1. I have an unfortunate tendency, when traveling, to view the place I am visiting as a utopia where no one, not even the locals, have any problems. This tendency has abated somewhat as I’ve been to more places, and it’s easier to adopt in some places than others. If you visit Denver, for example, you can be stoned out of your mind for the entire duration of your stay, and leave thinking it to be the happiest place on earth. Visit somewhere like Hanoi, however, and it’s just about impossible. Everyone there very obviously has a bunch of shit they’re trying to get done. This thought pattern doesn’t manifest in any behaviors (to my knowledge), so I don’t see how it hurts anyone, exactly, but it’s not healthy. Every place is fucked up in its own way. Every place has it’s own uniquely fucked up history, and its own uniquely fucked up local problems, and is uniquely cruel to its less fortunate residents. If there is in fact such a thing as responsible tourism, I’d imagine it necessitates keeping these things in mind.
2. What, then, does one make of New Orleans? The City of New Orleans wants you to visit. It wants you to bring your person and your money, and then engage in spending that money on the vices of your choosing. You wanna gamble? You wanna eat entirely too much? You wanna drink cocktails the size of your head? You wanna stagger between strip clubs? You can do all of these things. New Orleans is a place to indulge. But it’s also clearly a place full of all sorts of problems. Many people live in poverty, and many are homeless. The street performers are all uniformly excellent at what they do, but their existence forces you to think about the difficulties inherent in making a living off that sort of hustle. And yeah, there’s the living memory of Katrina very nearly destroying the city outright. New Orleans presents itself as a kind of paradise despite very obviously not being one, and I found this bewildering. None of what follows is meant to unpack this further, but know that for the duration of my stay I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
3. I was not prepared for being this drunk. When I say this, I’m not referring to drunkenness in the absolute sense. I’ve certainly been much drunker in absolute terms than I was at any point on this trip, and I didn’t puke or even come close to doing so once. But holy shit, this was one hell of a bender nonetheless. If you’re like me, you enjoy drinking maybe a little too much, and the city of New Orleans is an enabler. If the city wanted you to be sober, it wouldn’t allow you to take your drinks out of the bars and consume them openly in the middle of the street. You don’t even need a paper bag or any other form of plausible deniability. I knew this was the case going in, and yet it still took me by surprise.
4. The drinks themselves are not to be fucked with, either. First, there are the famed hurricanes, which are maximalist in both their raw volume and the per fluid ounce proportion of alcohol contained therein. They are also fully loaded with sugar in order to ensure the most pleasant hangover possible. On Friday night, our first night in town, I had two of them as part of a balanced drinking binge. They were good fun, at the time. There is also the sazerac, which is not like the hurricane in it’s sophisticated, adult presentation, but is very much like the hurricane in how shit blasted consuming more than one will get you. I had a couple of those, too. And again, they typically have simple syrup in them, so that you awake the next day not really remembering but all too aware of the things you put your body through in pursuit of a good time.
5. Saturday morning was the low point. It definitely seemed as though I was being stabbed in the eyeballs, even after purchasing a new pair of sunglasses to replace the pair that disappeared under mysterious circumstances the night before. After eating a breakfast large enough to kill an ox and trudging over to the French Quarter with no particular agenda, I quickly found myself exhausted, dehydrated, and feeling as though I needed to pass a regulation basketball. There wasn’t much I could reasonably accomplish other than sit in a coffee shop and stare off into space. It was at this point when I came to the conclusion that, were I to live in New Orleans, I would most certainly die, and quickly. There is so much of everything that’s bad for you, and again, the city itself is an enabler. I know that’s not how living in a place actually works – Raleigh certainly does not lack for ways to consume less than responsibly, and I’m still kicking – but for a few bleary morning hours there, I felt chewed up and spit out. I rallied, but it wasn’t easy.
6. There’s the food to contend with, as well. There was way too much of it, and I’m lucky to have returned home only somewhat fatter than I was when I left. A blow-by-blow gustatory testament would be longer than it is interesting, and I feel secure in the knowledge that I don’t need to explain what a po’ boy is, for example. It’s a big sandwich. (Although, I think the po’ boy has kind of lost track of its identity – many of the ones I saw will set you back $10 or more, which gets me thinking they should rename them doin’ alright boys.) So here are a couple of more under-the-radar local delicacies to be aware of. First, there is the muffuletta, which is, uhm, a big sandwich. But it’s not just any big sandwich! It’s got ham and salami and mortadella and two kinds of cheese! Two cheeses! This is then topped with a substance known as olive salad, which is a true miracle of food science. It cuts the fattiness of the other ingredients while adding surplus fattiness. I’m not huge on olives but damn, this was the good shit. It’s also larger than reason should suggest. Should you go to Central Grocery in the French Quarter, the first and finest muffuletta makers, you will be given the option of buying a half or whole sandwich. The half is more than enough for one person, so keep this in mind. Second, there is the wonderful substance known as debris. Debris is comprised of those unfortunate pieces of beef roast that fell into the bottom of the pan during roasting, served in the juices that also inhabit the bottom of said pan. So it’s fat in fat sauce, basically. Debris also has a canonical place to get it, this being a restaurant called Mother’s in downtown. I highly recommend getting it with the grits, so you can stir the juices into the grits. You won’t regret it. I mean, you will, because your stomach will swell to the size of a hot air balloon, but you get what I’m saying.
7. The reason I only gained some weight and not a ton was that we walked pretty much everywhere. We’d get cabs back to our hotel when it was late I suppose, but since the streetcar only seemed to run every so often, and was usually quite full when it did, it typically made the most sense to hoof it. This was both a blessing and a curse. It worked just fine the first couple of days, when we were young and full of energy and not yet entirely beat, but by the last day my legs were mad at me for even trying to move. This probably seems like it sucked, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. The exercise was a medical necessity, and it helped establish the lay of the land in my head much better than getting shunted off from place to place would have. It helped me consider the city as a normal place where people live and not as an amusement park for drunks.
