Sometimes it hits as soon as the plane lands, and you see the Zataran’s in Terminal B in the airport. Often, you feel it when you take that first sip of Abita Amber in a cash only bar on Frenchman’s street. And rarely does it ever hit on Bourbon Street (at least for me, but hey you do you).
What is “it” exactly? Well, I’m not quite sure how to put that into words but if you’ve ever been to New Orleans you know exactly what I’m talking about.
To be honest, it took me a long while to grasp the appeal of The Big Easy. My first visit was in ’08, only a few years after Katrina and with me far too young to appreciate the lack of open container laws and friendly people. I tried a beignet in Cafe du Monde, walked through the heart of the French Quarter with a priest (it’s a long story), and ate what is still to this day the best shrimp etouffee of my existence. But I definitely didn’t really get it.
Between my trip in ’08 and my return in ’13, I had chunks of friends do the whole Mardi Gras thing. Countless numbers of my college friends ventured to Bourbon street to get wasted and “earn” some beads, and they’d always come back with amazing stories and incredible admiration for NOLA. I always thought they were insane, because well, I just didn’t get it. I chalked up their eagerness and excitement to college spring break sentiment and a one too many Fireball shots. Boy, was I wrong.
So last year I made my triumphant return. I attended Jazz Fest with my parents and well…the feelings finally started coming in. And with the way that festival takes over the town how could they not? I took test tube shots in a sleazy bar on Bourbon, enjoyed soft shell crab po’ boys on the fairgrounds, and watched the world’s saddest cover band from Tulane perform in a jazz club on Frenchman’s. At the time it was cool, in fact one of my coolest trips to date. But looking back, I still didn’t really get it. I mean I saw B.B. King, the king of soul, perform “I Got Sunshine” in the pouring down rain and I still didn’t get it. What was wrong with me?
So my travel back to New Orleans 3 weeks ago was necessary to say the least. I had set up travel to go for both Jazz Fest and work, back-to-back trips in a span of two weeks, and I was going to give NOLA one more chance. If that bayou flavor couldn’t transform me after this trip, I knew I was doomed.
But luckily, and easily might I add, I finally found it.
I found it in the best bloody mary of my life in a dive bar full of locals in the French Quarter on a Thursday morning. I found it in the gorgeous live oak trees of Audobon Park, that simply beg you to lay under them for hours. It was waiting for me in a cochon de lait po’ boy at the fairgrounds, delicious glaze oozing down my chin. I heard it a nameless trombone player at The Blue Nile, rendering me speechless.
It was there as I sipped cafe au laits with my mom at midnight, giggling over the powdered sugar on our thumbs. It was walking down Esplanade with me and my dad, scheming over how we could sneak into that Allen Toussaint concert. I felt it in a 6 mile run down St. Charle’s Ave – worth the 4AM wake up time and lack of sleep to see those stunning homes before a full day of work. I tasted it in a perfectly-timed strawberry Abita overlooking a perfect springtime sunset.
So needless to say, my love affair with New Orleans is finally found, tried and true. It’s the history, the music, the food and most importantly the people. I’m already eagerly awaiting my next trip, enthralled by the possibilities of the sights and sounds yet unexplored. I’d be lying if I moving to the bayou hasn’t yet crossed my mind. Laissez les bons temps rouler!