street musicians

With Ireland teetering on the brink of economic collapse, it’s hard to stay positive around here. Some worry, others blow it off as a phase and a few actually want the ax to drop. At least then we can all stop holding our collective breath in anticipation for the worst.

Still, people around here are surprisingly cheerful and it seems there is a concerted effort among folks to keep their chins up. I think for a lot of Irish there’s just really nothing else to do but be optimistic in the face of overwhelming negativity…it’s just how they’re made. All of this reminds me of a story I wrote about New Orleans, which I visited shortly before moving to Ireland, and I thought now would be as good a time as any to re-post it here.

brad pitt ninth brad pitt ninth 3 brad pitt ninth 2

It’s undeniable: There’s just something special about New Orleans. Even before the will of its people was tested by “The Storm,” as locals call it, even before being completely abandoned by its government and nearly forgotten after the other storm (the one of the media variety) died down, it was something else. And after all that? To say that the hardships endured by this city and its loyal residents brought out a kind of character and might and determination that us outsiders didn’t think existed would be an understatement.

Red lady

I visited New Orleans recently for the first time and was fortunate enough to see the kind of resolve and optimism I’d heard so much about. Just as the city was starting to see the light at the end of the hurricane’s barrel, the recession hit – because, you know, sometimes life just kicks you when you’re down. Last summer, according to many chefs and waiters I spoke to, was one of the worst. Dining rooms were empty and even Bourbon Street remained relatively quiet.

pj oysters guy rib room 3 palace waiter

But when I was there late last year, the city was bustling and business was starting to pick up. As I walked through the French Quarter with my colleague Kendall, a food writer born and raised in New Orleans, I could feel a buzz in the air. The sun was shining, street musicians tooted their horns and clapped their hands in celebration and the restaurants were spilling over with customers. In Jackson Square, we saw a flurry of brides in several separate weddings going on at the same hour on the same day. When we ran into a shop owner that Kendall knows, he proclaimed that the worst was over. New Orleans had gotten its groove back, and they’d beaten this recession just as they had all the other attempts at keeping this city down.

rib room 1

God only knows they’d been trying their damndest to weather the economic tempest of the last year. Restaurants tried out special prix fixe dinners and weeknight discounts, and hotels rolled out unbelievable deals to tourists. But what I think got New Orleans through this most recent hurdle was something that seems to be pretty easy to find among the folks around here: Gumption. Everyone I met, from the fast-talking Chef Anthony Spizale of the Rib Room to the legendary Dickie Brennan (of the famed Brennan family of restaurateurs), there was never a question or a doubt that they and their beloved city would rise again, and, with their sleeves rolled up and chests heaved forward, they did whatever it took as they always had.

New Orleans house 3

The excitement and renewed sense of vigor is most apparent in the food. Spizale excitedly talked about all the new specials he’s been trying lately, like his well-received “Fried Chicken Tuesdays.” At Chef John Besh’s new Domenica restaurant, the good ol’ Southern boy is cooking up spectacular Italian dishes with a local flair like Black Pepper Fettuccine with Oysters, Saffron and Cream. And Sal, of the famed P&J Oyster Company, eagerly showed off the first official P&J cookbook that’s now flying off the shelves.

No one is holding back, no sir. That’s gumption for ya.