Thursday, March 30, 2006

Narrow minds make great insulation

Last night I had a conversation with a friend who is a Louisiana expatriate currently living in the upper midwest. She's itching to move back as soon as she can, which she and her husband plan to do in a few years. She says what she misses most about her native region are the food, the festivals and her old friends.

I can certainly understand this. If I ever left, I can think of several food items off the top of my head that I'd send for, since they aren't available elsewhere. Foodstuffs like Zapp's chips and Evangeline Maid bread, for example (I've heard local troops in Iraq are also pining for these items). As for Mardi Gras and Festival International de Louisiane? I'd miss those too. And friends? Mais yeah, as they say in these parts. And, as if it needs to be said, the eternal masochism that is Saints football.

What wouldn't I miss? The politics, obviously. Louisiana has a well-deserved reputation as something of a corrupt state, a distinction that isn't limited to one party. And let's just say that Kat-Rita brought out both the best and worst traits in people. Nothing is so vivid as a person's true colors. I also wouldn't miss the humidity. Sweet Jeezus! If it were any stickier, Courtney Love would live here.

And that's what my friend and I got to talking about: no, not sticky Courtney (wiseass!), the grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome. She implied that I was just in need of new scenery, while I argued she was nostalgic for a place she couldn't wait to leave three years ago. But then I wondered, perhaps she really does fit in here? After all, we're quite different people. And she has certainly been around enough to make an informed decision about where she belongs.

There's a profound difference between someone who has been in a disparate region for several years, has traveled extensively and has decided that they are happiest at square one, and someone who has lived in one place their entire lives and is certain that nowhere else compares. There's a lot of the latter sentiment here in the south. And as you can probably imagine, it drives me nuts.

After all, seeing some ignorant redneck with 10 teeth walk out of Wal-Mart and climb into his souped-up-like-Bigfoot truck with a rebel flag and a sticker declaring that he's Southern "by the grace of God," really has an effect on the old self-esteem. If he's blessed, then God must really hate my ass. Bummer.

Even so, I would still wish more power to him for loving his hometown if I knew he came by that assessment honestly. But then I realize that, to him, anything north of Opelousas is Yankee territory. The same probably goes for the 18-year-old local girl who posts on myspace that she's "ready to settle down." As if getting drunk every night for a year constituted a cultural expansion! How can you settle down if you've never even gotten up?

Though in better times I once traveled through the American southwest, most of my travels have been through the Deep South. And with few exceptions, everything looks exactly the same to me. Highways, tourist traps, diners, Stuckey's, oil rigs, rusty cars, southern accents...this is my reality. But then I meet people from other corners of the nation (or world), and all of this freaks them out. And I have to wonder, what about this is so bizarre to them? Whatever the answer, it reminds me that this is just one area of many. Not the best, not the worst, but certainly not the ONLY.

"But Ian," you say, "It's like that everywhere." But is it really? I used to believe this, until I realized that most of the people telling me this hadn't been anywhere else themselves. Others really had been around and found they liked this place best; but at least those people understand my wanderlust, because they once had it themselves.

Mind you, there are some places I would exempt from this blanket condemnation. If someone says they'd want to live in New York City their whole lives, for example, no one can really accuse them of being sheltered. Likewise with New Orleanians, or any other cultural hubs here and throughout the world.

But ANYBODY who can claim to living in paradise on Earth, without ever having seen the rest of it, is actually proving the opposite point.


Speechie said...

That's what I'm talking about. I am in a perpetual state of wanderlust...never happy in any one place...but then again, always dying to go home. I believe that there is NO PLACE like Louisiana anywhere on earth...but then again, EVERYWHERE is like that. There is NO PLACE like where I grew up...because the people I grew up with made it what it was. Once they were gone, it wasn't the same anymore. And it never will be. A place is not defined by the is defined by the times we live in and the people who live in it. Ten years from now, Lafayette will be NOTHING like it is will not be a lonely I did to prove something and to achieve will be a distant memory...probably one that I only vaguely remember. And I will have traveled the world over...met and lost thousands of friends...and gained all the proof that life is not where you live or what you is all about how you live it. ;)

Ian McGibboney said...

Well said. I was once at a place where I never wanted to leave my hometown for any reason. And a lot of that was the people I was around. But so many have moved on (or died), that I know I can never recapture that. And I'm okay with that. But at the same time, I know I must move on.

Michael said...

I moved back to Loosiana after significant time in the Midwest because first, I couldn't stand the long, bitterly cold winter. Believe me, it gets thoroughly depressing...and I promised myself I'd never complain about heat and humidity--and, for the most part, I haven't.

I also think the Gret Stet is easily the most interesting of "The Old South," and New Orlean, well, there's no other place like it in the country: NOLA, to me, is the northernmost Caribbean city. And it's nice to know that in an hour or so, I'm in a different country entirely.

jenny said...

i believe there's a big difference between places, and what do we (?) mean with "it's like that everywhere"? like what? i've only ever lived in sweden, but on three different places, one which i vaguely remember, one which i hated and this one that i love. granted, sweden is a very tiny country but different towns/cities are very different so even though the culture is supposedly the same, like you said; friends and other things that are not permanent play a big role.

i very much understand your wanderlust, i have it myself, and i would like to experience life in other countries, however, (and i'm not a very patriotic person) i do have a hard time imaginging myself living for long periods of time in another country. not because i _love_ sweden (although maybe i'm sheltered), but looking at the political climate in sweden vs other countries i still prefer sweden above all other. i'm thinking that the more sense the system makes, the more likely it is that i'll.. accept it, or at least come to terms with it. could be i'm brought up in it, but there are things in our system that i value that other nations don't have.

where do you want to go?

Flamingo Jones said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Flamingo Jones said...

There are good and bad things everywhere. That's true. No place is perfect. But I don't think that it's like THAT everywhere, either. Certain places are more suited to other kinds of people and personalities than others. Personally, I think you need more than just a temporary change of scenery. You'll be happier, more comfortable and fulfilled when you get yourself somewhere that, in general, is more in-line with your values and ambitions.

Cajun Tiger said...

After living in DC, NYC, Texas, DC, and now in Iraq, I think I meet your standards of living somewhere else to be able to appreciate the differences.

Obviously family and friends are missed most, but the first thing after that is definitely the food. People need to learn that salt is a good thing as well as lots of other wonderful spices. If anyone wants to send me some Tony's, I'd be much appreciative =)

Mustang Bobby said...

I have lived in the following places in chronological order: Texas, Missouri, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Michigan, Indiana, California, Colorado, Michigan (again), New Mexico (again), and Florida (again). There are things I loved and hated about all of those places, but I really think it doesn't matter where you live as long as you like what you're doing and the friends you make when you're there.