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VOL. 45 | NO. 7 | Friday, February 12, 2021

Nashville or NOLA? Old Hickory knew where to call home

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No parades? No travel? East Nashville neighbors have the solution for those who crave a New Orleans Fat Tuesday – Yardi Gras.

-- Photograph Provided

In solidarity with New Orleans, a few folks on my side of Nashville have instituted a “Yardi Gras” decorating competition this year.

Or maybe it’s envy.

New Orleans and Nashville both have features to love, with the competitive scales tilting sometimes one way, sometimes the other. Both are tourist destinations, with the 2019 figures (before COVID torched leisure travel) favoring New Orleans with 19.75 million visitors over Nashville’s 16.2 million.

The main tourist draws, the French Quarter for New Orleans and Lower Broad and environs for Nashville, attract often unwieldy, alcohol-powered throngs. I suspect there are far more cowboy hats and boots on the Nashville guests, signaling their allegiance to the leading brand of musical commerce here.

More on musical differences later.

In terms of history, New Orleans is the clear winner, having been founded in 1718 versus 1779 for Nashville (as Fort Nashborough).

Ditto for cultural diversity, with New Orleans drawing on French, Spanish, African and Caribbean influences. Nashville’s early post-Indigenous settlers tended to arrive from locales less exotic: The Carolinas and Virginia. Nashville was, in fact, originally part of North Carolina.

Most of us are probably distant cousins.

I give the nod to Nashville in terms of weather. It can get uncomfortably warm here, but nothing like the steam bath that is New Orleans for some of the spring and all of the summer.

Nashville also gets points for an absence of hurricanes, though the occasional tornado cuts into the margin of victory. At least you can flee before a hurricane arrives.

The cities share Andrew Jackson, he being credited with producing victory at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. The fact that the battle took place two weeks after the official end of the war detracts somewhat from its importance, but still. Jackson Square commemorates his contribution.

Nashville counters with the fact that Jackson actually lived and worked here as opposed to just stopping by to kill British soldiers. His home, the Hermitage, is still an attraction. There’s a village and a meandering, circular roadway that carry his Old Hickory nickname.

On balance, Nashville, slam dunk.

As for signature foods: Sorry, Nashville. Hot chicken and Goo Goo Clusters pale in comparison to po-boys, gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp creole, crawfish etouffee, beignets, red beans and rice, muffulettas, pralines and king cakes. To name a few.

“Throw me something, mister?” These East Nashville dogs might prefer a treat to more beads.

-- Photograph Provided

Signature music: Dixieland versus country. Trumpets versus fiddles. Trombones versus steel guitars. Clarinets versus banjos. Which would you choose?

In comparing big-time sports teams, both the Saints and the Titans have been to a Super Bowl, but the Saints won theirs. Nashville has NHL hockey and MLS soccer; New Orleans has neither. I don’t like hockey or soccer. But I don’t like the Saints, either. They traded Archie.

Sports win, Nashville.

The most significant difference, the category in which there is no competition, is Mardi Gras, shorthand for the pre-Lenten Carnival season of celebrations encompassing all manner of expression. Not all of it fully clothed.

If you’ve ever been, you need no explanation or description. If you have not, your resume as a human being is lacking a vital entry.

Still, there’s no shame for Nashville on that front. No other American city can lay claim to quite such a happening. Oh, Mobile, Alabama, has its celebration, and asserts a deeper historical root: A first observance in 1703, before New Orleans even existed.

Be that as it may ... Mobile?

This year the pandemic has canceled Mardi Gras parades, giving rise to the Yardi Gras effort to decorate New Orleans-area lawns that a few folks in East Nashville are copying. It’s an expression of the basic human craving for a party, even if much of the actual partying will have to wait for a safer time.

Nashville’s my home by choice, so in the overall contest between the cities it wins out. But this Fat Tuesday – Feb. 16 – I’ll make jambalaya; put some Professor Longhair, Buckwheat Zydeco and Dr. John in the CD player and try to locate some purple, green and gold beads.

I’ll lift an Abita, or whatever New Orleans regional brew I can find at Frugal’s, and offer a toast to the City That Care Forgot.

Laissez les bon temps rouler. Y’all.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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