8. We also spent a good amount of time outside the French Quarter, which I also enjoyed. It can be fun to spend all your time in the tourist areas of a city, but it’s rarely enlightening. We spent the bulk of Sunday morning doing a walking tour of the Garden District (the hoity-toity part of town) that we found on the internet. Most of this was only mildly interesting. The architecture of the mansions was, like the architecture of pretty much the entire rest of town, very pretty and different. They were cool to see, but the histories of each often weren’t much to report about. Trent Reznor used to live in this one house, Sandra Bullock lives here, Anne Rice owns this entire block, that sort of thing. The tour did, however, include a walk through one of the city’s many above-ground cemeteries. This leg of the tour started off as the fun and interesting kind of creepy and eventually turned into the creepy kind of creepy. Almost all of the graves were on the older side, with few dated in the last forty years. There was a non-zero amount of dead kids. Life is still hard these days, but it used to be much worse. Towards the end, we came across the house where Jefferson Davis died. You would hope that the death of a racist piece of shit would be something to celebrate, but unfortunately, some of the locals seemed to see it differently. Not only was there a commemorative plaque from the ‘Daughters of the Confederacy’ (who should really rename themselves the Lady KKK and get it over with), there was a monument at ground level praising Davis as a “great American.” Which, like, holy shit. I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I found this galling as all fucking get out. I didn’t realize being a racist traitor was still being rewarded to that extent. If Jefferson Davis is a great American, so is Hermann Goering. I can’t even with this shit. Some people have no decency.
9. New Orleans sure seems to love its assholes. Andrew Jackson was, to borrow a phrase from Eddie Izzard, a mass-murdering fuckhead, and he’s got a whole square in the French Quarter named after him, with a big-ass statue and everything. I suppose the statue celebrates a time prior to his stint as a Native American genocidalist, being commemorative of his leadership at the Battle of New Orleans, but it still celebrates a time when he was really good at murder. The city has removed its confederate monuments, which is good progress, and it’s not the only place that still seems to be cool with Andrew Jackson. He’s still on the damn $20 bill, for fuck’s sake. If New Orleans loves racists, assholes, and murderers, maybe that’s just because America still seems to prize those traits as well.
10. Did I mention there was a parade? Saturday night saw the first major parade of Carnivale season, the Krewe of Chewbacchus. It was sci-fi/nerd themed, and we were made aware of the existence of it a few weeks prior to our trip, and we decided we had to go. It was both more of a shit show and less of a shit show than I anticipated. Naturally, everyone in the crowd was drunk and the parade in no way started on time. These things were to be expected, I suppose. But there were a lot of people trying to wedge their way through the packed crowd in order to get…somewhere, regardless of the advisability or feasibility of doing so. On top of that, my poor wife had to deal with a whole bunch of people a good foot or more taller than her barging in front of he to get a better view. I don’t understand how you have that little consideration for others unless you simply don’t care. Otherwise, the parade was kind of subdued. No one barfed on either of us and I didn’t see anyone get their tits out. There were lots of people dressed up as Princess Leia and Han Solo and Chewbacca and such. Some people dressed as zombies, which I perceived as being on-theme only insofar as it’s some nerdy shit, but whatever. This particular scene was not about strict enforcement of any rules. We were told that this was one of the shorter parades on the calendar, and it took about three hours, which was at least one hour more than we bargained for. I’d hate to see the Mardi Gras parade.
11. I wish I had more to say about the music than I do, but alas. All of the music was very good, if not excellent. This is inclusive of both the street performers and the live bands at the bars. We made it a point to mostly stick to bars that had live music, because the jazz scene is as vibrant as advertised and going out to catch music is something we don’t do enough of normally. On Friday night, we had the good fortune of finding the club that local trumpet legend Kermit Ruffins was playing at, and we were able to catch his set. There was another band at the bar we were at prior that was a lot of fun, and we saw a few more bands on Sunday as we went on one final but modest bar crawl. The best street musicians we saw were another jazz band fronted by a clarinet-playing woman who shredded like crazy. It was very impressive, despite the fact that someone in the gathered crowd saw fit to request House of the Rising Sun. Don’t get me wrong, I can be plenty basic at times, but yikes. But I don’t know enough about jazz to comment super intelligently on anything we heard, and even if I did, I was largely to sloshed to pay strict academic attention. I find this disappointing. It feels like I squandered the trip doing exactly what I set out to do.
12. Monday was our last day in town, and since our flights home were kind of late, we had the whole day left to do whatever we wanted to get in. This turned out to be almost nothing. We were dead on our feet all day, having been worn down to our respective nubs by three days of decadence, and the horrendously inadequate drunk sleep we got as a consequence. We couldn’t think of anything we needed to cram in, so all we did was walk around the French Quarter aimlessly one last time, grab a couple of po’ boys, and sit by the river before deciding we might as well call it and head to the airport a little early. This may seem like a bit of let down, but really, for us it solidified what we already suspected – we had a great trip. We did and saw and ate everything (well, almost everything – I didn’t actually get any shrimp and grits, which is a mild disappointment but since shrimp and grits is readily available at many North Carolina establishments this made it a lower priority than say, getting a cup of legit gumbo) we wanted. There was nothing left to do but grab one last muffuletta for the flight home and head back to be reunited with Geordie, a cute, sweet dumb dick I missed dearly. That’s the mark of a truly successful vacation. You go out and do the things you want and a few things you weren’t even aware were possible, and then once it’s time to leave you’re as ready as you can possibly be.