When it’s your city on the news

You remember where you were when you found out. Maybe you heard it on the news, or maybe you saw it on social media. Or maybe a loved one contacted you asking if you were okay and you didn’t understand. Why are they asking if you’re okay? Of course you’re okay.  But you’ll never forget the terrible feeling of realizing that this time, it was your city that was hit by a terrorist attack, or a mass shooting, or something equally awful. It didn’t happen in some country on the other side of the ocean, or a distant city you’ve never seen. No, this time it’s your home.

We live in a world where sadly we’re not surprised to hear that there’s been another attack somewhere. It’s part of the world we live in. Maybe you’ve even  told someone that you’re afraid to travel because of it. But when an attack happens in your own city, you realize how silly and fragile that idea sounds. Even staying put becomes dangerous.

I remember where I was a year ago. I woke up to a text message asking if I was okay. It was my day off. I had just started a new job at Disney World and was living with my aunt in Orlando. I didn’t understand the text. I logged into Facebook and didn’t see too much out of the usual, until I saw that another Orlando friend had marked herself “safe.” I then spent the next hour searching for answers. Where was the attack? Who was there? Did I know anyone who was? How did this happen? And why?

I remember where I was three weeks ago when I saw a Facebook status that said “Praying for Manchester.” My heart sank again. They couldn’t mean Manchester, England, could they? The status was posted by an American, of all people. But finding out there had in fact been a bombing in Manchester, England, a city I had also called home once, hit me like a ton of bricks exactly like the news of the Pulse shooting had done. Even though I no longer lived in Manchester, I still knew people who did. I knew people who were at the concert that night. Thankfully they were fine, but they might not have been.  Even though I’ve been gone for four years, the attack still felt personal.

When it’s your city on the news, it feels personal. It’s different than hearing about an attack that took place far away. Suddenly you care very much about the names of the people. Were they a co-worker? A friend of a friend? Your favorite barista? Or God forbid, someone you were close to. The entire world changes then. You spend hours tracking down everyone you can think of, making sure they are okay.

In the days that followed the Pulse shooting,  I wanted to know their stories. I waited as each name slowly got released.  I cried for the Disney cast members and Universal team members who were affected because even if I had never met them, they were family. My heart broke when they finally revealed the motive behind the attack. I couldn’t believe it. Not in my city.

When it’s your city on the news, you want answers. You want to know how such hate could exist in this place that you love. It doesn’t seem real. But then as you’re grieving with your neighbors and comforting friends you suddenly realize that the rest of the world is watching, and sharing their opinion. I know for me, that realization made me angry. There were people who had never been to your city, they didn’t know the people like you did, and yet they were passing judgement. “If x had been done then this wouldn’t have happened.” Or worse, when you realize politicians start talking about it. How dare they talk about this terrible event like it’s just some other political debate. Can’t they just let us grieve?

Seeing other people who live far away share articles and opinions on social media about the event almost seems wrong. The love that comes pouring in from around the world is overwhelming, and the hate and judgement that comes from outside sources hurts more than it should. It felt so strange to see Americans commenting on the Manchester attack, even if they did so with the best intentions. And it felt weird to see people who had never lived in Orlando expressing their sorrow. I know that the Pulse shooting resonated with the whole LGBTQ community, but it still felt so strange to see people from so many places expressing their sorrow as well. I don’t think I can explain why it felt strange, but it did.

When it’s your city on the news, you don’t care what the rest of the world has to say. In a few weeks they’ll go away. They’ll stop talking about the event except for the occasional mention, usually when comparing it to other attacks. The Facebook banners and temporary profile pictures will go away. When the next attack happens, eyes will turn away from your city and look to the next one. But you won’t forget. The  local news headlines will continue as memorials are held, fundraisers spring up, maybe new policies are put in place. New artwork will memorialize the victims and remind you that your city is resilient. And when the anniversary of the event comes around, you’ll still remember where you were, but you’ll also know where you are. You’ll know that your city has survived. The rest of the world may have moved on, but the vigils and memorials that continue to take place in your city will mean the world to you.  You’ll remember the victims by name rather than their number. It’s not about the quantity of lives lost, but about how each of those lives was valuable.

When it’s your city on the news, your world is never the same.

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Yoga in the morning, chai in the afternoon

This trip has been full of unique experiences, but one of the coolest things we’ve done is get up at 6am for an early morning yoga class with a bonafide yogi. I didn’t realize how important yoga was in Indian culture. I’d gotten so used to yoga being the “hip” thing to do back in the States, done by those super health-conscious people in Lularoe leggings who carry yoga mats to work, that I forgot it had originated here. I certainly didn’t think it was necessary to get up at 5:30 in the morning for a 6am class, but I wasn’t about to miss this adventure.

