Monday, March 30, 2009

On Holiday in the Big Easy

New Orleans! The very name conjures up visions of brightly colored beads and feathered masks, the sounds of trumpets and drums and saxophones. I have been in the Big Easy for four fun-packed days. Let me tell you what I've learned so far.
  1. This city is always just one heartbeat away from a party. Other cities say they know how to party, but this town leads the pack.
  2. Old style dixieland jazz can peacefully coexist with new age rock. I sat listening to a jazz quintet at the Maison Bourbon. In between jazz numbers, we could hear the rock stylings of the band across the street. Funny thing is it seemed right.
  3. Women clad only in bra, thong and black high heeled boots should not bend down to pick up whatever they have dropped - let it lie! 'Nuf said.
  4. Anything tastes good smothered in powdered sugar. A hot beignet with plenty of sugar for dipping is pretty darned close to perfection. And every bakery has a sign claiming to have the best beignets in NOLA. It could take weeks to taste-test every one.
  5. The party doesn't stop just because the power goes out. When a transformer blew up a few days ago, putting much of the French Quarter in the dark, the party moved into the street. You couldn't get a frozen daiquiri, but the beer was still cold if you could pay cash.
  6. "Gaytown" is quieter, nicer, and cleaner than much of the rest of the French Quarter. The African-American cross-dresser stood in the center of the street, shouting "Welcome to Gaytown!" He was very cute (pert!), as was the window decorated for the gay heritage parade - complete with about 15 Ken dolls in drag!
  7. New Orleanians (don't really know how they refer to themselves) treat their sports teams like anyone else - love 'em when they win, bitterly complain when they don't. This goes for college sports. We saw the Tulane Green Wave fall to the Houston Cougars...but it was a perfect day for baseball.
  8. A $6 beer doesn't taste as good as a $3 beer - paying through the nose gives it a bitter aftertaste. However, Cafe du Monde recently raised the price of a cafe au lait - from $1.35 to $1.82.
  9. Playing an instrument on the sidewalk does not make you a street musician - you still must be a musician. Every instrument can be found - guitar, sax, double clarinet, cello - even a wild group of youngsters playing percussion and brass - they sounded like a high school band let loose without a conductor - having a ball, and please drop a buck in the cardboard box at their feet.
  10. New Orleans is the only major population center I have visited that does not hide its poor. The NOLA you see is the NOLA you get - it's all out there, with no apologies.
  11. An informal tour through the lower 9th ward with a colleague left me speechless and in awe of our human arrogance. Rebuild if you must, but do so with the lessons from Katrina in mind - build raised houses, not on slabs.

More to come later...on cooking classes and voluntourism. Y'all come back!

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