Jackson Square artist Jeremy Hebert has a lot of Crescent City-themed tattoos, but he touts one in particular as his “Noliest,” or most representative of New Orleans.
Written across his body is “Katrina Who?”
The tattoo is an inside joke of sorts that he got in response to tourists who constantly asked him if the repurposed wood he paints on came from Hurricane Katrina-wrecked houses.
“As an artist, there’s only so many times you can do that,” Hebert said about reusing such wood.
“Katrina Who?” is just a fraction of the ink on Hebert’s body. The artist also has a Tipitina’s sign, a Dixie beer, a Drago’s crawfish, St. Louis Cathedral, the Treme Brass Band logo, a few strands of Mardi Gras beads and a couple of fleur-de-lis tattoos. And that’s just on his right arm.
On Sunday, Herbert’s ink won him the designation “Nolier Than Thou,” a satirical and tongue-in-cheek title bestowed during a drinking event hosted by organizers behind the grass-roots organization Rising Tide, which has hosted an annual conference since 2006 to discuss the ever-changing future of New Orleans.
Held at Molly’s at the Market, the contest was created as a way to poke fun at the city’s obsession with its own legitimacy, with residents incessantly grappling with what it means to be a New Orleanian.
“It’s reached a level where it’s worthy of satire — the amount of New Orleans pride everyone who lives here currently has,” Rising Tide organizer and artist Lance Vargas explained, laughing at the notion. “And the deeper you dig into the philosophies behind it, the more absurd it’s going to seem.”
Vargas wasn’t the only one having fun at the event.
Julie Couret Willoz, a Southern Catholic entrepreneur from Uptown, had a few chuckles as she sashayed around in her high school graduation gown, last worn 20 years ago.
She downed a few libations as she explained the history of the dress, a linen eyelet, three-tier gown her grandmother made for her mother’s high school graduation in the 1960s. Willoz wore it for her 1995 graduation from Sacred Heart, along with the props she sported Sunday — kid leather gloves, a rosary, a bouquet and a garland of flowers on her head.
“I’m a ninth-generation New Orleanian. I couldn’t be more Nolier,” Willoz said.
Throughout the afternoon, other quintessential New Orleans items appeared like talismans, held proudly by owners who had waited for just such an occasion to show them off.
Among them were a K&B pin from the 1980s, a 1970s pin from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a Kenny’s Key West entrance pass and a glass bottle of Zatarain’s Root Beer Extract, bought at the Schwegmann’s supermarket on St. Claude Avenue.
Another transplant New Orleanian, who wished to remain nameless, presented a can of Budweiser-bottled filtered drinking water that was handed out along with Meals, Ready-to-Eat after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
The can of water brought a needed, therapeutic laugh for participants who seemed ready to forget the storm the day after the city was inundated with commemorative events for Katrina’s 10th anniversary.
“There were some heavy moments yesterday,” Vargas said, adding that the afternoon levity was a welcome change in attitude. “Plus, I love absurdity.”