By Angelica Recierdo, The Annotated Muse
New Orleans knows how to take its time. Slow like honey and smooth like bourbon, there’s neither a last call nor a shortage of soulful music. Most tourists visit for a weekend, usually for the infamous Mardi Gras. I stayed for a week, to locals’ surprised approval, and it still wasn’t enough time to learn from “The Big Easy.”
The People that Rebuild
Their accent has a faster tempo than other Southerners’, like they’re excited to be a part of something. It’s light – words skipping off teeth. The men will talk to you like they’re courting you, and the women will lean in close like all the pieces of wisdom they carry are coveted secrets. New Orleans knows how to roll up its sleeves. The people are gifted artisans, turning things like Nike shoe boxes into orange cardboard lions and junk car parts into religious relics. Industrial chic is a specialty here, which makes sense with the spirit of restoration that the city thrives on even a decade after Hurricane Katrina. A lot of people stayed during the aftermath, showing that home is not something to abandon. There is courage in hospitality. It doesn’t take much to ignore someone sitting next to you at a bar, but to welcome them with warmth over a cold draft beer takes a truly amiable person.
The Food that Satiates
Savory is the word that links all menus here. Everything is fried, and the closest thing to a vegetable is creamed spinach – or rather, spinached cream. The city’s signature dishes are rich stews: gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee. The seafood rivals New England’s with crawfish and shrimp innovations never experienced before. Look up the pronunciation before you order beignets, pralines or pecans. New Orleans cuisine doesn’t have to try very hard to impress, and the best dishes have been passed down from generations past. However, for the hip restaurateur, there is nothing quite like soul-fusion food; anything with Creole or Cajun attached to it already elevates taste exponentially. When alligator sausage is on the menu, it is not for the faint of heart – or stomach.
New World, Old World, Underworld Culture
There’s something raw about the people here – the grunge, the voodoo, the underground music scene. There’s history in the streets, bearing evidence of both French and Spanish rule. In a rundown shack tucked away in the French Quarter is Preservation Hall, a no-frills space with wooden benches and the finest rotation of jazz musicians our autotuned ears will ever hear. To leave the city is to find peace. The swamps are surprisingly meditative – a stillness lingering in the wispy Spanish moss trees. Plantations are striking, with big oak trees leading to grand white mansions and looming green pastures. The slave quarters outside invite visitors to peek into the darkest parts of American history. There are ghosts of a different time in Louisiana that most visitors don’t get a chance to explore because they’re on Bourbon Street all day and night. New Orleans is much more than Mardi Gras. Many different worlds and times live here. The hip Magazine Street has every boutique and café the modern consumer needs to visit. The cargo ships on the Mississippi are reminiscent of a slower time of runaway trains and Manifest Destiny.
New Orleans may be a city that takes its time but it won’t wait for you. They have a lot of pride and a lot to prove to the rest of the world that they work just as hard as they kick back. New Orleans is buckets of fried chicken one night and oysters on white tablecloths the next. It’s swanky jazz clubs and dim dive bars. It’s a hurricane and then a new dawn. Expect to leave with resilience in your pocket along with the beads around your neck.