Weekend in New Orleans: Lesson One

Written January 11th, 2010…

Reentry into reality is rough after a NOLA weekend.  Maybe that’s why my first day back I tried to sustain the sugar high, having a praline before bed last night and another for breakfast this morning.  My Café du Monde bag is on the kitchen table, and if I weren’t so tired I’d bust out the beinget mix for tomorrow’s buzz.   Tonight after cooking Jambalaya—albeit an imposter exposed by red roux and a Zatarain’s box—I just downloaded Lil’ Nathan from iTunes.  Lawd, Kim and I found him beautiful at the Rock’n’Bowl.  “Ballin’ on Zydeco” makes me smile…and move.

My son calls from downstairs, “What are you doing up there?”

“Just dancin’ darlin,’” I say in an exaggerated Southern drawl, as if I don’t have one already.

Though I can’t see his eyes rolling, I hear his disapproval:  “I asked Josh if you said ‘Nawlins’ in his class today.  He said, ‘Yes, and it was annoying.’  Why do you have to be so weird, Mom?”

He’d have shaken his head if he’d seen my Facebook status my first night away: “I love me some zydeco.”  He’d have downright disowned me if he’d known I’d stalked Lil’ Nathan on Myspace, downloaded his album from iTunes, and considered buying his ringtone from Myxer.  He’d call this my “New Orleans Faze,” embarrassed by my sharing my enthusiasm for other cultures again with his peers.  It’s tough being a teacher’s kid.  Especially when the teacher is me.  Again, he’d ask, “What about Italy? Or salsa?” though I’d just shrug my shoulders and keep writing this post.  He doesn’t get that I can love more than one place, more than one group of people, even more than one dance at a time.  But to be honest, I HAD FORGOTTEN I can love more than Latin dance since I became addicted to salsa two years ago and began writing about it as the Nashville Latin Dancing Examiner.

Before leaving Nashville, Kim and I had naturally planned to check out the salsa scene in New Orleans.  In fact, for the past couple of years we’ve planned all vacations around Latin dancing.   In Barcelona we hit the two biggest clubs on the Spanish coast.  In California I showed up for street salsa in Santa Monica to the horror of my two teenagers.  On the plane last Thursday we talked of sooner-than-later salsa destinations, like Miami, and those for the long haul, like Puerto Rico and Argentina, favs on our bucket list. But this trip was different—much to do.

We went to NOLA for the reunion concert of the Swingin’ Haymakers, Kim’s ‘90s rockabilly group nominated “Best Country Band” four years in a row by Offbeat and the Big Easy Awards.  Having lived in New Orleans eleven years, she had friends to see—those still living in the city and others who were flying in from Nashville, Tampa, Atlanta, and Chicago. The show was scheduled for Saturday and there would be hours of rehearsal. Still, whether from denial or force of habit, we crammed our salsa shoes in suitcases overstuffed with sweaters, scarves, gloves, and hats, sat on them until they’d zip, and headed out on yet another adventure.  As usual, our salsa quest turned more Monty Python as we found it not-so-easy to find salsa in the Big Easy.

On Thursday we planned to meet our friend, April, a longtime dancer, at a salsa venue.  All three of us were disappointed when a championship game—and possibly record cold weather—cancelled the event.  Though she couldn’t join us on Friday, she suggested other places to try.  At The Balcony the band was good and the crowd friendly, but again, the cold kept most locals away.  Not quite the scene we’d hoped for…

No doubt I’d wanted to return to Nashville and write on Examiner about all the amazing places we had danced.   I’m not sorry we tried.   But I realized having an agenda can mess with my usual “When in Rome” approach to travel.   I was like the tourist who spends precious vacation time frantically searching for souvenirs to remember a trip at the cost of making memories while there.  And though I learned long ago not to be that girl who eats at a favorite chain restaurant instead of trying the local cuisine, I had to remind myself to step out from behind the camera long enough to be part of the action.  As a friend tells me to do often…it was time to let go of expectations, to embrace the moment, to stop worrying about what I’d write in the future and instead live in the present.  When I did that, I was free to fall in love with a city full of soul— an eclectic place alive, festive, and rich with friends, food, and fun. And when I tried dancing to the beat of another drum–literally– I fell into the rhythm of zydeco and the spirit of a magical place.  For photos of this NOLA getaway go here.