Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?
by Lisa Black As Billie Holiday sang, I love New Orleans. And I don’t say that because like sushi, feng shui and working out, it would sound totally uncool if I didn’t. I also don’t pretend that I understand the city and its neighborhoods, its history, it’s culture—I don’t. I’ve only been there three times and spent most of those trips in the French Quarter. I ate beignets and bought a voodoo doll for $2. So if you’re expecting a thoughtful analysis or an insider’s knowledge or even a decent recipe for gumbo–yeah, you’re not going to get that from me.
But I love the place. Going there is like taking a trip to Europe without the eight hour flight. There’s narrow streets paved with bricks and ornate ironwork balconies. There are gorgeous, gorgeous hotel lobbies with mosaic floors and marble arches.
Requisite historical background: Control of the area bounced from Native Americans to the French to the Spanish and back to the French until bought by President Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase. The French legacy is why it’s the only state to have parishes instead of counties.
The first time I visited NOLA was to gut houses after Katrina. We couldn’t help rebuild them, as they’d discovered that letting amateurs do construction didn’t work out well, but instead
|The Hotel Monteleone
cleaned every single item out of abandoned apartments and cleared brush from yards in the 9th Ward, a mile from where the levee broke. It was exhausting and rewarding. We went to the center of the Quarter for a few hours one afternoon, and I knew I wanted to come back.
So my husband and I returned late the next year, staying at a small, unique hotel in the Quarter. I thought our room was haunted because the TV turned itself on at the same time two days in a row, but that turned out to be me—I’d been trying to find the Captions option and accidentally turned on the sleep timer.
Food there tends to be carb heavy, and with only a passing acquaintance with fruits and vegetables…unless they were in a daiquiri. As an added bonus I can now claim the dubious distinction of having visited the three cities in the country where you could walk down the street with an open beer at 10 am and no one finds it odd—Las Vegas, Key West, and New Orleans.
|The LaLaurie Mansion
My third trip took place in just this past summer. I attended Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans. She started the conference to bring business back to NOLA after Katrina, but it was so fun that she’s still doing it. There are three days of panels and talks and networking at the incredibly beautiful Hotel Monteleone, still family owned since 1886. As if that weren’t enough, this year there was a carnival party, with games like throwing ping pong balls into fish bowls and target shooting with a plastic gun. To eat we had candy, sliders, hot pretzels, cotton candy, and popcorn. The next night we had a theatrical performance by Heather’s troupe and then live music by some of her children and other musicians. Most fun conference evuh!!!!
I also went on a most entertaining ghost tour with great and creepy stories…however, when we took our guide’s suggestion to ‘look this up later!’, well, no corroboration could be found. Nicholas Cage did not sell the LaLaurie mansion because he’d been terrified by ghosts of the slaves the owner had tortured, but to pay his tax bill. The investigators waiting outside the convent for vampires to sneak out of the sealed windows of the top floor who were found the next morning, drained of blood? Yeah, never happened. But even if only believed for five minutes while under the spell of a great narrator and a few mixed drinks? Still well worth $20.
So tell me—have you ever been there? Seen any ghosts? Heard any great bands? Stuffed yourself full of sugar at the Café du Monde? Tell me your NOLA stories! Maybe we can meet up on Jackson Square.