Monday, March 7, 2011

Your Inner Yat

Mardi Gras is tomorrow (Tuesday) in New Orleans and I was thinking about that goofy town where I grew up. Here are a few observations.

How are you, what’s up, how yoo dooin’ and wazzup are typical American English greetings, questions that do not necessarily need an answer, faux interrogatories that are used in the same way as the words hello or good morning. A typical greeting in parts of New Orleans is where y’at. It is used in the same way as the others but is unique to New Orleans.

Sometimes people from New Orleans refer to each other as yats. I have lived away from New Orleans for long enough that most of my accent is gone; I didn’t have that much of one anyway. I don’t remember if I greeted my friends with 'where y’at' but the term was so ubiquitous there when I was growing up that it does roll off my tongue easily when I say it to make an example or to mimic the New Awlins dialect.

Yat is interesting enough to some people that it is the subject of detailed study. As I began to write this I looked up yat to see if others have the same impression I do about the origin and current linguistic and cultural associations of the term. Looks like they do. (click here for more).

If you ever visit New Orleans or just want to understand the culture or its influence, try to embrace your inner yat. Sample some of the food, like seafood gumbo or jambalaya made with andouille sausage. Have a drink, like a Hurricane (rum and other sweet juicy stuff). Soak in the humidity, literally, or immerse yourself in the music. Study the history of southeast Louisiana to help you understand the survivor mindset, to help you comprehend why the hell anyone would still want to live there after Hurricane Katrina. I claim that I never want to move back but I do consider it every time I visit. Fortunately for me, common sense prevails. I love helping friends see the ‘city that care forgot’ through my eyes, partly because it helps them to understand me a little better.

Yats speak a whole different language.

See if you know what this narration means:

"When you’re makin’ groceries don’t’ fuhget the mie-nez fuh da moo-fa'-lotta. It don madda to parain but everybody else wants some. When we get ova by ma Mama’s we gonna put chairs in the neutral ground so we have a good spot fuh da pahrade. We gonna pass a good time dis year."

Translation:  "When you go grocery shopping, don’t forget the mayonnaise for the muffuletta (a specific local sandwich). It doesn’t matter to my godfather but everybody else wants some. When we go over to my mother’s house, we’ll put chairs in the median so we have a good spot to see the (Mardi Gras) parade. We’re going to have a good time this year." (click here for more translations)

The spirit of Mardi Gras is interesting in that you spend a whole day acting as if you are someone else, with the masks, costumes and debauchery, yet in doing so you are totally conforming to being, well, a yat. There is probably some part of you in that behavior and on Fat Tuesday you can let it show, albeit while disguised as someone else. The crowds are reason enough for me to not seek it out any more. I almost got trampled in a flash mob once in my college years and that truly scared me. On the other hand, the experience is so unique that I might have just one more in me before I die.

I do willingly tolerate the crowds of Jazzfest, however. I am disappointed that I can’t go this year but one way or the other I am going next year. That is a multi-day festival based on a gumbo of music influences far beyond jazz, engulfed in a setting that showcases the food, drink, art and culture of New Orleans. My favorite parts include: the blues tent, the gospel tent, barbequed alligator, jambalaya, artist Terrence Osborne’s booth, the seemingly spontaneous parades and the Plum Street sno-ball stand.

When you wake up tomorrow, dress in purple, green and gold (those colors go together in New Orleans), wear your beads, watch some of the Mardi Gras coverage on one of the local TV station web sites (maybe this one) and laissez le bon temp rouler! (translation of that last part: let the good times roll!!!)

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