“It was the best of times…it was the worst of times.”
New Orleans has always been a city of extremes, and our recent visit proved that in spades. It’s a place of both high-class Southern charm and “9th Ring of Dante’s Hell” style debauchery. For me, it was a second visit to the fabled city that has been both blessed and cursed, and for my wife it was her first time. She was greeted on the first night with a Carnivale parade – who knew the season was so raucous even with Mardi Gras still weeks away? We erroneously stayed on the main parade drag on St. Charles Ave at an otherwise nice hotel where Murphy’s Law ruled the roost. The next evening, my wife was paid a visit by yee olde food poisoning courtesy of a French Quarter Jazz Club that was otherwise lovely (tip: drink, don’t eat, at a jazz club). Meanwhile, I was suffering from a head cold that started a few days earlier during a work trip to Jacksonsville, Florida.
Buuuut…once we survived all that and spread our wings to more relaxed environs (the Garden District, City Park, a tour of some of the grand River Road plantations, and Algiers)…it couldn’t have been nicer.
Here’s a run down of “Must Do’s”:
- The WWII Museum – I read it was ranked as one of the top 20 museums in the world. And yes, as a museum connoisseur, I must say it’s modern interactive style make this a treasure for history buffs.
- If you are a book lover, be sure to visit Faulkner House Books. This tiny, nicely appointed bookstore located in the house Faulkner rented during his New Orleans tenure is located in a quiet oasis on Pirate’s Alley right near St. Louise Cathedral and Jackson Square. There I purchased a signed first edition of Raymond Carver’s “Where I’m Calling From” which they politely shipped back to our house.
- Lafayette Cemetery – one of the more genteel of New Orleans famous above-ground cemeteries located in…
- The Garden District – wander around the quiet tree-lined streets and get a peek of beautiful homes (like those belonging to Sandra Bullock or the Benjamin Button House).
- City Park – the giant Spanish moss strewn Live Oaks are to die for. There are also swans. Do the Botanical Gardens if you must, but at this time of year with not much in bloom there it was kind of a bust.
- New Orleans Museum of Art – at the entrance to City Park is a museum made for a debutante ball where a piano player in the lobby plays musical accompaniments to your stroll through its hallowed art-decked halls.
- Algiers – it’s just all kinds of nice and neighborhoody, and just a short ferry ride across the grand Mississippi from the French Quarter. It’s like where the hipsters would live if they were hip enough to know it existed (and were allowed in – which they shouldn’t be…seriously, keep the hipsters out of NOLA).
- River Road Plantation Tours – get out of the city and tour some of the grand plantations on River Road. We enjoyed Oak Alley (with its famous rows of 300 year-old Live Oaks) and the Creole Laura Plantation.
Buuuut…the best part of New Orleans are the people. Here are some highlights of conversations we overheard during our stay:
Scene 1 – a hotel hallway:
Drunk woman, upon her companion shoving the room service tray into the hall: Wait! There’s still a prawn on there!
Scene 2 – outside Café Beignet where a street performer sang gospel songs:
Street performer to audience: There are steamboat cruises that charge 40 bucks and only give you a hotdog and a beer. You can take the ferry for free and I’ll get y’all some hotdogs if you want. And the food is cheaper in Algiers. If there is a street with no one walking on it, you don’t walk on it.
Scene 3 – at a jazz club:
Older woman to her friend upon another woman’s exit from the table: In my 76 years I’ve met only 4 people who I truly dislike…and (whispers) Gladys is one of them.
Scene 4 – on a French Quarter street:
Man: What was your name again?
Man (turning to his younger male companion): Junior, meet your new stepmother Penny.
Scene 5 – outside a Starbucks in the Garden District:
Man on laptop and phone: You know Anonymous? Well, he’s going to set me up to meet Anonymous and other people like that.
Scene 6 – Tayla, our Uber driver commenting on Carnivale:
Tayla: They used to throw coconuts from the floats but they don’t anymore. People got concussions.
Scene 7 – at Fiorella’s Café in the French Quarter – where, by the way, you can enjoy the best friend chicken, fried pickles and mashed potatoes EVER provided you can get over the “Bar Rescue Waiting to Happen” style of the establishment:
Drunk street musician at the bar: I’ll leave my friend, but I’ll never leave my guitar.
And now for the pictures:
Written and Photographed by David H. Schleicher