New Orleans as home

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Danny Fitzpatrick, Contributing Writer

 

People often ask me how I manage to live in New Orleans. My response, of course, is to ask how I could not live in New Orleans. Nonetheless, the question maintains a certain validity, at least from the outsider’s perspective. Murder plagues certain neighborhoods. The summers are hot, humid and mosquito-ridden (the humidity in Dallas is child’s play, and we’ve been worrying about West Nile for years). Then there are the hurricanes. Five feet of water sat in my house for two weeks after Katrina. My mom’s house flooded during Betsy in 1965; she has no baby pictures.

All the same, my mom’s family came back after Betsy, just as we returned after Katrina. In fact, of my mom’s four siblings and my dad’s seven, only my dad’s sister Peggy has left the city. The Fitzpatricks and Storans (from whom I take my middle name) began to arrive in New Orleans as early as 1826. I am, as Dr. Moran once said, a rooted man, as are many New Orleanians.

Indeed, the distinguishing mark of the Southern gentleman seems intrinsically related to this rootedness. He discovers himself within a certain tradition, he recognizes the possibilities that tradition affords him, and he actualizes that possibility which most fulfills his duties to God, his family and himself.

And New Orleans is unique among Southern towns, I believe, in the richness of the tradition, and thus the variety of authentic modes of personal expression, it offers. French, Spanish, Italian, Irish, German and African influences are reflected in the city’s art, architecture, food and faith. A stroll down Esplanade Avenue reveals the smiling countenances of Creole-style houses, including the one Edgar Degas lived in during a stay in the 1870s. Maple Street’s Cote Sud offers fare prepared with vegetables straight from the French-speaking chef’s garden. Constance Street is dominated by St. Mary’s Assumption, a German church, and St. Alphonsus Liguori, an Irish one (and until 1918, Notre Dame de Bon Secours stood on the same corner and served the neighborhood’s French community).

New Orleans gets into your blood, as my grandma once remarked (and I assure you that, the food being as rich and plentiful as it is, cardiac arrest stands near the head of the list of my potential killers). This arterial invasion is not always beneficial: the relaxed Southern pace can deteriorate into a stupefying languor. At the same time, a well-structured New Orleanian life prepares one to walk comfortably in any city and to speak easily with any person. Then again, for the native, New Orleans is better than any city, and any person might show up there, so why leave?

New Orleans has passed often through fire and water. The summer sea ever casts long Vesuvian shadows. Yet danger focuses the heart on the home rather than the house. In the love of the home are born the joys of food, family and faith. These joys in turn build the home. So it is that through storms and plagues and odysseys my family has remained in the same city; that generations of men in my family have all attended the same high school; that most of us have lived in the same neighborhood for fifty years as of last June.

But beyond any quasi-philosophical explanation of the South, more important and more basic and more true than any defense of New Orleans, the words of my grandma remain: “It gets in ya’ blood.” I suppose that’s the character of any place we might call home. New Orleans is rooted in me just as much as I am rooted in it, to the point that wherever I’ve gone, I’ve always been able to join Louis Armstrong in knowing what it means to miss New Orleans, and miss it each night and day.

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