Do you know what I love most about New Orleans?
It's the simple fact that when everybody else is often happy to have just one, great, big party to celebrate St Patrick's Day, New Orleans isn't happy until she has stretched the partying over a couple of weekends...and then you still have the actual day itself to look forward. Sure, as they say back home, if a thing is worth doing then it is worth doing well! And over and over again!
St Patrick's day has been an official public holiday in Ireland for very nearly the last hundred years, but it was only since the mid-1990's that the Irish Government began a campaign to make use of what had primarily been a religious holiday to showcase Ireland, and its culture, with an official festival. Today, the annual St Patrick's Festival lasts five days, and is enjoyed by almost a million visitors, and all over the Emerald Isle, from big cities like Dublin and Cork, to the little towns and villages, the homegrown Irish join their international cousins in getting their Irish on.
However it occurred to me, as I watched the wonderful Irish Parades roll along Magazine Street and Old Metairie Road over the last weekend, that like many transplants from foreign shores St Patrick's Day here in the States hasn't just survived, but has thrived and also grown wild...and wild is just what New Orleans does best.
The beautiful weather might have had something to do with it, but last Saturday as I waited for the Irish parade to arrive, surrounded by groups of revelers, children and families, I couldn't help but compare the New Orleans twist on St Patrick's to the ones I saw back home, and in other places in the US. And New Orleans, for me, won hands down - or rather hands raised - because of just one thing, the unabashed joyous connection between those parading, on foot and on-float, and those who lined the oak-shadowed streets with their coolers, their kids, and their spirit of carnivale celebration.
All those beautiful floats, rocking out to roll and roll music, filled with people who reached out to a sea of green and glitter and bare skin - New Orleanians can be relied on to come to these kind of things dressed, or sometimes undressed, for the occasion. And food and drink being what it is in New Orleans, cabbages flew through the air, and vodka shots were given to those who seemed most in need of a quick pick-me-up. Policemen were draped with beads like the rest of the crowd, and the walkers exchanged sweet green and white flowers for sweeter kisses all along the parade route. It was just so much fun!
People talk about our festivals here in New Orleans, our festival days like Fat Tuesday and St Patrick's Day but, for me, what Mardi Gras and St Patrick's Day reveal about our city is that festivals here are not just days on a calendar - they are indicative of that unique Crescent City state of mind. They are a celebrations that transcend ethnicity, be it Irish, or anything else. They carry the spirit of New Orleans at its best.
And as for me myself, I carried home 14 green and white flowers - ahem - a perfect red rose made of feathers. ..and yet another perfect memory of New Orleans.