Letter from New Orleans

Thinking about it now, I pause to think about the ramifications of moving from one new place to another over the past five years—from New York to New Haven and now to New Orleans. After years of banging around various locales in and around New York City, it wasn't too long after I moved to the Elm that I was schooled by two locals on the question of emphasis when it comes to how you actually pronounce New Haven. New Yorkers, it seems, tend to put the emphasis on the NEW! and not the York. "I live in New York, not to be confused with Old York." But here, as Ideat Village impresarios Bill Saunders and Nancy Shea counseled one night, repeatedly, the emphasis, generally speaking, is on the Haven. Not NEW! Haven but New HAAAY-VEN. After awhile I got it; you want to linger on the Haven a good long while, since it is a town that will grow on you. So I started emphasizing the Haven part of New Haven and was therefore able to live here for over four years. When it comes to New Orleans, hey, I'm having a hard enough time pronouncing some of these street names without worrying too much about where the emphasis ought to lie. Post-Katrina you could argue for NEW! Orleans, but that sounds like Chamber of Commerce-approved marketing of the most vanilla-cynical variety. Besides, the blessed and endemic lassitude of the Big Easy begs for a lingering over the Orleans. On the other hand, from a fact-checking point of view, there is an Orleans with which one can make a differentiation. So I have been worrying about it, but not too much.

The other day I was walking in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, which, I have learned, is not pronounced “ma-RIG-knee,” and came upon one of those those Volvo sub-wagons you see in every town, festooned with an abundance of bumper stickers citing various locales, pols and causes. Amid the Hillary! Stop War! and Peace is Patriotic stickers was one trumpeting the glories of . . . New Haven!—complete with an accompanying icon, a slice of pizza. The nudgenik in me thought, "Hey, that's wrong! None of the legendary places in town sells pizza by the slice! Outrages!"

But seeing that bumper sticker, indeed the whole trove of them, did evoke yet another question of where to put one's emphasis, this time when it comes to the old canard, "Everything in moderation." It's one on the great cautionary aphorisms of all time, but that's only because most of us put the emphasis on the moderation. Embedded within lies the stunning and deeply gratifying notion that if you can swing the moderation, you can have everything!

And so there we were, the winter of 2008, myself and Bill and Nancy, and the writer Todd Lyon. By then I knew how to tell people I lived in New Haaaay-ven and it had stopped bothering me that my friends from New York would always want to know how I was enjoying Hartford. In any case, we had an agenda. Oh, such a one as it was! We would hit four pizzerias in one night. We'd start at Zuppardi's in West Haven, get the double-dose at Sally's and Pepe's, and then grab a capper pie at Modern.

A slice here, a slice there, no gastro-problems would ensue if we paced ourselves; that was the plan. Alas. Immoderation won out in Wooster Square and we never made it to Modern. As for BAR, we kept it off the list. Too new, relatively speaking, to qualify for the tour.