New Orleans. It’s a city that evokes a myriad of popular culture images: literary, visual and aural. For me, it’s Interview with the Vampire meets True Blood during Mardi Gras. Festive, crazy, sexy, and spooky, all set to a jazzy/bluesy Zydeco soundtrack.
I finally went to this city of my dreams last week to visit my niece, Christine, who had moved there last year. It didn’t meet my expectations. Rather, it changed them. I’m glad I was able to stay in a home rather than a hotel and be escorted by resident instead of a tour guide. You learn different things that way, things that can add knowledge and authenticity if you’re a writer.
For example, I learned you don’t “get” groceries, you “make” groceries. My niece took me to a local grocery store, Dorignac’s, in the suburb of Metairie, where I got to see local products like Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning and Camellia red beans. I found out the residential roads are gouged with huge potholes. I saw that the Mardi Gras routes, like Saint Charles Avenue, have shiny strings of beads, AKA throws, hanging from the power lines and stuck in the branches of the oak trees amidst the Spanish moss.
I also learned to take life a little slower in the Big Easy. No one is in a big hurry to rush to the next thing, maybe because there’s a lot going on all the time. Delicious food and great music are everywhere. You can’t see it all at once, or in one trip, so you might as well slow down and soak it all in.
One of my favorite places to relax was Morning Call. It’s a rival to the more famous Cafe du Monde, open 24 hours and serving cafe au laits and beignets. Their location in City Park was restful compared to the tourist bustle of the French Quarter. The cafe au laits and beignets were to die for. I indulged almost every day during my visit.
After all, it’s NOLA and it’s all about the food.
Of course, it’s not a trip to NOLA without a night out on the town. On Saturday, we headed for the French Quarter, natch. Bourbon Street is as insane as you might have heard. We avoided it by walking along Royal Street, which was quiet and lovely, except for all the tour groups. At one point, there was one on every corner. Eventually, we made it to a dive bar on Decatur Street. Then we met up with friends in another place across the street. Somehow, at some point in the evening, going to a karaoke bar on Bourbon Street became a really good idea.
I’m standing above the stage, shouting the lyrics to Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer with about a hundred people. Crazy good fun!
After a while, I went out to the balcony. This is Bourbon Street at 2:30 a.m. The party was still going strong.
After that night, we stuck to tamer activities, such as trip to the Mardi Gras Museum. The tour takes you among the actual floats and you can watch the artists hard at work creating next year’s fantasies on wheels.
We also toured St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, a famed City of the Dead. Because of flooding, most New Orleans cemeteries inter the remains above ground.
While there, we saw the possible resting place of famed Voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Fun fact for those who have seen American Horror Story: Coven: she actually was a hairdresser. People leave hair ties and clips as offerings at her tomb.
Although it was getting steamy hot and will get steamier as the summer progresses, I was sad to leave this lovely, unique and inspiring city. I’m already looking forward to my next trip. Perhaps for Mardi Gras. Until then, laissez le bon temp rouler! Let the good time roll!