Five Ways People in New Orleans are Different from Us — 2014 Update. Tuesday, Feb 25 2014 

I posted the following nearly three years ago. It was an attempt to inform my students of the different attitudes and sensibilities that awaited them in New Orleans. It has been instructive for my students, but it apparently struck a nerve. It is far and away the most viewed posting I have ever made. Happily, most of the comments, especially from those in Southern Louisiana have been extremely positive. And then there are those who will never see anything positive happening in Orleans Parish. I am reposting with a few minor changes and some new photographs, but it remains largely the same.

A note to my students:

Most of you have never been to New Orleans. I grew up in the South, but only geography makes New Orleans part of the South. The people are different and that is wholly a good thing. Most of you are New Englanders. The differences between the two are about as far apart as the 1600 mile van trip you are about to undertake.

I am still learning, but I’m willing to share some of the insights that I have gained over the years. I may not be entirely fluent, but let me try my best to interpret.

Jennifer Jones, March 2013.

Jennifer Jones, March 2013.

People in New Orleans are naturally polite. It’s not artifice; it’s who they are. They smile. They hold doors for you. They call you “baby,” or “shug,” or “darling” because that’s the way they were taught. There’s nothing in it for them, but consider it a good thing for you. Picture a situation in Boston’s North End. You park your car a bit too close to the car behind you. When you come back, the other driver says: “Hey asshole, why’d you block me in?” And there would be gestures. In New Orleans, that exchange might translate to something like this: “Hey bro’, would you mind pulling forward a little so I can get out?”

People in New Orleans are seldom in a hurry. That does mean that they don’t speed on I-10, because they do. But at the same time, they will slow down to let someone merge. At a traffic signal, they might linger a moment – while the New Englander behind them is laying on the horn. The checker at the Rite Aid may be a lot more interested in telling a co-worker about her date, than in ringing out your order. And the more impatient you get, the slower she’ll get. In New Orleans, Friday lunches can take all afternoon. Don’t expect the smaller aspects of life to move any faster.

A conversation on Hickory Street, March 2011.

A conversation on Hickory Street, March 2011.

People in New Orleans will talk to anyone at anytime about anything. In New Orleans, speech is not a mode of communication; it is an art. New Englanders are famous for their economy of words. New England produced President Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge. Enough said. New Orleans produced Danny Barker, jazz musician and story teller. He returned home to help carry on the jazz traditions, as much through his words and stories, as his banjo and guitar. In New Orleans, when people ask you “where y’at?” i.e. “how are you?” they really want to know. It is not a pleasantry, it is a conversation starter. And you have to do your part.

People in New Orleans never apologize for having a good time. Remember the Friday lunch. Life in New Orleans can be like that. It’s unmistakable and I think it stems from New Orleans’ precarious existence on the edge. From the beginning, whether it was from spring flood, summer pestilence, fall hurricane, or the threat of attack from another world power, life was fragile. “Hey 8,000 people died of yellow fever this summer, have another drink!” Let’s parade, let’s dance — let’s live for the moment.  This sensibility hasn’t always served New Orleans well, especially in the eyes of the puritanical nation in which it resides. In March 2010, I was at a second line parade on a brutally raw and windy Sunday afternoon in a struggling part of the city. As we waited for the procession to come to us, I asked the woman next to me why she out on such an unpleasant afternoon. She opened her eyes and arms wide for expression and said: “this is what we do!

Mazant Street, March 2009.

Mazant Street, March 2009.

People in New Orleans still appreciate the work of volunteers. When I first came down in 2006, there were few residents to talk to. It was like a war zone and it was clear that any effort was an improvement. Over the years, I’ve been waiting for the welcome to wear off, but at least through August 2013, it has not. In New England, be prepared to be asked: “why are you going down there? What do you mean they haven’t fixed it yet?” On the other hand, people in New Orleans know that 80% of the city was covered in water. The city has lost nearly 30% of its population since 2000, and that is largely from the lack of affordable, livable housing. Be prepared, because New Orleans people will still stop to thank you for what you are doing.

