Hamilton: A Musical For London And New Orleans

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A couple of weeks ago I spent a stressful morning trying to get tickets for the London production of smash hit Broadway musical Hamilton, which is coming to the West End next year (I managed it, just about). I heard shortly afterwards that Hamilton will also arrive in New Orleans in 2018 or 2019.

Neither city can really claim to be the spiritual home of the musical in a conventional sense. US founding father Alexander Hamilton, on whose life the musical is based, spent much of his life in New York. Lin-Manual Miranda, who wrote the musical, is from the same city, being a born-and-bred New Yorker with Puerto Rican roots.

However, Hamilton seems to have struck a chord in both London and New Orleans, if actual and forecasted ticket sales are anything to go by. Its emphasis on ethnic diversity – it alludes to suggestions that Hamilton’s mother was mixed race and the Broadway production has made a (sometimes controversial) point of using actors from ethnic minorities – appeals to audiences in many cities in the US and Europe. The association of the musical with the Obamas and its feud with the new Trump administration will have won it further fans everywhere.

But I think Hamilton has particular resonances for people in New Orleans and London that could be aiding its popularity in these two cities in particular.

To take New Orleans first, Hamilton was born in the West Indies, a part of the world with geographical and cultural ties to New Orleans. Some of his ancestors were from France, New Orleans’ first colonial mistress, and he grew up speaking French. It has even been argued that his work enabled the US to make the Louisiana Purchase, just under a decade after his death.

In terms of London, meanwhile, Hamilton also had British ancestry, through his Scottish father and his mother also. The economic and political innovations he brought about during his career, while often framed by America’s struggle for independence, were arguably influenced in part by British institutions and traditions. Despite his involvement in the Revolutionary War, he was an advocate for good political and commercial relations with the British.

And, though I haven’t seen it yet (and will have to wait for nearly a year to do so, unfortunately), I sense that Hamilton’s touchstones are the kinds of themes that are important in London and New Orleans, and that link the two cities together.

It seems to me that Hamilton is ultimately about the journey of people across the world as we’ve negotiated colonialism, a phenomenon that has profoundly shaped London and New Orleans. Many, many wrongs have been done, but people in these cities, and elsewhere in Europe and America, have moved forwards from histories involving slavery and injustice to enjoy a greater degree of freedom, democracy and equality, though there is still much, much progress to be made.

Moving forwards also requires looking back and the preservation of historical memory, which is alluded to in Hamilton’s final song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”. History, storytelling, and how we confront the sometimes difficult presence of the past in our lives today: London and New Orleans know these things are worth making a song and dance about.

Image: Cosmopolitan

The Fictional Characters Who Best Represent London And New Orleans

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Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s January; there’s not much else to do right now in London. And because, for me, Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate Londoner.

First, there is his obsessive knowledge of this vast, dense and knotty web of people, places and things perched in the Thames estuary. His forays outside it are undertaken with a sense of adventure, but also a polite distaste for spending too long outside the capital that any Londoner would recognise.

Even the way in which Holmes eventually retires from the city to keep bees on the south coast is an acting out of a version of a longstanding Londoner fantasy that’s as potent now (and as likely to remain confined to fiction) as it was a hundred years ago.

Then there’s his anthropological fascination, used to great effect professionally, with London’s caste distinctions and conventions – and his willingness to ignore or breach them. This is true to London as a whole, which is the place where the UK’s class system and social customs are at their most complex, and also their most flexible.

Finally, he shares the fascination of many Londoners with anything unexpected and novel. And like many of them, he is as happy mining the city’s layers of historical detritus as he is looking to the newest scientific innovations to get a hit.

While I’ve read plenty about New Orleans and visited many times, I can’t claim to know this city as well as I know London. So I asked people who live there which fictional character they would pick to represent it. I received some inspired suggestions that reminded me how much great literature has been written about New Orleans. (Though as one person pointed out: “Tough question for a city full of real-life characters.”)

Lestat, Anne Rice’s legendary rock star vampire. Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces, which many see as the best novel ever written about New Orleans, or just ever. “Sometimes Stanley, sometimes Blanche”, two of the lead characters in Tennessee Williams’ electrifying downtown-set play A Streetcar Named Desire. Benjamin Button, the eponymous hero of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story and a 2008 film starring Brad Pitt, who lives life going backwards.

Quite a gang. They’re all very much individuals, but I notice some common threads in their personalities and the stories that link them to New Orleans.

