Saturday, November 20, 2010

So Much More

I returned early last week from a long weekend in New Orleans, LA with Laure Ferlita (of Imaginary Trips and the Painted Thoughts blog) and I’m wondering where to begin to write about the trip. Do I start with the food? The architecture? The history? The music? NOLA was so much more than I expected it to be.


As The Rough Guide to New Orleans aptly describes it, NOLA is a town of melancholy beauty and ebullient spirit. Founded by the French in 1718, it became part of the United States in 1803 when the Louisiana Purchase was signed at the Cabildo). After that, New Orleans grew rapidly and became the second largest port and the fourth wealthiest city in the United States.

The city’s beauty is mingled with great poverty and a level of crime that has guidebooks warning visitors to be mindful of their surroundings and avoid wandering alone, especially at night. Still, every block holds surprises, gorgeous or quirky. Laure’s description of the city nailed it: genteel, with a good dose of grit and moxie.


This was a working trip for us both, and each day began early, after a cup of coffee and a look through our maps and guidebooks. We grouped things we wanted to see geographically as best we could, since we had no car and depended on public transportation to get us where we wanted to go. We rode the streetcar every day, both St. Charles and Canal Street lines—not the speediest method of travel, but we got to see more of New Orleans than if we’d been contending with traffic in an unfamiliar city. We spent the rest of the time on foot, in order to see more and, perhaps, to make up for the praline taste-testing we did all over town. And the etoufee, and the po'boys, and the gelato and the beignets.... This is not a town for the calorie-conscious.


The French Quarter, or Vieux Carre (“old square”), fascinated me. Graceful wrought-iron balconies awash in plants stand next to dilapidated and rundown buildings. Narrow alleyways lead to leafy courtyards, men walk down the street with cats (or snakes) draped over their shoulders. Interesting and unique shops selling everything from Mardi Gras masks to voodoo dolls to perfume line the narrow streets. I fed my obsession with books when I stumbled across a used bookstore in the Quarter (the Librairie) and deliberately sought out the Faulkner House bookstore, so named because William Faulkner lived and wrote there for a time.


Any discussion of New Orleans must include reference to Katrina. I had never been to NOLA before, so had no way to compare pre- and post-hurricane conditions. Though I looked for it, I did not see the “Katrina tattoo”—the line on many buildings that marked the high point of Katrina’s floodwaters, and we didn’t stray into the Ninth Ward or the other areas that were hardest hit by the storm. (There are hurricane tours you can take, but for several reasons we chose not to do this.) The few residents we spoke with gave me the impression that they had been emotionally scarred by Katrina, but were so deeply rooted in the area they would find it nearly impossible to leave. After visiting, I believe it would be a tragedy to lose New Orleans and I applaud those who have worked so diligently to bring it back.

The French Quarter is so much more than Bourbon Street, and New Orleans is so much more than the French Quarter. Even spending 10-12 hours a day exploring, we simply didn’t have time to see everything we wanted to see—we’ve barely scratched the surface of this mysterious, multi-faceted town.

Care for a beignet?
My feet still hurt.

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20 comments:

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Kathy,

It sounds like you had a great time. Thank you for sharing about your trip.

I was there in 2000, and I loved it. I want to go back! I wrote a post this week about the alligator swamp tour that we went on while visiting New Orleans.

The streetcar travel sounds like a great idea!

Kathy

Laure Ferlita said...

What I wouldn't give for a beignet this afternoon!

GREAT post! You've reminded me of a couple of things I'd already forgotten (men with cats and snakes).

Elizabeth Smith said...

I love the visual pictures you crafted: especially the men with cats... I've never been there, but I feel like I know it a bit better through your writing!

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Kathy--Let's go! I'll be sure to read your post about the swamp tour. Since we live in the swamp and are intimately familiar with alligators, we didn't take that tour!

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Laure--Yes, an afternoon beignet would have been lovely. Maybe I should pull out that mix I bought???

We will probably be reminding each other of many things in the coming months--it was all so much to take in at once.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Elizabeth--Glad I was able to give you a little taste of New Orleans. I did a double take when I saw the cat draped over the man's shoulder, believe me. He/she looked right at home!

Meredith said...

I'm craving a beignet now. ;)

New Orleans is one of three towns in the world that I've felt an instinctive kinship for, and immediately wished to live there. My sis went to LSU so I had plenty of opportunity to visit and get to know it. Did you eat at K Paul's? Like heaven on earth -- although, yes, calorie hell.

I'd add only one thing to Laure's apt description: mystery. It's a city of layers, I think.

I have not been back post-Katrina. I didn't know whether I could handle it, from some of the things I've heard (from natives who ended up relocated to Atlanta, mostly), and now after reading this, I feel I might be able to give it a try again. :) Thanks, Kathy.

Jacqueline said...

Wonderful photos!

Cheryl Gebhart said...

Sounds like a great trip Kathy. I've never been to NOLA either, and after Katrina I wondered whether I ever would. You make me want to go again someday - thanks for that. Your photos are great.

freebird said...

I'm not very good at trying new foods but how could one go wrong with that sugar-coated beignet? Sounds like you two really had a productive and fun time.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Meredith--how cool that you got to know New Orleans a bit while visiting your sister. I would agree that mystery is an excellent word to add to the descriptions. There truly is something special about the city. Since you were familiar with New Orleans before Katrina, I would be interested to hear what differences you find, if you ever do go back. I think we just didn't see the most affected areas.

What were the other two cities? :)

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Thanks, Jacqueline--you should see Laure's photos, though. They're better!

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Thanks, Cheryl. Perhaps there is an Imaginary Trip in the works? We can even go there together that way!

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Timaree--Some new foods are easier to try than others...beignets, for example!

Claire M said...

Oh what fun it sounds like the two of you had. What a fantastic opportunity. I visited there once back in the fall of 1988 on business, but I'd love to go back again!! Thanks for reminding me of what an interesting place it is -- and that it is a great spot for sketching!!

Myra said...

Great story! I was in NOLA pre Katrina and I enjoyed my short time there (hubby and I spent 3 days there). Very interesting place and I agree, the food was incredible!! We stayed in the french quarter (which I believe stayed open 24 hours or felt like it!) We also road the St. Charles Trolley too! I do believe this is an experience everyone should have at least once! Your story brought back a few good memories!

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Claire--We did have a great time, definitely a fascinating place to visit. And lots to sketch, though I didn't do any sketching there. I hope to do some from my photos. I'm sure Laure's blog will have more photos and sketches, too.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Myra--Glad I could bring back pleasant memories for you. I want to go back just for the food--so many things I didn't get to try. :)

Kelly said...

Oh my gosh. Your trip looks fabulous. I wish I could have gone!!! This week has been incredibly busy, and I haven't been able to get out and check blogs. I just read Laure's. What an amazing trip!! Love the photos...

Kathy A. Johnson said...

We wish you could have been with us, Kelly. You would have loved it. Maybe next time??