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Pilgrimage (pronounced the R.E.M. way, "pil-grim-ahje")

Friday, 16 March 2012

Enda Gallery--"Once I Go" (mp3)

Yep, it's that time of year again, when boys will be boys and men will not exist, except in their physical forms, their bodies inhabited by boys. Because the boys will be going back to New Orleans one more time.

How many years has it been? I really have no idea. Maybe 9 or 10. Maybe fewer. This could also be the last time. Our friend from out-of-town has taken a new job with new duties and new vacations, and he won't be able to make this Spring Break pilgrimage any more. He'll want to go at a different time of year, but I fear that it won't be the same at a different time of year. Our bodies are tuned for a brief, muggy respite in the middle of March. The one time we messed with this schedule, said friend paid for it by puking in a hotel room the whole time. I guess you just don't mess with the Gods of Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler. You stick with what works.

But, no matter. At some point, this has to end anyway, for one reason or another. Whatever that reason is, it will not be good. Count on it. Just don't speculate about it. And don't dwell on it.

In a way, though, that's the whole point, isn't it? Three days where caution goes to the wind, and along with it goes time and age and responsibility and obligation and conflict and disappointment. Three days where memories are all good and friendships resolidify the second that two hands shake, two men hug.

What's on the agenda? Well, pretty much the usual--Commander's Palace, NCAA basketball, The Chart Room, Bourbon Street, Acme Oyster House, a killer po-boy or muffuletta somewhere, a late-night gut bomb somewhere else, a St. Patrick's Day parade or two, a meandering trip in the car so we can claim we were outside the Quarter. A lot of walking down the same streets we always walk. A lot of the same kinds of jokes, the same hacking, the same banter that we always engage in. In a way, though, that's the whole point, isn't it? When we only have 3 days, we aren't likely to do a whole lot of branching out; we know what we like, what works for us, what makes us happy, what is rife with memories, and we're going to go back to those places.

And the money adds up. New Orleans is one of those cities where you start out a night with so much money in your pocket, and when you take stock the next day, you really don't have a clear idea of where most of it might have gone. Oh, you have a pretty good idea, but you have no way to nail down the particulars. Chances are it went to something you never intended to do in the first place when you set out for the evening, and it was spent in an establishment you never thought you would enter. New Orleans is that kind of "Oh, what the heck, let's try absinthe" city. It's a "Mexican food? Here in the Quarter? That's so weird. Let's get some" city. Or a "Who cares if it's a gay bar? We're only going in for a beer" city.

Yeah. So.

Adam Gopnick, in his book, The Table Comes First, says that the first thing a man does when he comes into a new city is to figure out where he's going to eat. New Orleans is that in spades. There/here (as you're reading this, I fully expect to be walking these beloved streets) the biggest challenge is not where to eat, it's how to eat at all of the places that you want to eat at. You love the places that you've been, and so you want to go back, but in between this trip and your last trip, everybody and his brother has told you about a whole new list of places where you should eat, and so you spend your brief New Orleans days in a kind of panic between want and should.

Funny thing about New Orleans: before Hurrican Katrina, it had 800+ restaurants. Then it lost a good percentage of its native population. But it kept adding restaurants anyway. Now, with a significantly smaller population, New Orleans has 1200+ restaurants. Go figure. Or come down and it won't be hard to figure at all.

One of the phrases I hate most in the English language is "to die for." Except for the Nicole Kidman movie of that name which is pretty damn good. People will change the intonation of their voice when they use that phrase, using all of these weird emphases, as in, "That dessert is to die for." Yeah, well, no, it isn't. It's just a piece of gooey chocolate.

And, friend, all I will say is this: that ain't New Orleans. Above all else, New Orleans is to live for. It is that one place within reach that justifies a yearly longing that starts about October and just gets worse and worse, the closer we get to March and Spring Break. Usually, I go after Christmas. This year, I didn't. I have been miserable.

We talk from time to time of going other places, but why would we? Charleston and Savannah are wonderful cities in their own rights, but if you know New Orleans and then you go to them, you will quickly see that they draw heavily from their Louisiana counterpart and not vice-versa. Plus, they're too damn tidy. New Orleans is sloppy and casual and just plain slack. It can piss you off when you're trying to take care of hotel business; it can seem like a miracle when you just grab a drink and start walking. These are lifestyle decisions, not tourism ones. Las Vegas may well be more decadent than New Orleans, but it's manufactured and all of its great eating is imported from places like New Orleans or L.A.

I heard a person today say that New Orleans was the "most un-American American city," and I knew what he meant and he meant it positively, but, really, it's just the opposite. It's the city that saves America. From itself. It's the city that won't let you bring your hang-ups and your preconceptions to it, because it really doesn't care about those. It's the city that transcends America. And when you're here, you only care about one thing--that you're in New Orleans.

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