Monday, February 10, 2014

A Love Letter to New Orleans

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th (ish) of every month.  Read others' love letters to their favorite places here

Dear New Orleans, 

We met only a few months ago, but I love you tremendously. I'm still new. I can't get the accent down - no one can say "beybee" quite like a local can - slow and low, it makes you feel wrapped in a hug, but never condescended against. But I'm getting some of the vocabulary:  We "make" groceries and I'll "make" 25 at my next birthday. "Gutter punks" hold their drum circles in the "neutral ground", I don't live in the 9th ward, I "stay" in the 9th ward, where I can ask about "mom-en-em" and eat "prawleens". Lagniappe , a little something extra, is your own word and it’s everywhere. I'm a child of the South, but New Orleans, you are entirely your own place. A New France baby, an explosion of cultures like none other in the US of A. In fact, you aren't really part of the USA, you exist outside of it in an ethereal atmosphere swathed in bayou fog and brass band music.

Don't be wooed away by those one-night stand tourists, they only want your drinks and your parties, but I know there is so much more to you. Your food, whose names sound like a song – jambalaya, gumbo, Andouille sauce. From the elegant restaurants to the hole in the wall 8th ward fried chicken joints, you fill my stomach and heart up with spice and grease and everything nice. Red beans and rice on a Monday, King Cake starting in January, food seeps into all of your seasons and traditions and keeps us spinning on. Your traditions and history are the richest I've found in our young country: your social clubs, voodoo followers, krewes, Mardi Gras Indians. You started jazz! You invented bounce music and twerking!  On one street I could find a jazz club, an experimental theater group, a tattooed hipster artist, a brass band on the corner and an award-winning restaurant. 

Second lines epitomize what you are. Spontaneous, people driven, bottom up authority. You don't need a government to tell you when to throw a parade, you will just make you own parade where you please. You are so welcoming New Orleans, you invite everyone to come and be a part of your never ending family block party, full bar in the back of a truck, brass band in the thick of it, people dancing on streets, porches, sidewalks, railings.

You have your own special laws, with your go-cups and drive through daiquiris and your one-of-a-kind drivers that race down Tchoupitoulas, Melpomene, Calliope, St. Charles, St. Claude, St. Joseph – bumping over potholes and past Virgin Mary’s.

And Mardi Gras - it will be my first this year. I already know that you are so much more than Bourbon street and drunken tourists, and that Mardi Gras isn't their holiday. Mardi Gras is also New Orleans Family Time, the spirit of the krewes come to play, all the history and grandeur and fun of a city that knows how to let good times roll. 

I was raised in Georgia and formed in Washington, DC with stints in New York, Eurasia and Latin America. I loved them all, but you, New Orleans, have something that draws me stronger than all of them. You, New Orleans, are the Anti-New York. While New York challenges and dares you, it says if, IF, you can make it here, New Orleans says hey, come chill. Grab a beer. Eat some crawfish. Listen to this brass band. What do you mean, make it? Make what? Music? Art? Groceries? You don't have to make anything. Do what you wanna.

New Orleans, I came to you with a broken heart. I came to you beat bloodied by a year of leave-taking. But New Orleans, you know much greater tragedy, and you never stopped playing your music or throwing a block party or walking in a second line. You don't run from your problems or your past, you face it, you work through it, and you still leave time to catch the Rebirth Brass band play a Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf. There is no better place to nurse a broken heart than here.

 I could walk under your live oaks all day, Spanish moss swinging down to say hello, wander your cemeteries, wonder at your history, float away into your bayous. 

New Orleans, I love you. I know I'm not born & raised, and maybe this is a little too soon. Maybe we aren't at this point in our relationship. But we've come through some rough times, and it may be new love, but it's true.

 I love you despite your problems, your violence, your poverty, your potholes. I love your soul food, soul music, soul art, soul dance, hard-pressed-not-crushed, forever-creating soul. I love you because you love me. I will sink into your swampy ground, cover myself in Mardi Gras beads and sweet tea, heal myself with a nap, rise again to call you blessed.

I still have a lot to learn about you, and I don’t know where life might call me, but no matter what, I’ll come back to you. And New Orleans, I’ll always be proud to call you home. 

Mary Ellen 

PS be my Valentine


  1. Mary Ellen, this was a joy to my eyes. New Orleans is right up there as one of my top places to visit, see and do before I cork it.
    My old roommate and well loved friend is from there and he only stokes the fires of my travel passion towards New Orleans.

    A really good read. Thank you.

  2. Love this:
    You don't have to make anything. Do what you wanna.