Monday, April 8, 2013

Finding Neutral Ground in the City that Care Forgot

"If there was no New Orleans, America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom." - J. Deck

Five years ago last month, I was relocated by my company from Houston, TX to New Orleans, LA for a temporary yearlong assignment. I was simultaneously excited and scared to death. My first trip to N'awlins was just 2 years before that, and no less than 5 months after Hurricane Katrina. The timing of that visit definitely tainted my first experience - the streets were empty, buildings were destroyed and abandoned, and crime was abundant. I had gone for a two day conference, and was escorted everywhere by armed security personnel. For a small town girl who grew up in the high desert, nothing about my first experience made me feel safe or at home. When I was asked to move, I initially considered quitting just to get out of it because it scared me so! Needless to say, I am so, so glad I didn't!

Nothing in New Orleans to me was ever normal. The moss on trees was weird. The commute to the north shore over a 24 mile bridge was strange. The accents were unexpected (much more "Bronx" than "Southern"). Phrases were difficult to understand. It was like I moved to a foreign country without the need for a passport! But the people... oh the people... I have never met warmer, friendlier people in my life. Some of my favorite people have been people I had the pleasure of meeting there - I hope they know what a special place they have in my heart!

I had been on the job for only two days when I was invited to my first business dinner. Business dinners are not uncommon in my industry, but the frequency with which I had such meetings in New Orleans was a welcome surprise! The city is very well known for its cuisine, and with good reason - the food there is divine! It's no wonder so many with business accounts take advantage of it. 

During that dinner, I was also surprised with another first - a nighttime parade during the middle of the week. We were wrapping up around 10pm when we heard the band playing outside. Upon exiting, we were greeted with a full parade smack in the middle of the French Quarter! It definitely set the tone for the duration of my adventure there. It was amazing!

I enjoyed many, many more adventures during my 13 month stay in bayou - and I loved every minute of it. Here are a few pictures from my brief and beautiful time there. My goal is to go back there very soon and visit the place I left my heart. 

When I wasn't commuting over a 24 mile bridge, I was commuting in old school street cars!

My beautiful baby sister in the almost-as-beautiful Audubon Park

Jackson Square - birthplace of some of my favorite pieces of art!

Above ground graves/crypts because the city is below sea level! Creepy!

Destrehan Plantation - my favorite in Louisiana

My beautiful momma beneath one of the coolest old oak trees I've ever seen

The old slave shacks - a sad reminder of what this country used to be

Ghost hunting with mom in the Quarter - very fun!

Running yellow naked men - totally normal, right?

Jazz on every corner is the way every city should be!

Al Copeland's last Christmas lights (read story here)

Mississippi River front streetcar adorned with holiday flair

One of the earlier parades of Carnival season 
(commonly referred to as Mardi Gras, but really Mardi Gras itself is only Fat Tuesday)

The Saturday before Mardi Gras - crowds are starting to get big and crazy!

There are over 65 Mardi Gras Krewes in the New Orleans area - each with it's own parade during Carnival. They also have their own royalty and many have their own formal balls. My favorites are Thoth, Endymion, Bacchus, Tucks, Rex, and Zulu (although I'm a bit biased because I have friends in some of these). 

Midcity's Parade really cracked me up - it was deliciously tacky!

THIS was the crowd as viewed from our party balcony on Lundi Gras (the night before Fat Tuesday). It was so nice to have friends who had friends who rented balconies! I would have hated being below in that crowd. YUCK!

The end of one of my many Carnival nights. So much fun! And no - I will not tell you how I got so many beads.... ha!

So what did I learn from my adventure in N'awlins? Well, first I should say is that it is not as dangerous as I had originally thought. It is like any other city - there are good parts and bad. You just need to use common sense and street smarts and you will be fine. Second, you should only eat oysters in months with an "r." Third, everything is better with bourbon. 

And last... never assume words or phrases mean what you think they do. For instance, a "neutral ground" in New Orleans is called a street median everywhere else. If someone asks you if you want to "make groceries," they're asking you if you want to go grocery shopping with them. Telling someone that they "put their foot in that food" is a compliment. Tchoupitoulas is pronounced "chop a two 'les." And if someone offers you a little lagniappe ("lan-yap"), they're just telling you their giving you a little more than you paid for (it's not something creepy!). 

My time in New Orleans was a short lived joy, and I will forever be grateful for the experience. I will tell anyone that will listen to visit at least once in their life - go for Mardi Gras while you're young, attend the French Quarter festival when you're in love, and definitely go to JazzFest whenever you can. The city is magical and will forever touch your heart. I'm off to do-do ("dough-dough" - meaning to go to bed in N'awlins speak)! Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Until next time...

--- Becks

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