Just back from New Orleans. Note to self: Make sure it isn’t spring break when you go any place, and especially if it is a town like New Orleans, where tourists, who have vocations like a pharmacist in rural Iowa or a seamstress in Spokane, turn into loud, obnoxious party animals the moment they land.
Aside from that, the city has definitely bounced back. Locals could probably point out failings that a tourist misses, although some things never change in Louisiana: The roads are still as silky smooth as any highway in war-torn Syria. One thing that really resonated with me though is that architecture is being preserved at a level I’ve never seen before. From the looks of it, this town must have superb craftsmen/women. St. Charles Street has always been a shining star in the town, but dive into the side streets and you will see houses being brought back to their former glory.
The food scene is bursting at the seams. (Literally. I had to let my belt out.) There’s real talent out there and picking a place to dine is difficult if you are only there a few days. I made reservations weeks ahead of time for lunch at Commander’s Palace. Our friends, Bruce & Kincey from Annapolis, had met us for this trip and I wanted them to experience Old South atmosphere, the best gumbo, and 25 cent martinis, Monday-Friday (lunch only). I prefer mine low down and dirty (which means a lot of olive juice with glistening slivers of ice). There’s a three-drink-per-person limit, which would be a disappointment for the pharmacist from Iowa, but suited me just fine. And, unless you have been living in a Louisiana pothole for the last couple of decades, Commander’s Palace has won enough awards that it could rest on its laurels for twenty years, but it isn’t that kind of place. http://www.commanderspalace.com/awards
We went to Mother’s on Poydras Street, a local and tourist favorite, but honestly, my memories of it were much more favorable last visit. You are paying for nostalgia, like the servers who I bet started working there when the “big storm” then was Hurricane Betsy (1965), and not Katrina. You can’t go into that place without someone calling you baby, honey or darlin’. Our server bounced from one table to another, always peppering her conversations with darlin’ this and darlin’ that. I suspect tourists eat that up (the more darlin’s – the better the server’s gratuity.) There is a charm in it all, but I can’t help questioning the sincerity, like the boyfriend who starts calling you “my precious”, then you notice he calls his dog, the neighbor’s parakeet and his pet cactus “my precious”. Is the food good? Yes, but I wouldn’t say it was remarkable (or even memorable), although I will say going there is going back to the New Orleans I remember as a kid. Go for just that, but in all likelihood, expect to stand in line.
Cochon Butcher was just a block away from our apartment, and since we didn’t have reservations (and didn’t want to stand in line), we opted to get carry-out from their deli side of the restaurant. They are known for their muffaletas and my New Orleans-raised husband said his was excellent. I thought about continuing my quest for the best gumbo, but opted for the Moroccan Lamb and didn’t regret the choice.
We also had reservations at Adolfo’s, an Italian restaurant that is winning good reviews, http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60864-d445261-Reviews-Adolfo_s-New_Orleans_Louisiana.html but the logistics were off and we had to cancel at the last minute. Instead, we ended up having a lovely dinner at Muriel’s on Jackson Square. A genteel setting just feet away from the carnival of palm readers, jugglers, banjo players and artists for hire who surround the Square. Earlier in the day, we had discovered the place when we escaped to their cavernous bar, where we had some of the best mojitos ever. I also rediscovered vodka collins, a true blast from the past since I probably haven’t had one since the 70’s. (First thing I did when I got home was buy tonic water and limes.)
An easy walk for us from the Warehouse District where we had rented an apartment and a must see is the National WWII Museum. http://nationalww2museum.org/ We’ve been to the museum two previous times, but each time we go, there are new exhibits, more interactive displays and expansions. We regretted running out of time for a new addition, a film called Beyond All Boundaries, a 4D movie narrated by executive producer Tom Hanks, with first-person accounts from the trenches to the Home Front read by Brad Pitt, Tobey Maguire, Gary Sinise, Patricia Clarkson, Wendell Pierce and more. Showings are every hour in a recently built, state of the art theater.
In December 2014, Whitney Plantation opened outside of New Orleans in the town of Wallace, although the GPS address is Edgard. It is the first plantation museum in Louisiana which is dedicated to telling the slaves’ stories, which is a sad statement in itself. Wish we could have gone. Next time. Do check out their website and also read the NY Times article also on the website. http://www.whitneyplantation.com/
So, did I enjoy our trip to New Orleans? Yes and no. We went there a few years ago and things were in motion for a comeback. People were excited about the changes that were occurring. The residents who stayed after Katrina and worked their way through the mud and muck, the government red tape, a racist and corrupt mayor, and the deprivations of a post-apocalyptic city viewed themselves as warriors (and rightly so). Those who came back after a year or two from wherever they fled, were silently viewed differently. Kind of like the cousin everyone suspects of leaving the back door open, causing Fido to escape and run in front of a car. (If I had lived there I might have fallen into the latter category, only because I can’t live without air conditioning.) Still. Regardless of when you showed up for the revival of New Orleans (and in history there have been a lot of them), there still is a lot of hope and pride. Good things are happening — after all, there is no other city in the world like New Orleans, but I can’t help think an easier path has been carved for today’s New Orleans. Right now, I see tourism is the biggest game in town and NOLA has become an even bigger party town. I just don’t know if having all the festivals, disruptive parades (that incidentally are lousy for shopkeepers), and non-stop partying downtown make for a better New Orleans. One thing for certain, it isn’t where you go when you want to relax.