Red Beans and Rice Monday, Jan 27 2014 

Growing up in the South, I grew to understand that both of my parents had eaten their share of beans during the Depression.  With dried beans, cured pork meat, and some rice, you had an inexpensive  meal to feed a dozen. And I suspect they did it with some frequency.

Red beans in progress.

Red beans in progress.

It was probably for that reason that we seldom had dried beans. We ate our fill of green beans, butter beans, field peas and snaps, but never dried beans. It was not until I was adult that I grew to know and love beans. My late mother-in-law was a master of the split pea. And I got to know lentils, and navy beans, and those colorful bean blends that Mainers love. But, it took numerous trips to the Gulf Coast for me to fall in love with red beans and rice.

It’s Monday. And in New Orleans, Monday was traditionally wash day. If you are washing clothes, scrubbing them on a wash board, and hanging them on a line to dry, what could be better than having a pot of beans cooking on the stove all day? I thought it was cliché, and then I had them at restaurants all over town. I had them between sets at Vaughan’s Lounge. I had them on Monday nights in bars uptown. They are as New Orleans as beads on Mardi Gras, but you can enjoy them on a weekly basis.

Of course, over the years of my New Orleans sojourn, I have taken up cooking red beans. Not every week mind you, but regularly enough that I don’t really need a recipe. However, for the rest of you, I will share. Enjoy.

  • 1 pound red kidney beans, dry
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (red makes a nice presentation)
  • 5 ribs celery, chopped
  • Garlic, I go for a lot, say 6 healthy cloves
  • 1 large smoked ham hock, substitute some cured ham, especially end pieces
  • 1 to 1-1/2 pounds mild or hot smoked sausage or andouille, sliced on the bias. I like to brown it before adding to the mixture.
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • As many dashes of hot sauce as you like
  • A few dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • Creole seasoning to taste; or red pepper and black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
Red beans and rice.

Red beans and rice.

Soak the beans overnight or bring the beans to a rolling boil. Make sure the beans are always covered by water, or they will discolor and get hard. Boil the beans for about an hour, until the beans are tender but not falling apart.

While the beans are boiling, sauté the Holy Trinity (onions, celery, bell pepper) until the onions turn translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. After the beans are boiled and drained, add the sautéed vegetables to the beans, then add the ham hock, smoked sausage, seasonings, and just enough water to cover.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 2 hours at least, preferably more, until everything gets nice and creamy. Adjust seasonings as you go along. Stir occasionally, making sure that it doesn’t burn and/or stick to the bottom of the pot.

Serve generous ladles of beans over hot white long-grain rice, with good French bread and good beer.

YIELD: 8 servings

For vegetarians (I cook them this way about half the time)

  • Omit the ham hock, ham, and the smoked sausage.
  • Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil along with the seasonings.
  • Add 1 teaspoon (or enough as you like, to taste) of liquid smoke seasoning. The vegetable oil helps replace the fat you get from the sausage, and the liquid smoke flavoring helps replace the smokiness you get from the smoked sausage and smoked ham hock.


The St. Joseph’s-St. Patrick’s Day Mash Up Tuesday, Mar 19 2013 

Camellia Grill, March 2013

Camellia Grill, March 2013

I hope my students had a chance to witness part of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade before they left on Saturday. It’s not important, or meaningful, or culturally significant, but it is New Orleans at its goofy, frivolous best. It is a good example of the ingrained parade culture; it is imprinted on these peoples’ DNA. But then, they had a 1600 mile trip ahead of them. I only had to brave breakfast.

I picked up Kyle and his roommates and we headed down Carrollton to the Magnolia Grill, a hoary institution that has been serving breakfast and sandwiches since patrons wore bobby socks. And from the feel of the place it wouldn’t seem out of place today. Being Saturday morning, there was a wait, but it was a beautiful sunny morning. It had been nearly twenty years since I have graced their marble counters, but my memory reminded me that it

Chef’s Omelet, Magnolia Grill, March 2013.

was worth the wait. It is seldom that you the chance to order eggs, sausage, toast and grits and feel virtuous, but when you are sharing breakfast with three 20-somethings, it makes it easy. I can’t truly describe what a chef’s omelet is; a picture does the job far better than I. And besides the Clover Grill, few places in New Orleans can serve a meal complete with entertainment.

