Hooray! We have pictures!
(For the record, my poor little iPhone is almost never turned off, and then I did turn it off and it wouldn't go off and I nearly died thinking it was BROKEN. My precious little iPhone is my most treasured object and thankfully I got it rebooted. And then I could upload pictures.)
New Orleans truly is a magical place. It's also a difficult place. I think you either love it or you don't. There are a thousand things to love (the history, the ghost stories, the architecture, the beignets, the legality of carrying around alcohol in open containers, the music, and last but not least, the FOOD) and a thousand things to hate (the nasty politics, the crime, Bourbon Street, the smell, memories of Hurricane Katrina). We won't get into post-Katrina resentments here. I have always enjoyed going on day trips there, for concerts - our college choir sang with a seminary choir and the Louisiana Philharmonic in the St. Louis Cathedral, also, Tori Amos on Halloween!! - or for fun with my family. My husband, on the other hand, does not like New Orleans. He grew up in Louisiana and the city is not exotic or interesting to him. I wish I could change this, but it is what it is. He does not like the perceived danger (even though I always feel pretty safe, ignorance is bliss) and he has been on endless field trips to all the sights. This means that I don't go to New Orleans often, and like I said in my last post, had not been there since Katrina.
The whole reason for the visit in the first place was a concert by The Civil Wars. My best friend for life Carrie (used to have her blog Bella-Belly, but it's too confusing to refer to her that way, especially since her daughter is named Bella) is completely obsessed with this band. I really, really like them, but Carrie is *thisclose* to becoming a Band-Aid in the tradition of Penny Lane for them.
Or maybe you like sad, longing songs about the inevitability of love. This is the song for you.
This is truly a vocal match made in heaven. They are setting the music world on fire. So yes, the plan was to go to the concert, stay the night in New Orleans, and have time to walk around, eat, and enjoy the city. We both made arrangements for our kids - Thomas to have some much needed solo time with Lovie and Gramps. After a particularly depressing spring break week, I was so thankful I had a getaway scheduled.
Then the concert was cancelled; JP (the handsome Johnny Depp lookalike) had lost his voice. I could hear Carrie's heart breaking over the phone.
Who cares? we said. We'll go anyway. We have a hotel, our moms have asked off work for our crazy escapade, and New Orleans has plenty of adventures to be had.
So we went.
This is the view from our hotel window. We stayed here, which is definitely the most beautiful hotel I've ever visited. It is gilded and opulent and luxurious. Carrie has fabulous taste! After we got home I read that Brad Pitt himself had filmed a scene in the ballroom THE DAY BEFORE OUR VISIT. It's a wonderful place; just a few blocks from the French Quarter. We really loved being able to quickly go back to our room for a bathroom break or change of clothes.
The first place we headed was Cafe du Monde for beignets and iced coffee.
How I forgot that beignets are THAT delicious,I don't know. They are like doughnuts that have died and gone to heaven. They are probably the manna that God fed his Israelite children as they wandered 40 years in the desert. I ended up covered in powdered sugar and completely happy.
And here is Carrie. She is going to KILL ME for posting a photo of her on my blog, but too bad! She was very patient with all my photo taking the entire trip.
After our beignets, we moseyed down to the French Market and looped back around. If you like to walk, New Orleans is the city for you.
I got really excited when I saw this graffiti, it's so Banksy. But it was very small, so I don't think it is.
The best thing about our trip is that we had zero plans. Some people would go crazy about that, no itinerary, no schedule - but for Carrie and I; it was perfect. All we really wanted to do was walk, explore, eat, and hear some good music. And that's exactly what we did. It was perfectly laid back and we relished the fact that we weren't holding little ones' hands or concerned about diaper changing facilities. So freeing for two mamas!
Best of all, I was free to snap all sorts of pictures of whatever caught my fancy. A pharmacy museum? Okay! I have no idea what a pharmacy museum would be all about, but I bet my father-in-law would find it interesting.
We did end up on Bourbon Street at one point, but one block in we were totally skeeved out. I really don't get the Bourbon Street love - I think you have to be drunk for all the hard edges to soften and blur, to not notice the sad hookers standing in doorways. Debauchery is fun and all but I've always found the spirit of Bourbon Street too dark for me.
