It’s little secret that New Orleans is a city that has bewitched and entranced many a visitor, including former fourth grade teacher, mentor and friend Paul Tamburello, who at this point may be accurately termed as having three residences: one in Watertown, a second in Westport, Mass. and a third in the Crescent City.
The city’s brew has many interrelated ingredients. For some, it is the music that pulses through the city’s squares and streets and clubs and sites official and unofficial. For others, it’s the gut-expanding, artery-clogging, utterly delicious Creole cuisine of etouffees, red beans and rice with andouille sausage and grilled oysters drenched in cheese. For yet others, it’s the vibrant fusion of races and cultures-African, French, Cajun, Creole, Vietnamese and Latino-that give the place its rich history and vibrant future.
And, for still other people, it’s the attitude, the gut-level festive orientation that propels residents to seek and find endless opportunities to, as the often-invoked phrase says, Laissez les bon temps roule.”
For me, it’s all of these, and something different besides.
It’s the generosity.
I saw it surface in yesterday afternoon at an Office Depot near Tulane, where Dunreith and I were picking up some refresher schools supplies for Aidan.
It had been long enough since my morning smoothie that I was starting to feel my stomach rumbling in earnest.
Dunreith asked the woman ringing us out for suggestions to eat on nearby Magazine Street.
The woman at our cash register said she didn’t know because she lives in Metairie, but her colleague on the next one did, and she shared her suggestion with gusto.
She couldn’t remember the name, she said, but she knew the food was excellent.
Meanwhile, the first woman had enlisted the help of a third colleague, a gentleman who told apparently lived much closer to Magazine than the woman who asked him. He said there were plenty of restaurants that would do us just fine, but didn’t want to give a recommendation until he heard from us what kind of food we were looking for at that moment.
But what he could tell us was how to get there-a piece of information the second woman, who knew the restaurant, could not tell us.
The gentleman gave directions.
The second woman produced a piece of paper and pen and wrote down the cross street.
We were on our way.
The interaction probably took a couple of minutes, tops, but had a palpably relaxed and welcome feel. Each of the three people who we spoke to about what we wanted to eat-remember, this is an office supply store-took the time and care necessary to make us feel that our culinary destination and experience was at least as important as our having found the pencil sharpener, pens and index cards we were buying for Aidan.
Now, there are some people who may chalk this up to the first second stew ingredient I mentioned earlier—the people’s visceral love for area cuisine. Others could say this was just a function of people being in a working situation, and thereby feeling obligated to tell us whatever we wanted to know. The much-vaunted Southern hospitality may have been in evidence.
Far be it from me to say they’re wrong, yet I felt something else.
I felt a fundamental decency that treats work as just that, that is not hedonistic, but does see pleasure as pretty important in life, and that is based in a generosity that acknowledges a shared humanity in all of life’s interactions and relationships.
I already had a positive impression of New Orleans, and Dunreith and I are eager to return throughout the next four years that Aidan spends here.
And my appreciation of the place got a little deeper and a little less based on touristy impressions, thanks to the kindness of three employes, who, as Bobby Simpons of Cranks, Kentucky would say, never met a stranger.