We waddled out, picked up some liquid refreshments, and met up with some other City Year volunteers along Louisiana Avenue. Crowds were already lining the street, but we were able to snag some prime viewing spots in front of a police barricade on Prytania. We had to move for a couple of ambulances and an emergency oyster delivery, but we had prime spots from which to snag beads, cabbage and other assorted produce. Moon Pies, Ramen Noodles, drink koozies, and just about anything else drunks could throw from two story tall trailers. When it was over, we parted ways and I headed down to the Marigny for a couple of restful nights in a hotel in the Marigny.

Irish Channel St. Patrick's Parade, March 2013.

Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade, March 2013.

New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling, March 2013.

New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling, March 2013.

After a short rest, I met up with another former student at the Spotted Cat. We walked and talked and caught up some more before settling in for some dinner, with traditional jazz at the foot of Frenchmen Street, right near the spot where a Spanish governor had five recalcitrant Frenchmen summarily executed; hence the name.

We finished dinner and Kendra offered that she was going to attend the finals of the New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling league with her roommates. I mean, who, on the heels of seeing a guy fondling a snake in a bar, could pass on that experience  so I accepted the challenge. She explained that it was largely good-natured spectacle staged to raise money for women’s charities. So we headed over to One Eyed Jacks in the Quarter.

It was almost too weird to describe. A cross between professional wrestling and “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.” Muscle bound women, with great monikers, surrounded by themed entourages. My favorite bartender from Kajun’s backed up the eventual winner, “Seyonce” who bested “Mary Magdalene.” Seriously. After surviving that, I retreated to the quiet courtyard of my small hotel. Yes, there is such a thing as having too much fun.

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine's, March 2013

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine’s, March 2013

For some cleansing on Sunday morning I attended the jazz mass at nearby St. Augustine’s, probably my favorite thing to do in New Orleans. As usual, the singing of the “Our Father,” brought tears to my eyes and the sign of peace went on for ten minutes of more. Then Kendra and I headed uptown for Super Sunday gathering of the Mardi Gras Indians, which customarily takes place on the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th), which is a major holiday for the New Orleans Italian population. No one is quite sure why the African-American Indians chose to piggy-back on this largely Sicilian holiday, but it makes for a wonderful cultural mash up.

This was my fifth Super Sunday and the biggest I have witnessed by far. Of course, I remember my first in 2007, only a year and a half removed from Katrina, the resilience and new energy that it represents is, I believe, a very positive sign for both the City and

Super Sunday, March 2013.

Super Sunday, March 2013.

its cultural foundations. We walked the entire route through some of New Orleans’ most challenged neighborhoods. The sights and sounds and smell of street vendors’ wares were indescribable. We had sausage sandwiches before the parade started and ended the parade with a couple of pounds of boiled crawfish. We stayed an additional hour. Indian gangs continued to return to the park where they performed once more before taking off feathered and beaded costumes that can weigh more than a hundred pounds. And while our fatigue could not match that of the Indians, the sun and activity had taken their toll. We parted ways and I headed back to my hotel and ate carry out for dinner.

St. Patrick's in the Marigny, March 2013.

St. Patrick’s in the Marigny, March 2013.

I swore I would ignore the Downtown St. Patrick’s Parade, but tired or not, I walked the few blocks to Royal Street and watched as the much-smaller parade wound through the Bywater and Marigny. it was fun to watch with the crowds from the neighborhoods. And while far from sedate, it carried with a local charm. But afterwards, with the sun setting, I finally took refuge in my small hotel courtyard.

It had been a busy, sometimes frenetic, but thoroughly rewarding multicultural weekend.

18 Days from New Orleans…But Who’s Counting? Tuesday, Feb 19 2013 

Exactly 18 days from now (it’s a little past 10pm on February 19, 2013), we will have traveled over 1500 and most of my students will be walking the streets of New Orleans for the very first time. It’s about this time every spring when I sit down and write a column on what to expect in terms of preparation, of the trip, and what to look forward to in this exotic and shockingly different place.

