This week I am attending the annual convention of the Society of Biblical Literature (motto: making the Bible even more baffling than it already is) in New Orleans, Louisiana on behalf of HarperOne. Barbara Brown Taylor, author of An Altar in the World, told me she rode in the elevator here with two drunken men who couldn’t remember if they had eaten dinner. They decided to count the cash in their wallets to determine what happened. My friend Julie Roley, wife of HarperOne publisher Mark Tauber, lived in New Orleans for a few years when she was a graduate student. I think Julie, who loves this city, captured the spirit of life here when she said, “New Orleans would be a great place to live if the doctor said ‘you only have six months left and there’s nothing we can do.’
The food in New Orleans is superb. The party atmosphere is excellent. The bars have no closing hour and music pours out of them day and night. New Orleans puts my city, San Francisco, to shame when it comes to partying. But when it comes to healthy living, New Orleans is a little challenged. It is much easier to find, say, a hurricane (the drink) or an ATM to get the cash to buy a hurricane then it is to find a fresh vegetable.
I’d love to live here. I’m attracted by the music, the food, the history, and the relaxed mores. There is magic in this city, an alchemy of cultural blending—French, Spanish, African, Creole, Cajun, Native American, Cuban, Irish, German, Southern Protestant, Italian, Greek, Croatian and Filipino—that has created a way of life unlike any other.
Of course I am too old for some of what goes on here. Bourbon Street is an endless party, and a middle aged white guy is invisible to everyone except the hawkers outside the strip clubs. Let’s just say I know it’s a professional visit when a young woman approaches me on that street.
But away from party central many of the city’s residents learn to pace their hedonism. Bourbon Street is fun, but if you explore you will discover a family town, a city of neighborhoods, and a place where a holiday is declared from New Years through Fat Tuesday—which means the festivities begin at Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or maybe Halloween—or these days, after every New Orleans Saints’ victory. I don’t know about you, but I love a place that values a party, good food, good music, and a parade above everything else. Laissez le Bon temp rouler!