Photo by William Recinos.
New Orleans. What a time we had. And it’s not the kind of time you might think. Yes, we did spend time on Bourbon Street. But New Orleans is so much more than that small, tourist strip of bars. I was welcomed to the Crescent city by a sleeping homeless man on the porch of the Airbnb our first night. The Uber driver did say upon dropping me off I needed to “watch myself” in that part of town. New Orleans is an interesting mix of people clinging to how things have been and others pushing to change the city. Our Airbnb was located in one such disputed area.
In many ways, the location of our house was perfect. New Orleans has a streetcar system which is divine. Every city should have them if you ask me (ehmm, *Charleston*). Our Airbnb was located one block from a streetcar stop which regularly makes a b-line for the heart of the French Quarter. Also, at that particular stop, Elysian Fields, is a pink-painted and somewhat shabby looking establishment by the name of Gene’s Po Boys. This 24-hour po boy joint happens to star in Drake’s “In My Feelings” video.
They actually have a lifesize cardboard cutout of Drake right there in the window of Gene’s just so everybody knows. Now, our Airbnb itself was a giant, masterfully renovated old house. Exposed beams and old, solid, dark wood built-ins lent to the house’s age, but the sleek, updated bathrooms and upstairs loft showcased 21st-century style. So as soon as I stepped foot in the city outside the airport, the exciting mix of old and new, with a little bit of risk and heightened awareness, created a truly unique experience for me.
I am obsessed with the history of that city. Obsessed. Certain geographical places came together in a big way in New Orleans. You have French influence, which made a massive footprint. After all, New Orleans used to be an official extension of France. French people in New Orleans used to think they were better than Paris, rumor has it. Then, Spain took over New Orleans in a big way for a few decades. Now you’ve got the French-speaking population mixed up with the Spanish-speaking population and government. Spain did a lot for the city. After a huge fire that burned all the French wooden structures, the look of French Quarter in New Orleans as we know it today was actually designed by the Spanish.
Let’s not forget the most important New Orleans influence of all, Africa. Part of New Orleans' ugly past includes the slave trade. So many people were abducted from mainly the Senegal and the Gambia regions of Africa and brought to New Orleans as forced laborers. But their mark on the city would remain unmatched and remarkable to this day. After a time, the English-speaking population moved in as well. The resulting vibe is different from anywhere else in this country.
Of course, during our trip, we frequented Jackson Square and Cafe du Monde. Jackson Square is easily the most happening place in the Quarter at any given time. There’s live, jazzy, performed for crowds at all times of the day.
Cafe du Monde is the most famous place to get Beignets (pronounced, roughly, Ben-yays), a sugar-covered French pastry, in the city. That place stays busier than Disney World, with just as long lines. But like Disney, they have mastered serving coffee and Beignets en masse.
I chose the cash-only to-go line because I definitely could not find a table in the massive, open-air dining space. I brought my bag of piping hot Beignets and iced cafe au lait (coffee with milk) to a nearby park bench in Jackson Square and had an ideal indulgent moment.
I toured the Cabildo museum which formerly housed the seat of the Spanish government when they ruled New Orleans and learned a little more about its rich history. We took a night tour of the city which provided more insight into its past, with stops at “touchdown Jesus” and the city’s supposed original pirate bar. Subsequent nights led to 2 additional homeless men sleeping on the porch but no harm, no foul. Bourbon Street karaoke at the Cat’s Meow did not disappoint. No, I never did get a Hurricane from Pat O’Briens, and I never got any beads thrown my way, but you don’t need any of that. New Orleans has so much to offer through its humid air of intrigue in many other ways. Next time you go, take a little time to connect to the city’s past while you add to its present. The Crescent is calling, y’all!