Rebirth Brass Band at Howlin' Wolf, March 2008.

Rebirth Brass Band at Howlin’ Wolf, March 2008.

But when I sat down to do that, I was paralyzed. I’ve probably written a dozen or more such entries since 2008. What can I say new? And then it hit me: I’ve got columns buried in the recesses of the blog that I can recycle. Aren’t we supposed to recycle? And then, rereading some of my previous entries (for the most part — typos still sting) is fun.

So, here is trip down memory lane that I hope will prove useful for this year’s eager and very receptive crop of future NOLA-heads:

Last year, I wrote this entry called Ten Days. It was my attempt to get the class excited about the trip — as if that is necessary. I also tried to get them in the right mindset for the trip and how to approach their encounter with the Crescent City. It was also intended to serve as inspiration for starting their New Orleans journals well in advance of the trip

This a column I wrote back in 2011 called New Orleans in March, i.e. preparing for the trip. Keep in mind, this was for when the class stayed in Madonna Manor over in Marrero, LA. Where we are staying this year shouldn’t be near as creepy, haunted, or utterly fascinating. However, much of the advice of what clothes, begging, and personal effects still rings true. Students still debate about boots vs. sneakers; but if you end up working in demolition, nothing is better insurance than a good pair of boots.

Irish Channel St. Patrick's Parade, March 2009.

Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade, March 2009.

Another one from two years back is New Orleans Quick Reference Guide. In this entry, I pulled together a number of  street maps of New Orleans and the French Quarter, as I feel strongly that students should get their geographic bearings in spite of GPS. I also included quick links to New Orleans weather, news, music, events, etc. Back in 2011, I likely assumed students would be relying on their laptops. With smart phones, the same information is more readily available.

This one, from last year, entitled Zero Hour. It is all about the night before departure jitters and anticipation. It does make me wistful, because I am flying down on Saturday this year and chances are, most of you will beat me to the Lower Ninth.

Domilise's oyster and shrimp po' boy, March 2008.

Domilise’s oyster and shrimp po’ boy, March 2008.

The next two are in the vein of Letters from New Orleans. One I lifted pretty much from a Brett Will Taylor column in — he didn’t seem to mind, as he commented on the entry. I titled it using a quote from his column: “The normal is strange here; the normal is strange”. The other is one of my favorite essays of all time called Five Ways People in New Orleans are Different from Us. It helps capture my respect, fascination, and love for the folks I’ve encountered in New Orleans. And it is one of my most viewed blog entries ever.

The last of this collection is one of several great student guest contributions from last year’s class. The posting, from Sam Docos, leader of the Baratarians this year, beautifully captures the anticipation and fulfillment of the trip. Pretty much focused on food (wonder where she got that from?), it is called Po’ boy Dreams.

Enjoy. But please stop drooling.


The REAL Spirit of New Orleans Monday, Apr 2 2012 

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn…” –Jack Kerouac

Bead work from Mardi Gras Indian outfit, House of Dance and Feathers, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2012

Looking back to the weeks before my first trip to New Orleans, I remember being nervous and wondering what to expect from a city known for its indescribable culture. After spending one day in the city, I was hooked. Our first day experiencing New Orleans as a class helped me to understand the spirit and culture of the city that Bill had been trying to describe to us for the first half of the semester.

Our first full day in New Orleans, we started off by heading to the Lower Ninth Ward to visit Ronald Lewis at The House of Dance and Feathers, the museum located behind his house. The bright colors from the Mardi Gras Indian costumes filling the room made it difficult to look away. Each costume was created with beautiful beadwork and details. It is one thing to see them in photographs or videos but it is a completely different story to see them in person.