First: order versus anarchy. Stanley lectures Stella on the Napoleonic Code as their lives begin to twist out of shape. Ignatius is a notorious breaker of New Orleans’ social rules, yet cannot bring himself to leave the city.

Then there is time. Lestat is a joyfully decadent immortal, only occasionally troubled by the trials of neverending life. Button is distinguished by being born old and dying young, which I think qualifies him well to be (in the film at least) an inhabitant of New Orleans.

Sherlock Holmes could be one of this crew. Like them, he balances somewhere between order and anarchy. He also seems to somehow float free of time’s usual restrictions, as shown by the regularity with which his adventures are adapted and updated.

All these characters tell us something about the overall characters of London and New Orleans. The fact that they’d probably all get on well if they were to meet in a Marigny bar or a Hackney pub also tells us there are a few things the cities have in common.

Image: Scott Monty

New Orleans Does January Much Better Than London

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Happy New Year from London. Yes, I have excluded a festive exclamation mark, and deliberately so. It is generally agreed that January is when London is at its least happy, and most miserable.

Here the first month of the year is about cutting back after Christmas spending, New Year’s resolutions, and the more recent British tradition of having an alcohol-free “Dry January”. This week my email inbox has been full of 2 for 1 offers for the restaurants, West End shows and other attractions that would have been bursting with people just a couple of weeks ago. The result is a quiet and depressing city, usually cold but these days rarely brightened by snow.

It’s not supposed to be like this. As everyone knows from the famous carol, there are twelve days of Christmas. In the UK, most people pretty much regard the whole of the week between Christmas and New Year as holiday season, even if they have to work. But by the first days of January, Christmas seems to be well and truly over in many people’s minds.

I still keep my decorations up until the 6th of January as old tradition dictates, but this week have seen many balding Christmas trees left out with the rubbish. When I was a child, my parents would go to Twelfth Night parties, but these seem not to happen any more.

There is a good case for extending the fun even further into the new year than its first six days. In a brilliant column for Time Out London a couple of years ago, Giles Coren said he thought we Londoners had got it all wrong. Why do we save all the festive spirit (in London, this essentially means alcohol) for the busy days of December and allow none for quiet, dim January?

“It’s just nuts,” he wrote. “We’re doing it all the wrong way round. What booze is for is for cheering you up when life is shit. It’s for getting you through the day when there is nothing to do and you feel like you don’t have any friends. Like in, for example, January. And the one time you do not need it is in the month running up to Christmas.”

Things are done differently, and I would say better, in New Orleans. Here 6th of January marks the beginning of Mardi Gras season, and of course its festivities. One of my favourites of this day’s events I’ve read about (having never been in the city in January) is the ride of the Phunny Phorty Phellows carnival krewe. The Phellows board, in costume, the St Charles streetcar and proceed, they say, to “sip champagne, eat king cake, dance, and let fly with the very first beads of the Mardi Gras season”.

A month and often longer of more king cake (see image), parties and parades follows, culminating in the glories of Mardi Gras day itself. Lent also follows, of course, but somehow giving up something festive when you can see and feel spring coming seems like a better idea than doing so during the very darkest days of the year.

Image: praline3001

The Liberty Bells Of London And New Orleans And Why They’re Important

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I have always liked the sound of bells. Peals, or “methods” as they are sometimes known to campanologists, seem to possess something essentially English, though bells are heard all over the world. Meanwhile their tight-held almost-balance of pattern and anarchy reminds me of the jazz music that I love.

Bells are also a resonate symbol of democracy, in both the US and the UK. In London our Houses of Parliament has a 13.5-tonne heavyweight, Big Ben. On the other side of the Atlantic Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell has become one of the best-known emblems of the principles of freedom and equality at the heart of the American political tradition.

These bells also represent the links between the British and American nations and their democracies, not least because both Big Ben and the Liberty Bell were made by the nearly 450-year-old east London workshop that is now the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

America also has other less well-known liberty bells in other parts of the nation, however, and of course has not always had harmonious relations with the UK. The Kaskaskia Bell, also known as the “Liberty Bell of the West”, arrived in New Orleans in 1743 as a gift from the French king Louis XV and was then was taken upriver to Kaskaskia, located in what was Upper Louisiana and is now southern Illinois. While the bell began its history as a curio of the colonial age, it started a new life with a new nation when it was rung to celebrate the liberation of Kaskaskia from the British on 4 July 1778.

