New Orleans was everything I expected it to be and more.
Edd and I arrived on a rainy Saturday night, and parked at the Walmart in Tchoupitoulas Street, the only place in the whole city that would let us park for free (except for the Harrah’s casino whose parking garage has a 6’5″ clearance-five feet short of what we need).
We caught the bus into downtown, and our priority was to make our way down the (in)famous Bourbon Street. Here’s my little poem about that I apologise for in advance.
You may have seen it on TV-some tipsy men on balconies look down upon the gritty street, toss “titty beads”, a glittery treat for women whose big nips are freed when they get drunk, remove their bra and embrace greed. It’s Mardi Gras!
Even on a rainy, non-parade night, everyone was there drinking out of tall neon daiquiri cups and plastic fishbowls full of booze. Dance music thundered out of several bars all at once.
Just a block away, magic-in both the figurative and literal sense-was happening. A clarinetist played on a corner accompanying a female singer on “Sou danza samba, vai vai vai vai vai”. On the next block there was a solo saxophonist. All around Jackson Square, which is remarkably reminiscent of Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, tarot and palm readers were waiting for customers. We saw at least ten groups on nighttime walking tours, being told stories of famous ghosts or battles.
We walked just outside the French Quarter through quiet rows of red, blue, purple and yellow wooden houses. Suddenly, noise started coming from the bars all over again. Only this time it really was music. We were on Frenchmen Street. Each club had its own distinct type of music with musicians of extroadinary caliber and style. There were also hipsters abound doing pointless but harmless hipster things.
Of course Edd and I came equipped with our own beers. Open alcohol seems not only tolerated, but encouraged. And we were trying to save a few bucks.
We went into Cafe Negril where a blues singer named Dana Abbot and her band were kicking ass.
New Orleans has a substantial Vietnamese population and there was a little Vietnamese-run shop on Frenchmen where we restocked on cans of PBR. Other customers were also getting their late night dinner.
When Edd and I got an Uber back to the Walmart, the driver literally drove us right up to the van.
The next day, it was supposed to thunderstorm all day. We strolled again through the French Quarter. We had planned to meet up later with our friends Mark and Jamie, who we worked with in Saudi Arabia almost five years ago.
They told us about a free music festival called Bayou Boogaloo which is held annually next to the river in the Mid City area. People show up on kayaks, homemade floats, and air mattresses.
Of course, in a city where the weather is unpredictable, it turned out to be a sunny day.
We met up with Mark, Jamie and her sister Christine. They suggested getting a few pounds of crawfish, and we obliged. They drove us to a seafood joint where waited in a huge line. They bought 10 pounds of boiled crawfish and two boudain, a New Orleans sausage made of rice, pork and liver.
Back in Christine’s backyard, Jamie and Mark instructed us on how to efficiently twist, crack, eat and suck on the small shellfish. My God they were succulent and messy all at the same time. Their juices kept squirting all over our faces. The boudain was incredible. We are both converts to Southern food.
But that was just the appetizer, or “amuse-bouche” as Jamie called it. Ten pounds of crawfish ain’t nothin’ apparently. We went out to Mandina’s, one of their fav restaurants. I had fried black drum fish and everyone else had softshell crab, either topped with creamy crawfish etoufeé or amandine sauce, which Jamie described as a reduced wine and butter sauce with almonds. Everything was tres muy bien delicieux. 😋
The next morning, those guys took us out to the most famous cafe in “Nawlins”, Cafe du Monde. We had café au lait and beignets, traditional doughy fried pastries, each topped with a mountain of powdered sugar.
Mark and Jamie amusedly pointed out the neverending line of flustered tourists waiting to be seated at the entrance. Apparently no one notices that the sign that says “Please be seated”, and it takes them ages to figure it out. Mark says it’s better that way for the locals. We just walked in, found ourselves a table, and sat down.
These guys are a non-stop power couple. Mark is in the middle of getting his PhD in urban planning, and Jamie teaches ESL at the University in Baton Rouge while working towards a medical degree. They live in different states for the time being. When we were there, it was the first weekend they had seen each other in weeks. And yet they took the time to meet up with us. We love you guys!
That afternoon we spent a lazy hour in the amazing free sculpture garden in City Park. There are works from Bolero, Bourgeois, Renoir and Rodin, and more, each set amongst the trees. It was a treat.
However, some statues were missing that day. Mark and Jamie told us that on the eve of our arrival, the mayor finally removed a statue of Robert E. Lee, the last of the city’s monuments to Confederate leaders. They removed most of them at night.
New Orleans outdid itself. Around every corner is gorgeous music, food, architecture and history. And most importantly, really cool people.