Travel Blog 7: A Tribute to New Orleans

This visit to New Orleans took place from 10/29/20 until 11/7/20

5 Categories of Nola:

Entrance: Each entrance into New Orleans becomes more impressive than the one previously. During Halloween 2010, my brother and I flew into ‘The Big Easy’ for two Widespread Panic concerts. In 2015, my childhood friends reunited for a friend’s bachelor party on Bourbon Street. In 2018, I drove into the chaotic traffic city after 7 days of exploring historic sites on the Mississippi Blues Tour. In 2019, I visited twice. The first was an 18+ hour train ride for 4 days of Jazz Fest. The second was another Widespread Panic Halloween and my birthday in early November.

This visit, 2020 Halloween, I drove the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, sipping a cup of Cafe du Monde coffee while Fats Domino songs provided positive enthusiasm. Looking at the lake in all directions made me smile; another unique entrance to Nola. Then I entered a city full of hurricane Zeta debris and power outage. I was welcomed with the task of helping a local pull a tree off his car. The resilience of Nawlins people is the city’s strongest characteristic!

Music: Let’s begin with the music; it’s what brought me here to begin with. This city is full of all forms of brilliance. The blues bled down from Mississippi, but the funk was created right here. Soul, gospel, and jazz fill in the gaps. The French Quarter is full of incredible musicians playing the streets, famous clubs with killer performances nightly, cover bands on Bourbon Street, and the most incredible sounds escaping bars and clubs on Frenchman Street. Festivals pop up often in New Orleans, but the French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, and Voodoo Fest draw the most attention. The city is bumpin’ and groovin’ with good vibes on every block.

In 2020, the clubs, bars, restaurants, and various shops are having difficulty without the consistent influx of tourists. The weekend I rolled into town, establishments were reopening until 11pm. It was a joy to see live music outside on Halloween, but very strange to see Bourbon Street empty at midnight.

Creativity: I’ve never participated in a Mardi Gras experience, but I know it’s much more than a drunk-fest. It is a costume party, a colorful ‘second line,’ and a spectacular showcase of New Orleans culture. 

Walking through Jackson Square, I meet artists, musicians, and creative minds of many sorts. Buskers are on the streets writing poems, teaching chess strategy, acting as still-statues, balance board juggling, playing bucket-drums, performing tarot readings, and finding any unique way to earn a few dollars from tourists. Their style of creativity is certainly impressive, but it’s their personalities that display the special New Orleans vibe. There are many people struggling to get by in Nola, with dozens of people sleeping on the streets, under bridges, and along the river. While that horrific reality is evident on almost every block, everyone seems to survive to the next day. Each morning usually comes with a pretty entertaining story about the night previously.

Food: Well, where do I begin?  I’ve eaten tasty seafood omelets, soul food fried chicken, and even participated in a crawfish boil in the park. Whether it’s gumbo, jambalaya, or some unique creation I’d never heard of, like boudin balls, my taste buds constantly ask for more. In the French Quarter, oyster bars, poboy shops, and hidden deli sandwiches are available 24 hours. Pastries like beignets and croissants are all over. I’d boldly call New Orleans my favorite food-city in the entire world.

The Crescent City also loves their cocktails in hurricanes, daiquiris, and unique concoctions on every block. Being one of the few places it is legal to drink on the streets, to-go beverages are a major advantage to New Orleans establishments.

Fun Stories:

1. New Orleans is full of art galleries. My mother loves one in particular, Antieau Gallery. Walking in, their friendliness was beyond anything I could have expected. When I asked the history of the location, I learned that it all began with a booth at Jazz Fest that noticed a “for rent” sign as she was leaving town. Years later, Chris (the artist) has her perfect crew to run her gallery while she is in Santa Fe. 

I was fortunate to meet Chris and send a photo to my mother. She loved it. I also secretly sent her Chris’s newest piece with a special note from the artist on the back. Surprises bring smiles!

2. There’s a man named Khater that works the door at a seafood restaurant in the French Quarter. He forms a connection with literally everyone that talks to him. During my days of interacting with him, he introduced me to the captain of the Riverboat Ship, a Street Reverend that was accused of attempted murder 30 years prior (acquitted because the victim recognized him, proving his innocence), and an assortment of police officers, street sleepers, shop owners, and travelers passing through. 

Thanks to this man, I ate fresh chargrilled oysters, enjoyed Hershey’s ice cream on my birthday, and organized the return of Love-Ins based around his suggestion. 🤩

3. Jacque-Imo’s: the tastiest fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. In past attempts, the wait to get in was over two hours. With covid forcing them to only open three days out of the week and Hurricane Zeta eliminating power, Saturday Halloween was my only chance to try this legendary spot. Masked up, I scored a small table right by the kitchen, gaining access to watch the whole operation. They are a one-team unit, working together to create smiles for their customers while colorful designs flood the walls and local music sounds the speakers.  

In the midst of their calm but full dinner rush, the generator died. No power. I’m sitting with a bowl of gumbo, a side of spinach salad, and two pieces of cornbread muffins while flames flash from the grill and servers pull their phones for light. I’d never seen anything like it. That team powered through a heavy battle that night. They delivered fried chicken to each guest as candles lit the room. The staff felt horrible, but when the generator returned with music and lights, it occurred to me how uniquely special that dinner service was. Incredible resilience!

Walking in, it felt like another night at Jacques-Imo’s. Next thing I know, it became another version of New Orleans. I love this city!!

K2