These days, however, liberty bells everywhere seem fragile and quiet. The Kaskaskia Bell now lives in relative obscurity and is rarely rung. The Liberty Bell and Big Ben are both cracked, and the latter will be silenced for maintenance of its tower’s clock for a few months sometime in the coming years. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry’s building is to be sold, with the business facing an uncertain future.

The Philadelphia Liberty Bell is inscribed with a powerful Biblical inscription: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”, and it is hard to avoid seeing these falls in fortunes of bells and limitations on their ability to speak to us to us as a symbol of the damaging blows freedom and equality have endured in the UK and the US over the past year.

Big Ben’s crack gives it a “less-than-perfect” but also “distinctive” tone, says the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Writing about the Liberty Bell in her history of Independence National Historical Park, US academic Constance M. Greiff asks if the fact that it is “irreparably damaged” is part of its “almost mystical appeal”. She adds: “Like our democracy it is fragile and imperfect, but it has weathered threats, and it has endured.” It is very tempting at this point to think of those famous words from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen, who died last month: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”

At this dark time of year in particular, bells are traditionally rung to symbolise festivities and new beginnings (which I will use as an opportunity to say that my blog will take a vacation for the next couple of weeks). Let’s hope that these things bring refreshed voices and renewed hopes.

Image: Shinya Suzuki

Why It’s Worth Mapping Out A Comparison Of Two Cities

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People are often surprised when I tell them I write a blog about London and New Orleans. The pairing is not as obvious as some. You might expect London and New York, or London and Paris. Or New Orleans and Paris, or Marseille.

There are some similarities, however, between the two cities. Despite their many differences, for me they sound some of the same notes at times: being dapper, old rhythms, deep water. There’s similar tone, too: a kind of proper appreciation of decadence shot through with courtesy and a sense of social order. This simply isn’t found in, say, New York (too uptight) or Paris (too laissez-faire).

Tastes echo as well. French-influenced food is still the ultimate in fine dining in both cities – but in both we’ll do it very much in our own way, thanks. New Orleans-style dishes have gone down a treat in London in recent years (some cooked right, some less so), as part of a wider fad for Southern food, and US comfort food as a whole – barbecues, posh burgers, hard shakes and all. I’ve recently heard that New Orleans gourmet grilled cheese joint The Big Cheezy might just be opening here in London soon…

Meanwhile, some British classics are well-established on New Orleans eating and drinking circuits – the Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House, for instance, is the best cocktail made with the English drink that I’ve ever had.

But regardless of whether or not you find actual connections, it’s always an interesting exercise to read any foreign city through your knowledge of another. I recently found an app that allows you do to so by juxtaposing a map of one with another, and I couldn’t resist immediately plugging in my two favourite metropolises.

I found the following. Two bendy tidal streams. Two east ends where the further you go out, the more the water dominates. Big swathes of parkland to the north-north-west with whispers of wild animals. Epicentres at riverbank cathedrals looking across to a neglected south.

I also saw that London looks like a web, and New Orleans like a spider spinning one. London seems a green and pleasant land, while New Orleans gets the blues. Follow the Mississippi river on a map of New Orleans and you’ll pass through Empire, Bohemia, Venice and Sulphur as the ground dissolves around you. From London, you’ll encounter less poetic-sounding places like Grays and Southend, and an assertive opening to the world, like a trumpet or a speech bubble in a cartoon.

Ultimately, this kind of mapping exercise is less about compare and contrast, and more about the questions it sparks in your mind. Just as children that are bilingual are supposed to grow better brains for communication than the rest of us, trying to translate between two cities makes you more able to grasp the elements that link them all, and to pose some interesting questions, too.

Are cities that look east different by nature to ones that look west? Does a river bring cities together or divide them? And just how far out is too far out? If you’re wondering any of these things about your own city, looking at another one might help you decide.

Thanksgiving In New Orleans, A Very American Festival

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In writing about Thanksgiving, I know I’m a week late. But I hope that will be forgiven given that we Londoners, other than expat Americans, don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving. In New Orleans, however, I know that Thanksgiving is most certainly celebrated and I’ve very much enjoyed reading about the city’s take on the traditional turkey meal over the past week.

I’d never heard of a turducken before, a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey, which one city website describes as an “ecclectic and excessive” creation. Sounds about right for New Orleans. It also seemed fitting that seafood featured significantly on many of the city’s Thanksgiving menus that I looked at, with plenty of shrimp, crawfish and raw bars popping up.

