I could not believe what I was saying. It was Halloween afternoon. A friend who’s very new to NOLA was texting me about the evening’s plans. “What time should I be at your house so we can go out?” he asked.
“No need to stop by,” I replied. “We’ll see each other out and about.”
He was horrified (I could tell by the little horrified emoticons he used).
“Trust me,” I assured him. “It’ll work out.”
Now I was horrified. A year ago I was in the same boat as my friend. Frustrated, horrified and, quite frankly, hurt by my friends’ persistent aversion to anything remotely resembling planning.
And now here I was doing the same thing to him. What had happened to me? Answer: I was starting to figure NOLA out.
That realization hit me, hours later, when, sure enough, my friend and I ran into each other among the masses on Frenchmen. “It’s a miracle,” he exclaimed. “No,” I calmly said. “It’s New Orleans.”
As we cavorted and mayhemed and frolicked into the wee hours of All Saints’ Day, I shared with my friend the top ten things I’ve learned my first year in New Orleans, the kinds of things that come in handy when you look around , dazed and confused, and wonder where y’at.
Here they are:
1. Planning. Abandon all hope of planning ye who enter here. It’s not going to happen. If you try to plan, you’ll get an ulcer and find yourself constantly making incredulous faces. Just. Let. It. Happen. If you’re meant to hang with someone, Mama NOLA will make it happen. If not, she’ll send even more fabulous people your way to hang with!
2. Comfort zone. Drop yours. New Orleans is like no place on Earth, so don’t experience it the same way you experience everywhere else. If you do, you’ll miss her completely.
3. Costuming. My best friend tells me that he’s never worn a costume in the 7 ½ years he’s lived here. I’ve told him he has until Carnival to change that. Or find a new best friend. You just can’t live in NOLA without costuming. To get started, get yourself a glue gun, spray paint, and a make-up drawer.
4. Da Saints. Love them. Pretend to love them. Or move.
5. Food. We eat our food like we live our lives: rich and over-the-top. And no need to ask what’s good. As someone told me my first week here, “Baby, if a place don’t serve good food, we will shut it down.” She’s right. My corner gas station serves some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted.
6. Music. Lady who? When it comes to music, there’s New Orleans music … and then, well, why you would want to look beyond New Orleans for music? There’s a lot to take in here. For a crash course, immerse yourself in OZ. For a master’s course, listen to David Kunian’s “The Kitchen Sink”.
7. Pronunciation. It’s Brrr-gun-dy, Charters, Esplan-aid, and Cont-eye. Don’t worry about Tchoupitoulas (a word that can devour your entire afternoon). Locals just say “Chop”. Oh. And the Nine Muses streets? Don’t even try. Unless you were born here, you’ll never get them right.
8. Perspective. Repeat after me: “The normal is strange here; the strange is normal.”
9. Bugs. This morning, I heard a frantically scratching child plead, “Mama, when do the mosquitos go away?” “It’s New Orleans, baby,” she said. “They never go away.” True dat. The bugs in this city were here before you and, just like Cher, they’ll be here after you. And they all have wings (except for the stinging caterpillars that free-fall onto you in the spring). Oh. And our bugs have serious boundary issues. As in, they all come into your house (you didn’t really want to live alone, did you?).
10. Politics. Don’t ask. This city elected Ray Nagin. Twice.
So, there you have it. A top 10 list for newcomers to NOLA. You probably have your own top ten, because we all love NOLA in our own way. Well, ok, maybe just your own top six because I think we can all agree on the holy trinity of the Saints, food and music. And, oh yeah, Nagin.
Brett Will Taylor writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his blog at thestoryblogbwt.wordpress.com.