#4. New Orleans, LA: “This is the way I live.”

February 26, 2007
Age: 23/24
Occupation: marketing at New Media company
Residence:  Columbus, OH
Time since last race: 4 months, 11 days
Conditions:  muggy, humid, heavy air, medium size race
Official time: 4:38:42

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It’s not very often that people can say they are truly in love and I could say that after my trip to New Orleans, when I fell deeply in love with the Crescent City.

Feeling really happy and really content with my job and the nice caffeine-free life I had been making for myself over the last few months, HRE and I decided it was time for another marathon.  We chose New Orleans because it was my birthday weekend and we both had friends who live there.

2007 had already started to be one busy year because for my job, I got to go to both The 2007 National Championship (embarrassment) football game in Phoenix, AZ and the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT.

In Arizona for the football game:

Me with my favorite celebrity chef, Giada de Laurentiis!  People say we look alike, do you think so?


However, this post is not about travel. It’s about one of my all-time favorite topics (food) because it is so much a part of my life other than the actual act of doing it (eating) and how my marathons are rooted in its pleasure, togetherness, sustainability and tradition.

I am 100% Italian and growing up that way, any Italian family’s conversation at breakfast, is about what’s for lunch.  At lunch the conversation is about what’s for dinner.  At dinner it’s about what’s for dinner tomorrow…  you get the pattern.  Food for my family has always been about gathering together, sharing recipes, and eating things that you would describe as the best you’ve ever had, every time you taste something made by a DiCello, Pugliano, Purpura, etc.  At our house, the door was always open.  The more the merrier was an understatement.  My friends often felt so comfortable in my home as to open the fridge and help themselves to Nana’s wedding soup or mom’s left-over lasagna.  Hospitality is ingrained our blood  – grandpa owned a grocery store, Uncle Mike is a baker, Aunt Mary Ann runs a giant supermarket/homegoods store, Tina is in tourism/travel, Alicia works for Kraft, Tony used to sell cappuccino makers, eventually I’ll make it into restaurant finance/marketing.  My relationship with food hasn’t always been so shiny and happy, but we’ll get into that in a later post.

This is how our kitchen table is set every night of the week… apparently we were celebrating someone’s birthday in this picture, but growing up as a family, we ate together and like this every night:


As far as marathons go, pre-race dinners and post-race dinners have always and will always be about celebrating.  But in New Orleans, that’s what every meal is for.  And this is why I fell in love.  In New Orleans, going to a restaurant isn’t something you do before you go out. It’s why you go out.  Whether it’s for beignets and coffee or red beans and rice, it’s a requirement that you enjoy and savor every bite.  Prior to my trip, I knew that NOLA had an authentic cuisine and culture and I was determined to live like a local.  HRE and I indulged in the best of the best in terms of local cooking:

  • Cafe Du Monde: famous for its beignets and rightly so.
  • Mother’s: famous for its line around the block, cashiers who scream out your order, fried chicken made to order (beware, it can take upwards of 60 minutes because I think they kill the chicken out back first), crawfish etoufee, and (I-Can-Die-And-Go-To-Heaven-Now) fried oyster po’boys.
  • Jacques-Imo’s: located on a dimly lit block in a shanty of a “house” lies NOLA’s hottest restaurant.  They don’t take reservations so unless you show up at 5pm, good luck.  I had a watermelon mojito that could never taste as exquisite as it did while sitting in the February humidity, breeze blowing through the open door, the faint sound of brass instruments playing a few streets over.  And who knew red beans and rice were so good?

Hadley and me outside of Jacques-Imo’s:


With some of Hadley’s friends at Mother’s:


I loved the way that a culture, so different from the one I am used to, celebrates food in such a similar way.  Such a way that regardless of the fact that the city was destroyed 18 months earlier, they sustained.  Regardless of the fact that people were still living in trailers on their front lawns, they sustained.  Regardless of the fact that every other house had a black spray-painted X across it, they sustained.  The spirit was there, the community was there and most of all, the food was there.

Now this brings me back to running and to tradition.  I’ve always been a healthful, eat-everything-in-moderation type of eater, but there was a long time that I tended to shy away from things like,  “hamburgers and french fries.”  After my first marathon I remember sitting at a table in the Hard Rock Cafe listening to Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” with HRE and her boyfriend and thinking, “there is nothing I would rather have than a cheeseburger, fries and a beer.”  And so it began:  My tradition of getting a juicy medium rare cheeseburger, crispy french fries and an ice cold beer after every marathon. I have some funny stories about getting this burger but those are for later posts (i.e. Columbus, Miami).

The actual race was a minor detail in this trip.  I ran slowly, took in the sights and listened to Corinne Bailey Rae’s self-titled album on repeat.

After the burger and sweet potato fries, and after leaving my sunglasses in the bathroom (mom, I’m sure you’re not surprised) I couldn’t have been a happier person.  I had the newly restored Superdome and 26.2 miles behind me, my best friend next to me, nourishing food in my stomach, and a lifetime of celebrations ahead.  I KNOW this sounds really cheesy, but New Orleans restored my hope in the strength and resilience of the human spirit.  If people can stand up after being struck down by Katrina, then I can keep on running.

Hadley and me post-race outside the newly-restored Superdome.  I still have my shades, but lost them shortly after!

Finishers


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