new orleans rediscovered

I’ve been to New Orleans a couple of times. In college, we used to go to New Orleans every summer for Sigma Chi formal. In July, I think. What were we thinking? I remember it being super hot, so hot, gross sticky and hot. I guess no one really notices because they’re usually schwasted, but that’s not really my scene and so I noticed. Bourbon Street is narsty. I remember feeling dirty just walking down the street. Everything has a stale, slimy, greasy glaze to it. And there’s always puddles of liquid in the crevices of cobblestone or seeping into the street from underneath a door.That’s what I remember about Bourbon Street from college and today, Bourbon Street doesn’t disappoint. It is the same scene. Drunk guys. Topless, drunk girls. I get older, they all stay the same age.

I was back in New Orleans for work and honestly, I haven’t been there since before Katrina. This time around, I decided that I would steer clear of Bourbon Street. And when I had a free moment to rediscover New Orleans, I was pleasantly surprised and NOLA became a completely different experience for me.

DAY ONE
Have you ever heard, “everything looks different under the cover of night?” I swear I have but when I did a quote search I couldn’t come up with anything. Anyway, if no one has said it, I’m claiming it because that’s what it’s like getting to New Orleans at night. I went directly from the airport to the Enterprise rental place and then directly to my hotel in Chalmette, La.

Chalmette is in St. Bernard Parish and was completely devastated by Katrina back in ’05 and geez, it. is. a ghost town. I’d never been to Chalmette before and so maybe it wasn’t a thriving metropolis before, but it for sure isn’t one now. The town is so quiet. I was nervous being there alone.

Getting in relatively early in the evening and determined not to waste away my free time in “work mode” and stay in my hotel, I adventured out to New Orleans. The drive was super easy, not far, and through the Ninth Ward. You’ll know the Ninth as the ward that was famously covered after Katrina. Before Katrina, it had the highest rate of black-American homeownership. Now, six years later, there are many abandoned, uninhabited and dilapidated residences and places of business the way up to the French Quarter. There is something very sad about a building that was previously ornate and colorful, stripped down to walls and empty doorways. It is still very eery.

For some reason, I thought that maybe my memory was being too harsh on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, so I tried to visit again. Bad idea. The SEC Tournament was in town and Big Blue was every.where. If I were to judge the University of Kentucky on the girls that I saw in the French Quarter (not Bourbon Street specifically, I steered clear of drunk Wildcats)… I would say that the school is too blonde, too thin, and should go easy on the boob jobs. Good grief.

I walked around the French Quarter a little bit. Snapped some photos of actual residences in the quiet of the night, just a few streets over from Bourbon Street and still I felt like I wasn’t doing something I hadn’t already done before. I vowed that the next day would be different.

DAY TWO
I spent half of my day at a work conference, but when that was over I hurried over to my hotel, changed, and headed back out to New Orleans determined to find something new. Not sure where to go and how to avoid the Wildcat fans (seriously, they were everywhere. It’s like no other team was playing in the tourney) I just drove. I finally ended up around an area called Marigny or Faubourg Marigny. I stopped at Washington Square to watch dredhead hippies play soccer and then continued walking around. The architecture is more beautiful than in the French Quarter to me, because it seems less staged… or maintained for the purposes of tourism, maybe? It’s more legitimate and honest.

Marigny seems to be the hot bed of hip activity as I stumbled into several tell-tale signs: Foburg Music Festival at Michalopoulos and Second Saturdays in the St. Claude’s Art District. Both events I was happy to stumble upon. It was just the thing I was looking for on a Saturday afternoon. I didn’t spend much time at either event though, because I was alone… and starving.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could go hungry in New Orleans, but being a vegetarian in the Crescent City isn’t easy. Or maybe it is easy (Big Easy! Ha!) and I just didn’t take the time to research or prepare. By the time I found new and fun things to do I’d nearly passed out from hunger. I finally settled on a veggie Po’Boy [insert collective gasp here]. “Is that even allowed?” my boyfriend asks me later over the phone. No, no it is not. And they sure made me pay for it because it wasn’t very good.