We arrived at an unassuming building in the midst of a neighborhood, and our yogi was waiting for us outside. He led us down to his studio, which I’m certain is probably in the basement of the building in which he lives, and it looked very much like any studio you would find in the States, but without a wall of mirrors. He explained to us that yoga is not exercise. To me that was one of the most interesting things he said, because I think that is often how it is approached back home. He explained that yoga is a means of centering oneself and learning to focus the mind. It is an exercise in concentration and focus. I was intrigued.

The class proceeded much like any other yoga class I have attended (which are not that many), but his explanations of the poses and stretches went beyond simply how our muscles were affected. It seemed like every pose was the cure-all for digestion issues, mental clarity, breathing, joint problems, back pain, and a host of other things. According to him, practicing yoga everyday would cure all of it. Though my skeptical scientific mind would like to see some research on it, I wouldn’t doubt that at least some of his claims would be backed up.

Apparently it’s fairly common for people in India to practice yoga early in the morning before anything else. Our yogi told us that it’s the only good time to do it, and it will improve your whole day. If it weren’t so early and if I didn’t enjoy sleep so much, I might actually consider taking up the practice back home. But one thing I can always get behind is the idea of afternoon tea. It is just as popular here as it was in England, but the tea of choice is not English Breakfast tea. It’s known simply as chai here. Not chai tea, just chai. It doesn’t come from tea bags, at least not if not’s necessary, but is made on the stove where the tea leaves and spices are all mixed together and then strained out. And it’s always served with milk. But just like tea in England, chai is more than a drink. It’s a meal that takes place around 4pm, complete with biscuits and sometimes samosas (which are wonderful fried pockets of potatoes and vegetables and spices). But drinking chai isn’t just an afternoon pastime. Almost everywhere we have gone, every lecture and meeting we have had with different professionals, has included chai. As soon as we arrive, the host has asked us, “Would you like chai? I will order some to be brought up.” In that respect, it reminded me very much of British culture. As our hosts they felt compelled to offer chai to their guests. It is definitely something I could get used to.

Though English Breakfast will always be my tea of choice, I think I could get used to chai as an acceptable alternative. Especially if samosas are involved. Though I don’t know about 6am yoga…

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Delhi: The City of Gates

When I returned from England some four year ago, I never would have imagined that I would have a second opportunity to study abroad. With only a year left of college I knew I wouldn’t have another study abroad  opportunity before graduation, and I never would have imagined that a graduate program would offer courses overseas. And yet, here I am. There was one course open to psychology graduate students, like myself, that takes place every two years in India. A psychology professor in my department is from India and studied at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, so he decided to develop an immersive course for students to learn how an individuals’ sense of identity is shaped by their culture, and how mental illness is perceived within that framework. The course sounded interesting, and the adventure was too tempting to turn down. So, here I am. It’s still a little hard to believe. With each overseas trip I have found myself saying “this trip is my last for a long time,” and yet somehow I keep making that long trek across the ocean. I don’t know how I got so lucky.

As far as trips across the ocean go, this was the hardest. After a layover in Atlanta we had the usual 8 hour flight across the Atlantic and we landed in Amsterdam. Although we only had a two hour layover I was particularly excited to return to the city. On my last visit I was unable to find a miniature flag to add to my collection, and as such it was the only country that I have visited that is not represented on my wall. My best friend from Holland informed me that they don’t really care as much about their flag as Americans do (does anyone though?) and they don’t put it on everything like we do. So finding them can be hard. I found one shop that sold a Dutch flag which had “Holland” written across it, and figuring it was the best I would find I bought it. At least it’s something, right?

Then from Amsterdam it was another long 8 hour flight to Delhi, India. If I thought one 8 hour flight was bad, two is exponentially worse. We flew with KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline, and they were definitely great with excellent service, but no amount of service can compensate for cramped airline seats and crying children and the complete inability to get any useful sleep. I did get a cup of the best airline tea I have had since flying with Aer Lingus though. That was a plus. Oh, and free wine of course.

We landed in Delhi at 2:30 am, and despite being warned of the heat we were unprepared for just how hot it would be even at that late (early?) hour of the night. We looked at each other knowing it would only get worse when the sun came up.

I can’t even begin to go into all the details of everything we have done so far, but I can say that Delhi is one of the most unique cities I have ever been to. I don’t know what I was expecting, because obviously this isn’t Europe, but Delhi is a different kind of beautiful. It’s hard to call it beautiful because through the eyes of Westerner, it probably isn’t. There is dust and smog and litter everywhere, and because of the dust everything looks dirty. The traffic is horrendous and no one follows the traffic rules (if any rules even exist). And yet, there are more trees than I have ever seen in a city, and vibrant flowers, and women in glittering saris and kurtas with veils and scarves that are adorned in both simple and elegant designs.  There are colorful flower stands and fresh fruit markets everywhere. There are amazingly intricate designs on buildings, and architecture rarely seen in the West. The domes and towers and arches are a wonderful testament to the skilled craftsmen who built them. And within those beautiful arches are some of the most beautiful doors and gates!

