New Orleans – Last Days and Final Thoughts
New Orleans was a city we enjoyed greatly but we know that it’s not the place where we want to live. Perhaps this is because once we got jobs and apartments, we began to look at New Orleans through the eyes of a permanent resident and its newcomer’s magic began to slip away. We stopped appreciating the things about French Quarter life we liked and as the weeks went by, the city’s charm grew familiar and old.
At the same time, the humidity increased even in January, and the magical balconies and facades of the old French buildings became expected parts of our daily routine. Our earlier luck (could it have been New Orleans tourist luck?) completely disappeared as well, and at times our jobs grew unpleasant and not lucrative. As a final straw, the gritty character of the French Quarter got on our nerves with street boys scamming for dollars by offering to tell tourists “where dey got dem shoes at”. This inquiry is a simple scam. Any future New Orleans visitors should know that if one asks about your shoes, just walk away.)
But strangely, when it came time to leave New Orleans, we didn’t want to go. Our “New Orleans luck” returned on our last day of work at Silky’s. We left with the largest paychecks of our entire trip and strong recommendations from the bar’s owner and his wife. The minute we became visitors again, unexpectedly pleasant things started happening for us. Deb had a sighting of Nicolas Cage, Mena Suvari and Johnny di Franco filming the motion picture, Sonny. And after a romantic dinner, we took a wrong turn and found ourselves at Preservation Hall five minutes before a concert. Although we weren’t planning to go there, we couldn’t refuse when we heard they had room in the audience and no wait to enter. It was one of the best concerts we’d seen throughout our stay. The city that had started off so well for us, finished well too.
As things grew better for us in our last few days, and the earlier magic returned, we began to remember what we liked about New Orleans life. One of these is music. We experienced a lot of great bands, many of them at the bar we worked at. From Gospel to Zydeco, Dixieland Jazz to old style R&B, Pop to Hip-hop, almost all music seemed in some way connected to or reflected in New Orleans. We saw the famous dueling pianos at Pat O’Brien’s and watched Jeff Neiderau, a classic New Orleans folk singer performing at Margaritaville. We saw Willow, another folk musician, perform with his wife, baby and anyone who would play with him in Jackson Square. We had drinks with and listened several times to Friendly Traveler, a gospel band that is building a name in the States but has been touring to sold out shows in Italy for over a decade. Lastly, we saw pop acts like Britney Spears, No Doubt and Mystikal playing in a public square, right next to street musicians and fortune-tellers.
Aside from the music, we enjoyed the creative spirit that permeates New Orleans. The city seems to encompass all facets of what it means to be alive. It’s about wealth and poverty, danger and luxury, simple food and incredible meals. On almost every corner are the sights, smells and sounds of gambling, religion, robbery, sex, politics, class, death, sickness and alcohol. Maybe it’s the city’s history, its humidity or its location near the “mighty Mississippi” but these elements converge on New Orleans like no other place. The city glorifies them all – especially at Mardi Gras time.
Amongst all of the craziness and constant action of the New Orleans and the French Quarter lived some of the friendliest people we have ever met. Through BootsnAll.com we became friendly with contributor Craig Guillot, a New Orleans local who was a lot of fun and helped us find our way in our new city. We also met a few people through work we’ll keep in touch with. In addition, several times in our first days we happened into a shop or bar and ended up talking with people who offered job and apartment leads after only a few minutes of conversation. People in New Orleans make up their minds about newcomers and make friends quickly – we never did have a problem with anyone unfriendly. Southern hospitality is alive and well in New Orleans.
So in the end, it was difficult for us to leave New Orleans and our last day was an appropriate ending for our stay. After we packed our bags and gave back the keys to our apartment, Jeff went to the computer cafï¿½ to write about the experience to friends while Deb walked around taking last pictures of French Quarter streets. A voodoo legend says that a camera steals the spirit from people and animals. Perhaps in writing descriptions and snapping shots of alleys, gates, doorways and buildings we went to, we were not only saying goodbye to the city but trying to take some of the New Orleans spirit with us.
On our last day we appropriately read an article in a local New Orleans paper, The Gambit, that helped us to better understand the city were about to leave. The article focused on Bob Dylan’s connections to New Orleans. Dylan came to New Orleans from Minneapolis like so many of the other Midwesterners we’d met. He loved the city and is rumored to have owned a house here, recorded here and possibly even ridden his bicycle through the Garden District in the early morning hours. One of his most famous songs, Mr. Tambourine Man, was partially written in New Orleans and mentions the sailing ships and sore feet of a Mardi Gras parade. Many of his other lyrics describe the debauchery, rejoicing and confusion we’d just seen, embodying the spirit, attitude and character of New Orleans. We noticed also how Dylan simply said things we’d been struggling to speak and write about to friends for weeks. Reading the article was a review of all we’d grown to love, appreciate and feel at home with in the Crescent City and a validation of the creative muse we’d sensed throughout our stay.
The very last thing we did in New Orleans was have lunch at Peristyles, a fine restaurant rated number one in the city by Zagats. Appropriately, we shared perhaps the best restaurant meal of our lives at that lunch, and left overfull, satisfied, a little drunk and with the recipe for a New Orleans’ signature cocktail, the Sazerac. We drove away from the city soon after, chatty, romantic, slightly tipsy, listening to blues and low on gas. We were ready to continue traveling, heading to the swamps and Bayou’s west of the city. We were happy.