Monday, December 17, 2007

New Orleans!

Ok, I swear that I'm alive. You can stop the search party. I know I've been gone for um...well over a week. But it's the holidays, so I've been really busy. I'm sure you can understand.

Did you know I am kind of a perfectionist with my blog posts? I am. I re-write each one about three times. So writing about my trip to New Orleans has been quite an ordeal -- one post was not enough, so I have a 2nd drafted post after this. But I wanted to wait on my photos to get developed so that I could show you my pics in the same post...and then I had car trouble....and....BLAH. Now I'm all screwed up, because part of me is thinking, "Dude, no one wants to read two posts about your trip. Just sum it up and get on with your life." But another part of me is saying, "Yes, but you are stuck at home today while your car is being worked on, so what the hell else are you going to do?"

Anyway, this is a post about my trip. It may/may not be the last post. I dunno yet. Haven't even developed the film. And I may not get around to another post before I go home to Virginia on Thursday. But I'm tired of editing it and stuff, so I'm just posting it for now, so I can get on with my life. If this post does it for you, great. If you want another post about my trip, stay tuned. I won't be mad if you skip it. Even I'm sick of reading it by now. Being anal-retentive is a double edge sword. :)

New Orleans is fantastic! If you have never been, I highly recommend it. Even if you don't drink in the numerous bars, you will enjoy the history, food and culture of this unique city. The downtown area is totally back up and running, as is the French Quarter. I did see a lot of "For Lease" and "For Sale" signs in windows, but that is pretty true in lots of cities across the country. Most of the heavily damaged part that is being rebuilt is on the other side of town from the touristy areas.

The people and the food cannot be beat. Man oh man, did I have some good food!!!! This is a city that knows how to have a good time.

I took a lot of pictures, but did not use the whole roll of film yet, so I will have to share them with you later. For now, I will give you my general overview of the Crescent City. My next post will be more personal experiences.

Things I learned about New Orleans:

1. There are street musicians and performers everywhere. The large majority of them are fairly talented.

2. Almost everything has a French connotation or name, but every once in a while, you'll see something Spanish. That is because the city was passed back and forth between the two countries prior to the Louisiana Purchase, when it became U.S. territory. But the French culture is most evident, as just about everything has a fleur de lis on it.

3. There's lots of seafood to eat. I can tell the restaurant business there has a ton of competition. But it's pretty hard to go wrong in New Orleans. It's all delicious! While it is most definitely Southern cuisine, it has a lot of unique dishes not normally found in the rest of the South: jambalaya, gumbo, bread pudding (imagine an extremely moist cake, flavored with cinnamon or vanilla, sometimes including raisins), crawfish (aka crawdads aka mud puppies), redfish (a mild, flaky white fish), po'boys and lots of oysters. The signature dessert is bananas foster. I think they probably eat more rice per capita than any city in the country! Everything had rice in it or on the side.

They also love shrimp, anything with pecans, crab and beans. But that is fairly common anywhere in the South. Lots of things had wonderfully flavored sauces on them. If you've ever had something "blackened", then you know what I mean about the kick their food has. More often than not, their dishes are very zesty and flavorful, rather than spicy hot. But you can find spicy hot food, too.

Edit: I have already made bread pudding, a fantastic local dessert, from the cookbook I bought while there. I'll post it in a sec on my cooking blog. I just took it out of the oven and it smells fantastic!

4. I also realized that New Orleans is sort of the Las Vegas of the East Coast. This is most definitely a town for people with vices. Although unlike Vegas, it really caters more to alcoholics and exhibitionists than gamblers and prostitutes. Prostitution was legal in the French Quarter between about the 1870s and our entry into WWI. During that time, it became easier for the city to just legalize it than deal with all the hassle of enforcing the anti-prostitution laws.

But when we entered WWI, the Navy shut it all down because they didn't want the sailors all getting distracted (and getting VD!) before shipping out. Anyway, there's still strip clubs and tons of bars there. You can even walk around with an alcoholic drink in the streets, year-round! A lot of the bars have special side windows where you can buy "to-go" drinks. In short, this is not a city for straight-laced people. It definitely has a wild side!

5. Speaking of the wild side, although Mardi Gras is only once a year, you'd never know it by looking at all the shops. You'd think Mardi Gras was every weekend! Beads, masks, hats, feather boas, shot glasses, crazy outfits....all can be had on every street corner in town. And of course, everything is green, gold and purple. And since I am a culture vulture, I diligently read my travel guide on the flight down, so I taught myself all about the krewes, King Cake and Rex. Did you know that Mardi Gras lasts at least a couple of weeks, and there are several parades each day? Krewes (the people on the parade floats) can spend tens of thousands of dollars on the beads they throw to the crowds. And all of this has been going on since the 1700s!

6. Although voodoo can be found in Savannah, GA, it is most often associated with New Orleans. I didn't have time to go on the voodoo tour or to the voodoo museum, unfortunately. I will have to save it for my next trip down. But there are references to voodoo all over town, especially to Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen.

7. Because the water table is so high, you cannot bury people under the ground in New Orleans. So families have used vaults instead. They look like little buildings, but they hold...well, bodies. There are only so many slots per vault, so when one member of the family dies, they are just sort of pushed out of the way to make room for the newly deceased member. There is a 2 year waiting period between making a "new deposit" into the vault -- for obvious reasons. No, I don't know what they do when they want to make a deposit in less than 2 years. And I'm ok with living ignorantly in that way. But these cemeteries are amazing -- they literally look like little neighborhoods, each vault with a small cross on the top. They are almost always white, and often have statues of angels or cherubs decorating them. I wanted to take a tour of these, too, but unfortunately ran out of time.