Carrie got in touch with an old friend, D., who is a working New Orleans musician. He suggested we meet up later and hear some music where all the locals hang out, so we explored some more and perused menus outside restaurants and ended up at a place where I used to eat with my parents on our trips. I was so pleased to find it unchanged. We asked to eat in the courtyard and dusk soon fell upon us as we gobbled down our gumbo and crawfish etouffee.
After supper we began the long walk to Frenchmen Street, but not before we found some awesome musicians in Jackson Square. They were total hippies, all scruffy and sweet, with an upright bass player who caught my fancy. Seriously, I developed a wee crush. We sat on the ground and listened to them for quite awhile.
When we got to Frenchmen Street, it was really fun. That's where it's all happening, for sure. Bars were spilling music out to the sidewalks and people were thick on the streets. We passed by several delectable restaurants that I am remembering for future visits. I know I'm surely not cool enough for most of those places but Carrie and I made our way into a bar and grabbed a table. There was great music - standard Dixieland Jazz - and finally Carrie's friend D. found us.
I was skeptical about this old friend - would he be nice? Would he expect us to be wild and crazy girls? (We are SO not!) Would he ignore me all night and just want to talk to Carrie? It turns out that D. is the nicest guy in the world. So kind and so open to sharing the New Orleans he knows. He has only worked there a few years, so he is still excited about the magic of the city. Immediately, we bonded over the show Treme and he showed me pictures on his iPhone of the Indians he'd captured a week before. He was nothing but a sweetheart.
We ended up bouncing to several different bars, and it was so much fun. I found myself wishing I had done this sort of thing when I was in my twenties and fancy-free - hearing awesome music, dancing with whoever. In one bar there were Bob Marley murals everywhere and one guy with dreads howled out his best Marley repertoire. A gorgeous woman reigned over the keyboard and revved the party up with some sing-song fun.
D. checked his phone for what other cool stuff was happening and said there was a bar with swing music with a band playing - so we walked and walked to Marigny Street, passing by wonderful New Orleans houses - and climbed up the stairs - past a sign for an Anarchy meeting and also this sign -
We watched as people gathered and began to swing dance, all very stylized with 1940's hair and clothes. There were definitely some pin up girls amongst us - a very different group than the dreads and hippie style I'd seen down on Frenchmen Street. It was all so intriguing and romantic, somehow. There was a woman singing in perfect character, all smoky and deep. It was a fascinating experience.
Then came the long walk home - I am used to physical exertion these days, but Zumba, yoga, and treadmill time don't compare to hoofing it in TOMS and jeans. I was completely exhausted when we reached the hotel, but I can't remember a more interesting and fun night. D. was a gracious host and I totally want him to meet Beaux - I think he could help Beaux get a new understanding of a great city, plus they could bond over music.
The next morning I slept in but we made it for breakfast at the Camellia Grill, which was totally charming. It's a wonderful diner; plenty of fine breakfast options and endless cups of good coffee. We continued our exploring, going down past the opulent antique shops - there was one full of chandeliers, for all your chandelier needs. We oohed over the antique jewelry in the windows and found ourselves in a secondhand shop full of designer castoffs and Mardi Gras gowns and baubles.
We were happy girls, poking in and out of shops. At one point we stopped in a little cafe and shared some bread pudding.
This empty courtyard just called out to me. Creative seeds were planted, let's just say.
I wasn't brave enough to get a psychic reading this trip, but next time I think I'll be ready. In the meantime, the sign filled me with delight.
I'm so thankful we did this - because old friendships need time together, and it was a gift to have time just for us, without our delightful, demanding children pulling at our hands and attention. I am beyond blessed to have a friend who remembers so much with me and about me, a love that is tried and true. We often joke that our friendship is like a marriage - a lot of love and forgiveness and commitment, but not in a demanding way. It's just something we want to keep forever.
And now I carry a sweet love for New Orleans with me, like a faded picture in a locket. And I am reminded that life is full of undiscovered treasure and there's always more to learn and love, just around the corner of all that's familiar and routine.