Delhi has been called the city of gates, because there were once 52 gates throughout the seven cities of Delhi. Now there are only a handful that remain, but the legacy is there. I have made it my mission to photograph as many of these unique doors and gates as I can find.

How many adventures have we experienced in the past week and a half? I don’t even know that I can recount everything. We’ve traversed the winding streets of Old Delhi and seen the extravagance of the Taj Mahal. We’ve seen the spectrum of religious temples and worship spaces, bargained with artisans in markets, and drank more tea than I have had in a long time. I think my food has had more spices cooked with it than I have ever used in my entire life, and that is saying a lot because I love herbs and spices. I know that I will have stories to tell for years to come.

 

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So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, goodbye…

Of all the places I have visited, Salzburg may have been my hardest goodbye. Now don’t get me wrong, I will forever love every city I have visited, and the places I have lived hold a special place in my heart. But there was just something unexpected about Salzburg, Austria that pulled at my heart and made me want to stay forever.

Perhaps it was the fact that you could walk anywhere in the city within 20 minutes, or the fact that in the middle of July it wasn’t humid in the slightest and it even got cool enough for a cardigan. Maybe it was the narrow, winding cobblestone streets that have enchanted me in so many cities, or the endless balconies with brightly colored flowers. Or perhaps it was those beautiful hills always lingering in the background, seeming to stand watch over this beautiful city and ensure that its music never fades.

I now know why those hills beckoned to Maria, drawing her from the abbey and inspiring her to sing. We too hiked all the way to the top of those hills, and were rewarded with perhaps the most breathtaking view we had ever seen.IMG_20160802_100413821

I love this city. We were led here by “The Sound of Music,” not knowing that the whole city was truly alive and powered by music. I can understand why Mozart became the prodigy that he was, and why the Salzburg Summer Music Festival is so wildly successful. I can only hope that music continues to inspire the city, and that one day I am able to return to this great place. Until then, I hate to go and leave this pretty sight, but so long, farewell, auf weidersehen, adieu.

Perfect imperfections

Today after three years of dreaming, I finally made it back to my beloved  Europe. A lot has changed in those three years. Maybe its just my perspective that has been widened, but the world seems so much different than it did back then And yet, we’ll always have Paris. Yesterday I watched the sunrise over Orlando, and today I watched the sunrise over Paris, and in those simple moments everything seemed perfect. 

But in the real world, all perfect things come to an end, and so the moment my best friend and I touched down in Paris we hit the ground running. A delayed flight caused us to miss our check in window at our flat, which caused us to have to rent a locker in the train station to store our stuff, which made us miss 8:30 am mass at Notre Dame. And then on our way to the Eiffel Tower we got caught unprepared in a torrential downpour, causing us to miss our ticket window time. But thankfully the day turned out to be absolutely magical in spite of it all! We spent a leisurely morning in the Latin Quarter, eating nutella crepes and exploring Shakespeare and Company bookstore before heading to 11 am mass at Notre Dame herself. And then after a bit of souvenir shopping we made our way over to Montemarte, the city within a city in Paris. We had an absolutely fabulous walking tour of the district, starting at the Moulin Rouge and ending at Scare Coeur basilica, and it was probably the best and most unexpectedly wonderful part of the day. Thankfully the tour was completed shortly before the  downpour, and once we finally got to the Eiffel Tower a very kind woman at the checkpoint let us through despite being late because the rain had driven many people away. It’s only day 1, and it’s already been quite the adventure.

I think Emily summed it up nicely when she looked at me at the top of the Eiffel Tower and said, “I can’t remember a day recently when I have been flooded with so many wobderful emotions.” It still doesn’t feel real, and I totally agree. Maybe its the delerium from jet lag, but today was perfect in all its imperfections and just thinking about it makes me so overwhelmed with happiness that I feel like I could burst. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. Maybe tomorrow I will be able to write more about the cool details that makes Montmartre so unique, or the exquisiteness of the view from the Eiffel Tower, but for now my heart is too full to focus on the small details.

For now, bon soir Paris.

 

“If you want to do some livin’ before you die, do it down in New Orleans.”

Suddenly it seems that my time in New Orleans is drawing to a close. With only 6 weeks left in the city, I realized that there was so much I still had yet to do before I move. So many places I haven’t seen, bucket list items not yet accomplished, and things I still have to eat! Thankfully a dear friend from Disney World came to visit me this week over her Spring Break, bringing with her another very well traveled friend, and together we were able to accomplish quite a lot of things in the short span of only four days.