Lower Ninth Ward, March 2006

Once everybody had settled into the museum, Ronald shared some of his experiences with Hurricane Katrina. While I had heard a lot about Katrina before visiting New Orleans, I didn’t truly understand how it affected the city and her people until hearing Ronald talk about his experiences. He helped me to understand the depth at which the people of the city were affected. One thing he said really stuck with me. When asked about the response to Katrina and the progress that has been made over the past few years he said, “It not the hot story, but it’s an ongoing story”. This was a really great thing to hear right before we started our work with Habitat for Humanity. Living in a world filled with daily disasters and news stories, it is hard to remember that the problems that occur from these events persist long after the hype goes down and volunteering is not longer the popular thing to do. This concept resonated with me and was something I carried with me as I volunteered and hope to remember now that I am back home and far away from the damage of Katrina and the people of New Orleans. So often people jump on the bandwagon to support issues but forget about them shortly afterwards. It makes sense, but it is a shame.

New homes, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2012. Gabby Chesney.

After having spent a little time in New Orleans, I know I won’t forget. I am excited to explore ways I can get involved and support the amazing and spirited people affected by Katrina from a distance. Ronald’s words were inspiring and so truthful. His spirit and passion were contagious. I love people like that, those are the ones who stick with you and change your outlook. 
I think many of the people I met in New Orleans embody this spirit. A city is nothing without the people who fill it. The people of New Orleans, so filled with the spirit of life and music and resilience, are the heartbeat of the city. Throughout the week we heard stories of people who suffered greatly after Katrina but returned to the city with a strong spirit and sense of hope.

Gabby and Ronald, House of Dance and Feathers, March 2012. Gabby Chesney.

Those are the stories that made the week we spent amazing. Without the people, New Orleans would just be a picturesque city by the water. Once you add these eclectic and passionate people, you have a place that is impossible to forget and sure to change you in one way or another. 

–Gabby Chesney–

Saint Patrick’s Day in New Orleans Sunday, Mar 18 2012 

Crawfish for our last dinner in Slidell, March 2012

A constant of our spring breaks has been St. Patrick’s Day, which runs neck and neck with St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans among the pantheon of “holy” days to rank behind Mardi Gras. It or some events related to it are always present. This year students traveled to Metairie for their big parade last Sunday. And a few of those in the City witnessed the Molly’s in the Market parade on Decatur, which is basically a moving block party. They enjoyed their last night in the Quarter, regardless, although the new 21+ regulations are making it harder for young people to go into clubs to listen to music. If they keep this up, it will be to the detriment of the music and its following and not to the sustenance of decency and decorum.

Courtyard concert, Historic New Orleans Collection, Royal Street, March 2012

I caught part of the Molly’s parade, but also had the chance to see Dr. Michael White and his quartet performing at eh Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal Street. The beautiful courtyard of this old mansion was filled with members and music lovers alike, and they did not disappoint. And the sound of tunes like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” with Gregg Stafford’s vocals reverberating off of the masonry walls, was fabulous.

Students learning about Mardi Gras Indian culture at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, March 2012

The late night in the City made for a slow departure from the Peace Mission Center this morning. And to some extent, I think it was a rebellion against leaving New Orleans more than chronic sleepiness. Bags seemed to roll slower. Packing decisions took longer. I found it easier to leave the process entirely and make my way into the City for our meeting at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme, the source for the best information on Mardi Gras Indian and Second Line culture in New Orleans. Happily, all three groups fought through the New Orleans departure blues to hear museum founder Sylvester Francis

Sylvester Francis explaining the Second Line tradition, March 2012

expound on this unique culture. The Mardi Gras Indian costumes amazed and hopefully most came away with greater understanding of these New Orleans cultural artifacts.

Sadly, I had to part with students at 10 a.m. Most of them were heading across Rampart Street into the Quarter for what I feel is the finest New Orleans experience — the French Quarter on a weekend morning. There they would find a humming French Market, street performers, and New Orleans’ signature food fare; such will hopefully lessen the sting of a long journeyhome back to the second half of the semester.

Willie Mae's Scotch House, Treme, March 2012

I left the museum to head out to the airport to pick up my wife. And as frequently as I go to New Orleans, it was the first time we have been together in the City since 1993>And we had quite the New Orleans experience: fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House in Treme; part of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade; dinner with a smartass waitress; the Downtown St. Patrick’s Parade; music on Frenchmen; watching 100 year-old Lionel Ferbos perform with his band at the Palm Court; and walking through the Quarter on a warm Saturday night that happens to be March 17th. It makes me tired (and smile) just to think of it.

