I once read that the city of New Orleans (motto: "If it ain't breathin', fry it,") ranks either first or second nationwide in the per capita level of cholesterol clogging its citizens' arteries. This isn't hard to understand.
Spend any amount of time there and you'll notice that as soon as New Orleanians finish one eating cycle - Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, for example - they happily amble into the next one.
This being February, the current gut-buster is Mardi Gras - the city's demented blowout just prior to Lent.
Last year, my wife and I were reminded that the season had begun by the receipt of a "King Cake" sent by my mother.
One should understand that King Cakes are not for the dietary faint of heart. A recent Tom Hanks movie begins with a plane crash in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean. Having survived the crash, his character then spends the next four years on a deserted island. Had there been a King Cake on that island, he would've been rescued weighing more than he did at the time of the crash.
As for Mardi Gras in New Orleans...
The celebration began in the early 1800's. The first day of the season is always January 6th which is called "Twelfth Night" (twelve days after Christmas) which also marks the beginning of the many parades and masked balls that are held until Mardi Gras Day.
Twelfth Night celebrates the coming of the three kings who brought gifts to the infant Jesus. Many people celebrate this event by exchanging gifts and feasting. One way of doing this is by making a "King Cake" to represent the three kings. In New Orleans there’s also a tradition of placing a plastic baby inside the cake and whoever finds the baby in their piece of cake must throw the next party.
King Cakes are made from cinnamon filled dough that is formed in the shape of a hollow circle. The cake is heavily(!) glazed and sprinkled with purple, green, and gold sugar - the colors of the season.
The arrival of my mother's King Cake last year had a second effect on both my wife and I. It started a bout of nostalgia that’s been tough to shake. It’s funny how, no matter how long you've been away, the place where you grew up still beckons. So much so that, in our cases, we’ve been debating whether or not to return to New Orleans after we retire.
It won’t be an easy decision to make.
Our spawn have all been raised here in the Northwest. They know things like heavy snow, mountains, and cool summer breezes off of Puget Sound.
None of these exist - even as rumor - in New Orleans.
One summer we took them down there to attend a family wedding. In a short time, they became acquainted with 104 degree heat, 98 percent humidity, asphalt roads that stuck to your shoes, and breezes that'd melt an iceberg.
They were singularly unimpressed.
They also noted that any terrain elevation in southern Louisiana is generally associated with a bridge and, hence, snowboarding is not a prime winter activity.
Needless to say, they view our thought of returning as downright inexplicable - although they've indicated a willingness to visit during Mardi Gras should we do so.
Still, they’re all grown and are headed down paths of their own. Thus the quandary. Stay or go? If we go, what about all of the friends we’ve made here over the past 25 years? What about the local activities we both enjoy. More importantly, how often would we be able to see the grandkids?
Tough questions, but there are arguments for going. Our extended families are still there and, given how we’re both susceptible to slipping back into the local accent, it’d be easy for us to blend back in.
Too, we'd no longer need airliners to bring us King Cakes. We could simply pick one up and gain 20 pounds via osmosis while driving home.
For the younger readers out there (and I regard anyone under 40 as young), here's a warning.
If you think that things get easier past a certain age, just forget it. The decisions needing to be made in life just keep coming no matter how old you are.
Fortunately, we still have a few years before having to make this one.
But those King Cakes my mother sends sure put a marker down on the “go home” side of the equation.