We Fell in Love with New Orleans

June 20, 2011 | By | COMMENTS

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We were walking to dinner in a large group when the parade began to pass. I’d heard of jazz funerals, where the friends and family of the recently deceased march through the streets with music and dancing, a celebration of life in the face of death. This wasn’t that. This was a wedding parade; with a band and parasols and white handkerchiefs being waved. Here, I shot a video.

I begin with this because of all the many ways that I fell in love with New Orleans over the week that we were there, this may be the most representative of why. In most cities and towns, weddings are private affairs. The doors are closed to anyone without an invitation and even those with invitations are often shoved away at faraway tables with Aunt Margaret.

In New Orleans, the wedding party marches through the streets and, in doing so, invites anyone and everyone to join in the celebration. That’s the spirit of New Orleans: the most welcoming city I’ve ever visited. Everywhere we went, everyone we met had this overwhelming generosity of spirit. And that spirit flows through everything that happens in New Orleans; from the music that fills the streets at night to the food that’s so lovingly prepared all around the city. Like this soft-shell crab po’boy that Craig and I shared at the Louisiana Seafood Festival:

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Or the Creole tomato salad we shared along with Matt of Matt Bites, his partner Adam Pearson, Gaby of “What’s Gaby Cooking?” and Brooke of Food Woolf.

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I’ll be posting about the food all week, but I wanted my first post to be about the city as a whole. I was there as part of a trip organized (and paid for) by the Lousiana Seafood Board. We were there to meet the men and women of the Louisiana seafood industry who suffered a huge setback after the BP oil spill. We were there to talk to them about it, to go out with them on their boats, to tour their factories and, most importantly, to eat their food. But you’ll hear about that later.

In this post, I want to tell you about Frenchmen Street, where Daniel Delaney took us one night along with Chichi Wang from Serious Eats and Emma Christensen from The Kichn:

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This is where you go at night to hear real music, not the fake stuff they play for tourists on Bourbon Street. I shot some covert video to give you a taste:

You knew this was the real deal because the tuba player took puffs of a cigarette when he wasn’t puffing on his tuba. If you visit New Orleans anytime soon, you’re not allowed to miss Frenchmen Street. I won’t allow it.

The beer to drink when you’re going from bar to bar (something you’re allowed to do in New Orleans; you pour the beer into a plastic cup and carry it with you) is Abita:

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It’s made locally and it’s very tasty.

And when you’re not listening to music or drinking beer, you can ride a streetcar to the garden district, passing all the mansions on the way:

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While there (and right near Commander’s Palace, which I’ll post about soon) you can visit an above-ground cemetery:

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You can walk around Magazine Street and buy tchotchkes at the many adorable stores. In the French Quarter, don’t miss the Kitchen Witch, a fantastic cookbook store (where Craig bought the “Big Boy Barbecue Book.”)

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We actually stumbled into that cookbook store on our first day and the owners, a husband and wife, were so friendly and so chatty I had to start taking notes, they gave us such great advice for where to go, what to eat, and what to do.

That’s New Orleans. It’s a marvelous city, one of the world’s best.

It’s also a survivor, having made it through the travesty of Katrina. (For a powerful look at those events, I recommend the book “Why New Orleans Matters” by Tom Piazza which I read while I was there.)

As a final testament to how much we loved New Orleans, as we were checking out of our hotel, I asked the woman at the front desk if they were starting to take reservations for Jazz Fest next April. We’re already planning our next visit.

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