The girls arrived bright and early Sunday morning, Easter Sunday. Our first stop was to go to Easter mass at St. Louis cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter. The problem with that particular choice for Easter mass was the sheer fact that it was in the French Quarter, a place that I do not drive through on principle. Aside from the fact that parking is slim (and expensive once you do find it), the streets are narrow and filled with oblivious tourists. So rather than drive into the city, we decided to take another form of transportation (and check off one item from my bucket list): we took a streetcar! Though I don’t live anywhere near a streetcar line, I do live fairly close to City Park. And in City Park there is an art museum with free parking, and in front of the museum is a streetcar stop that goes all the way to the river. It was perfect. Well, nearly perfect. We still had a little walking to do, and of course Sunday proved to be a very wet day, in true New Orleans fashion.
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After mass it seemed that the rain had mostly stopped, so we walked across the street to Cafe Du Monde for some man-catchin’ beignets. I forgot just how good they were! It’s been a while since I’ve had Cafe Du Monde’s beignets, and I was reminded how silly I was to buy them from any other cafe in town. We took our beignets up to the river and sat and watched the boats go by while we ate. Then we went for a walk to burn off some of those calories, since we still had brunch reservations! After acquainting the girls a bit with some New Orleans history and culture, and walk down Bourbon Street, we headed over to brunch. Our reservations were at Nola, one of the restaurants owned by Emeril Lagasse, so it marked for me the first time I had ever eaten at a celebrity chef restaurant. I must admit that the food was quite tasty. Between the three of us, we had a muffaletta, an omelet with fresh crabmeat, fried boudin, and delicious crabcakes. And of course, mimosas. Is it really brunch without mimosas?

With no real goals left for the day, we walked blissfully through the Quarter. We walked along the river, wandered into shops, and caught up on each others’ recent adventures before getting on the streetcar and heading back to City Park. I asked them about things that they were eager to do while they were here in the city, and they confided that a visit to the bayou was definitely a major bucket list item. So we found a bayou tour that included a guided boat ride and promised personal encounters with wildlife, and we signed up for the tour the following day.

Our tour with Airboat Adventures did not disappoint! They offered a bus pickup service from the city, but when I mentioned that I was a local they informed us that driving ourselves would give us a discounted price. All about that discount (and freedom), we jumped at the opportunity. Our boat ride lasted nearly an hour and a half, and yet it still felt like only five minutes. The leisurely ride through the bayou was truly a breath of fresh air. It was enough to make all the troubles of the world pass away. We did see many gators, as promised, and we even got to feed some. Apparently gators are attracted to marshmallows. Who knew? And our tour guide even brought along a special treat: a pet baby alligator for us to meet! He was passed around the boat, and for the first time in my life I got to hold an alligator. Yes, I’m from Florida and have lived my entire life without touching a gator.

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Isn’t he cute? He was much softer than I expected. And very chill. He obviously was well adjusted to humans. At the end of our tour, our tour guide mentioned that crawfish was in season and that there was a wonderful restaurant up the road that served very fresh seafood. It was a perfect suggestion as we were all starving, and fresh bayou seafood sounded like the best idea. Again, we were not disappointed. Perino’s Boiling Pot far exceeded our expectations. We again ordered three things to split: fried stuffed crabs, fried shrimp, and fried alligator. I don’t think I have ever tasted fresher seafood in all my life! The shrimp tasted like they had just been caught this morning (and they were huge!), and the stuffed crab was absolutely bursting with flavors. The gator was very good as well. It’s not my favorite dish but I do enjoy it, but it seemed appropriate for my California friends to try some after being out on the bayou.

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The evening was still young, so I drove them up to Lake Ponchartrain just in time for sunset. From one body of water to another, the girls were enthralled. We wandered along the edge of the lake, talking to a few local fisherman about their catch that day before finally stopping as the sun dipped below the water. On several occasions I have seen the sunset while driving across the causeway that stretches over the lake, and as I told my friends, I have never been disappointed by a sunset over that lake. Thankfully this sunset did not prove me wrong, and the sky and water was absolutely ablaze with light and color. None of our pictures could do it justice, and it was a perfect finale to our second day.

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After such a fun day out on the water, we decided that it was only appropriate for three former Disney cast members to watch “Princess and the Frog” when we got home. It was definitely cool to watch it after our touristy exploration, as we were able to pick out many major landmarks in the city and say that we had been there.

For our third day, we decided to go on another great excursion. They asked if it were possible to visit a plantation, however I knew that most plantations were pretty far outside the city limits. And sadly it seemed that most preserved plantations were merely used for wedding venues, not for their historical merit. We did manage to find a place that at least according to the internet would make for a good visit, so we drove out to Destrehan to see the Destrehan Plantation. Again, my doubts were immediately washed away when we drove up to the beautiful mansion and were met with a tour guide in a period-appropriate costume.

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We could have spent hours there learning all of the history and exploring every inch of the property, but sadly I had to return to the real world as I had one afternoon class to attend, and with that Spring Break was over for me. We drove back into the city as our stomachs started growling, but we didn’t have much time to stop for lunch. We decided we needed to get something quick, so I took them to the best fast-food place in New Orleans: Raising Cane’s. I warned them that there were only four things on the menu, but that they would surely not be disappointed. The cashiers were excited to learn that they had two brand new guests who had never tried their food, and they were very helpful and patient. When they finally got the chance to try that glorious fried chicken and Cane’s sauce, they understood why I was so excited about some fast food.

