Thursday, January 3rd, 2008
I’m back! Oh, you didn’t know I was gone? Once the suspicion entered my head that it’s not a good idea to announce to the world when you’re going to be on vacation – hey, I’ll just leave the door unlocked for you while I’m at it! – I couldn’t bring myself to share the giddy news that we’d be going to New Orleans for the weekend of New Year’s Eve, our very first trip to the Big Easy!
Around here, whenever we told people of our intention to visit the Crescent City, their noses almost invariably crinkled and we heard stuff like, “Haven’t you heard the murder rate has doubled since Katrina?” and “It’s a diiiiiirty city,” and “It smells bad,” and “It’s just a city of sin!” (yes, we literally heard that sentence … from my mother).
Being people who enjoy a bit of sinning now and again, we took all these warnings with a grain of salt. I researched that murder rate thing (the most worrying bit) at tripadvisor.com and found several New Orleans residents arguing that the murders are isolated to certain non-touristy areas of the city and are usually drug-related. Furthermore, I was assured that the police presence in the French Quarter would be heavy.
Still, I could tell D was a little nervous and, more than that, just not very excited. He claimed to my parents that the only reason he was going was that we had a free hotel room. (My sister-the-photographer was in New Orleans to shoot the Sugar Bowl game between the University of Georgia and Hawaii, and we were staying with her at the Mariott Convention Center.)
Fortunately, I was excited enough for the both of us. I booked us a sleeper “roomette” (a generous term for it, really) on the Amtrak Crescent, and we rode the train down on Friday, while alternating between bickering and watching Rosemary’s Baby on my laptop. At dinner we met a couple who recommended we go to the Port of Call restaurant on Esplanade, which would turn out to be extremely good advice.
We arrived in New Orleans worn out, headachey and a little sick of each other. I expected we’d trail after my sister to dinner and then fall into bed early, but once we were out and about, the energy of the crowd on Canal Street and Bourbon was intoxicating (okay, there was wine involved, too). We kept finding ourselves surprised by how much we liked it all – how suprisingly clean everything was, even Bourbon Street, though I guess after all the negative hype we were expecting to have to wade through a cesspool. This was our first trip to New Orleans, so we have no basis for comparison to pre-Katrina, but we la-la-loved the city and found ourselves befuddled at every turn by how different it appeared to us than what all the naysayers had described.
From there, the trip got better and better, for us anyway. While we rode the restored 1920s streetcars all over town, ate massive Creole lunches, and strolled the residential neighborhoods of the French Quarter, holding hands and drooling over all the gorgeous old houses (with me stopping every other minute to say, “Here, hold my drink. I have to take a picture!), my sister was hobbling around to press conferences and football practices with her gigantic camera and a mysteriously broken toe.
The first night she was in town, she accidentally disturbed a voodoo altar in a shop and from then on her luck got progressively worse. She woke up the next morning with a broken toe and no memory of hurting it. Then last night at the Sugar Bowl, she was knocked down in a stampede of celebrating Georgia football players and pursuing photographers and grievously injured her knee. Then she had to carry her luggage and at least 40 pounds worth of photography equipment (or was that just one bag that weighed 40 pounds?) while limping on her drastically swollen knee through a madhouse of an airport, while two selfish sports guys from her newspaper flitted around free as a bird not even offering to help.
Then there were massive delays and a 40-minute wait for luggage, with people jostling her knee, and a long search for the car in the freezing cold, and stupid people, lots of stupid people. On top of that, she found out the web people made a mistake and only put half her photos in the online gallery, so the work she stayed up till 2 a.m. doing was wasted.
Meanwhile, we had a relaxing ride home on the train in the bunk beds of our suddenly miraculous-seeming roomette, sleeping off the New Year’s Eve revelry of the night before.
I didn’t think we could top the swirling, twirling, top-o-the-world fun of the New Year 2007 Ball at The Club, but this did it. We three sat right on the bank of the Mississippi River and watched the best fireworks display I can remember. We ate “crack corn” (so-called because it’s so good it’s like crack) and drank Hand Grenades and people-watched and saw a man in a wheelchair pick a fight with a guy at Cafe du Monde.
Mostly, we three were together and laughing, and it was wonderful.
When the train dropped us back home the afternoon of New Year’s Day, we were happy and pleasantly tired, filled up with good memories and wishes to go back again one day in the not-too-distant future and do all the things we didn’t have time for, especially the cemeteries and the zoo.
So to those New Orleans naysayers, we no longer trust your judgement. New Orleans struck us as perfectly safe in the tourist areas, clean – the only dirty part was the tourists! – beautiful, and above all, fun. Just don’t mess around with those voodoo altars!
And I forgot to mention I found a store on Decatur Street called The Bag Lady, where I bought three fabulous hats for $10 each!