Special mention should also go to some amazing-sounding dishes that seemed to show that, as with many other things, New Orleans does Thanksgiving in very much in its own way and in some style (and made me want to make sure my next trip to the city takes place in late November). How about yellowfish tuna Rockerfella, turducken gumbo, sassafras glazed ham or sugarcane smoked turkey? Sides? New Orleans can offer andouille gravy, ginger whipped sweet potatoes and haricot verts with a bacon demiglace. And don’t forget desserts: tiramisu bread pudding (pictured), anyone? Yum.

But while we can – and should – make much of the special culinary traditions of New Orleans, and of its distinctiveness in other ways, there is no denying that Thanksgiving is of the whole US and is one of the most American of the nation’s holidays.

“As a child of the farmlands I appreciate how [Thanksgiving] honestly belongs to us,” writes Barbara Kingsolver in her food-orientated memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. “Turkeys have walked wild on this continent since the last ice age, whereas Old Europe was quite turkeyless… Corn pudding may be the oldest New World comfort food; pumpkins and cranberries, too, are exclusively ours. It’s all American, the right stuff at the right time.”

Why is it important to point this out? Because, as I have written elsewhere, sometimes New Orleans suffers from being portrayed, internally and externally, as exotic, other, even outside the American nation. But the way New Orleans celebrates, at Thanksgiving and at other times of year, should be not be seen as making the city fundamentally different to the rest of the US, but as an example of the very best of what the nation can offer in terms of festivity, creativity, hospitality and community,  areas in which, it seems from a European perspective at least, the whole of the American nation has historically often excelled, and New Orleans in particular.

America needs New Orleans and what it represents about its past, present and future, and not just at Thanksgiving or Mardi Gras but all through the year, now more than ever. And the fact that this great city is a part of the nation, turducken gumbo and all, is something for which we should all be thankful.

Image: The Brooklyn Star

Nightlife’s Slow Death In London And New Orleans

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This weekend I went to a gig at the George Tavern in Stepney (pictured), not too far from where I live. This pub has a long history – it’s mentioned by Chaucer and Shakespeare and claims that at least some of its brickwork is 700 years old. In the latter years of its long history, it’s become well-known as a music and culture venue, largely because of the work of artist landlady Pauline Forster who bought the pub as a derelict building in 2002.

A few years ago the George Tavern faced closure as a developer’s plans to build a block of flats near to the site would affect its ability to host live music nights, one of its most important sources of income. The George Tavern was saved, thanks in part to a high-profile campaign and the backing of a number of celebrity supporters, from Amy Winehouse to Justin Timberlake.

However, the venue is once again under threat. Plans have been proposed to replace nearby studios with, once again, a residential building. “[The George Tavern] is a vital community asset and must be protected at all costs,” said the George Tavern’s management in the text of a letter they recommended fans of the venue send to the borough council. “Experience across London has shown that introducing residential uses in close proximity to noise sources inevitably leads to complaints of noise nuisance which can result in curbs on the established activities at the site and ultimately closure.”

What they’re referring to is how noise restrictions and development pressures are now having an effect on iconic music and clubbing businesses in many parts of the city. In recent years London has seen the closure of a significant number of iconic venues, in part because of these kinds of factors. These include legendary Soho venue Madame JoJos’s, nightclub Cable located under the arches of London Bridge station, and Dalston club and historic centre for black music Four Aces.

In Hackney, the part of London where I live and where Four Aces and many other closed venues were located, the closure of and restrictions on nightlife businesses is such a keenly-felt issue that a campaign has been set up to oppose this. Fittingly, it was launched last year with a party that attracted over 600 people. One closing East End venue even held a New Orleans-style jazz funeral.

Nightlife in New Orleans could be slowly and picturesquely dying too. This city as well has seen many beloved places to listen to music, dance and socialise close and, despite the differences between the two cities, they are doing so for the same reasons that they are in London. And as in London feelings have coalesced into campaigns similar to the London ones both to keep individual venues open and on behalf of the city’s music scene as a whole – MACCNO deserves a special mention here.

When thinking all this, it is important to remember, however, that the places we live in have always changed. Venues of all kinds have always closed and been replaced by new ones, and it’s especially in the nature of the bars and club world for this to happen, where being new can be a significant selling point,

But it does feel like something different is happening now. The centres of our cities are becoming hollowed out by gentrification, as living somewhere urban is becoming more fashionable for the affluent middle-aged than the suburbs. People are living in areas once rich with nightlife who think they want to be somewhere lively but who actually don’t, so end up loudly complaining about bars or clubs. Meanwhile, in part because it’s now harder for them to live in city centres and in part because of other economic and social pressures on them, young people are going out less.