St. Patrick's Day, Jackson and St. Charles, March 2012

I am heading offline tomorrow and will not be adding to my blog for a week or more. I’m sure I’ll Have plenty of observations, commentary, and pictures when I get back and the events of the past week have sufficiently sunk in. At that time, I will also begin a new thread in which I invite students to contribute blog entries related to New Orleans, the trip, and to the class. So, stay tuned, there is good stuff yet to come.

Random Facts About New Orleans Sunday, Mar 4 2012 

These facts have been supplied to help my students get a snapshot of New Orleans prior to their spring break, service-learning trip. Some facts may be subject to bias (mine). Those generally appear towards the end of the list. No harm or misinformation is intended by these pronouncements.

St. Louis Cathedral, March 2010.

Distance from Durham NH to New Orleans LA: 1,586 miles

Road hours from Durham NH to New Orleans LA: one day; two hours

Average high temperature on March 10th in Durham NH: 37 degrees

Average high temperature on March 10th in New Orleans LA: 71 degrees

Population of New Orleans LA (2010): 343,829

Population of Durham NH (2010): 14,638

New Orleans founded: 1718 by French explorers and speculators

Durham founded: 1732 by English settlers

Portion of New Orleans below sea level: 49%

Top New Orleans employer: Ochsner Health System, 10,000

Second line parade, March 2010

New Orleans racial composition: African-American 60.2%; white, 33%; Hispanic, 5.3%; Asian 2.9

% of New Orleans population who are Roman Catholic: 35.9%

Rank of New Orleans in murder rate (US): 1st

Rank of New Orleans in bicycle and foot traffic (US): 8th

Best cross-dressing bounce artist: Big Freedia

Best radio station: WWOZ (90.7 FM)

Best seafood po’boy: Domilise’s

Best music club: Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street

Best place for traditional music: Preservation Hall

Me and Kermit Ruffins, Rock and Bowl, March 2011.

Oldest regularly performing jazz artist: Lionel Ferbos (100 years old) at the Palm Court

Coolest senior citizen in America: “Uncle” Lionel Batiste (81 years old) bass drummer for the Treme Brass Band and Frenchmen Street denizen

Best New Orleans brass band: Rebirth Brass Band (OK Stu, I’ve come around)

Mr. New Orleans: Kermit Ruffins

Best city in America: Do we really have to ask?

Ten Days Tuesday, Feb 28 2012 

UNH Students arriving Sunday morning in St. Bernard Parish, LA, March 2007.

OK, I should be too old to get so excited by such things, but it is ten days before we all head down to New Orleans! After six years of spring break trips, it just doesn’t get old. And this year will be different enough to spice things up a bit.

I feel as though I’ve done this before, but  it is important to help prepare you for the adventure you soon will be undertaking. This will be an adventure. Even if you were driving to Springfield, IL, a 1500 hundred mile van trip with your classmates will likely be like nothing you’ve ever experienced. And as weird as it sounds: every year, I’m amazed at how energized students are following 25-30 hours in a large, white van.

For the trip. Plenty of snacks. Not enough beverages to force too many pit stops. Comfortable clothes, maybe a pillow, a fleece blanket or bag. And even though I’ve never experienced it; I know it will be fun. There will be stories.

We have talked New Orleans, all the time, but there are things in Southern Louisiana that a classroom cannot prepare you for. So, be ready to accept the following:

The weather is changeable — Chances are, it will be sunny and warm, but nights can be chilly and days often start out cooler than you expect. Wear layers. I usually bring a couple of long sleeved shirts, a fleece vest, and a windbreaker. I’ve been surprised with cold, windy weather, but most of the time this works just fine.

New Birth Brass Band, Preservation Hall, March 2007.

