Wandering Eye: New Orleans
People see you differently after a tragedy - one of the more uncomfortable facts about human nature. My introduction to the Crescent City was while whizzing by on I-10 on the way to my grandparents' in Florida. As with many places in the U.S., visiting New Orleans was always on my list but usually under the heading of 'eventually when I get around to it, it's not going anywhere'. And then it almost did. go. somewhere.
If travel is the way to connect the dots between people missing shared culture, language, and geography then every trip extends our network of humanity. As an outsider, NOLA is creole cuisine, live music, and the hedonism of Mardi Gras. And while I'm not one to pass up a good beignet; I gravitate towards seeing the city's evolution and history and talking with people who spend most of their life outside the tourism bubble.
"Where are you from?"
After the good mornings & evenings were exchanged, we could count on getting asked where we hailed from. From the waiter working two jobs to pay for his return to a prestigious HBCU to the directions-providing street preacher, I had several mini-conversations spurred by genuine interest that stopped just short of asking after mine and my family's health. At home, I usually cringe when 'Ma'am'-ed or addressed as "honey" but it didn't take long to re-adjust to the unassuming flow of familiarities that are part and parcel of the South. If raised in a culture where greeting passersby and being greeted is a way of life, I can imagine the bemusement caused by averted eyes, smile-less faces, and silence.
Daigle's Grocery - AlgiersDaigle's Grocery - Algiers French Market vendorFrench Market vendor Tout de Suite Cafe - AlgiersTout de Suite Cafe - Algiers Baronne St.Baronne St. French MarketFrench Market - New Orleans
Like Mom use to make (just not your Mom)
Muffaletta. Po'Boys. Gumbo. Etouffe. Jumbalaya. Beignets. Crawfish (or crayfish or crawdaddies). Try everything at least once (provided you're not allergic, if so, Plan B it with a Sazarac, Pimm's Cup, or other local libations). With the combination of being a port city and in the South, the 'everything goes into the pot' sensibility extends to seafood. Both traditional and nouvelle cuisine stylings of creole and cajun dishes are available to try in addition to the Thai, sushi, tapas, Italian, and latin american restaurants found in every major city.
In 'chicken or egg' style, it's hard to tell whether cuisine defines the city or the city, cuisine. Restaurants and cafes displaying "best" and "number 1" advertising (some true and some not) crop up here and there but most rest unassuming, often in the same spot for decades, and rely on the lines out the door to do their talking for them.
America's alternately described as a melting pot or tossed salad with an emphasis on assimilation depending on who you ask. But if one thing stands out in the Big Easy, it's acculturation. In a locale awash with history; cadence, passing references, bricks & mortar, and even minor detail on street signs reveal shared heritage shaped by the city in its many iterations. Different elements converge, are preserved, and layered in no matter their place or time of origin. Old and new, rich and poor, dead and living, sacred and secular, they all come to have a place in the multi-layered landscape and eventually begin to seem like they were always there.
C'est la vie and Joie de vivre
On one of my last days in the city, the beloved Saints played an away game and practically every tavern and pub in the Quarter was stuffed with jersey-wearing diehards showing their love. With more people inside than out, we took advantage of the vacant shops and streets and meandered looking for something memorable to take home. Out of nowhere, some guys careened around the corner whooping it up in their lime green mini-car. I wondered aloud why the hoopla over a losing game and a local woman broke stride long enough to set me straight.
"Joie de vivre. That's how we live."
So their team lost. That's life and no reason not to laissez les bon temps rouler.
I can't claim to have come away with a comprehensive understanding of NOLA but at least I got a reminder of how to live a well-seasoned life.
For more on New Orleans culture and history, see:
Familiar New Orleans - St. Louis CemetaryFamiliar New Orleans Familiar New Orleans - Lafayette Cemetary No. 1Familiar New Orleans - Lafayette Cemetary No. 1 Familiar New Orleans - Preservation HallFamiliar New Orleans - Preservation Hall Familiar New Orleans - Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith ShopFamiliar New Orleans - Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Familiar New Orleans - The Cabildo and St. Louis CathedralFamiliar New Orleans - The Cabildo and St. Louis Cathedral
Keywords: Algiers, Big Easy, Crescent City, New Orleans, city of the dead, history, lafayette cemetary, local cuisine, musicians, st. louis cemetary, travel, travel blog, travel photography
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