After my class was over I showed them the famous Mardi Gras tree on Tulane’s campus, and while they were marveling at its beauty I whipped out a bit of Disney-style magic. I pulled from my backpack three strands of Mardi Gras beads, and I asked if they would like to contribute to the artwork. They eagerly accepted.12670682_10154725757539689_3742574997210513307_n

Then we headed to find another New Orleans culinary favorite: snowballs! Of course everyone has had shaved ice, but New Orleans likes to do them a bit differently with cream based flavors and condensed milk on top. I brought them to Plum Street Snowballs, the oldest snowball stand in the country, before heading home to cook up some jambalaya and friend green tomatoes.

Our last day we split ways for a bit. I had two morning classes, so I dropped the girls off at the streetcar and they rode into the French Quarter while I was in class, and I met up with them afterwards. They had already eaten, so I grabbed a quick bite at Antoine’s Annex, a small pastry and sandwich place owned by the oldest family-run restaurant in the country (it’s still on my bucket list to eat at the actual Antoine’s restaurant). We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets and listening to street musicians, and we grabbed a few more beignets before leaving to head to the airport.

All in all, the trip went better than I could have planned. We were able to accomplish so much stuff, eat such a variety of Louisiana staples, and really experience so much of the culture. For the first time I really felt like a local. I don’t think I realized just how much I had allowed the culture to seep into my soul until I found myself explaining the subtle nuances in New Orleanian life and really understanding it. The girls were amazed that I had only just moved here in August, because they said it seemed like I had lived here all my life. It really does feel like that, I suppose. I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to call myself a New Orleanian, but I know that a part of this city will be with me forever. From its flavors to its spirit, New Orleans is truly a unique place in the world and I am glad that I have been able to call it home.

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Let’s Do The Time Warp Again!

Wow, two posts in one week! Must be a sign that exams have passed (for the moment)!
Well, earlier this week I fulfilled my cultural quota by experiencing my first New Orleanian parade. Then yesterday I decided to actually participate in something on my university’s campus (other than classes), and I went to a school production of The Rocky Horror Show! You read that right, The Rocky Horror Show, not The Rocky Horror Picture Show. They’re different. Before Rocky Horror’s debut on the silver screen, it was a musical stage production that took the 70’s by storm. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the movie version, so it’s a very special year this year, but the original Rocky Horror Show actually first hit the stage in 1973. In that year it won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Musical, and when it was adapted into a movie in 1975 it had the longest running film release in history, a record that still stands to this day. Despite this fact, however, the film was basically considered a flop in its early days, until a small group in New York City began to have a little fun with the show.

A lot of people refer to certain movies as “cult classics,” but I think none embody that term in the truest extent quite as well as Rocky Horror. Why do I say that? Because going to see a Rocky Horror production feels a lot like participating in a cult! Nowadays, because of it’s star history on both the stage and screen, it’s very traditional for a local acting group to take over a movie theatre and screen the movie to a live audience while simultaneously acting out the play down below the screen. It sounds bizarre, but it’s some of the best fun! Most major cities have their own acting group (shoutout to the Rich Weirdos of Orlando!) that does the production anywhere from once a year to once a week. And yep, there are people that come back to watch. Every. Single. Time. It’s a common practice in the beginning of each show for the cast to do some sort of countdown. They make the whole theatre stand up, and say things like, “If you’re seen this production over a hundred times, sit the hell down.” And they will count down by random intervals until the only ones standing are first-timers, or as they’re referred to, the “Rocky Horror Virgins.” And the virgins are certainly in for a treat, because if you’ve never seen the show live before, you probably have no idea what you got yourself into.

As the film garnered popularity in certain pockets in the US throughout the 70’s, audience members who had seen the show many times began talking back to the screen, saying things that were timed well with the lines so that they combined together to make people laugh. For instance, the narrator has a line in which there is a long pause and then he says, “It’s true.” So it’s the perfect opportunity to ask an outrageous question (I believe last night someone shouted, “Is it true you had sex with Donald Trump?”), which if it is timed correctly elicits thunderous laughter. Fan groups also began dressing up to go to the theatre in outrageous costumes, and groups which became known as “shadow casts” got together to perform parts of the show during the movie. The fun spread like wildfire. Certain “callback” lines became staples, like shouting “asshole” every time Brad’s name is said, and then shouting “slut” after Janet’s name. Just as this show was breaking boudaries in theatre production and culture, it was breaking the rules of what it meant to be a member of the audience. Many local groups have their own unique traditions, and their own lines that they like to ad lib. But everyone, virgin or veteran, is encouraged to play along and add their own flair.

While I lived and worked in Orlando, I was able to see the Rich Weirdos perform their shadow cast version at the movie theatre in City Walk three times. I went in costume my first time, wearing a black and orange corset-style leotard and fishnets, which was loads of fun. I had the pleasure of bringing a few different friends to experience the show as well, some for their first time. I always tell first-timers the same thing I was told: first off, nothing in the entire world is off limits to make fun of during the show, so take a deep breath and let go of any anything in your mind that could be offended. Secondly, you’re not going to watch a movie. You’re going in order to participate in a fun experience. Do not attempt to hear what is going on in the movie, and just go with the flow.