So while we should all campaign about individual venues in our neighbourhoods that we care about and our cities’ nightlife as a whole, we should also think about how the ways in which people, money, music and noise are ebbing and flowing across our cities are part of a bigger social picture too.

Image: Ewan Munro

Speak Out Now For Migration In London And New Orleans

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This week I went to an unusual and rewarding theatre work about migration. London Stories: Made By Migrants, currently being staged at the Battersea Arts Centre, gives you the chance to hear six stories about migrant experiences related to London, told by the people who experienced them.

Who did I meet? An stylish elderly lady who survived Auschwitz, by video. A woman – around the same age as me – who was born in Iran and is now an artist. A Syrian man who came to the UK after crossing the Mediterranean in a small boat and being smuggled in from Brussels on a German lorry, and who is dreaming of working as a dentist again. A Chilean-American man who had spent much of his life in New York but now loves London. A girl who spoke about her Pakistani father and his habit of hoarding as he built a life here. A Ugandan refugee who had fled her country to escape Idi Amin.

The genius of this work is the way in which it mirrors the type and significance of the experience it describes. Separated from the people we arrived with, we were led in small groups around the rambling and artily slightly decrepit Victorian former town hall building that now houses the BAC. This seemed to recreate the dislocation and loss of control that many migrants must endure, though of course in a much more gentle way and entirely without the jeopardy that is so often a part of the migration experience

Six times we arrived in a small room or space – each time differently shaped, decorated and lit – to sit face to face with another person to hear the story they wanted to tell us, each time an unusually intimate, true and valuable piece of art.

Migration and what it means is extremely topical at the moment. This summer’s Brexit referendum in the UK and the campaign and result of the 2016 presidential election in the US have put it at the top of the political and public discourse agenda in both nations. The producers of London Stories: Made By Migrants have not shied away from this, choosing to place posters with headlines and comments of various kinds about migration – some welcoming, some analytical, some hate-filled – on the walls of the building to be viewed as the audience walk around it.

It is a sad but true fact that hatred of migrants and what they seem to represent has not been confined to paper and ink. Hate crime against migrants or those who look like they might be increased sharply astonishingly soon after Brexit – and it seems that the same thing may be happening now in the the US.

Luckily, there have also been some steps taken in London to assert not just tolerance and empathy towards migrants but also the fact that migrants have been integral to the creation of the city and to its nature today. London Stories: Made By Migrants is one shining example. There are others in the arts world – I heard that the next At Home With The Ludskis event, a recurring art/film/theatre night at Dalston’s Rio Cinema, will have a pro-migration theme. This reflects the fact that the Rio’s founder Clara Ludksi, who the event is named after, was a migrant who came to London from Russia in the early twentieth century.

We still need many, many more such arts events, and other actions that achieve a similar effect. Given what it happening in the world, it seems no longer enough in London to not be anti-migration and to assume that people from different countries will always live here and that we will all always rub along together pretty much fine. We need to say that this is what we want and that it is important.

New Orleans is a different city in a different country. But, like London, this city and everything it means cannot be conceived of without its history of being open to and of valuing migration. With recent anti-immigration narratives in the UK now being uncannily echoed in the US, New Orleans needs to speak out now just as much as London.

Surprising Reasons Why I Welcome Direct Flights From London To New Orleans

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The news that soon there will be direct flights between London and New Orleans made me feel happy, for several reasons.

I’m glad of course that our cities will now be linked so much more closely. I also welcome the prospect of more people coming from New Orleans to London, and going from London to New Orleans – there is a tendency for Londoners to think of the US as simply New York and California, with nothing in between. So wrong.

The prospect of direct flights also reminds me how much New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport is a happy place for me, unlike London’s Heathrow or some of the southern US airports I’ve had to travel through on trips there. While I would never recommend that people coming to New Orleans spend much more time at the airport than they need to given all the city has to offer, it definitely has its attractions.

