Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tina McDermott's New Orleans

Livin' Large in the Big Easy

While the AVC faculty have the same problems as the rest of the world (busted cars, busted marriages, kids who won't keep out of trouble and kids who do stay out of trouble but then need to go off to very very expensive colleges), unlike other places I have worked, we do share some common loves, including good food, good music, and great places to go during our break times.  Recently one of the Communication Department professors (and new boss of the Accreditation Committee), Tina McDermott, shared with me some of her memories of New Orleans.

While this most recent intersession break she traveled to Israel, next winter she has told me her hope is to be able to go back to New Orleans, maybe even renting a place and spending some time.

What's the attraction?

Well, I can answer for her, at least in one respect.

BEADS.  How can you not love a city where for months on end, everybody decorates everything with beads?

The build-up to Mardi Gras reminds me of a fun mix of Christmas and Halloween, and while we know from Tim Burton movies that is not always a happy combination, at least in New Orleans, it makes for some very attractive decorations.

But let's have Tina speak for herself.

"First and foremost, I love the music.  It is impossible not to dance.   Last year I saw the Funky Meters, an offshoot of The Meters with some of the original members in the band, at the famous Tipitina’s (a club founded in 1977 to showcase Professor Longhair in his later years).  The club was packed, standing room only.  From college co-eds to 60-somethings, the audience was all there for one purpose and one purpose only: to hear some serious grooves.  Art Neville (granddaddy of the Neville clan on keyboards) lovingly led the band from one funk-filled jam to the next, with the crowd boppin’ on the backbeat in a collective sway, a shared sense of joy.  

Good live music is everywhere in New Orleans.  Even the bowling alley and the airport feature well known musicians any given night of the week.  A brass band appears out of thin air on a corner of Frenchman Street.  A crowd gathers to dance.  It’s 10:00 on a Monday night and things are just getting started.  The music and musicians are an organic result of the place and the history.  Ancient and complex African drum beats forcefully migrated to this continent morphed over time into blues, boogie-woogie, jazz, funk, and R&B.  This is the place where the soul of American music was literally birthed.   The pain and joy are simultaneous.  New Orleans music is packed with history lessons.

I also love the language and the culture, it reveals the diversity that is the result of a complicated past.  What fun it is to say “Laissez les bon temp rouler.” Even if you don’t speak French, you know what it means.  In French “fais-do-do” (FAY-doh-doh) means go to sleep.  This is what you tell your kids when it’s time to go to bed (and in fact, that is the name of a French lullaby that my French speaking mother used to sing to me).  But in Louisiana, that means that it’s time for the adults to party, thus the word for party is “fais-do-do.”  

And my favorite word to say out loud is Tchoupitoulas (CHOP-it-TOO-luhs), as in “the wild Tchoupitoulas gonna stomp some romp,” from that Mardi Gras Indian song, “Meet the Boys on the Battlefront.”  Tchoupitoulas is the name for the Native American tribes of the Mississippi River, who provided shelter and refuge to runaway slaves before the Civil War.   The enmeshed culture of African and Indian is honored and celebrated by the black community with Mardi Gras Indian social clubs and parades, music on the streets, and elaborate Big Chief costumes that weigh 100 pounds in sequins, feathers, and beads.  It’s tacky and beautiful at the same time, and, serious fun.  This cultural mix up is, to my mind, truly American.

And don’t even start me on the cuisine.  Creole and Cajun both have French roots, so you can’t go wrong.  When I was in New Orleans last year, the worst food I had was some white toast for breakfast at an otherwise good restaurant.  All was forgiven.   There was a jazz singer and pianist playing some jazz standards, it was a Sunday morning, and we made friends with some locals at the next table.  Yes, the CafĂ© du Monde is packed with tourists, but there is nowhere else in the world to eat a beignet that puffy and fluffy and sweet."

Well now.  That made me hungry and jealous.  I wish I could be there right now --- and I would be, except (a) the spring term is in session, and (b) I gave up time travel for Lent.  Thanks, Tina, for these memories.  And, just for the record, I will mention that she teaches even better than she sings, so AVC is doubly blessed.  As for what the Accreditation Committee does and why they're super duper important right now, well --- that's food for another (perhaps less colorful) posting.

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