So now that I’ve talked way more than I expected to about the history, the shadow cast traditions, and the Rich Weirdos, what I really wanted to tell you about was the play! How did it compare? Well first of all, I was absolutely blown away by the raw talent of that cast! So many fabulous voices. Each actor and actress really embodied their role and I was thoroughly impressed. The costumes were incredible, the set was versatile and functional, and the music was performed by a live band!!

But as I expected, the stage show was definitely a different experience. One thing that I hadn’t even thought about was the age of the audience members. When you go to one of the movie screenings with a shadow cast, the movie is rated R, so you have to be 18. And the shows are almost always screened at midnight, so no one brings kids. For this reason no one has any qualms spewing profanities or making extremely overt sexual references. But I was surprised at how many parents brought their kids to this show! I wondered if maybe they were somehow related to a cast member, or if the parents simply didn’t know. In any case, the language was toned down just a bit. There is always an opening spiel, reminding audience members not to hurt any of the cast members and not to throw anything directly at other people, etc., but it’s usually done by making as many offensive comments as possible. The usherette who introduced the show (shoutout to Annie! You’re fabulous!) was absolutely fantastic, and walked a fine line between tastefully theatrical and wildly inappropriate. It was a perfect balance. Secondly, this show had a lot more “virgins” than I was used to (and it didn’t even involve a virgin sacrifice…) so a lot of people didn’t know what to do. Thankfully there were a large number of cast members placed strategically around the room to shout out traditional lines, but most of the audience didn’t chime in. (And there’s always that one guy who knows so many more callbacks than the rest of the audience, and has a voice loud enough to be heard by the entire theatre. Shoutout to that guy for being awesome) And in true theatrical form, the actors paused politely so that they could be heard whenever people did shout. So as a result, for the first time I actually heard the majority of what was being said on stage. A lot more of the lines made so much more sense to me, and I also now understand why certain things get shouted when they do.

Perhaps the most disappointing: no one got up and danced to the Time Warp. I was in shock. A few stragglers attempted to dance in the aisles, but they sat back down when everyone else remained in their seats. I mean, COME ON PEOPLE!! Everyone knows the Time Warp, even if it’s your first time at the show! I mean really, it’s just a jump to the left, and a step to the right . . . Thankfully everyone did dance at the end. I think if I have any complaints at all, it’s that the cast didn’t do more to encourage us to get up and dance.

All-in-all, the show was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate Halloween, and I am definitely excited that I have now experienced the show in its original form. It was well worth it. Wish you could have seen it too? Well guess what, they’re putting it on again TONIGHT! 8pm, Tulane University’s Dixon Hall (right next to Tulane’s uptown campus library). $10 for students, $15 for adults. If you’re in the area, you should be there. If you want a bit of extra fun, buy yourself a participation kit for $5 extra! If you’ve never seen the show before, it’s a good intro to this true cult classic. If you’ve seen the movie in the comfort of your own home but never seen it live, then it doesn’t count. You’re still a Rocky Horror virgin, and you have to come out and see it for yourself live.

And perhaps one of these days I’ll gather up some friends and make it over to see New Orleans’ shadow cast group, The Well-Hung Speakers. It’s definitely on my bucket list. So for now, Happy Halloween friends! And remember, if you find yourself stranded with a flat tire in the rain and decide to go to the nearest castle to use their phone…castles don’t have phones!

BOO to you!

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It’s official y’all, today I ventured down into the French Quarter and survived my first parade! Can I call myself a New Orleanian yet? Already I have too many beads than I know what to do with (and for the record, I got these beads by looking super excited and happy and waving my hands, and walking straight up to the floats and asking for them. No removal of clothing was necessary). Today was definitely an adventure.

With only a week until Halloween, the Krewe of Boo hosted their annual Halloween parade through Downtown New Orleans. It’s similar to a Mardi Gras parade, but with far less people, less craziness, and less waiting around. It was honestly even less stressful than a Disney parade, and that’s saying a lot. But coming from Disney, I know what it’s like to camp out for a spot hours in advance. When I worked audience control in Magic Kingdom, I was shocked that some people would stake out their spots up to 3 hours in advance of the parade! Like, really? There are so many other things to do in Magic Kingdom. But whatever. So, being new to New Orleans and being relatively clueless about this particular parade, I thought it would be best to arrive as early as possible. We had no idea what to expect. It was a first for both my roommate and I.

