I’m getting far too excited for my upcoming trip down to New Orleans. In preparation, I’ve been routinely punctuating my diehard midterm studying with sallies into Tremé, one of the most unique and lovely shows I’ve ever seen.
I’m not sure what’s so appealing about Tremé. Perhaps the New Orleans culture (which it displays so vividly) is completely different from my own, and that’s what fascinates me. The Tremé characters live larger than life, live on the edge of the edge of the human condition, live to excess. I mean excess in every way: they wear their emotions on their sleeves (there is cursing and crying and belly-shaking laughter); they drink all day, play music until they are drenched in sweat, live and love and cuss out the government without restraint.
Canada isn’t like that. We are polite. We don’t talk on public transit; we put in our headphones and we don’t make eye contact with strangers. We take care of the environment, drink lots of hemp heart smoothies, do yoga on the beach, and dress well for the office. I love my country, I do: I think it’s the greatest in the world and there is nothing I am prouder to say, while travelling, than that I am from Vancouver. We are a country of peace, of reason, of social safety nets and longevity.
But we miss out, I guess, on the abundance of living. We eat carefully and think about our health; we certainly do not consume large dripping sandwiches stuffed with fried prawns and mayo. We have granola, sushi, kale. Down in New Orleans, they have smoky red jambalaya, burn-your-mouth beignets in icing sugar, heaping platters of red beans and rice, crawfish stew, raw oysters on ice, cups of chicory coffee, great Sunday roasts and of course, the legendary king cake. Who eats like that? Who lives like that?
I want to experience that sort of off-the-charts enjoyment. I want to say, like all of Tremé shouts, “Here is God’s good earth, and on it I will eat and drink and be merry!”
I read Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter last week, and I came away with this same pothos for excessive living. The novel was raunchy and wild and passionate and tragic, and I was half-stunned and half-in-love for most of it. It’s about a jazz player, one of the greats, of whose music not a shred remains. The story follows his wild life, his crazy stories and adventures and sorrows, and the New Orleans background that raised such a man. Here in Vancouver, all we do is preserve our health and try to do meaningful work. We live intentionally and prudently. But Buddy Bolden, Ondaatje’s protagonist, just plays jazz, cuts hair, makes love, and lives large. I have this overwhelming sensation that life in that manner is kind of like dancing in your grave: ecstatic and pointless and therefore beautiful. Nothing holds you back.
Perhaps one week in a city of such characters will dust me down with some of that sentiment. Perhaps I’ll come away with more time to lounge in bars and talk to strangers, more appreciation of wining and dining for the pleasure of it, less fear of wasting potential. I hope so.
But for now, I’ll make cornbread to assuage this growing desire to live excessively. I’ll watch Tremé and read A Streetcar Named Desire, and I’ll scheme for two more days on how to make my New Orleans reality the best reality it can be.
And maybe I’ll listen to Buddy Bolden, whose life is still running through my head at odd moments, sparking my heart and making me want to burn all these textbooks and just play jazz, cut hair, make love, live large.
- 1 c. cornmeal
- 1 c. flour
- 1.5 tbsp. baking powder
- 1.5 tbsp. sugar
- 0.5 tsp. salt
- 1 c. 3.25% milk
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp. melted butter
- 1/4 c. vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Grease a 10-inch cast-iron or other heavy ovenproof skillet with butter and place the skillet in the oven to preheat. In a large bowl, whisk together the 1 cup cornmeal, the flour, the baking powder, the sugar, and the salt. Add the milk, egg, melted butter, and vegetable oil and whisk just until well mixed and un-lumpy; don’t overbeat.
Remove the hot skillet from the oven. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of cornmeal liberally across the bottom. Return to oven for 2 minutes. Then remove from oven and scrape in the batter. Smooth gently. Bake until nicely browned; the centre should bounce back when lightly pressed by fingertip (approximately 16 minutes). Remove from oven and serve immediately, slathered with butter and fig jam.
Shoutouts to the Treme cookbook, Elise Bauer, and whoever owns the rights to that Buddy Bolden photo.