Monday, March 12, 2007

Cherchez la Fete

Behind every exhausted mother in New Orleans there is a street festival.

We made it to the Fete Francais this past Saturday, just as the food was running out and the keg of Abita was tapped. The place was packed with people, families and singles and young couples cuddling on the sun-drenched lawn. They had a dozen or so vendors and some cool activities for the kids, including an area packed with easels and paints and brushes. (I watched as a young girl ran up to her parents, her hands and arms and face smeared with paint; instead of reacting with alarm, her parents thought it was hilarious and had her pose for a series of photos showcasing her body art. You gotta love that.) My mom was in town for the weekend and she remarked on the diversity of the crowd, articulating a thought that sometimes forces its way past all the worries and doubts I carry in my conscious mind: that this is what makes living here worthwhile. New Orleans + Springtime = Festival after Glorious Festival.

I first came for Jazz Fest in 1994. It was the end of my first year in college and some friends were leaving Sarasota on a Thursday, after class, driving all night through the fog to crash wherever and hopefully score some tickets (we had no idea that tickets to J.F. don't sell out). It was one of those trips where sleeping was optional; if we didn't have somewhere to stay we'd just sleep in the car. Turns out one of us had a friend who lived somewhere in the city--for the life of me I can't remember where--so we crashed at her place at night and made our way to the Fairgrounds each morning, with just enough cash for beer and a french fry po' boy. It rained on afternoon and I stood in front of the Acura stage and listened to BB King in the rain and thought I might come back someday soon. New Orleans was a pretty awesome place.

And I did come back, many times, for Jazz Fest and other things, until I eventually realized that I could come back for good, that people actually lived here, that I could wake up every morning in this town and that I could someday, if I worked hard enough, call this place my own. I would work hard in the fall and miss my family during the holidays, but when Spring rolled around I would be here, down the street or just a bike ride away from the festivities.

God help me, but I do love this town. And, for the record, so does Angelina Jolie.

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