We arrived a little over an hour before the parade started and there were police cars everywhere, just waiting to direct traffic when the time was right. They were still allowing cars to drive in both directions, so that was a good sign. And looking up and down the street, we could see only small clusters of people waiting for the parade. There was still plenty of room left, and plenty of time. What do you with that kind of time on your hands? It’s New Orleans. You get yourself a drink (or two)! So armed with some delicious cups of sangria (because in New Orleans, you can get alcohol to-go), we then found ourselves a ledge to sit on from which we would have a great view of the parade. It was great for people watching. We saw a bridal party walk by (and we saw a Second Line from down the street, although whether it was the same bride and groom we have no idea), and we saw plenty of fabulous costumes ranging from adorable children to rather “out there” adult costumes. But such is Halloween.

Once the parade finally rolled up in all of its glory, the crowds (still not nearly as crowded as Disney parade crowds) scooted right up as close as they could get to the parade floats without literally being run over. The Disney Cast Member in me screamed internally. I watched people cross between parade floats nonchalantly and get so close to the floats that they could reach out and touch them! But, when in Rome, right? So I scooted up closer too. As per usual, I took far too many pictures, but I forced myself to put the camera down each time a legit float passed directly in front of us so that I could beg for whatever goodies they were throwing. I was a little disappointed because they seemed pretty stingy with the stuff they threw, but I quickly learned that in order to get stuff you either have to be a cute little kid or an aggressive adult. Needless to say, between the two of us we ended up with more beads than we actually need, 7 plastic cups, 3 keurig cups (Pumpkin flavored coffee courtesy of PJs), 2 pralines, a skull lollipop, and a bag of pretzels. All-in-all, I’d say it was a pretty successful night.

As for the parade itself, well, nothing will ever compare to Boo to You. Nothing. But the floats were gorgeous, the dancers were fun, and I think the atmosphere is really what made the whole evening. We chatted with the people around us, we shared beads when people happened to catch a whole huge handful, we joked about the people we saw and the outrageous costumes, and just had an all around good time.

This is normally the point in my blog posts where I would say something thoughtful, or talk about the culture and how celebration is just ingrained into the New Orleans lifestyle, but I honestly don’t feel like I’ve immersed myself enough in the culture here to really comment on it. I’ve been so wrapped up in schoolwork and studying that I honestly haven’t done much else here in the city. This is one of my first actual outings (I know, that sounds pretty sad), and my first venture into the French Quarter since moving here. So I guess all I can say is that I’m very glad I actually gave myself a break from the school stuff, and it was a very worthwhile outing. I think I can officially cross something off my bucket list (which doesn’t actually exist yet. It’s a work in progress). New Orleans is certainly a city unlike any other. There is a strong sense of identity here, and a strong sense of belonging. I think this city exudes pride in their culture like nowhere I’ve really been before. And for that, I’m incredibly excited to get more involved and more immersed. I think I can safely say that after this little “practice round,” I’m a little more prepared and definitely more excited for Mardi Gras season to begin.

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Happy Halloween y’all!

Things no one told me

No one told me that hearing words like, “He doesn’t deserve you,” wouldn’t help. Because I know they’re wrong, beyond a shadow of a doubt. No one told me that those words would actually hurt more for inexplicable reasons. No one told me that it would be easier to be mad at someone than to not have a single reason to hate them. Because no matter what else I’m feeling, hate and anger are not among my emotions. Unless you count the anger towards myself, which stings in a very visceral way. No one told me that hearing the words, “I thought you were going to get married,” and “You were perfect for each other,” wouldn’t help. Because I thought those thoughts too once. No one told me that I would feel the weight of disappointment from every person who had ever hoped for our marriage, and it would sit on my shoulders and mock me. No one told me that the answer to the question “What happened?” would be different every time, because there are some things that don’t fit nicely into words.

No one told me that being in my own room could be a source of pain, that the littlest things would serve as huge reminders. No one warned me how much effort it would take to tell myself to keep certain gifts because they were inherently meaningful, but they just so happened to come from him. No one told me how much it was possible for inanimate objects to be so steeped in memories that it was almost palpable. I never knew how much effort it would take to remember the happiness contained in those memories, and to not let them fall away into the abyss of sadness. I never knew how much it would feel like packing up and moving away. Each memory must be recalled, carefully protected and wrapped in bubble wrap, and tucked far away in some corner of my consciousness where I wouldn’t find it until I went looking for it. No one told me how mentally exhausting that would be.

I never knew that the tears I saw in movies, the big, fat teardrops that rolled down one’s cheeks and splashed onto surfaces below, could actually exist. I never knew that those tears could physically hurt. I’d read those words in books; I’d read about hot, stinging tears. I thought it was beautiful writing. I didn’t know it could be true. I didn’t know that my entire body could ache, that my legs would shake as I walked down the stairs, or that my chest would feel like it was holding that blanket they place on your body before an x-ray. I didn’t realize that those feelings would linger far beyond their welcome.

