Can we take a moment to take about the Vegas of the south? This swampy haven of vibrant colors, mind blowing eats, brain bending brass (say that 10 times fast) and haunting originality is one of my favorite cities in the whole damn world. It’s so nice I’ve visited twice in the past two years, and I’m tempted to make that a lucky thrice.
New Orleans, better known as ‘Nawlins by the locals (affect southern accent here), is a pocket of self expression and creative, buzzy energy steeped in the otherwise bible-belty landscape of the southern U.S. It has a fascinating history that I learned all about via an excellent bike tour on my first visit. Basically, the French and Spanish fought over ownership of this swamp city on the bayou for years prior to the Louisiana Purchase, and the architecture is uniquely European as a result. Those lacy wrap-around porches! Swoon. Here’s a collage of a few of my favorites:
The typical European-styled homes were narrow-ish in the front, which is particularly evident in the bottom left photo, but often run very deep. They’re deceptively small, which allows for a sort of urban feel amid spacious, southern homes. I just love, and I usually don’t geek out over architecture.
Anyways, I thought this was interesting, because post-Louisiana Purchase, the Americans from other southern states started to move in and built large, sprawling homes with fat facades. The Europeans thought they were garish, a sort of “in your face”-style of wealth. I found this hilarious as an ex-pat, this sort of clashing of the cultures.
Aside from the architecture, you can feel the Euro-influence mostly in the food and drink. I mean, good lord. I’ve eaten some insanely delicious meals in New Orleans. Due to their complex history, there’s a smattering of different influences lumped into what we know as “creole” and “cajun” cuisines, which generally means a little shellfishy, a little creamy and probably a lot spicy, so I think your palette would have to lean in that direction to really appreciate classic New Orleans food. Luckily, mine very much does.
I’ve had hearty gumbos, spicy jambalayas, creamy grits, deli style sandwiches that will blow your mind, and the most excellent oysters that even the bivale-averse would celebrate – raw, smoked, fried, even grilled with cheese and parsley. I’ve also guzzled the best bloody marys in the universe. They have this tradition of pickling green beans along with the traditional green olives and lemon. They are outstanding.
If for some reason the shellfishy/creamy/spicy turns you off or you have allergies or whatevs, then have no fear – soul food is here!
There’s no shortage of grits, fried chicken, and alligator consumption happening on the reg in New Orleans. Check out the alligator cheesecake from Jacques-Imos. Seriously unique.
The other incredible thing about New Orleans is the music. It’s the birthplace of jazz courtesy of legends like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, etc, and you can feel it permeating like every square inch of the place. There’s a gorgeous park dedicated to Louis and numerous clubs with middle aged dudes blowing brass well into the night, but my favorite thing about Nola is the prevalent street bands. They’re amazing – a bunch of young dudes get together and march along Frenchman street, playing for tips and making jazz accessible to the masses. The vibe is like a block party on the daily, and it’s what makes New Orleans so special.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least give a nod to voodoo, the ancient west African religion that is practiced in New Orleans to this day. I checked out the voodoo museum this past trip, and I was astounded by the religion’s history. It’s not at all what I expected. I remember growing up and hearing and subsequently believing voodoo was tied to “witchcraft,” but it seems like that misconception was spread as a form of propaganda for Christianity back in the day.
Voodoo is actually a fascinating religion of music, dance and idolatry. It’s not a literate religion, meaning it’s not based off any sort of text, but it’s believed to be the oldest religion in the world (according to the museum). It’s basically comprised of praying to idols for everything from wealth, love, health, etc, the same as any religion, but it’s vibrant, colorful, and has beautiful symbolism via zombies and voodoo dolls that Western culture has repurposed in a totally different way than the original intention.
Anyways, that’s the extent to what I can remember, but definitely hit up the Voodoo Museum when you’re next in New Orleans. It’s a treat.