People watching, fabulous food, excitingly different culture? Yes, please! That is why I love New Orleans. It’s close enough to home for a weekend jaunt, yet it’s a whole different country.
First, the language. Sure the people in town speak a form of English, but go a bit outside to the bayou area and ask any fisherman anything. He will no doubt respond with something like “Ayup, goinz becham beefeesht zayr fomo, beetcha dah don.” Even the city dwellers have strange names for things, like a median is very accurately called “neutral ground.” There is no north, south, east or west. Their directions are lake, river, uptown and downtown. There is always a bit of lagniappe in their speech, and they will talk to you for hours, about anything.
Then there is the food. New Orleanians eat things we consider bait, like crawdads, and they are delicious! Beware they do tend to fry everything, and sneak okra in whenever possible. You can try delicious things you have never before encountered (like boudin), but I advise not to look too closely into the actual ingredients. I think it could accurately be called American haggis. Reptile-based foods are prominently featured (turtle and alligator, anyone?) and breakfast and lunch are almost always accompanied with alcohol.
People watching. Oh, the humanity. It’s not really shocking, just intriguing. The drag queens, dancing glitter man in the string bikini, badly painted and badly executed freeze mimes, fortune tellers, tourists gone bad, meh, hardly deserve a second glance. I did enjoy the Saturday night Bourbon Street show with the proselytizing Baptists (with life-size cross) trying to talk theology with drunken bachelor party attendees. I also liked the role reversal of young women on balconies shouting down to men “Show us your boobs!” and tossing beads to obliging, jelly-abbed tourists. I suspect some enterprising soul gathers up beads left on the ground after a night of tourist debauchery, cleans them and re-bags for sale, or more likely doesn’t clean them, and re-bags for sale.
Certainly you will see ugly things if you stay in the French Quarter, especially at night. Puking, cursing, public urination are all parts of Saturday (or any day, really) in Sodom and/or Gomorrah. But there is such awe-inspiring loveliness in New Orleans, as well. The Garden District, with its grand old dame southern belle houses and tree-lined streets, is beautiful. A walk along the Mississippi is wondrous and impressive. There are pocket parks tucked around many corners, as well as giant city parks filled with 200 year old majestic oaks; beautiful courtyards hidden away from the frenzied streets, welcoming with twinkling lights, cold drinks and delicious food. The shops on the side streets are filled with antique treasures and amazing art, spiced with a dash of kitschy fun. Don’t forget to look up and see the wrought-iron elegance of the architecture all around you.
Music, music everywhere. Hucksters banging plastic buckets to grift tourists, a riverside trumpeter who seems to only play three notes, then round the corner and hear the most amazing string quartet you have ever encountered, playing for tips on the street. Jazz, blues, rock, bad rock, country, rap, it drifts or slams out of every doorway.
Continuing with my patented “salmon maneuver” of doing the opposite of the flow, I was in bed by midnight and up before eight every day. I did not miss anything, and can tell you that some of the very best people watching is at a New Orleans coffee shop at 8 a.m.
There were just a couple truly upsetting things I saw during the journey. First: children on Bourbon Street… why? New Orleans has some fantastic places and things to do with children, Bourbon Street is not one.
One last thing was truly the ugliest of the trip. We took a bike tour of the Garden District (so amazing, do it! freewheelin bike tours) and were stopped in front of an impressive home dating back to the mid 1800’s. Our tour guide was explaining “That outbuilding next to it is…” when a sharp and snippy voice from the sidewalk interrupted. “That’s not an outbuilding, it’s a STABLE!” Our sweet tour guide replied “yes, that is what I was getting ready to tell them, I am a tour guide.” She snapped “Good for you, I live right around the block!” as she righteously flounced her ponytail and crisp tennis skirt down the street.
I wonder what the bayou fishermen would have to say about this encounter? Probably something along the lines of “Shay monya!”