OFF THE BEATEN PATH… sort of
NOLA. New Orleans, Louisiana. Steeped in mystery, formed from necessity, and languidly existing in the heat of the Delta. It has a history as fascinating as those peoples that made it into the unique and resilient city it is today. The story of those peoples can still be seen in everything. From how the city is laid out, the music playing as you walk down the street, the smells of the food cooking, in the hellos of every person you meet, the language(s) spoken, and the Spanish and French influenced architecture making the Big Easy one of the true melting pots of these United States. Walking through the many parts of city it is easy to imagine yourself back hundreds of years as most of the French Market is still cobbled stone streets, small alleys, and buildings that look much the same on the outside as they did back when New Orleans was much younger than its current 305 years. The history of the Crescent City is something that has always drawn me to this fascinating place. Long before its founding, New Orleans was already a place of meeting. Many indigenous peoples from several tribes would congregate in the vicinity to trade and fellowship. As the area was settled with visitors from Europe, mostly French then Spanish, the city began to take the shape it has today. Of course, you can’t talk about New Orleans without mentioning the Mississippi River. New Orleans feels like a close cousin that lives 9 hours away from these mountains we call home. Where our history was shaped by mountains, streams, caves, and the unforgiving region we call the Upper Cumberland. New Orleans was shaped by the river. The river not only helped shape the city but was also integral in cementing the city as one of the nation’s most important ports. Life in NOLA was shaped within the ebb and flow of those waters. Like the mountains, the “Mighty Mississippi” could give life and also take it. Within the seasons of its banks New Orleans became a place where the worst and best parts of us came to fruition.
Over its many years the city would be full of controversy and in recent years much heartbreak. Through it all, one thing was never in question, it was, and is, resilient. When visiting our delta cousin, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. It is a walking city. Parking is sporadic and expensive so once parked you may not want to move your vehicle. Good walking shoes are necessary no matter what time of the year you visit, but in the summer, and early fall you definitely want to have clothing that breathes with you. (Act as if it’s late August or early September in East Tennessee when the air is thick, and the humidity is off the charts). Make sure you use common sense when walking along the streets, especially at night. Stick to well-lit, populated areas and remember there is safety in numbers. There is a plethora of walking tours for both the weird and macabre, and the history and hidden courtyards and secrets that NOLA holds within itself. Visiting New Orleans is always a treat for the senses. My favorite is the Vieux Carre`, and within it Jackson Square. Not only is the Mississippi right across the way creating a breeze even on the hottest days, but the smells emanating from the restaurants and open cafes are heavenly. There is usually soft music from the Cathedral and several musicians set up playing along the square. Artists and colorful buildings are a resplendent treat for the eyes. There are several places to get a refreshing drink or a tasty treat, and the large live oaks and many shade trees make it a wonderful place to watch the world go by and soak in the atmosphere. If museums, art, and antiques are more your style. The Cabildo and Presbytere museums are both found in the French Quarter on either side of the St. Lois Cathedral. Each one hosts plenty of information on Louisiana, New Orleans, Mardi Gras, and Katrina’s aftermath. Speaking of St. Lois Cathedral, if it is a day when the sanctuary is open to the public, it is a beautiful and peaceful place to go walk through and experience no matter what your religious affiliation or non-affiliation. Royal Street is full of antique shops, art galleries, and little hidden gems in almost every step. Even if shopping is not in your budget, just going in and out of the shops seeing the antiques, coins, swords, guns, or paintings can fill up an afternoon and delight even the most discerning lover of antiques and the arts. You do not want to skip the National World War II Museum. Located roughly 3 to 4 blocks from the French Quarter the NWWIIM is a worth a day of your time. The museum is made up of several buildings with full sized military equipment,
documentaries, era themed restaurants and shops and a wealth of information on the “Greatest Generation”. You can also follow a person through their time during the war, making the information a little more personal even if you don’t have a connection to that particular time in history or to the military in general. A visit to New Orleans would not be complete without talking about the food. Be it creole, cajun, french, italian, or just good ol southern cooking the Big Easy is full of flavor. From seafood eggs benedict, crawfish etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya, and plain old biscuits there
is magic in the food of the region. Maybe it’s the melting pot that influenced every aspect of life in this little part of the world, or maybe it’s the love that every dish is made with that makes it full of flavor, whatever it is, food just tastes better in NOLA. Even the coffee is special. Chicory was added to coffee during the war rations and never left giving the coffee a rich distinct flavor. Paired with beignets (french doughnuts) it is a full flavor treat. There are so many activities and sights to see in New Orleans, this article can only hope to scratch the surface. There are so many sides to this complex and original place. The southern hospitality and warmth of the citizens, the history of the area, and the lore of this place makes it one of my favorite cities to visit. It is New Orleans’ penchant for acceptance, the embrace of the odd, and the co-mingling of all things spiritual, religious, and commercial within just a few feet that makes it unique. If you’ve experienced the city for your- self, “…you know what it means to miss New Orleans…”. There is truly nowhere like it. For more information about visiting New Orleans please check out their official tourism page at neworleans.com
OFF THE BEATEN PATH… sort of