After all that, I spent some time in the French Market looking for local foods I could bring back home to Choy. I decided on a pepper mango jelly, hot sauce, and pralines. I also picked up some coffee and beignet mix from Cafe du Monde. Choy and I can have a lovely Acadian Sunday in Indianapolis. #cantwait

Also at the French Market, I bought a wooden cross decorated in the Bless Me Ultima style. I’m not a religious person, but I do like these crucifixes as a kind of testament to my culture and history. In New Orleans, of course, it isn’t straight Catholicism. It’s Catholicism with a shot of Santeria, and THAT, I like.

When I got back to the hotel from my day of Marigny, St. Claude’s and other hip activity I was exhausted. And still hungry. I also didn’t know what I was going to do the next day. I hadn’t planned on having so much time to myself on Day Two of my New Orleans trip and had originally planned to do all that I did Saturday on Sunday.

So there I was, with Sunday on the horizon and not a clue what to do. I started Googling and decided that an early morning yoga class at Swan River Yoga would be perfect. Knowing that post-downward dog I would be hungry, I decided to find a vegetarian place to eat. I found two really great websites: Happy Cow and Veg Guide. Both these websites will be really useful in future travel. I hate that the vegetarian options at “normal” restos are iceberg lettuce salads and pasta. Gross. Both websites let you plug in a city and then they list the vegan and vegetarian restos in the area or nearby.

Happy Cow listed a ton of places in NOLA and I decided on Indian food. I could hardly contain my excitement. I love Indian food first and second, I was excited to be in another part of town (Uptown) that I’d never been. I was looking forward to seeing real people living real lives.

With exercise, meditation, and food all accounted for, I started to look for company. Casie’s boyfriend lives in New Orleans and while he was working at Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Gala, he and I decided to try to meet in Sunday afternoon.

DAY THREE
Day Three wasn’t exactly seamless, but because I had nothing else to do it was easy not to take the delays seriously. Checking out of my hotel and heading back into the city, it was such a lovely early morning experience to run into a real Jersey Shore-guy (complete with Jersey plates) on the roads. I’m sure he’d not been home yet. He was weaving in and out of traffic, blasting the fist-pumping music that no one wants to hear at seven o’clock in the morning. He gave me the finger as he sped by and I laughed. What a morning…

I got to Swan River Yoga. Housed in an old public library building, I was immediately taken with the architecture. But then I was waiting outside this beautiful architecture instead of in it for the next 45 minutes. Our yogi, forgetting the time change the night before, was 45 minutes late to our class. The next hour was full of some pretty aggressive yoga practice. With the yogi’s assistance I held poses I’d not previously been able to get anywhere close to. It was pretty invigorating.

In a good mood from my awesome yoga practice I hopped downstairs and began my search for the Indian resto and the answer to my tummy grumblings.

On my trip uptown, I made unplanned stops at Saint Louis cemetery and the Garden District. This area is also an original Mardi Gras parade route and the traces of the true cultural celebration were everywhere to be seen, beads hanging in the trees and front porches decorated in purple, gold, green. It made me think of Mardi Gras in a different way and I was happy to have that experience.

When I made it to the Indian resto, Nirvana Indian Cuisine, I made a beeline for the buffet and immediately began inhaling all that I could. It was delicious and my self control, what little I have, was completely and quickly forgotten.
After lunch, I walked around whatever little neighborhood I was in visiting boutiques and antique shops and enjoying the beautiful weather. My plans with Cesar, Casie’s boyfriend, fell through. Poor guy had a busy busy work weekend and I needed to take a meeting and then be on my way to… Biloxi, Mississippi.

All in all, I’d say the French Quarter and Bourbon Street are what they’ve always been, but everything else around it is just lovely.

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