"If Ash Wednesday heralded quiet--true penance--New Orleans wouldn't be New
Orleans. March 17 brings St. Patrick's Day. The beer at Parasol's bar in the
Irish Channel is green for the occasion, people bake green bread, and a parade
rolls through the old waterfront streets, from which maskers give out all the
ingredients of an Irish stew: potatoes, cabbages, and carrots.
I love to
watch my little cousins gathering another cabbage to have a cabbage ballgame
afterward. Irish pride runs high in a city where so many came over as ballast
on the Southern ships that had emptied their loads at European docks.
there's the haunting memory of the famine, Black 1847, when the Irish died like
vermin. But now it's bands playing smartly, and Mass at St. Patrick's
Cathedral. it's as if those dark times never existed.
Lent has to wait.
Two days later comes the Feast of St. Joseph, the great day for the
Italians in the city. Families make immense alters, for which they cook weeks
in advance, filled with delicacies and sweets to feed the folk and the poor.
In the Peppermill in Metarie, a genuine Italian restaurant, run by the
Riccobono family, the St. Joseph's alter stands proudly, with a delicate
Europeanized statue of the foster father of Our Lord. It is one of the few
restaurants in the city where you can order the St. Joseph's Feast.
a New Orleans Lent for you, no matter how dedicated the preperations for Holy
Week and Easter. This is a city where food means more than penance or pleasure.
The Irishman on the parade wagon with the cabbage in his hand is laughing at
two hundred years of oppression. The Italians are breaking bread with one
another as they have always done, in families and communities, celebrating the
clan, the tribe, the eternal legacy of name spelled out in Sicily or Milan or
March is for feasts. I draw deep on my Irish roots as I write,
proud and slightly mystified by the ties that bind people here in New Orleans
with such obvious joy.
Even the trees don't listen to Lenten sermons. Spring
obdurately and magnificently begins."