I met the love of my life 6 years ago, and five years ago I married her. I met the second love of my life 2 years and 3 months ago. She’s not a woman, but a city: New Orleans.
Everyone I know that comes to New Orleans either loves it or hates it. There is no in between it seems. She is like an alluring temptress, and yet she can be so very cruel as well. The homeless crowding the streets demonstrating the crueler side of her life, she is a city whose streets the past and the present meld together.
She is called the most haunted city in America for good reason. You walk along her streets and you are sharing space with a good number of her ghosts, her history, and her secrets– all of which have seeped into the cracks of the bricks and sidewalks just as surely as the stench and muck of watery swamp seeping up from below her foundations.
Her beauty on the topside hides the decay of humidity and the result of building upon a living swamp. One can almost pretend that she isn’t actually sinking 3 feet per century into the swamp she was born from. I love everything about this beautiful place I’ve come to call home. All my life I searched for a place that felt like ‘home’ and until I moved to New Orleans every place else just left me feeling restless and aching more for a place that was home. No more do I crave to wander; no more ache for ‘home’ do I feel inside my heart. I am content. Whenever I get a wanderlust it is not to leave this city, but to explore her in more depth. I have lived here two years and I know very little yet, though I have taught myself a lot. I plan to spend the rest of my life learning her more intimately.
When you name New Orleans, most people automatically think of one place in particular– The French Quarter. It may surprise you but many people actually believe that the French Quarter IS New Orleans. There is so much more to her than just the French Quarter. The French Quarter though is the original part of the city; the first part, the oldest part; the French part.
The second most thought of district of this city is The Garden District, or the American side of town. Books like Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles have made both the French Quarter and the Garden District extra famous and every day fans of vampire fiction throng to see where Louis and Lestat made their home and wandered the streets with their child vampire, Claudia.
There is so much more to the city than just the French Quarter and the Garden District. There is the Marigny, the Tremé, The Warehouse District, as well as the suburbs like Lakeshore, Carollton, Metairie and Kenner. It all just runs together. There is so much more to this place than what one sees as a tourist on a three day weekend.
Besides the tourist attractions such as the St. Louis Cathedral, the Presbytere and Cabildo, The museums and aquarium, the Steamboat Natchez and Riverwalk Mall, there are the many street shows and attractions. Jackson Square is filled on any given day with artists displaying their street galleries, tarot readers and mimes. It’s said that all you need to make a buck in New Orleans is a talent and a milk crate.
I love the way she smells. In the mornings as I arrive for work, I stand alongside the Mississippi River and breathe in a deep inhale of air from the breeze. The scents of the gulf faintly detected in a salty taste the air leaves on the tongue, even though the Gulf is yet 100 miles or so down river. Walking through the streets in the hot humid summer nights one can breathe deeply the fragance of the flowers that carry in the night air. Wisteria, Magnolia, Crate Myrtle, Oleander, Jasmine and even Roses carry on the air like a heavy heady perfume. The scents of cooking foods, fried shrimp, boiled crab and crawfish, onions and pototatoes, fresh baked breads, beignets, and chicory coffee brewing.
Lingering in the heavy air are less than pleasant odours as well. The manure from carriage mules mingles with the swampy smells of brackish water that seeps up through the soil, a constant reminder of where our Crescent Lady was borne. Sewage and trash odours mingle with the florals and foods, making a blend that you won’t quite find anywhere else.
The sounds of New Orleans are the sounds of life. Cajun Zydeco music, Jazz, Blues, and every other blend of music can be heard blaring from the bars on Bourbon or the various venues throughout the city. Street performers sing, dance, play guitar, trombone, sax or even the water glasses. The sounds of street cars on canal, zinging and ringing their way down the line. Horns blaring as taxi cabs like anywhere else in the world jockey for place in front of any place that might produce a paying fare. The clopping of hooves as the carriages give narrated tours of the Quarter. The second line bands that play occasionally, giving tourists a taste of what might be experienced during a Jazz Funeral can be heard especially around Mardi Gras. Tap dancing youths on street corners vie for coins across from acrobats performing on Decatur in front and across from Jackson Square.
The sounds of the river, the French Market, the city as she lives and breathes– all allow me to get lost in my imagination. As I wander through her streets I can imagine what life must have been here 50 years ago, 100 years ago or even nearly 200 years ago. Occasionally a ghost story will catch the ear as you pass by a tour group on a Haunted New Orleans Tour. The active imagination can even make you see ghosts, like a gentleman seated in the back of Muriel’s Bistro, or The count as he oversees the running of Arnaud’s from beyond the grave.
The tastes of New Orleans are unlike any other. Jambalaya, red beans and rice, spicey boiled crawfish or a thick cajun gumbo, all tantalise the taste buds, but are not for the weak of stomach. Cayenne Pepper is a staple here, as is coffee so strong it’ll stand up and salute you. Beignets so rich and thick with powdered sugar, dip them in your Cafe Au Lait at the Famous Cafe Du Monde, but careful because the pidgeons here like to join you right at your table too.
Enjoy the culinary delights of Ralph and Kacoo’s seafood restaurant, or for those with a tighter budget a Po’ Boy at Johnny’s Po Boy shop. Cafe Masperos on Decatur has huge burgers for under $6, and you can get a cup of Gumbo at the Gumbo Shoppe to snack on in the middle of the day. There are so many wonderful eats that one will never have to worry about losing weight in this town. Hefty appetites are very welcome. I fell in love with the food the first time I ate here. A heaping plate of boiled crawfish was my introductory meal. Corn and potatoes boiled in the same pot, spicey hot with an ice cold soda to wash it down. A messy meal, but one that has had me hooked ever since on the tastes of New Orleans.
There is so much I could write about this city, and I could find this little essay going on forever were I to go to all the things I love about this city. This gives you a peek, a smell, a taste and listen to what my Crescent Lady has to offer.
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