Absorb the sounds –There will be music. The City thrives on it. With food it is New Orleans’ life blood. Go with it. Swing with it. Bring it back in your heart. We have well-known musicians, Paul Sanchez and Dr, Michael White on our schedule, but there will be others. Whether in the clubs or on the street, there will be others. Three places to put in your sights: Frenchmen Street; Preservation Hall; and Rock and Bowl. Enough said.

Just eat it! — As iconic chef and restaurateur Leah Chase says: “if it taste good, eat it!” Go with that. People in New Orleans live to talk, listen to music and EAT!” It’s in their blood. And they know what’s good. And you have to try it. It’s fried, fattening, greasy, sometimes gross, but it is traditional local cuisine. It is real. It is authentic. And it will help your understanding of the people and area in which you are staying.

Be prepared to work hard — While the nights are ours, we’ll be starting out work days early. There will be hard work. Have close toed shoes. Be prepared to sweat and be prepared to be satisfied after a day’s work. And be prepared to reflect upon your journey. We are working with faith-based organizations and they will insist on starting the day with prayer and reflection. And regardless of your beliefs, we are all  working to same ends, so it must be a good thing. Go with it.

Slow down — We have all been through a stressful first half of the semester, and I know I have been complicit in that. But this is your chance to pull back, absorb it all, and enjoy. You are leaving the frenetic Northeast for place where time is relative, or maybe non-existent. People and events move at a different pace or none at all. Go with the flow and you’ll learn to appreciate the different rhythms of life.

Garden of the Beauregard-Keyes House, French Quarter, March 2008.

Take it all in — Cemeteries, shotgun houses, Creole ironwork, live oaks, alligators! etc. There will be things you’ve never seen, or at least noticed before. Place them in you memories, take pictures, and write about them in your journals. Along with that, take in the friendships you find and build during the trip and you’ll have memories that will live for your lifetime.

And most important of all — enjoy!

Leaving Ordinary Time Tuesday, Feb 21 2012 

Today is Mardi Gras. The end of Carnival. The end of Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time?

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes two stretches of Ordinary Time during their liturgical calendar. The first runs from the end of the Christmas Season, Epiphany (January 6th) up to Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten Season. The second is longer and less eventful, running from the end of Pentecost (the end of Eastertide) up to the Saturday before the beginning of Advent, the four-week period leading up to Christmas and the beginning of the liturgical year. In the grand scheme of things, the first is definitely more interesting than the second.

The first span of Ordinary Time, especially in places that celebrate Carnival or Mardi Gras, is anything but Ordinary. The time is filled with masked balls, King Cake parties, and eventually the festivities, feasting and parades leading up to Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day. Take your pick depending upon your local tradition.

In New Orleans, Ordinary Time ends exactly at midnight on Mardi Gras. It is so important that the police clear Bourbon Street, arresting those who persist in carrying their partying over into the early hours of Ash Wednesday. Nothing is left to chance or inebriated, self control. It. Is. Over.

Italian-American Marching Club Parade, Bourbon St., March 2007.

The curtain closes.  In a season which recognized Christ’s 40 days in the desert, those seeking the fasting, prayer and penance of the Lenten season go to church to receive Palm Sunday’s recycled palm fronds in the form of ashes. A new season. A new holy season has begun.

But there are loopholes. While in past centuries believers gave up meat, eggs and dairy, during Lent, today’s Catholics must only give up meat on the Fridays. But these restriction, too, may be waived if St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th), or the Annunciation (March 25th) chance to fall on a Friday. Then, dioceses may choose to wave the Fast. And that is important in New Orleans, where St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day are important for Irish and Italian/African-American residents, respectively. In a span of a few days, St. Patrick’s parades, St. Joseph’s parades and altars, and Mardi Gras Indian processions will come and come. And while the religious connections may be tenuous, they are extremely important in their respective communities.

Uptown Indian Parade, March 20, 2011.

So, while the NOPD might clear the Quarter at midnight following Mardi Gras, the parades, the parties, and the beads continue, albeit at a slower pace.

34th Annual Islenos Fiesta Sunday, Feb 5 2012 

Annual Islenos Fiesta, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, March 20, 2010.

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