and NOLA has stolen mine.
My mother’s side of the family is from Louisiana. Both my late grandmother, aunt, uncle and NaNa are natives; my mother lived there for a brief period during her youth. You could say without New Orleans, there’d be no Ashley Raelene.
So when my friend decided to visit the Creole State I knew I had to go too. Despite some set-backs immediately preceding this trip (story of my life) I was determined not to miss this opportunity. So as my friend celebrated her actual date of birth, I got on a plane to start my NOLA weekend early, visiting my aunt until everyone arrived the following day.
To be in a place that seemed so familiar, although I couldn’t actually remember ever being there, is an experience only those having been “raised” Southern in another region will likely experience. As soon as I stepped off the plane a feeling of comfort washed over me, as if I’d been missing this place all along. Listening to my aunt, driving to her house and mentally noting the changes she made after Katrina left me swimming in a sea of feelings. Not all bad feelings, but some of displacement– of knowing I’d never see New Orleans completely as she’d been before.
The remainder of my trip could be summed up in three categories: the people, the food and the buildings.
Having lived in Nebraska for a number of years I’m familiar with “Nebraska nice”. The notion that Midwesterners are inherently nice and easy-going, quick to offer a hand or just a friendly hello. Recently I’ve heard NE Nice more accurately described as “Nebraska Nice … to your face”. An endless circle jerk of people wanting to appear warm and welcoming despite their conservative leanings towards judging your whole life.. and telling their friends about it later.
New Orleans’ brand of nice, however, is authentically more genuine. Even honking at a pedestrian wrongly crossing Canal Street takes on an air of politeness here not seen above the Mason-Dixie. It’s hard to think of an interaction during my trip that didn’t leave me a little bit happier (save my phone getting stolen, which gave way for a chivalrous search by someone else). Unlike many who fall in love with a place they visit, only to worry about not knowing anyone if they move there, New Orleans is a place that would welcome you with open arms, even before you’ve signed a lease.
Honestly, I shouldn’t even have to write this part. People travel from far and wide to enjoy the creative creole and Cajun cuisine Louisiana has to offer. From the stuffed shrimp I had at Dooky Chase‘s to the shrimp and crawfish mac and cheese I stood 30 minutes for at the Treme Gumbo Fest, I left New Orleans ruing not being able to eat like I did over the weekend, every day. Even the selection at the Riverwalk Outlet mall was amazing, with Mike Anderson’s Seafood offering the best fried okra I’ve had since my grandmother’s.
As I get older, the more I recognize foods multifaceted-ness. It connects us not only to our family and pasts, like the okra did for me, but also to new cultures and friends. The food is so much a part of many people’s experiences that NOLA could never be separated from its culinary offerings. And as this space becomes more and more attractive for millennials marked with scarlet letters of F (for foodie) NOLA has done an outstanding job preserving its food traditions while incorporating cuisines from its many “immigrant” populations.
Take one step into The French Quarter, Bourbon Street or The Garden District and you immediately know where you are. Every architectural style can be found within a few minutes of each other from creole cottages to the signature french balconies to the skyscrapers in the CBD. Doing a more “adventurous” part of our trip we trekked on foot through the Garden District from Magazine Street to St Charles. As time passed I found it increasingly difficult to find a condo, house or apartment I wouldn’t be able to see myself living in (though my penchant for going pant-less immediately upon arrival home may conflict with many of the floor to ceiling front windows).
Though I’m not planning to cut my time in Omaha short, no matter how much I reminisce on this trip, I do think NOLA has a much larger part of my heart than Colorado does. When the timing is right, we’ll see if my heart wins out (and a head hunter comes and offers me $$$$$ to work somewhere it doesn’t snow in November). Until then– there’s plenty of festivals and food to come back for.
*sorry this post lacks the many amazing pictures I took during the trip. Again my phone got stolen and only a couple were backed up on my iCloud. Dooky Chase’s stuffed shrimp were one of them 🙂