You might say it’s the most beautiful city you’ve ever seen, or the dirtiest, or that the food is beyond compare. You might say all of those things and, in some sense, when you did they would all be true. New Orleans is filled with gorgeous architecture weathered by hard summers and age, locals with a sense of humor strong enough to keep the city’s storied history of voodoo and ghosts alive and well (one apartment we saw for rent touted its apparitions as a key feature) and food so good you might find yourself sighing and carrying on to strangers for weeks on end.
Every time I visit I’m reminded that the city has more character wrapped up in one block than most can lay claim to at all. Voodoo, jazz, creole, and people that know how to party like nobody else (and can do it just about anywhere thanks to such lax drinking laws) are just a few of the things that make New Orleans stand out above the rest. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg…
I won’t say the city shines its brightest during Mardi Gras – a few locals we talked to said they usually leave town. But it certainly comes together in a way you rarely see. Schools are closed, businesses are shuttered, parades run nearly every hour of every day, and king cake upon king cake is eaten in honor of the last few days before lent. In a sharp break from what most Americans see on tv, there is little sense among Louisianans that the celebration is anything other than a religious holiday, or at least among those that I know (I’ll admit they’re a religious bunch to begin with) and the neighborhood parties and parades we visited are as much fun for the kids as the adults.
I had some of the most fun of the week watching my little nieces scramble for stuffed animals with a neck full of beads, displaying each hard-fought treasure with beaming pride, then quickly stuffing it into a bag to catch another.
Of course we also found ourselves on Bourbon Street more than once, with its 5lb vodka slushies and balconies filled with dangling beads, waiting for the right enticement. Where the party goes day and night until the moment they clear the streets.
But as amazing as the French Quarter is when it’s full and alive, the New Orleans I love most is the one that’s left over when Mardi Gras ends… the one that resets itself to start planning the next (St. Patrick’s Day) parade, the one that proudly displays its ash on its forehead and goes back to living the good life it knows, with music and jazz and beauty even in the rubble and remains.
It’s a city that bleeds and throbs with life, taking full advantage of each day it has, so it’s easy to see the allure that takes so many new residents (including my sister) south every year, hard summers be damned.