It’s named after Louis Armstrong, a musician whose life and work means a lot to me. I first visited the city to go to Satchmo Summerfest, a festival in his honour; later spoke at that same festival; and, as I have learned more about him over the years, have realised how much he – with his joyfulness and sense of hospitality – embodied all that is best about New Orleans.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect an airport to share the qualities of the person it is named after – but in New Orleans it does. While they’ve not always been joyful in the strict sense, my experiences at Louis Armstrong Airport have never been bad. The airport always seems efficiently run, yet also relaxed – which cannot be said for any London airport.

The airport is also certainty hospitable. I’ve been greeted by a brass band in baggage reclaim on more than one occasion. Also, once when feeling sad in Departures I heard what seemed like an appropriate performance from a local singer of Amy Winehouse’s melancholic and beautiful masterpiece “Love Is A Losing Game”. This song – like all of her work – is so of London, yet this singer made it sound like it was from New Orleans, which of course in a way it was because she was so influenced by the jazz tradition to which the city gave birth.

This is what airports and flying do. The former might seem like soulless, transitory locations, but they represent the places and people they belong to. Meanwhile, the acts of travelling and transition they embody, and the links these create, help to construct the identities of those places and people.

Image: Mike Chaput

London Should Look To New Orleans To Learn How To Do “Hygge”

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Recently here in London there has been a lot of talk of “hygge” – a Danish concept that roughly means a sense of cosiness and conviviality and is used to refer to occasions where you gather family or friends to spend time together, often with indulgent food and drink, in comfortable and relaxing surroundings.

Londoners love the idea of doing this. But as we’re mostly hyperactive and grumpy workaholics living in rabbit hutches hours of complicated travel away from our London friends and with family elsewhere in the UK or the rest of the world, we struggle to make hygge actually happen.

Some people doubt whether Londoners should even bother. “The concept of hygge feels entirely alien in our busy, ever-changing city,” wrote Miriam Bouteba in Time Out London recently. “Ask anyone what they like best about [London], and no one who hasn’t recently undergone a lobotomy will reply: ‘Staying in with my candles’”.

But I still think London could do with some hygge. Not so much its superficial trappings like arty lighting and cinnamon buns (though I probably wouldn’t say no to these if offered), but its underlying benefits. Londoners crave a time and space to loosen our tightly-packed lives and connect more with other people. This is what hygge really means, and our experience here of endless new attractions, constant flux in our actual and cultural landscapes, and hyperlinked transport is not giving it to us.

New Orleans, on the other hand, has a kind of hygge. It’s no more a city of woodsmoke, long snowy winters and “glögg” than London. But it seems to me that, like Denmark, New Orleans has always been good at making space and time to slow down and enjoy life.

But in New Orleans doing so takes a different form. Hygge in Denmark is a way of crystallising time and space into a protected area or moment of contentment and balance. This sounds nice and is no doubt usually pleasant and benign in practice. But it’s worth remembering that the opposite of hygge is “uhyggelig”, which can mean scary or weird. Some say that hygge is a reflection of Denmark’s relatively tranquil recent history and its somewhat homogenous and socially exclusive society, which it can also help to perpetuate.

In New Orleans, meanwhile, the equivalent of hygge is about not compressing time and space, but opening them up. For most of us, the good stuff in life – relaxed eating and drinking, fun times with family and friends – can only be small interludes of relief from work. But it seems to me that ways of life in New Orleans are capable of magnifying these experiences into whole worlds of exciting possibility, reflecting the city’s long record of cultural openness and creativity, and its historical – and in some ways continuing – proximity to disaster of various kinds that encourages its inhabitants to enjoy life to the full while they can.

“New Orleans is a small city but it seems spacious because it is always full of people…like a crowded barroom at night,” writes Andrei Codrescu in New Orleans, Mon Amour. “At dawn a deserted barroom seems small beyond belief: how did all those people fit? The answer is that space and time are subjective no matter what the merciless clock of late twentieth-century America tells us. And there is more subjective space and time here in New Orleans than almost anywhere in the United States…[The city] feeds the dreamer stories, music and food.”

And of course there’s Mardi Gras. In nowhere else in the world does one public holiday mean a whole season of celebrations, an alternative city geography, and a parallel government of kings and queens, Big Chiefs and Baby Dolls. Carnival in New Orleans is nothing less that “a social rebellion against day-to-day life,” one inhabitant of the city and enthusiastic carnival “krewe” member told me once. Frustrated Londoners who find themselves yearning for connection and fulfillment that daily life in their city does not provide could do well to get up from their dimly-lit sofa cushions and look to New Orleans as well as Copenhagen.

Image: Deann Barrera