8. Ok, enough creepy/morbid stuff. Let's talk architecture. Although it's called the "French" Quarter, much of the French architecture was burned in two 18th century fires. So the Spanish (who were in control at the time) decided to rebuild using only brick, rather than the wooden materials used by the French. Tiled roofs, stucco and balconies with ironwork are all noticeable features of this style. The buildings were often painted in pastel colors. Here is an example of one:

Meanwhile, in other parts of town, Americans were settling in the newer, outlying areas, such as the Garden District. The Americans were not socially accepted by the Creoles in the French Quarter, from what I understand, so they built houses like every other American in the antebellum South did: big, white and with columns. Take, for example, these:

I don't know which style I like better. I just know I really enjoyed looking at them. The trees and gardens (obviously) were also quite beautiful in the Garden District. It was neat to just walk around and see block after block of these gorgeous old homes.

9. I wish every town had a streetcar! They are the coolest way of transportation ever! They make this wonderful clickity-clack sound as they go down the track, and the conductor rings the bell when he crosses intersections -- it's very quaint. They are faster than walking, but slow enough that you can get a great view of your surroundings as you travel. There are big windows you can open to provide a nice breeze. And it's only $1.25 each way! Much cheaper than gas.

10. Overall, New Orleans reminds me of Charleston and Savannah, with a splash of NYC, all rolled into one.

Ok, hopefully I am developing the film tomorrow, and I will have another post for you, complete with my own pics and more personal experiences. I was going to do it today, but my car is in the shop and I'm stuck at home.

My car almost killed me on Saturday. I was on the highway, doing about 70 mph, when the engine DIED and I lost steering, brakes and gas. Luckily, I pulled over to the side ok, but I was shaking and on the verge of tears I was so scared. It turns out, I need a new fuel filter. Anyway, I am officially fed up with my POS car, and am getting a new one when I go home for Xmas! WOOT! More news on that soon. This post is long enough already.


Stuck said...

I have a recipe for bread pudding that uses Krispy Kreme doughnuts as the bread. I think I just gained two pounds thinking about it, but it's awesome.

Virginia Belle said...

Oh! That's right! That's the Paula Deen version. I have GOT to try that.

I'm gonna go add that little tidbit to my recipe i just posted on the cooking blog. Thanks, Stuckey!

The Dummy said...

How scary! I'm glad you were safe and able to come back and blog, because that little writeup about New Orleans was awesome!

Meghan (The Declaration of MY Independence) said...

Yay! I've been waiting to read this post. Glad you had such a good time.

Well, when the car tries to kill you, I say its time for a new one! What kind are you getting?

kimmykins13 said...

I'm glad you had a good time in New Orleans. I'm gonna try to email you with updates today but like you, I have been pretty busy with work, BFF's wedding (Dec. 1) and Christmas. If for some reason I don't get around to it before you leave on Thursday then have a great Christmas and a safe trip to the Czarina's. Can't wait to hear about the new car!!!!! You deserve it after everything you have been through with the POS!!

Becky said...

aw i'm glad you had fun and i'm so sorry about your car! and dude, DIGITAL CAMERA! learn it. USE IT!

Smug said...

I second the digital camera note! I got one for Christmas last year and I use it all the time!! It is wonderful because I don't always take good pictures, so now I can see right away if I need to take another!!

tallglassofvino said...

nice summary!

One of the things I loved about the FQ were the historic courtyard buildings - flush fronts to the street, with big privacy gates, then the interior opened up to a narrow courtyard and an internal balcony system. Also, to beat the heat, many of the old sleeping rooms were tiny, to get as much cross breeze as possible, and TAAAAAAALL, to let the hot air rise up away from the residents. Rooms you could practically touch both sides of the walls of, with 12-14 ft high ceilings. Wacky.

teahouse said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the Big Easy. I was a bit worried since we didn't get to email about it before you left. But it looks like you caught the good parts.

I lived on St. Charles Ave. I remember trying to study while the parades were going by, 2.5 weeks' worth! What a time that was.

RWA said...

Isn't New Orleans great? I love visiting there and just walking up and down Bourbon Street, watching the people.

Jonathan Zero said...

merry christmas and happy new year. Looking forward to hearing about the new car. WOOT! is correct.

Random Musings Of My Life said...

Wow sounds like you had a blast!!
LOVE the pictures can not wait for more!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's so scary about your car- I'm so glad that you're alright!

And that was a great post about New Orleans- I can't wait to go visit the city! You should totally do another post :)

Coco said...

Did the holidays swallow you whole? :) Hope everything is alright, we all miss hearing about your misadventures!

Just A Girl said...

I love New Orleans. One of my very favorite cities for a weekend getaway.

How scary about the car, glad you got the new one though. It's cute!

jennster said...

i LOVE new orleans! i definitely want to go back- it is such a great city... the history there is amazing. the french quarter is so unique (although growing up in so cal, i can't tell you how many times i said "omg, this looks just like the french quarter in disneyland!!!!") lol.. the garden district is gorgeous. the homes, architecture and fencing- amazing. the history and how they got all their materials shipped from overseas, etc- incredible. they have gorgeous plantations there as well. i LOVED my trip there.

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