It amazes me how, after one month's deprivation from sun and warmth, simply stepping out of doors without need for bastions of protection from the frigid elements becomes a precious luxury. Leaping off the train in New Orleans, I peeled off layers of coats and boots and gloves and jackets and was fully ready to happily skip the one mile to the hostel until I asked a policeman for directions.
"Excuse me sir, but how does one cross the highway under that dark overpass by foot? I have just arrived in town and want to walk alone at night!"
"Walking? There? At night? Oh girl, you are taking a taxi."
"But it is only a mile and I have this expensive device that will show me exactly what route to take. And it is warm outside!!"
"No. No. No. Oh my God, no. TAXI!"
So after being assured that I would be killed instantly in this strange new city, I was deposited safely on the welcoming front porch of the Marquette House International Youth Hostel, and was presently greeted by the most gracious and welcoming hostel staff that ever was. Their personable greeting was even more pleasing after the tendency toward aloofness and anonymity in the north. However, I had approximately eight seconds to toss my things in my room and catch my breath before I was whisked away by two energetic friends onto to the roller coaster that is the music, drinking, and entertainment scene of New Orleans. The evening involved at various points a concert by a full brass band, a burlesque show, Sazerac cocktails in a fabulous antebellum mansion*, a walk along the Mississippi River, being serenaded by local blues band The Dirty Bourbon River Show, and, in retrospect probably unnecessarily, nightcaps at a dive bar called Mimi's sometime after 5am, at which point when I said I was tired all of my friends bemoaned my lack of stamina and general disappointing inability to keep up with their rate of fun-having. I would consider the night to have been a smashing success as an orientation to nightlife in the Big Easy.
(I got a solo at one of the clubs)
The next day, after a pumpkin pancake bigger than a hubcap and about 13 cups of coffee at a tiny cafe called Surrey's, I was ready to get my fill of Voodoo, jazz funerals, jambalaya, and Colonial architecture in the famous French Quarter.** New Orleans is so full of insanity, history, and unique local flavors that I do not even know how to translate my experiences into narrative form, so I will just have to list them in a totally nonsensical and unchronological way as follows.
The city is so warm. The tropical climate is fabulous, but the people are even better. Everyone treats you like a long lost family member back after years of absence, even the other tourists. The gentlemen that run the hostel all knew my name, origin, and a rough idea of my whole life story within hours of my arrival, and everyone always greets one another warmly and genuinely.
The prolific local flora contrast charmingly to the faded glamour of the elegant 18th and 19th century buildings. Bright colors, insane decorations, ivy and palm trees grace enormous mansions, tiny French colonial row houses, castle-like churches, Spanish forts, and stately Roman Revival architecture as well. I walk around with my jaw dropped and eyes sparkling like an anime character most of the time.
The Creole Voodoo culture is a bit cheesy and touristy now but it still retains some genuine mystery and an underground devout following, which is extremely interesting. Amongst silly tourists getting their tarot cards read and buying voodoo dolls to stick pins into*** are legitimate believers buying herbs and chickens and candles to do real rituals. Marie Leveau is a 19th century Voodoo priestess who is still revered to this day and who's grave is visited by thousands of devotees each year here.
(Yes. I am one of those tourists.)
The food deserves a book unto itself but I can tell you it alone is reason enough to visit here if you have any interest in food or fusion cuisine at all. French staples like beignets and croissants are enjoyed alongside seafood stews like gumbo and jambalaya, and red beans and rice are so ubiquitous that they are often served free with drinks at local bars. Other exciting dishes include alligator sausage, po' boys, mufalettas, and the infamous "turducken." The only thing I have tried that I did not enjoy is a poor quality and unexciting candy called a praline, which is just tiny bits of pecan floating in a puddle of corn syrup, often flavored with rum. But this can be forgiven after enough daiquiris.
Within 48 hours I was already doubting that five days would be enough here. I was in over my head.
*It is now a famous hotel called The Columns, and on the National Register of Historic Places.
**Heretofore to be referred to in the local style as "The Quarter."
***I now own a very scary voodoo doll as well.