Thursday, December 23, 2010

Life on Mars

This afternoon I was driving from Donaldsonville to the airport, going over the Sunshine Bridge that spans the Mississippi River to go back to Chicago for Christmas, and it occurred to me. I may as well be living on Mars. That’s how foreign rural Louisiana feels to me. At this point, having lived here full-time for less than 6 weeks, it still really blows me away that I’m here.

Never having lived in rural America, much less in rural Louisiana, I keep asking myself “How on earth did I get here?” Driving through the burning sugar cane fields, the rich, sweet smell of burnt caramel hanging in the air, with beach refineries in the background is really trippy. I’m not in Kansas anymore. Going back to Chicago for three days of white Christmas is going to be a real culture shock. My ‘hood these days is Planet Bayou.

It’s very industrial, with these huge steel bridges and oil tankers and barges.Every morning I drive this huge curve, along the bank of the Mississippi and up onto the Sunshine Bridge, I have this huge vantage point across the river of the barges pulling up to the oil refineries. Tractor trailers packed with sugar cane are flying by. And at night the roads are really dangerous and black, with no street lights. And then when the sun comes up, you’re in the swamp, looking at alligators and frogs. That contrast is mind-blowing. “What am I doing here? I’m a city boy.”

Not to mention, when you’re used to waking up in Chicago and experiencing fall and winter, thinking root vegetables, which are in season in the Midwest, it’s bizarre to suddenly be in Louisiana, and all the roadside stands have strawberries being sold out of the backs of trucks and little tents. Where I live is a sportsman’s paradise, year-round. Right now it’s duck and venison season, and there are hunters in camouflage everywhere, tramping in and out of the woods. Crawfish is in season. It’s a different set of seasons entirely. And yet in my head I’m working on a menu that won’t launch until next summer. It’s this culinary tug-of-war all the time.

It’s about where you are and where you’re going.

Oh yeah, one more thing. The fried chicken out here is crazy good. Everywhere. Check out my lunch today, FROM A GAS STATION. Oh my god.

Happy holidays, everyone.

- Rick

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