Big Easy Living: Climate is a state of mind

Renee Peck, in seasonal wear from elsewhere (Photo: Renee Peck)

“It’s ballgown season,” my daughter remarked, as we walked into a mall store where rows of mannequins modeled slinky and glittery floor-length dresses in rainbow hues, striving to be chosen for the next Carnival ball or debutante affair.

In New Orleans, seasons may not change much climate-wise, but culture-wise they certainly do. Ballgown season gives way to Festival-Gear Season which bows to Swimsuit Season and on to Halloween and our bi-annual Costume Season.

Of course, one might argue that costumes are in season year-round in New Orleans. At the mall, I ran into two fully attired pirates, hats, patches, swords and all, eyeing goods through a shop window, a modern-day version of brigands in search of treasure.

The unseasonably cold weather this past week, plus a trip to the mountains over the holidays, brought home a sometimes-overlooked benefit to living in New Orleans: our clothing optional lifestyle. Oh, not clothing optional in the nudist sense, but with the idea that most of the time we can layer on and off according to whim and creativity rather than with an eye on the mercury.

People elsewhere lose 435,964 hours of their lives putting on and taking off thick socks, large boots, dangling scarves, layers of long underwear and assorted mittens and hats that tend to wander to whatever alternative universe dryer socks go. I know, having spent about half that amount of time putting on and peeling off layers of wool and fleece and (fake) fur on a squirming 3-year-old during a family vacation to Colorado.

Isn’t it wonderful to live in a city where you don’t need a mud room?

I think of all the happy hours I have spent not looking for errant gloves or hats or mufflers, all the happy hours dedicated to planning looks for expression instead of warmth. In a spirit of cultural exchange, I took costume basics (boas, masks, wigs, tutus) to my grand-neices in Colorado, to tuck into their closets next to the cold-weather attire.

My kids used to play Opposite Day, laughing hilariously whenever they did the opposite of whatever was mentioned or asked. In a way, we live in opposite land down here. In Colorado, I went from steamy indoor heat to frigid outdoor cold. Here, I go from frigid indoor AC to steamy outdoor heat. There, people dress with the inner layers in mind. Here, we pay attention to the outer wear (though our outer wear tends to be more colorful than cold-proof).

Bottom line: There, climate dictates the seasons; here, it’s a state of mind.

People elsewhere often tell me they couldn’t take the heat of New Orleans. Well, we couldn’t take the cold of most places north of us. New Orleanians know and mostly welcome that sauna-wave sensation that comes when you first step off the airplane at Louis Armstrong airport. Most of us embrace it.

Personally, I’d rather be hot than cold; I find the first sometimes uncomfortable, but the second always painful. Who wants to be somewhere where you can’t feel your toes or fingertips?

I readily concede the beauty of snowy mountains and the (temporary) allure of snow play. But give me the slow, sweet flow of brown bayou waters and their torridness any day. Or the ripple of sparkling waves with water skiing over the crust of ice crystals of snow skiing.

While people elsewhere are still lacing their Uggs and zipping their North Faces, we are opening those costume closets and picking through tiaras and sequins and tutus. When cold snaps wane, and they swap inner fleeces for outer rainproof jackets, we get out the duck boots and Hawaiian shirts for French Quarter and Jazz fests.

With temperatures even here plunging into the 20s last week, New Orleanians got a taste of how people live elsewhere. Most of them, judging from an unscientific survey at local coffee shops, drugstores, restaurants and groceries, aren’t converts. Even visitors were dismayed.

“Is it always like this in January?” a tourist asked during one of my treks into the frigid outdoors.

“I can remember lots of Januaries when I wore shorts,” I replied. “It’ll warm up in a day or so.”

“Great, right when we leave,” she replied.

I bet she’s headed back to Colorado.



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