Friday, September 18, 2009

NOLA, Part Deux

Okay, shopping and food in New Orleans. Not that anybody cares anything about those two little ol’ things, fragile, petite doves that we are.

On the shopping front, I found a lot of high, a lot of low, and not much on the in betweens. If you like trashy t-shirts (in both senses of the word), New Orleans has you covered. And Mardi Gras throws aplenty. Though $2 for a string of beads that you’d buy in bulk back home seems a bit silly.

On the other side of the coin, I saw a lot of really nice antiques. I mean really nice. And they think very highly of their very nice antiques too, if you go by the price tags. I did a lot of window shopping for those stores, but I don’t think I could even afford to breathe the air inside. There was one boutique that had these 50s-influenced, proper lady dresses, with these STUNNING hats. I didn’t want to shop in that store. I wanted to BE that store. And someday when my lottery numbers hit, I will be.

But until then, I like to buy in the middle range and get something unique to the area when I’m shopping. Down in the French Market, I found a man who was hand making colorful jewelry that I thought was right down my nieces’ street, and a woman who was selling homemade candles in “local flavor” scents. Both very reasonably priced. And of course, I got a box of pralines for my parents. Who doesn’t love a praline? Communists.

And as a “if you go” sort of tip, don’t make yourself crazy about packing toiletries. I found 4 drugstores and 3 markets within walking distance of my hotel. If you forget your toothbrush, you’ll be fine.

Now food. Yeah, I made you wait for it. I found lots of good food, even though I didn’t go to any fancy restaurants. The Gumbo House had to-die-for traditional gumbo. And I’m saying this even though I hate boiled okra. Down at the Central Market I had the original muffaletta. A symphony of deli meat, cheese, olives and bread. If you get one, take a friend. I only got a half, and I shouldn’t have eaten all of it. I did. But I shouldn’t have. Oh, my tummy.

And of course, Café Du Monde. I went there twice. If you haven’t had a beignet, don’t believe the press that it’s like a doughnut. Kinda. But not really. I found the texture to be more reminiscent of Indian fry bread or funnel cake. Dense on the inside, crispy on the outside, hot as $2 pistols. And pure heaven. The chicory-laced café au lait was the perfect accompaniment. You can eat inside or on the patio (listening to a local musician if you hit the right time of day), but one morning I took mine over to Jackson Square to eat by the fountain, and the other I walked over to the river to watch the boats go by.

I think the only “bad” meal that I got was the just okay jambalaya from Café Maspero. Frankly, my jambalaya is way better. I could have that tummy space to better use with more room for beignets.

And on that morning note, I know New Orleans is known for its nightlife, but I’d have to say the morning was my favorite time. The light has this special quality, gentle but brilliant. It’s easy to see why artists are attracted to this town. In the early hours, most of the hard partiers are asleep. The streets are quiet and empty. It’s really just you and the locals. And a bag of beignets and a cup of café au lait.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

NOLA, Part 1

Well, a few things about New Orleans. First, yes there is a city here. No, you won't be standing in 3 feet of mold and mud in any of the tourist areas (unless you chose to go on one of the "devastation tours" - I didn't; my heart couldn't take that). There are a sad number of "for sale" signs in the French Quarter and the Wharehouse and CBD areas. But really, it's mainly people in shops, bars and restaurants who are looking around and wondering why you just don't come down for a visit. They'd be more than happy to find you a table or a flashy souvenir.

And I'm going to have to put New Orleans in my top position of friendliest tourist cities. In many places that exist on out-of-towner business, there's a certain amount of locals only behavior that goes on. Your more than welcome to spend your money, but you're never going to be one of us. I didn't get any of that here. In fact, I've had more conversations struck up here on the streets than I have anywhere. And far more just plain "Hello, how are you this morning?" calls than anywhere.

Of course, the sanitation is a little iffy. And I don't think that had anything to do with Katrina. Bourbon St. is by far the worst smelling street I've ever been in. Internationally, the worst smelling street that I've ever been in. But it didn't really seem to be stopping anyone. And the Quarter has a sanitation patrol that goes around sweeping up and hosing down this and that. Brave and hearty souls every one.

And the crime problem is real. Wander out of the tourist areas and you could find yourself having a problem. There was a 4-year old girl shot in the streets this last weekend. Sweet little angelic face, and somebody shot into a crowd and hit her. She's still in critical condition. Unfortunately, this is a crime that could have happened in any one of many major US cities.

But inside the French Quarter and the other areas I prowled on foot, I never once felt uncomfortable. It's a very pedestrian friendly area. I saw just about everything I wanted to without ever resorting to a cab. I take that back. I saw everything my brain could handle in 3 days, without ever taking a cab.

Okay, that's the overview. I think tomorrow I'll get into food and shopping.

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