About a month ago, I met some friends/coworkers in New Orleans. We were ostensibly there to run the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon, but only two of the five of us actually were registered for it, and then we ended up just being couch potatoes all February and failing to train, so in the end, we decided just to do the 10k instead. All of which is to say, we were really just in New Orleans to hang out and have fun. I have some family who live in New Orleans, and I used to spend summers at their house when I was a kid, but this was my first time going there as an adult.
My friend Pam lives in New Orleans with her husband, her somewhat famous identical triplets, and her new puppy, Ziggy. She picked us up at the airport and took us over to her house (by way of the drive-through daiquiri place) to have dinner and drinks and to meet her family and play with the dog.
(Pictures stolen shamelessly from Denise and Pam.)
The next day was Saturday. We spent it eating a lot of food and walking all around the French Quarter and people-watching. We heard some…not so good music, and some really excellent music:
The next morning, the three of us who were running got up at the crack of pre-dawn and went over to the race start area, which was packed. We decided to just do a run/walk pattern of running for two minutes and walking for one, which worked really well for us, or at least for me – I didn’t get remotely tired or sore, and I had a really nice time just seeing the city in the early morning, which I would never have done if I hadn’t been forced to.
Because the 10k starts earlier than the half or the full marathon, we pretty much had the streets to ourselves. The weather was perfect for running – sunny, not too warm, not too cool. There weren’t a lot of spectators up yet. I suppose one might have missed the cheering and musical acts, but to be honest, I preferred it this way. Everything was peaceful and pretty. The race course went through the French Quarter and then up Esplanade to finish at City Park.
I really don’t have words for how charming New Orleans is. I couldn’t even photograph any of it, because every single house looked custom designed for Instagram, so how do you even start? So here are Pam’s pictures of the race instead, shamelessly stolen from her blog again:
Post-race, we moved right on to the important stuff: brunch first, then mimosas at our Air BNB while we showered, then chargrilled oysters.
Then it was another day of wandering, daiquiris, and early bedtime.
The next day, most of my friends flew home, but I’d rented another Air BNB to stay on for a week and do some exploring on my own, so I headed over there. It turned out to be a really nice place in a really not-nice neighborhood such that (close your ears, parents) I received lectures from every, single Uber driver who dropped me off and picked me up there (and even more so from my local friends and relatives) about how I should absolutely not be in that neighborhood at all and what the hell was I even thinking. It actually was fine, though. I just didn’t walk around there after dark.
I napped all afternoon, and that night, I went with my friend, Denise, and her local friends to a wine bar at the edge of the Bywater called Bacchanal to see Helen Gillet play. Bacchanal is actually a wine and cheese store, but you buy stuff there and then they make up a plate for you and serve it to you in their big outdoor garden. Helen Gillet is one of those singer-songwriters who plays like forty-seven different instruments and uses looping to essentially be a one-woman band, and she was amazing.
After that, we went to a dive bar and kind of made a night of it, which ended in us all walking home at 4am through the streets of the Bywater, which were socked in with fog, and so all of the little pastel-painted gingerbread houses loomed out of the mist, and it was really like being in an actual fairy tale. I mean, being a gang of drunks in an actual fairy tale, but still.
The next day, I ate. I walked over to St. Roch Market, which had been recently built in the underdeveloped neighborhood where I was staying to the strong feelings of everyone there. Because this place was called a “market,” people had initially assumed it would be a supermarket which is sorely needed there, but it turned out to be an upscale yuppy gourmet food court kind of thing with an oyster/wine bar, and boy was everyone pissed! It worked out well for me, though, because I had the most delicious fried chicken sandwich ever assembled.
Then, I wandered around the French Quarter for most of the afternoon, before meeting Denise and one of her friends at Lüke for oyster happy-hour, and an hour after that, we went to Shaya, which is apparently one of the hottest restaurants in America right now and it was Israeli food and everything was unbelieveable.
As someone who primarily lives on Soylent, this was all especially delightful to me. If I lived in New Orleans, I would never stop eating.
The next day, I had brunch at Elizabeth’s, where I somehow managed to polish off not only an enormous egg dish but also four giant pieces of praline-encrusted bacon, and then I walked all around the Bywater and up and down Crescent Park, and it was sunny and gorgeous and almost no one was around. And then I went over to my uncle and aunt’s house, and they took me out sailing in my aunt’s sailboat. Once the sun set, we docked at a restaurant where my cousin met up with us, and I ate still more food.
My final day in New Orleans, I was pretty beat (and actually sick of eating), but I did manage to drag myself out for a cemetery tour. When I was a kid, I had always wanted to explore the crowded labyrinths of the various NOLA cemeteries, which are all above-ground mausoleums adorned with sculptures and packed into small walled lots with winding paths. So, playgrounds, basically. I toured the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which is the most famous and is also closed to the public unless you take a tour. It was really interesting, and I learned a lot.
For example, do you know how they fit entire families into those little crypts? It works like this: all these tombs have a built-in basement sort of level and then one to three shelves above it. When someone dies, you unseal the stone slab and slot their body into one of the shelves. Over the years, they decompose there. In the old days, when someone else died, they’d unseal the tomb again and shove the remains of the previous inhabitant to the back, where a shaft carried them down into the basement level (according to my tour guide this is the origin of the saying ‘to get the shaft’ but I’m pretty sure that’s not true). Now in our more enlightened times, they instead gather the bone fragments of the previous occupant, put them into a little bag, label the bag with that person’s information, and place it respectfully in the basement. But either way, that’s how you can fit sometimes as many as 80 corpses into a box the size of an outhouse.
Another interesting thing: it used to be that when a family purchased a tomb, they could also purchase an upgrade for the Catholic church to maintain it ‘in perpetuity’ which meant that the church would do the upkeep and maintenance on it forever and ever, rather than that being left up to the family. But some people didn’t spring for that, with the result that, once their family line petered out or disappeared, the church actually could not do anything with the tomb. So there were tombs in these cemeteries that had basically disintegrated into piles of weed-overgrown rubble, and the church couldn’t touch them without going through a ton of red-tape processes and things with the city. So nowadays if you want to buy a plot in a New Orleans cemetery, you are also required to purchase the ‘in perpetuity’ upgrade.
That was really all I had time to do, but I loved New Orleans and hope to go back again. My friends are talking about making this a yearly trip, and I hope we do it.