People will always tell you not to hate yourself, not to blame yourself. “Don’t beat yourself up,” they say. “It’s not your fault.” We live in a society that likes to be blameless, and they will do anything to place the blame on other people. But there is a value in accepting blame where it is due. And so hearing those words “It’s not your fault,” hurt far more than I expected them to. Because I know they’re wrong too. I know I can’t accept all the blame, I know it must be equally distributed. I am still the same logical person, trying to use reason to trudge through emotional waste. But some of the blame does belong to me, and I accept that. No one told me that it would actually hurt more to place all the blame on him, because I know he doesn’t deserve that punishment. I know it’s not his fault. And I know that he is accepting all of the blame anyway, and that hurts more than I could have imagined.

No one told me that hearing the words, “If he truly loves you, he’ll come back,” would hurt worst of all. Because they’re not true. Life doesn’t work that way. Truthfully, I know he loves me because he let me go. It’s the very fact that I know he loves me, and that I love him, which makes everything unbearable. Is it possible that somehow, years from now, our lives will collide in such a way that we will be together again? It’s conceivable. But thoughts like that are no comfort, because life continues moving forward. And so must we.

Finding Community

People like to say that “the Lord works in mysterious ways” to explain away a lot of things, but sometimes that description is pretty darn accurate. Remember when I said a few days ago I got lost on Tulane’s campus and managed to find the Catholic student center? Well I think that moment constitutes one of those “mysterious moments” in my life. It’s a coincidence that I stumbled upon that building just on the edge of campus, but even more so that the building was only just constructed and in fact wasn’t even open yet. Today was the grand opening ceremony, so I decided to attend. After all, free food was promised. And in true Catholic fashion, free wine as well.

Let me just say that being a grad student is distinctly different than being an undergraduate college student. It was strange being surrounded by so many freshman (and their parents, because it’s move-in weekend, and the parents haven’t let go yet), and I purposely wore a Delta Gamma shirt so at the very least people knew I couldn’t be a freshman (and I also hoped maybe I would find a sister). It was strange knowing that these students were here looking for ways to get involved on campus, because that’s what you do when you’re a freshman, and I really didn’t want that sort of time commitment. What I was really just looking for was community. While I would love to be “involved,” I know that my time is going to be limited, and so my experience this year is going to be unlike that of a freshman. I’ve “been there, done that” and already had an absolutely wonderful college experience, and after being out of school and working for a year it feels almost strange to get back into that mentality of “getting involved.” I went to the open house today not looking for activities, but looking for a place to call home.

I’ve spent almost my entire life in Catholic School, so I’ve always been involved in a church. It was a no-brainer. My first experience outside of that Catholic “bubble” was when I spent six months in England. One of the priests there warned me that I would be living in a “God-less society,” and not to let it shock me too much. I found solace in the Catholic chaplaincy (the Catholic student union), where there was a study space, a kitchen (with free tea, soup, and biscuits), a library, a meeting room, and most importantly a chapel. What I found there was a home away from home, and I made some amazing friends there that I am still connected with today. Without the chaplaincy, and daily mass, Lectio Divina, adoration, and Sunday night dinners, I would have been pretty lonely and homesick. Finding the chaplaincy was like a beacon of light. I didn’t know it was there. I hadn’t gone looking for it. But suddenly as I looked across the street from the bus stop, there it was. It’s another one of those “God moments.” I know that God brought me to Holy Name Chaplaincy, just as surely as He brought me here to New Orleans and to the Fr. Val McInnes Catholic Student Center.

What did I find at the Catholic center today? I found a common area, that will be filled with couches and tables and chairs. I found a kitchen that will serve Sunday night dinners. I found study rooms, a library, and some offices for clergy and such (starting to sound familiar?). But most importantly, I found a chapel. The building overwhelmingly reminded me so much of Holy Name chaplaincy in Manchester, that I had to sit in the chapel for a while and just exist in that wave of emotion. Several current Tulane students told me that this building was a long time coming, and that it had been in the works for years. They said how lucky I was to be able to experience it. I certainly feel pretty blessed.

I can’t remember most of the names of the people I met today, but I remember their smiles. I remember how excited everyone seemed, how happy they were to see new faces, and how welcoming they were. I remember one conversation in particular, and we were talking about future plans. You know, the big “what are you going to do with your degree” conversations, in which you halfway make up some scenario that probably won’t happen because you don’t have the heart to look someone in the eyes and say “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this degree.” And because this student was considering a career in medicine, I asked if he had looked at any med schools. I, too, remember the days when I wanted to go into medicine. He shook his head and laughed a little. “I’ve gotta figure out what He wants for me,” he responded. He nodded at the Blessed Sacrament. And I couldn’t help but smile.
“He has some crazy plans,” I agreed. “There’s no telling where He’ll bring you.”

If you asked me two years ago, “Where will you be in 2015?” I definitely wouldn’t have said New Orleans. But here I am. God works in mysterious ways. I commented to another student (who was born and raised in New Orleans) how nice it was that I knew so many people here. So many of my college friends settled here after graduation, and many of them were also born and raised in this area. “New Orleans does that to you,” she responded. “You better watch out, this city is hard to let go of.” I smiled. I’m starting to realize that exact same thing. I think I can officially call New Orleans “home” now. At least for a little while.