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Archive for August 17th, 2009

An Important Lesson

As I was sorting through all of my junk and boxing up old keepsakes during my move, I came across my big box of photos where I’ve stashed all of my pictures from the past ten years or so. Thumbing through the photos and reliving old memories, I came across some of my favorite snapshots from my many trips to New Orleans.  

The first time I went to New Orleans, I was not impressed.  Two girlfriends and I made the long drive to spend a weekend there during college and much to my disappointment, New Orleans wasn’t nearly as great as everyone made it out to be.  Bourbon Street was filthy and smelled like trash and pee.  The French Quarter had charm, but was not worth exploring in the sweltering heat and humidity.  To make matters worse, the food (one of the main attractions I was looking forward to) wasn’t anything to write home about.  I’ve eaten better Cajun and Creole food at Popeye’s Chicken than at the restaurants we wandered into.  Seriously, why the hell would I drive eight hours for this?   I had no intention of ever going back. 

Me, Mary, and Nicole in the Quarter

Me, Mary, and Nicole in the Quarter

Fast forward a few years.  My friend Nicole invited me to go to Jazz Fest, an annual music and heritage festival held every spring in New Orleans.  I was hesitant at first, but a bunch of my friends were going and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun.  Nicole’s Godparents, Carol and Lionel, lived in New Orleans and were going to put us up for free in their home and show us around town, so I decided to suck it up and go. 

We arrived at Carol and Lionel’s after a long day of driving and were greeted with a feast of boiled crabs, crawfish, grits and grillades.  This meal with Carol and Lionel was the beginning of a surprisingly fantastic weekend, one which jump-started an annual pilgrimage to a city that I didn’t think I’d ever visit again. 

ChowinDown

Enjoying a soft shell crab po'boy at the festival. Mmmm...

Each year now, a group of us pile into Nicole’s car and head to the Big Easy for Jazz Fest.  We typically spend a day enjoying music, people watching, and stuffing our faces at the festival (think soft-shell crab po-boys, fried green tomatoes, crawfish pasta, jambalaya, gumbo…and that’s barely scratching the surface of the cornucopia of food choices available).  Throughout the rest of the weekend, Carol and Lionel take us to see our favorite sights.   This includes a stroll around The French Quarter, coffee and beignets at Café DuMonde, relaxing on the porch at The Columns Hotel, cocktails at The Monteleone’s Carousel Bar , hurricanes at Port of Call, and a drunken piano sing along at Laffites Blacksmith Shop.  After all that alcohol, you don’t even notice the funky stench on the street. 

New Orleans is a blast – but it’s having Carol and Lionel as our tour guides that has truly made our time in New Orleans memorable and caused me to do a complete 180 on my view of this city. 

Up until Hurricane Katrina, Carol and Lionel had lived in New Orleans their whole lives.  They know all of the short cuts, where to park, which restaurant has the best turtle soup, which bar

Care for some crawfish?

Care for some crawfish?

serves the strongest cocktail, and which lounge has the best jazz and blues.  They love to point out all of the local landmarks, take us to the places where they used to hang out as teenagers, show us the schools they’ve taught in, the first home they shared together, and the old cemeteries where their loved ones are buried.   We’ve experienced  New Orleans hospitality by their childhood friends at backyard crawfish boils and devoured one-of-a-kind tamales at a family restaurant after the doors have closed to the public.  These are moments that I could have never experienced as a regular tourist here. 

Obviously, I’ve learned a valuable lesson from Carol and Lionel that I hope to utilize on my trip around the world – get to know the locals!  They can help you experience a city like you never would as an outsider, which will change your perception of a place completely.   Thank you, Carol and Lionel, for showing me how exciting a city can be

when it is seen through the eyes of someone who has loved, lived, and called it ‘home’. 

Carol and Lionel

Carol and Lionel

I’ll miss the trip to New Orleans this April, but I know that while my friends are chowing down on crawfish ettouffee and boogying at the festival, Kelly and I will be exploring a strange and exciting city too, hopefully with a new-found local friend showing us the way…

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