Sunday, December 15, 2019

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?


by Lisa Black 
          As Billie Holiday sang, I love New Orleans. And I don’t say that because like sushi, feng shui and working out, it would sound totally uncool if I didn’t. I also don’t pretend that I understand the city and its neighborhoods, its history, it’s culture—I don’t. I’ve only been there three times and spent most of those trips in the French Quarter. I ate beignets and bought a voodoo doll for $2. So if you’re expecting a thoughtful analysis or an insider’s knowledge or even a decent recipe for gumbo--yeah, you’re not going to get that from me.
            But I love the place. Going there is like taking a trip to Europe without the eight hour flight. There’s narrow streets paved with bricks and ornate ironwork balconies. There are gorgeous, gorgeous hotel lobbies with mosaic floors and marble arches.
            Requisite historical background: Control of the area bounced from Native Americans to the French to the Spanish and back to the French until bought by President Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase. The French legacy is why it’s the only state to have parishes instead of counties.
            The first time I visited NOLA was to gut houses after Katrina. We couldn’t help rebuild them, as they’d discovered that letting amateurs do construction didn’t work out well, but instead
The Hotel Monteleone
cleaned every single item out of abandoned apartments and cleared brush from yards in the 9th Ward, a mile from where the levee broke. It was exhausting and rewarding. We went to the center of the Quarter for a few hours one afternoon, and I knew I wanted to come back.
            So my husband and I returned late the next year, staying at a small, unique hotel in the Quarter. I thought our room was haunted because the TV turned itself on at the same time two days in a row, but that turned out to be me—I’d been trying to find the Captions option and accidentally turned on the sleep timer.
            Food there tends to be carb heavy, and with only a passing acquaintance with fruits and vegetables…unless they were in a daiquiri. As an added bonus I can now claim the dubious distinction of having visited the three cities in the country where you could walk down the street with an open beer at 10 am and no one finds it odd—Las Vegas, Key West, and New Orleans.
The LaLaurie Mansion
            My third trip took place in just this past summer. I attended Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans. She started the conference to bring business back to NOLA after Katrina, but it was so fun that she’s still doing it. There are three days of panels and talks and networking at the incredibly beautiful Hotel Monteleone, still family owned since 1886. As if that weren’t enough, this year there was a carnival party, with games like throwing ping pong balls into fish bowls and target shooting with a plastic gun. To eat we had candy, sliders, hot pretzels, cotton candy, and popcorn. The next night we had a theatrical performance by Heather’s troupe and then live music by some of her children and other musicians. Most fun conference evuh!!!!
            I also went on a most entertaining ghost tour with great and creepy stories…however, when we took our guide’s suggestion to ‘look this up later!’, well, no corroboration could be found. Nicholas Cage did not sell the LaLaurie mansion because he’d been terrified by ghosts of the slaves the owner had tortured, but to pay his tax bill. The investigators waiting outside the convent for vampires to sneak out of the sealed windows of the top floor who were found the next morning, drained of blood? Yeah, never happened. But even if only believed for five minutes while under the spell of a great narrator and a few mixed drinks? Still well worth $20.
            So tell me—have you ever been there? Seen any ghosts? Heard any great bands? Stuffed yourself full of sugar at the CafĂ© du Monde? Tell me your NOLA stories! Maybe we can meet up on Jackson Square.
           

9 comments:

  1. You've brought back New Orleans to me in all it's glory and craziness, Lisa. Thank you! I loved the music, too, and had some of the best meals of my life there. Also, the insanity of the sidewalk on Bourbon Street and the noise of extremely happy (and high) folks who are definitely part of the entertainment. I still dream of beignets! :)

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  2. I was fortunate enough to get to NO at the Bouchercon a few years back. It was wonderful. Hot, but wonderful. And the food! OMG. I would go back just for the food. I'll have to look out Heather Graham's conference. Did not know about it. I believe either Bouchercon or Left Coast will be there again soon. (Can't recall which.) I'll definitely be going.

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  3. Your great post with its vivid descriptions brought back a wonderful memory of our family being in New Orleans several years ago to attend the Barbershop Harmony convention (along with some 15,000 other lovers of 4-part harmony). It was the 50th anniversary of my father's quartet winning the international championship -- and at the age of 86 he was up on stage singing "lead" with another current championship quartet (since he was the only surviving member of his original group) - and I still recall his great voice blending with the others and ringing out in that huge colosseum -- and then celebrating at a marvelous restaurant on Bourbon St.

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    1. That is so cool! It is definitely a city that respects music.

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  4. Lisa, my wife and I went for a wedding five years ago and got a tiny taste of the city. We have been back five times since. This past year we finally toured the Garden District and one of the cemeteries for the first time, which was fantastic. Our favorite two spots on Bourbon Street are Fritzel's European Jazz Club and Maison Bourbon. But if you want the best music, head to the back side of the Quarter and Frenchman's Street. That is where the locals hang out. There is also a terrific open air art market on Frenchman. I'm a sucker for history so when I can have a drink at a bar that is in a building that was built between 1722 and 1732, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, or one that opened in 1807, Old Absinthe House, I am all in. If you go back and need a restaurant recommendation or two, let me know! Your article just made me want to go back.

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    1. For some reason that did not publish under my name, Sean Cameron.

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  5. Thanks for your post, Lisa. I LOVE New Orleans. I've only been there twice, but twice was certainly not enough. Would love to go back. One of my favorite things was walking through the Garden District trying to figure out which mansions Anne Rice included in her books. I've been thinking about NO myself lately because I'm currently reading THE YELLOW HOUSE, a memoir by Sarah M. Broom, about generations of her family living in eastern New Orleans. It is a poignant social history lesson an commentary about NO and Louisiana during the 20th Century.

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