I can remember being a little kid -- maybe 6 or 7-- and seeing pictures of New Orleans. It looked downright magical: architectural details forming an ornate backdrop for happy people celebrating and playing music. From the limited portion of Baltimore I'd seen, urban living was synonymous with poverty and gloom. Growing up on stories of affluent Eloise in Manhattan, I was fascinated by New Orleans' apparent joie de vivre that didn't rely on money or circumstance.
At age 32, I finally discovered that childhood fascination was well-founded. A few weeks ago, I attended the wedding of two friends in the Marigny neighborhood, and took an additional couple of days to see the sights in the French Quarter and beyond. We visited Congo Square, (a particularly powerful place to stop and consider as America once again chokes on the bone of racial prejudice). We saw Marie Laveau's grave, the [supposed] resting place of the Voodoo Queen; we ate po' boys at the French Market and beignets at Cafe du Monde. We visited the Ninth Ward and walked along the levees that gave way to a catastrophic national nightmare in 2005. We strolled by the shot-gun houses in Bywater and the mansions in the Garden District, shopping and eating our way down Magazine Street. Of course, we ducked and dodged through the crowd on Bourbon Street, taking care not to spill our oversized Daiquiris.
Huge props to an application I downloaded to my iPhone called City Walks: New Orleans Map and Walks by GPSmyCity.com, Inc. It isn't a free-- I splurged and paid $4.99, I believe. It was hugely helpful in maximizing tourism potential; we could view sites around us or look them up by interest and then map the most efficient routes.
By the end of 5 days in Nawlins, I tell you, I was more exhausted than I was after 30 days in Europe and Morocco! The locals we met were friendly, unpretentious and proud of their city. I can understand why! NOLA is a colorful mash-up of French, West African, Spanish, Caribbean, Native American and so many cultures; the exuberance of a people who appreciate their history is infectious.