Re-post from 2014. 🙂
It’s Lent now, but I wanted to take a quick retrospective and remember Mardi Gras day!
Now that we have been in New Orleans for nearly 2 years, I can confidently say, along with my wife, that I have fallen in love with this cultural island. Really. Truly.
I told someone up North how much I loved NOLA (New Orleans, LA), and they said with a slight hint of sarcasm in their voice, “Why?”
It’s hard to say exactly why. Mostly it’s intangible. It certainly has to do with the good friends we have made here, but it also has something to do with the tangled mix of religion and culture. Like a good Bond martini, they’re shaken together, not stirred. Vice and virtue, wealth and poverty, race and genders cohabit in inexplicable ways. When I think of my brief experience here thus far, I think of a great menagerie of sumptuous food, plenteous drink, dazzling colors, meandering rivers, lazy bayous, irreconcilably diverse personalities, Cathedral square voodoo, mirror-hanging rosaries, the breastbone relic of Blessed Seelos, messy beignets, to-die-for Po’Boys, cultic football, devoted extended families, street corner jazz, Mardi Gras parades, abundant feasting, sudden fasting, crisscrossing canals, random gators, CC’s coffee, local accents that I simply cannot replicate, smooth Abita Amber beer, a mean Sazerac and oh so many other things. Local Catholicism can truly be defined the way James Joyce did in “Finnegans Wake,”
Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.’
American author and devout Catholic Walter Percy aptly described NOLA’s island-like identity:
New Orleans is both intimately related to the South and yet in a real sense cut adrift not only from the South but from the rest of Louisiana, somewhat like Mont St. Michel awash at high tide. One comes upon it, moreover, in the unlikeliest of places, by penetrating the depths of the Bible Belt, running the gauntlet of Klan territory, the pine barrens of South Mississippi, Bogalusa, and the Florida parishes of Louisiana and ending up in the French Quarter.
But it was after reading Earl Higgins’ very funny The Joy of Y’at Catholicism that I was confirmed in my love. His book plays wonderfully on these irreconcilably reconciled elements that constitute what Flannery O’Connor would call this Christ-haunted, though not necessarily Christ-centered, Catholic culture. And there’s just something about this culture that, if you let it, pulls you in no matter who you are or where you’re from. As Higgins says it, “In New Orleans even the Jews are Catholic!”
Since I am a born and bred New Englander, steeped in a more or less pragmatic, sacrcastic puritan ethos, maybe my greatest joy here is simply reveling in quelle différence!
Someone sent me this fun and upbeat music video reflecting on the local character of New Orleans. For fun, I’ll share it with you today: