Wednesday, February 10, 2010

John Ellis Writes a Letter to the Editor: "Gumbo, Joie De Vivre And The New Orleans Saints"

by John Ellis

He was born in North Carolina, and is now based in New York City. But in between, saxophonist John Ellis lived in New Orleans for five years. And he still keeps One Foot In The Swamp, as he titled a 2005 album: he often takes the city as his muse in his own composing, and the rest of his current band, Double-Wide, is based in the Big Easy. After the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl last night, he was so happy that he offered to write us something to commemorate the occasion. --Ed.


Drew Brees

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees celebrates his team's Super Bowl victory. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

I am not a football fan. I haven't cared about the Super Bowl since I was 12 years old. But last night, when it all settled in, when I really grasped that the New Orleans Saints had won the Super Bowl, I cried.

It's a poetic story: a city nearly destroyed by a hurricane returns five years later to win the Super Bowl. It's appealing in a predictable Hollywood way. But this is an outsider's perspective -- a distant detachment kind of narrative, like watching a movie with a satisfying ending. For the people of New Orleans, it's much more than that. When I spoke to my friend on St. Charles Ave., as the party raged past him, he let out a huge cathartic sigh and said, simply: "We needed this."

Post-Katrina New Orleans is tragic and beautiful at the same time. The pain of the storm and the displacement is apparent in overt or subtle ways in nearly every interaction. And yet, there's a new proactive kind of defiance and a commitment to rebirth that's intoxicating. Fleur-de-lis are tattooed on skin, printed on clothing and flags, bumper stickers, candleholders, clocks, underwear. It takes significant effort to get to a place where there aren't several fleur-de-lis in your line of vision. People feel a special kind of pride about their city, a pride that they feel outsiders just don't quite understand. And they're acting in many varied ways to take charge and invest and rebuild.

In spite of the odds, they're beginning to hope again.

In spite of the precariousness of their existence due to levees and dysfunctional government and hurricanes to come, hope is returning. In spite of the sad truth that many in the nation and the world only think New Orleans is a debaucherous, sinful party destination, people are dreaming of a better future. In spite of a football franchise unparalleled in its capacity to disappoint, they dared to believe. And they were not disappointed this time.

The team transcended metaphor and symbol, and became gumbo and jazz and joie de vivre. Their performance in the game was all heart and risk-taking, and as they fought on in such an unpredictable fashion, they not only represented the city of New Orleans: they were New Orleans. They went beyond football and became poetry.

I am not a football fan, but this is so much more than football. I've never been more proud to cry.

John Ellis
Feb. 8, 2010
Brooklyn, N.Y.

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