Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Down by the River Where It's Warm and Green

Strolling through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Way down in the deep, deep South sits a city built upon only four foot of silt. Situated between the mighty Mississippi River and the brackish water known as Lake Pontchartrain, is a place where European charm, Southern hospitality and superstition, African lore and the finest musicians in the world mix and mingle together to form what can only be New Orleans.

As you might have guessed, I am just back from my first visit to the Crescent City. It was a whirlwind trip that began with a wonderful lunch of Po’ boys and red beans and rice at Parasols Irish restaurant, located, since 1952, in the Irish Channel.  Not too far from the artist’s loft where we stayed, Parasol’s was the perfect way to begin a week of New Orleans culture.

Brass Band at Jackson Square

On day two, we took a Cemetery tour, visited Marie Laveau and Congo Square, hopped into a voodoo shop for a card reading, enjoyed a delicious drink called Dragon’s Breath at another eatery called Bayou Heat, and then headed over to Jackson Square, where we admired the beauty and peace within St. Louis Cathedral before taking a few moments to enjoy the various musicians set up between card readers and artists within the Square.  The entire day was a whirlwind to the mind and body, a delight to the senses.

On day three, we began with incredible, indescribable doughnuts from the District on Magazine Street, and then we headed over to Lafayette Cemetery to explore  and confirm the “smell of old death” before we took a tour of the Garden District. As I do in all places that I roam, I made a cat friend, he obviously hailed from one of those magnificent homes.  Lucky Cat!  When our tour was complete, we paused our endless exploring to ride the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line, the oldest streetcar line in America.  On the way back to the Quarter, dinner was prepared by Pat O’Brien’s, where we sampled their famous Hurricanes, muffaletta sandwiches, shrimp and grits, and some delicious gumbo. Then, we rounded off the third night in the sometimes macabre city with a Ghost/Vampire Tour which lead us historically and creepily around the darker sections of the Vieux Carré.   So exhausted were we from the constant trek through block after block, we hailed a cab to get back to the loft in record time for some much- needed rest.

Day four continued our endless trek and mission to see and do everything in New Orleans.  We realized very early on that it would be impossible to do everything we wanted, but we were determined to fit in as much seeing and doing as we possibly could.  So, on the fourth day we began with beignets and café au lait at Café Du Monde before we boarded the steamboat Natchez for a jazzy, yet peaceful ride down the Mississippi.  With snowballs in our hands and the river of mud beneath us, we enjoyed a tranquil afternoon in slow motion.   After arriving back on land, we hopped aboard another Street car and rode down to the French Market to peruse and look for snacks to take on the picnic we had planned for the next day.  Being easily distracted, our French Market tour was only semi-successful in that…yes, we found what we were looking for, but no we didn't look at everything because I stumbled upon Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.  It’s well-known that I have a physical incapability of ignoring anything Buffett.  So, of course we ambled in for a nice meal and smooth beverage called a Bama Breeze, which was served to me in a blender, a cold libation that simply topped the perfect New Orleans October day.

We departed from New Orleans on the fifth day, but we weren't quite ready to let the city go.  (Actually, I may never let this city go.)  So for a final hurrah, we traveled the 23-mile Causeway across Lake Pontchartrain (both ways) and then steered towards the St. Joseph’s Plantation to take their “mourning tour” and to partake of the aforementioned picnic goodies we previously procured at the French Market. The food was even more delicious eaten beneath a grand oak tree. 

Since my return, I have been asked countless times what my favorite part of the trip was, and my answer seems to be surprising to most.  What I most enjoyed was the spirit and joy of the people, and the way everyone seemed to be looking out for the person standing beside them. A friendly nod, smile or greeting was on the face of practically every soul we passed on the street or met on the bus. I found human kindness, once synonymous with the word Southern, and a laidback graciousness that is seldom (if, at all) seen in other southern cities of today.  My favorite thing about New Orleans is the way this special gathering of people embraces difference and diversity, as they instantly absorb all into their distinctly unique culture. 

To those that know me, I can sum up my entire trip with one comparison.  If I were a city, New Orleans in all of its embodiments would be me, and although it’s not my place of residence, New Orleans could easily be the place I soon will call home.