lost, for a little while


destination: new orleans
May 13, 2011, 9:29 pm
Filed under: trips

Post-Mardi Gras

The hordes of people slowly shuffled up the makeshift path out of the fairgrounds, and I inched along with them, craning my neck for any sign of the exit. As we came to a halt once more, the man next to me tried to get my attention.

“Hey, sweetheart.”

(Whether this endearment would be construed as offensive or, well, sweet depended solely on how he would choose to follow it up.)

“How’s about you let me take you out to a nice dinner tonight?” he asked.

(Yep. Skeevy.)

I thanked him for his offer, but declined. He stared at me for a moment, and then slowly nodded his head.

“That was very diplomatic of you. Very classy,” he said.

I laughed and tried to focus on the exit as we remained stuck next to each other in the inching mass of concert-goers. A few minutes went by, and then he spoke again.

“Seriously. Just dinner. Myself and a Northern gentleman would love to take you out to a nice dinner. Just dinner.”

Again, I declined, saying that I already had plans with friends (true), but thanks for the offer.

He studied me for a minute before grinning and leaning over conspiratorially.

“You know, you handled that very well. I appreciate it.” He held out a meaty fist for me to bump.

Welcome to New Orleans, where the people are friendly even after you shoot them down.

Scene from Frenchman Street

Through a fortunate and unplanned series of events, I found myself arriving in New Orleans in time for the first weekend of Jazz Fest, a concert series that might suggest an event strictly for jazz lovers but is actually a mishmash of blues, gospel, jazz, and contemporary artists both big and small. Even better, my visit coincided with that of an old friend’s and I didn’t have to be by myself the entire time in the city. My buddy, Jolly, was meeting up with an old frat brother of his for the festival, and we made plans to share a hotel room for the two nights they’d be in town. At the last minute, I found out that frat bro’s dad was coming, too, and the trip got a little more complicated.

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than traveling with someone who has more money than you, and this gets doubly weird when you’re as cheap as I am. I figured this wouldn’t be too hard to handle with two guys my age, but I couldn’t exactly veto the dad’s restaurant and expense choices — especially when it was never clear whether or not he would decide to cover the entire check or leave us to our own devices. Jolly’s friend and the father were good company, but every meal and outing was anxiety-inducing for me, not knowing if I’d be expected to chip in or if the bill would be casually taken care of.

Generous people of the world: do me a solid and treat only the first or last night of a stay, if you’re going to at all. Or, please, be up front about your intentions before a decision is made. It could be the deciding factor in whether we move on to a different option or I get stuck eating a $10 cup of soup for lunch because I can’t afford something bigger. ‘Kay, thanks.

I had lots of things planned for New Orleans once the guys headed back to their respective homes on Sunday, but most of them fell by the wayside as I easily lost hours just wandering the streets of the different neighborhoods. A few musts, though:

Lafayette cemetery

  • A walking tour for whatever piques your interest: New Orleans is a city rich in history that you might not have learned in school — unlike, say, Boston or Philadelphia — and most of the licensed tour guides know their stuff, along with how to make it interesting. My host recommended Magic Tours, and I had a great time on their ghost tour. It was especially nice to have an evening activity I could do without feeling uneasy that I was by myself. (Bourbon Street? Not so much.)

Tourist central

  • Beignets at Café du Monde: Duh. The take-out line might look a little intimidating, but it goes fast, and I’ve heard similar things about the sit-down service. I don’t think it counts as a visit to New Orleans without a stop at Café du Monde.

A sign still up on Tennessee Street

  • The Katrina exhibit at The Presbytere: Tons of information, from a detailed timeline of the days leading up to, and following, the storm, to video footage and interviews with people who experienced the hurricane. I had an hour and a half to wander the museum, and I didn’t even make it through everything in the Katrina exhibit, much less the Mardi Gras one that was upstairs. Full admission is $6, and a good option for extremely hot (or, in my case, windy) afternoons.

Jamming at the Jazz Fest

  • The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: If you can time your visit right, obviously. The city was packed with all the tourists in town for this, but it was worth it. Only $45 when purchased ahead of time, a single ticket covered an entire day’s worth of performances. This year’s lineup included big ticket names like Willie Nelson, The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, and more. During the day, my personal favorite spot to camp out was the gospel tent — you don’t get singing like that in Catholic church services.

Next to Jefferson Square

  • People-watching in front of the St. Louis Cathedral: there are pretty much always street performers, palm readers, artists, and straight-up homeless people hanging around at the benches in front of the cathedral. If you’re lucky, you might catch a wedding party leaving the church, like I did the first night; the bride and groom were wearing Mardi Gras beads, there was a brass band playing jazz music, and everyone was dancing in the street.

Deliciousness

  • Po’ Boys at the Parkway Bakery & Tavern: I read about Parkway on the Mighty Girl’s post about New Orleans food, and it was seconded by my host as the place to go for this iconic sandwich. It’s true: a warm, stuffed-to-the-brim shrimp po’ boy and ice-cold Abita Strawberry enjoyed on the back deck is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

I may have been solo for the majority of the week I was there, but it never got lonely in New Orleans. There was always something going on, yes, but the people were so charming, too, that it was rare to go too long without talking to someone — whether it was the helpful trolley operator who gave directions to everyone who asked (even when it was the tenth tourist in a row), someone just passing in the opposite direction on the street who says hello, or my wonderful host, who provided endless advice and help making my trip an amazing one.

Merci.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

The Jazz fest is the perfect time to hit New Orleans. Better music and fewer drunks than Mardi Gras.

Comment by jerry

My parents tried to talk to her but it proved
fruitless. She cared for others and worked hard: surely she deserved to be saved.
For example, how would a manufacturing company determine the sales price of a
product if it doesn’t know how much it costs to produce that product.

Comment by Hardware Shop




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