In honor of the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I’d take some time to focus on a smattering of the many things I am thankful for about my YAV year in New Orleans thus far.
Here are my top 5:
This isn’t a cliché; it’s a truth. The food in New Orleans is AMAZING. As an individual whose labor goes into growing food for others, and as one whose primary spiritual practice is cooking and savoring meals, trust me when I say that this city is one of the holiest on the planet. From beignets and boudin to snowballs and Sazeracs, New Orleanians really do live to eat, and I am blessed to share a city with so many who recognize that as a sacred act.
The primary reason the food in this city is so delicious and unique is because of New Orleans’ history. Originally founded by those most epicurean of epicures, the French, New Orleans also had significant Spanish influence early on. Add to this mix the Acadians (later known as “Cajuns”) relocated from French Canada, the Native Americans, the Irish, the Italians, the many, many influences from Africa, and the rise of the Creole, and you’ve got quite a lot of unique cultural influence. While this might seem reflective of any large city, because New Orleans was originally French, it was governed and constructed in a manner atypical of other U.S. cities, making it feel much more welcoming and navigable (BONUS!!) than modern metropolises like Phoenix or New York.
I am blessed to have discovered many places to cultivate peace since arriving in New Orleans a few short months ago. Some of my favorites include:
- a labyrinth, which was constructed as a symbol of hope and renewal following Hurricane Katrina, helps to quiet my mind and heal my spirit.
- JW Johnson Community Schoolyard Garden—Even though it’s in a rough part of town, there are few things more restorative for me than watching things grow. Planning, planting, and producing fruits and vegetables that help feed my neighbors is a pretty big bonus too!
- Saint Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church—I cherish the folks I’ve gotten to know who make this place the heart of their faith, but aside from the congregants, the facility itself is spectacular. However, the grandeur of the sanctuary pales in comparison with the smaller chapel—with its stunning stained glass frescoes portraying God’s creation in Genesis. When the sun comes in through the windows in late afternoon, the whole space glows with color, and I love witnessing the way nature and art complement each other.
- Preservation Hall—This is why I moved to New Orleans, but I didn’t know it. The first concert venue I have ever truly loved,
- Preservation Hall makes me feel like I’m at an intimate 1940’s era club. I could literally go here every weekend for “self-care”!
- The Wetlands—Okay, so this comprises a variety of places, but the state beyond the city is as breathtaking as any of the sacred spaces within New Orleans that I’ve mentioned above. Our wetlands are bountiful, beautiful, and disappearing because we humans fail to recognize our symbiotic relationship with them. There is really nothing like exploring such fragile and diverse ecosystems with the people who call them home, and it’s soul crushing to think that such places will not exist soon.
Everybody knows Mardi Gras and the Jazz and Heritage Festival, but did you know about the Gumbo Festival? What about the Po’boy Festival? Crescent City Blues and BBQ? Krewe de Boo? This city is alive with celebration, and even though it can be a shockingly violent place, some of that violence has gotten creatively translated into traditions like the Mardi Gras Indians or Skull and Bone gangs. I love that I live in a city that has museums like “The House of Dance and Feathers”, costume shops that are open year round, and a school of Burlesque! Call me tactile, but I will always celebrate the sparkly—sequins, lamé, crinolines, wigs, beads, masks! It’s all so exciting!
5.) The people
Any list of my blessings would be incomplete if it failed to mention the people I am sharing this journey with. To my home church, Pennington Presbyterian, thank you SO much for the love, support, and opportunities to share that you’ve given me. To my housemates—Anna Leigh, Alex, Alyssa, Colleen, Hannah, Kalyn, and Sydney—thank you for your friendship, grace, laughter, and love. My site coordinator, Layne, and my mentor, Elaine—thank you for your patience and creative guidance. I would not be enjoying New Orleans nearly as much without all of you!
To the countless other folks I have met in New Orleans—the members of my Cooking Matters class, book groups, kickball teams; to my neighbors and community members; to those of you at Sophie B. Wright who encourage me; even to those of you who I have shared nothing more than a smile with, thanks! You have made New Orleans a place I have come to love, and I look forward to the many ways your influence continues to shape my understanding of this resilient and magical city.