans can one partake annually in a fantasy Carnival league in which players can try to pick the royal courts.

I have a friend who is prominent in local Carnival circles, and who can trace his roots to the English ruling class. He recently discovered that, at some long-ago point in family history, a baby died, another was put in its place, and he might today be an earl if the switch had ever been discovered.

I wonder which he would choose if he could: The mock but transient royalty of New Orleans Carnival or the more-staid but permanent counterparts in his ancestors’ country? I like to think he’d opt to don his velvet cape and plumes and ride the local horse come Carnival day.

Elsewhere in the U.S., Americans are latching on to this week’s Royal Wedding as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There’s an entire website in New York City devoted to how residents can celebrate The Event. Options range from a $1,075 overnight stay at Trump International Hotel that includes a souvenir piece of “royal wedding china” to a free viewing party at the Paley Center where guests are invited to wear their best bridesmaid dresses.

Here in New Orleans, where royal-watching is a lifetime sport, things are not as over-the-top. The Windsor Court Hotel, arguably the closest place you’ll come to Britain without leaving views of the Mississippi River, is offering Royal Tea featuring the official cocktail of the royal wedding, the Regal CV; a similar event at the Ritz-Carlton features Bass ale and fish and chips.

And of course, local TV channels will be covering the event in endless detail (why is the darned thing so early? Even in London? Locally, they’ll be saying “I do” around 5 a.m.)

But we have better – or at least other — things to do. I will be roaming the Fair Grounds on Friday, sampling crawfish bread and yakamein at the opening day of Jazzfest, nary a tiara nor sweeping train in sight. (I take that back; this is, after all, New Orleans.)

I will, however, be accompanied on Friday by a friend from London. “Do you think,” she asked me wistfully last week, “that we could just pause a moment and, I don’t know, maybe make a toast to the newlyweds?”

Of course we can. This is New Orleans.

Lagniappe: If you want to toast the couple with a Regal CV, the official cocktail of the royal wedding, here’s the recipe: Muddle together 3 fresh raspberries, 3 slices of cucumber (skin on) and ¾ ounce of simple syrup. Add to a shaker along with ½ ounce fresh lemon juice and 2 ounces Chambord flavored vodka. Add ice and shake vigourously. Strain into a large coupe glass and garnish with fresh raspberries and, if desired, a slice of cucumber.

Renee Peck writes weekly for NolaVie.


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