The following three blogs about New Orleans were written several years ago and first published on a site called themestream.com (no longer existing.) Because it's Mardis Gras time, and because that grand old city is making a comeback after the devastating hurricane that all but destroyed Her, I am posting the three stories once again.
SAVORY NEW ORLEANS
Like a rich, savory gumbo, spiced with just the right combination of ingredients, New Orleans is a feast for all senses. From hot cuisine to cool jazz, as the refreain goes: "You'll know what it means to miss New Orleans" once you've experienced this unique city.
Seasoned with a blend of history, charm and joie de vivre, this genteel 275 year old metropolic, cradled in a bend of the Mississippi River, is a city where you can lose yourself in time. As you stroll under the ornate wrought iron balconiesof the French Quarter or meander on the manicured lawns of gracious colonial estates, its a rare opportunity to see and expeirence the Southern way of life.
Since the days when the fabled pirates, Jean and Pierre Lafitte haunted Bourbon Street, New Orleans has had the reputation of being one of the most dangerous cities in America. But don't let this intimidate you, because it is equally renown for its southern hospitality. People are friendly here, and you can get a conversation started instantly by talking about cooking, food or music.
The food in New Orleans is as legendary as the famous restaurants that serve it. From grand southern dining in well-appointed French Quarter restaurants such as Brennans, with its French-Creole delicacies, or Antoine's, where oysters Rockefeller was first created, to modest diners that offer a fare of hot roast beef Po-Boys oozing with mayonnaise and gravy, or a bowl of stewed greens with ham soup, there are gastronimical adventures here to fit everyone's budget.
Try Cajun gumbo, shrimp remoulade, craw-fish etouffee. Felix Fish and Oyster Bar on Bourbon Street serves everything from oysters on the half shell to Italian and Creole or Cajun specialities in a casual atmosphere. Or spend a lazy lunch hour by the river at the French Market under the striped awnings of the Mediterranean Cafe. While you eat spicy prawn jambalaya, enjoy the jammin' of a jazz combo.
In New Orleans, there's music everywhere: blues, jazz, lively Cajun two-step. Bourbon Street is famous for its jazz clubs. Buskers entertain on every street corner while little boys tap-dance on the curb. You can sing along with a banjo player strumming on the wharf, or watch a junior version of Louis Armstrong, a boy not more than ten years old, wailing on a trumpet in Jackson Square. In this bold, decadent city, a host of famous musicians had their start. In "N'walin's" Preservation Hall, Dixiland jazz was born.
Vieux Carre, the French Quarter, has its share of famous streets, immortalized in songs and movies: Bourbon, Basin, Rampart and Desire. Take a tour by mule and carriage through the heart of New Orlean's original old town, where you will see fine examples of French and Spanish colonial architecture, arched carriage ways and enclosed courtyards where in summer canopies of purple wisteria bloom. Or board the St. Charles streetcar on Canal Street, to visit the Garden District with its elegant antebellum mansions, Audubon Park and the Zoo.
Munch on a beignet, a doughnut covered with powdered sugar, as you explore Jackson Square, the town square of the original French colony. Walk past the commanding spires of St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in America, visit the Cabildo where the Louisiana puchase was signed in 1803, and the Presbytere which has an exhibit of Louisiana history. In the Square, you will be entertained by street performers and musicians while browisng among craft booths and art exhbitis. You can have your face painted here, and if it's Mardis Gras, other body parts as well.
At Jackson square, where the French Quarter meets the Mississippi, riverboats still churn up the fabled river. "Ol'Man River" keeps rollin' along these days with boats full of tourists. The Creole Queen and the Cajun Queen offer jazz-dinner cruises and the steamboat Natchez has a two hour cruise daily up the river to view the plantations and the stie of Civil War battlefields. For those who want a riverboat casino experience, the Queen of New Orleans, an authentic recreation of a 19th century paddlewheeler, is equipped with slot machines, video poker and speciality games.
Near Jack Square, is the French Market, America's oldest city market, a mix of retail and specialty shops and restaurants with bargains galore. Market stalls overflow with plump Creole tomatoes, heaps of okra, sweet potatoes, red and green capiscums (also known as peppers) and an abundance of other vegetables used in Creole and Cajun cooking. Fresh craw fish, oysters, clams and shrimp are available and colorful racks display spices and condiments that are necessary ingredients. While you're there, be sure to sample a traditional praline from Aunt Sally's Praline Shop, or go to a dessert shop for some old fashioned bread pudding.
Organized tours are an efficient and economical way to see other parts of the city. Knowledgeable guides provide information and history about off-the-beaten-track attractions that you might otherwise miss. For instance, it is unwise and unsafe to venture into the historic old cemeteries alone, but there's a Magic Cemetery Tour that will escort you through St. Louis cemetary, and a nightly Ghost and Vampire Haunt features lantern-carrying actors who lead you on an eerie adventure.
TO BE CONTINUED: Next, Part Two: A trip into the mysterious channels of the bayou.