Wednesday, December 28, 2011

merry dixie-mas

so, here i am in new orleans. but not just any old new orleans, new orleans at christmas/new years time. which is a lot different than new orleans at mardi gras time. it's funny cuz i was walking around in a t-shirt today (70 degrees) and was having a hell of a time remembering it was winter. there was, at one point, the distinct smell of southern bar-b-que, which i can only associate with summertime in my concept of the seasons. and it isn't just the bbq, but the scent of the sun-warmed soil and the plants that are blooming (i've seen pansies and camellias and bougainvillea so far) add to the general feeling of being at the exact opposite time of year than the one where holly and mistletoe reign supreme. also, being far enough south that the light hits things with the hue and angle that i associate with months closer to the other solstice. it's like i gave myself the xmas present of a week of summertime just as the weather gets really cold up in chicago.
with all this summer on my mind, i was thinking of what my friend heather (with whom i'm 'playing battleship' right now in cc's coffee shop in the french quarter) said about how to have christmas cheer in nola:

"I have always had snow to sort of make me be in the holiday spirit. without it i felt a bit lost. yesterday i realized it's in me or the dude riding by on his bike by the streetcar with a xmas deer on his bike. so crank up bing, hang the stockings with care, and make someone's xmas awesome."

this statement, combined with walking into the french quarter, made me start to see how a southern christmas has to work. which is, like she said, a very DIY cheer. what she failed to mention tho is that this spirit of cheer explodes all over the houses of the french quarter in the most fabulous way possible. and, miraculously, i started to feel more in the holiday spirit walking around and looking at houses in nola than i did the entire lead-up to christmas in chicago. this was prolly cuz there was no snow this december in chicago--there were multiple 40+ degree days--for the first time in a long time it was not a white christmas. and we didn't go to christmas eve mass for the first time in forever. (which is a whole other post about my love of ritual and tradition learned most strongly from my catholic upbringing)
i mean, i had a blast with my family last weekend. having my most-important-family-member-person-who-isn't-blood-related around was really wonderful and watching the not-quite-two-year-old nephew figure out how the holiday works was amazing and super-fun times. but the ready-made wintery christmas cheer factor was not incredibly high this year. (and btw, the last thing i'm talking about is the manufactured, commercialized, and monetized 'christmas' feeling that ads and tv and stores try to pawn off on us as spirit of the season. what i'm talking about is the catch in your throat when your favorite carol is playing or the olfactory memory boxes that get opened when an indoor pine tree hits you in the nose... and... and... this could be a whole other post as well, so i'll let it go.)

and i don't know quite how it happened, but the amazing swags of ornamented greenery and the big schmancy bows and the beautiful lights and the other tasteful but gaudy (i swear those two adjectives are not mutually exclusive) decorations all over the double shotguns and creole cottages/townhomes of the quarter felt so very merry and bright that i felt like i was walking thru snow eating a candy cane the size of the 'romeo poles' that support those iconic balconies all over this place.

(fyi--the candies that make up that garland in the pic have paper plates and bowls put face to face inside that clear, colored wrap--totally brilliant)

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