I’ll admit I was wearing my rose-colored glasses all along. I’d been dreaming of her historical streets, the patchwork Victorian houses lined up like a chorus, displays of grandeur and flamboyance. With it’s alluring past, an enticing veil of mysticism has shrouded this city, a special kind of magic, a hot selling point for the tourism industry, but more than a kitsch fad. And it’s SO much more than Bourbon Street!
I was surrounded by Wonder from the moment we landed. Ok, the airport was pretty basic, and on the drive in we were lead over leap-frogging freeways and under high-rise buildings, just like every other metropolis I’ve seen. Nothing unusual. The sun shown brightly over the Superdome, Big and Proud, and it reminded me of the news photos and stories of the 30,000 New Orleanians who were crammed inside, sheltered from and imprisoned by horrible Katrina more than a decade ago. But not even catastrophic devastation can kick this city down.
We stayed in Treme-Lafitte, America’s oldest black neighborhood, on the top floor of a two story, fairy-tale pink house, just outside the French Quarter. Three blocks from Louis Armstrong Park, six blocks from Madame Lalaurie’s Mansion of Terrors (AHS geek, right here). Over the next several days I would grow to love the place more and more and would spend hours on the front balcony learning St. Louis Blues on my Ko’Aloha tenor ukulele, listening to the church bells each morning. Upon arriving Perry and I took in the sights right away, walking aimlessly past the colorfully shuttered houses and romantic street signs. Dauphine, Royal, Decatur, Harmony, St. Louis. We traveled along the historic sidewalks, arm in arm, feeling very much in love. The weather was absolutely perfect and we had a full seven days to enjoy this place. My heart was bursting!
The music on the streets after dark was unbelievable! Horns, drums, tap dancing, more horns and drums! Some musicians were furnishing instruments that had been scientifically crafted to resonate for Music, others had taken items out of a utilitarian existence and re-purposed them into a musical instrument. It was absolutely fascinating. Two brothers were dancing for tips, creating complex rhythms with clacking can lids stuck to the bottom of their shoes. The 9-strong child bucket-drummers, faint at first, became louder as we wandered down Dumaine St. heading in the general direction of Bourbon.
The drumming boys outside the gate were no competition for the 6-piece jazz band howling inside the quart-yard of Musical Legends Park where I was transported to my very own Heaven thru the dusted pillowy goodness of a legendary Beignet. You can order no less than three at a time, thank Goodness! Such a mountain of powdered sugar that firework-poofs of powder were raining down onto the snowy floor with every bite. Your lucky if you don’t inhale a spoonful in the process! I, of course, ate over my plate, leaning forward to avoid soiling my dress while I watched the band expertly wielding their axes and bows. I only looked away when I heard Perry uttering explicits under his breath and turned to find him padding more and more powder onto his black jacket, creating an endless hand print pattern all over the right side of his torso. Sloucher.
One evening, Perry’s father Charles invited us to dine at the historic Pontchartrain hotel restaurant, where Perry begrudgingly wore a dinner jacket, loaned to him by the hostess. Over our heads hung an atrium of green ferns, under our feet the carpet pattern of giant green palm leaves made me feel like I was having dinner on safari. We ate very small dishes with very big prices and politely declined when the waiter suggested a $300 bottle of wine. After dinner we took the elevator to the “Penthouse” (technically floor 13) to find Sinatra’s old hang-out; Bayou Bar. I ordered a Sazarak (a New Orleans originated drink of whisky & absynth) and enjoyed the view from the open balcony. Just breathtaking! Charles struck up a fun conversation with a young couple who were part of a wedding party, she French he Egyptian. They were talking about life and philosophy when, in jest, the couple asked Charles if he was racist. He thought they said “Atheist” so he said “oh yeah, absolutely!” The couple flitted off suddenly, and we didn’t know about the mix up until they bravely reappeared a short time later “just to clarify”. I’m sure glad they did! We all had a good laugh over the mistake.
If you’re wondering if I ate alligator on this trip, then the answer is Yes, I ate alligator, grilled, and yes, it was delicious!! Like tasty little strips of steak. Alligator is a main theme in decor and souvenirs in New Orleans, but I was still surprised to find it on the menu. We tried 3 different gumbo spots. By far my favorite (and the cheapest surprisingly) was had at a bright little diner at the corner of Frenchman and Chartres St called The Praline Connection. Outside, the brass band was blaring the same chord over and over in a hypnotic cycle of pulses, laced with improvisational threads of varying timbre. New Orleans DNA. It’s in the air, it’s all around you. A musical heartbeat, a kindred spirit exciting frivolity and excess, unabashedly theatrical, rhythmic to the core. The purveyors who were crowded around the square energetically danced along, smiling warm-heartedly as the band played on, filling the tip bucket encouragingly. The audible landscape was quantified by the spectacular scene all around. Circusy buildings, a color palette of Wonder, bright lights creating dark shadows that jutted out sharply from brick and Spanish wrought iron design. Giant ferns hung high in the air, their afro tendrils exploding in every direction. What splendor, what grandeur! Artistic Heaven. I can’t wait to get back and do it all again!
Youtube video: Full St. Louise Blues on front porch