Audio: The New Orleans zone
You are about to enter another dimension. Not just one of sight and sound, but of mind. It is a dimension of costumed revelry and sugared cakes with plastic babies, of fanatics dressed in black and gold and sandwiches dressed with “mynez” and Crystal. A dimension of wild celebration of the human condition, a place where everyone is “dawlin” and no one is without a cold drink.
There is a signpost up ahead. You are about to enter...The New Orleans Zone.
As philosophers, writers and quantum physicists will attest, alternate dimensions have their own rules and tropes, a system by which they operate that is wholly their own. The New Orleans Zone is no different. So if you’ve found yourself in this wonderful but mysterious place unawares, you’d be best to familiarize yourself with the customs of life here, many of which you might find bizarre, otherworldly, or even downright frightful. But fear not. The natives are keen to help you learn your way around this weird dimension.
First, if you want to find your way around this place, you’ll need to learn if something is river-side or lake-side, Uptown or downtown, sidewalk or neutral-ground. If you ask a resident of this Zone if a restaurant is North of here, you’re likely to get nothing but bewildered shrugs. You can and should just throw North, South, East, and West right out the window and into a canal.
There is also a matter of this dimension’s language. Yes, people here speak English, but the Zone has warped it, transforming it into a version of this tongue you may find unfamiliar. Thoroughfares are named after Greek muses such as Calliope, Terpsichore, and Melpomene, but they’re never spoken of that way. In the New Orleans Zone, it’s always CAL-ee-ope, TERP-suh-core, and MEL-poe-meen. It is always puh-KAHN and never PEE-can, PRAW-leen and CRAW-fish, never PRAY or CRAY. As for the spelling of Tchoupitoulas St, you are warned not to enter those waters at all. Ever-dangerous, they are.
And speaking of dangers, one should be on the lookout for the wildlife of the New Orleans Zone. Our rodents are huge and amphibious monsters with giant orange teeth. The cockroaches here possess the gift of flight. The ants and caterpillars are never to be touched with bare skin. Hoards of shadowy felines roam Jackson Square early in the morning, long after the sun has set, conspiring. And in late spring, termites teem the city in clouds so dense that they can be tracked by weather satellites in outer space.
You might find that the residents of the New Orleans Zone are strangely dressed. They might be donning a glittery silver wig with matching feather boa, a ballerina’s tutu and what appears to be elaborate tribal makeup. You are encouraged not to stare, but to inquire, as this person is most likely on their way to something deliciously fun. Better still, don your own wig and tutu and ask to join them, wherever they’re headed.
You may also notice that those who live in this dimension dance, and that dancing is not limited to the young and fancy-free. You will see tax accountants dance. Grannies dance. Even on-duty, uniformed members of the local police force dance. If you are not dancing in the New Orleans Zone, beware: you might be shunned by the natives as a hopeless yankee. Or, worse still, a stick in the mud. You don’t need to knowhow to dance. But you will need to move your feet in this dimension, if you have any hopes of making it here.
Above all, know this about The New Orleans Zone: this dimension is a sticky one. Its hands have claws, and if you’re not careful, they’ll stretch out and sink deep into your heart, and before you even know it, you find that you have no real desire to leave. Soon thereafter, you won’t be able to extricate yourself from this beautiful, beguiling, mystifying place.
Congratulations. You have just become a permanent resident of...The New Orleans Zone.
Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, Thrillist, Edible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.