What we’ll miss

Mark Dempsey who lived in New Orleans in the ‘70s and now resides high above the flood plain and far from any fault lines in Sacramento County

Nearly 30 years ago, I lived in New Orleans, so it saddens me to see the place that “care forgot” laid so low. Even in the midst of its racial and economic divides, the Big Easy was just designed for fun. What other city would have residents named Jessie “Ooh Poo Pa Do” Hill, or the onomatopoeic drummer for the Meters, Zigaboo Modeliste?

Louisiana was a place that would forgive anything for heartfelt music. Residents told me they elected Jimmie Davis governor (in 1944 and 1960) on the strength of his having written “You Are My Sunshine” and not much else. He apparently would talk a little on the campaign trail and then sing three or four songs. Politics is usually so boring elsewhere.

My favorite New Orleans event wasn’t Mardi Gras (too big and crazy for a shy, Midwestern boy), but the Jazz & Heritage Festival. Held at the racetrack, it had six stages of music and lots of food. You could wander from stage to stage with a beer and a plate of jambalaya, hearing gospel, blues and some smaller unique acts.

New Orleans food was unique, too. We can claim to eat jambalaya elsewhere, but I’ve never tasted anything like what I ate in New Orleans. I still have fond memories of the gumbo, replete with blue crab claws sticking up through the broth full of oysters, gulf shrimp and scallops.

And where else could you go to some guy’s garage and buy boiled crawfish wrapped in newspaper? He’d been selling crawfish for decades and had the herbs in the crawfish boil just right. There’s nothing like the feeling of unwrapping that newspaper full of “bugs” and eating your way to a warm, contented glow.

For dessert, you could go to another house (no, not the mall) and buy a “snow cone.” We call them “Hawaiian ices” here, but they’re snow cones in N’awlins. They don’t get the syrup from a franchise, either; they make their own and have done so for generations. Trust me, the chocolate syrup was out of this world.

New Orleans was different, really different from the rest of the country. Its difference is something worth preserving in our homogenized, globalized world.

Let’s pray they rebuild to keep it that way.