I have friends who regularly travel to Las Vegas. Others are addicted to vacations in the Caribbean, camping in the mountains or enjoying the attractions in Orlando. I constantly feel the allure of New Orleans. I fell in love with that city when I was nineteen years old and my feelings have not diminished over the years.
I first went to New Orleans before I was even able to remember the experience. My mom had a photo of me sitting in a stroller in the Cabildo. I seem to be fascinated by the exhibit of old time submarines although I am so young that it is difficult to tell what prompted my curious expression. I don’t believe that I ever returned again until my honeymoon when I was a foolishly young bride only six weeks away from being twenty. I was madly in love and hopelessly naive, but not so much so that I didn’t understand the intent of Bourbon Street.
I enjoyed my first alcoholic beverage inside Pat O’Brian’s. I wisely chose a breeze rather than a hurricane and immediately felt a lightheaded buzz as my new groom and I wandered down Royal Street. I was entranced by the shops and the vibrant feel of the French Quarter. I romantically imagined some of my favorite authors walking in the same alleys as I did. There was music everywhere and food that was so delightful. I weighed all of eighty eight pounds back then and seemed able to consume thousands of calories a day without gaining an ounce. I delighted in the beignets, gumbos, pralines, and coffees. I had breakfast at Brennan’s and dinner at Broussard’s. I sampled po’boy sandwiches and seafood of every variety. It was a culinary adventure that I will never forget.
People often ask me what I love most about New Orleans and I am always quick to answer that the history is what fascinates me most. Rather than spending time gambling or in darkened bars I love to learn about the people and events that have fashioned this remarkable place over time. I understand why artists are drawn to it because I too feel an unexplainable pull. There is something so real and alive. It is a place that overcomes difficulties again and again with a kind of cockeyed optimism that is so very beautiful.
I’ve been to New Orleans with my daughters and they too have caught the bug that brings us back for more. I have visited with good friends, laughing and enjoying the richness of letting the good times roll. I have brought my grandchildren who seem to understand why this city is so special and important to me.
Standing in Jackson Square gazing at the St. Louis Cathedral is magical for me. Feeling the warm brew of Cafe du Monde on my tongue is akin to a shot of serotonin straight to my brain. It makes me so happy. I never seem to tire of driving through the Garden District or visiting the museums. The sound of the steamship on the Mississippi River makes my heart race with joy. I look for Uncle Sam around every corner and smile as though he is a favorite relative each time that I seeing him standing silently with his little dog as though he is out for his regular afternoon stroll. I thrill to the music of Preservation Hall jazz which is as pure and emotion filled as that genre of music gets. I enjoy a nice picnic in Audubon Park and a tour of one of the historic cemeteries. I could spend hours sitting in the square listening to the musicians and watching the artists at work. I seem to discover something new each time I walk along the streets gazing at the amazing architecture and learning about the people who have lived behind those decorative wrought iron gates.
New Orleans has had more than its share of misery. There were many who thought that it had surely gasped its last breaths after hurricane Katrina. It certainly seemed as though it would never be able to overcome the devastating damage that so most of the city incurred. Somehow there were enough people who believed in the place that they were unwilling to let it die. It has changed a bit but like an ancient phoenix it rose from the ashes to deny the pessimism of its detractors.
Last week an area of East New Orleans that had barely healed from its Katrina wounds was ripped apart again by monster tornadoes that destroyed two hundred fifty homes. It was a sad blow to the souls who had so bravely returned to begin again and there may be those who will suggest that they simply face the reality that perhaps they were not meant to live in a place that is so often hit with the vagaries of nature. I’d like to think that the citizens will once again demonstrate a willingness to persevere just as countless have done for hundreds of years.
Houston is my hometown but New Orleans is the city that holds the key to my heart. I suspect that I will continue to visit for as long as I am able. I have one more grandson to introduce to this beautiful place. Since he enjoys visiting antique shops I suspect that he will quickly be drawn in to the charm and grace just as I have.
I’ve never been to a Mardi Gras celebration. I am not one for crowds. I plan my visits around the big events that bring visitors to New Orleans each year. I purposely chose to travel there this week before the parades and galas commence. I like New Orleans best when it is quieter and more personal. I am a bit sad that my grandchildren won’t be able to be with us because they are all in school. Still they have requested that I bring them some beignet mix and pralines and I plan to comply with their wishes until the time comes when they will be able to join us in a trip to the city that has so captured all of our fancies. New Orleans, Louisiana’s siren call will surely lure us back again.