Friday, January 9, 2009

96 percent fun!

Every day I fall a little more in love with New Orleans. It's probably obvious by now. You're probably getting a little tired of my infatuation with the Big Easy. Perhaps this is natural, to fall so in love with a place. I generally am happy in all environments. I am about the easiest human being to please. I love final exams. I enjoy all-nighters. I find doctors' waiting rooms fascinating and beautiful.

Which is why I think my growing love (it's definitely love -- not just infatuation) for New Orleans is so special to me. At first, I didn't love it. At first, I was miserable. I thought I had picked the wrong city; that I had chosen to live with people who didn't give a shit about politics (why else would their political system be so broken?) but who lived to get drunk and party. And certainly, those people live here. And they're probably very happy, because New Orleans accommodates that lifestyle.

But I went to an "Anti-Racism Working Group" potluck this week. My fear was that the potluck would look a lot like Whitman College Race Symposiums: 90 percent white, and for many people, 100 percent of the social "activism" they participate in for the entire year. It's great to talk about race, but what does it DO? Kind of masturbatory, I guess.

At first, the potluck looked very similar to a Whitman event. Yes, it was 100 percent white. And yes, there was organic food on the table (a lot of freaking organic food, I might add. Maybe New Orleans' entire supply of organic food). But when we went around the circle to tell who we were and what we do, I recognized the significant difference: every single person there was actively involved in the community in one way or another, stretching for change. They were law-fighters, picket-crossers, UU church workers, volunteers, homeless shelter starters, or workers, or renovators. They built houses, grew food, canvassed. Almost all of them were community organizers. None of them seemed to have day jobs -- they were activists, and that was all.

At dinner, we actually talked about race in a very real way. We talked about FBI informants and gentrification and the racial divide in the activist movement. I learned a lot. It was a difficult, uncomfortable, challenging, wonderful conversation. I left feeling larger.

I walked home with Leah in the dark along the potholes in the pavement, listening to kids playing basketball in the street and families chatting on their porches and drinking tea just like they do in the movies. It was warm at 10 p.m.; we didn't have to wear sweaters. I fell asleep listening to bullfrogs and feeling at home.

So this is all very poetic and good. You are reading this thinking, "Yes. That sounds very nice. I think New Orleans sounds lovely and activisty." And you are right. Except for one thing: THERE WAS NO VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT. Not one. There is an African restaurant called Bennichan's which has vegetarian food (Caitlin works there now, which means I can potentially bribe her for fried plantains). Sometimes if you are lucky there are such things are French Fried Po' Boys, which are like real Po' Boys, except with French fries and not meat. The only problem here is that they are gross and disgusting. It was just not a good city to be a vegetarian.

Did you note the "was?"

Past tense. As in, used to be.

Because YESTERDAY a man named Aji (I know his name because I met him after giving intense and creative compliments to the chef via my waitress -- but I'm getting ahead now) opened Bamboo Gardens. It's a totally vegetarian restaurant with fake chicken and fake ham and REAL FLAVORS (yeah, I said it). The chef (this is Aji, who as I said, I met) learned how to make his vegan chicken from the folks in New York who make vegan chicken (for New York is where he went to culinary school and met all the vegan bigwigs there, like the owner of Red Bamboo, with whom Aji is allegedly "tight"). THIS IS THE CHICKEN I CRAVE MORE THAN ANY OTHER FOOD IN THE WORLD. Guys, I have seriously considered buying a plane ticket to New York SOLELY to eat this chicken. That is how much I love this chicken. It's an unreal concoction. I would sell several body parts for the recipe.

Leah and Hannah and Karaline and I sat there for three hours and bought a $150 meal (plus wine), talking and eating and drinking and I was SO HAPPY. Completely.

So anyway, this is a very long way of saying to family and friends who are on the other coast, I'm sorry, but I think I am going to live in New Orleans forever.

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