A man - we'll call him John - was a regular at a local restaurant - which we'll call Leonidas. It was a quintessential New Orleans neighborhood eatery - a fixture and a focus for the neighborhood and it's people, inhabiting the same corner for generations. John first went there as a child, and it was as much home as was his house. When he married, John brought his wife and children there, just as his parents and grandparents had done before him. John knew the place intimately - the food, the atmosphere, the staff and the other patrons - and they knew him likewise. He never needed a menu, and the staff knew if he came in on a certain night what he would order. In a world of uncertainty, this place was a familiar and comforting constant.
But several years back new owners took over. Soon, John noticed that old favorites started disappearing from the menu, or were being replaced by something entirely different under an old name. The fried trout and the turtle soup were no longer offered, and the seafood gumbo had become a tofu gumbo. A sprout salad appeared on the menu. The owner said that putting new things on the menu would bring in more people, and tourists found the old dishes just too spicy. They had to change to fit the times.
John didn't object. He wasn't against change, per se, (he actually liked salads) and for the most part the things on the menu he preferred had been left alone. Besides, Leonidas was “his” place.
John did notice a few new patrons coming in, but he also noticed more and more of the old familiar faces were not stopping by; nor were their children. The line at the door at dinner got shorter and shorter over time, until recently you could walk in and seat yourself. When John mentioned this to the owner, they replied it was a demographic thing; and anyway, it was a plus - it made more room for newcomers.
John and his family kept goinr to Leonidas none the less. So much of their life was invested in this place; so many memories. The thought of going somewhere else was unthinkable. This is New Orleans – home is where your memories are. When the old pictures on the walls were “relocated,” John kept coming. When those pictures were tossed out and replaced by trendy artwork, John kept coming. When the owner's focus on vegetarianism became obsessive, John kept coming. When the 100-year old tables and chairs were replaced by “green” furniture, John kept coming. When the owner sued several former patrons because they had opened up a competing restaurant down the street – we'll call that one Cranmer’s - and serving the old traditional recipes Leonidas used to serve, John kept coming. Even when little on the menu satisfied him anymore, John still kept coming.
As he crossed the neutral ground to go to dinner, nowadays John could see both Leonidas and the new restaurant, Cranmer’s, just down the street. The sounds and smells coming from Cranmer’s were strong and familiar, while those from Leonidas were now dim and alien. But John always walked on.
Then one night John saw the old neon “Leonidas” sign above the door had been replaced with a new multi-colored sign announcing, “Mama Kate's Traditional New Orleans All-Vegetarian Cuisine.” The menu had been completely redone, and the last traditional New Orleans dishes as John knew them were now gone.
John realized he had to make a decision - Loyalty or Honesty. Eat at Mama Kate’s, where nothing related to him anymore (they even apologized on their new menu for having once served meat and seafood) and the current patrons scorned him; or go down the street to Cranmer's, where the food was good, and the patrons, familiar. What John wanted so badly right then was to go to Leonidas, but it wasn’t there. The building was there, but the place was gone. He hadn’t left it; it had left him.
John realized he was clinging to something that didn'e exist anymore on that corner. And no matter how much he wanted it to be otherwise, it never would again.
And so, with a heavy heart, John decided the folks at Mama Kate's could keep it. It was their's now. John kicked the dust off his shoes, got out his wallet, and began walking toward Cranmer’s. John wanted to eat and be satisfied.
15 July 2009
Saying "Where I Am Now."
At it's ongoing General Convention, The Episcopal Church (tm) has been all about stating "where we are now", and something called Public Narrative. OK, I'll play. Being from Louisiana, and especially from New Orleans, food, and the culture of food, is something I can relate to and understand. So let me put my sentiments about “where I am now” with respect to The Episcopal Church ™ in a culinary parable: