MY LOVE STORY WITH NEW ORLEANS
By Guest Writer, Sinclair Mitchell
This love story begins when I was at the tender age of 15. It was my first trip to New Orleans, going with my momma and meemaw and three little sisters (all of them I already loved).
I did not get to explore all the nooks and crannies of the French Quarter, as it so carefully should have been — as my boy curiosity (wanting to be a man) so strongly craved.
Aromas of New Orleans
I found this place to have the best and worst smells of any place I had ever been. Walking past Café Du Monde, I smelled the fresh roasted chicory coffee and the melt-in-your-mouth beignets. Taking the first bite, the powdered sugar fell into my lap, and I endured the evidence throughout the day, marked as a tourist with my badge of courage.
As I inhaled the wonderful aromas of this historic eatery and began to walk down the street, I nearly tripped over the homeless man lying on the sidewalk, and his bathroom — at least his bathroom for the past ten hours. It was very disgusting and vial, and I wondered how anyone could live like this. (Later years taught me that unforeseen circumstances can alter how a person’s life can change, and they can be transformed in the blink of an eye.)
That was the first of many visits to this sacred city, with its voodoo-like dark charm and adventure. I always make the trip back to New Orleans several times a year.
I did attend one Mardi Gras. It was too overwhelming for me, even though I was only 22 at the time. It was so big and crowded, I had a hard time getting from point A to point B. The more I visited and found new adventures, the more I found the out-of-the-way spots.
The best restaurants are typically tucked away down some alley or backstreet. I once found one of these diamond-in-the-rough restaurants. It was very small and discolored looking; it was dark inside and hard to see. The only place to sit was at the bar, no tables or chairs. It was a mom-and-pop operation all the way.
There was a grill going in the back with these large rock-shaped objects flaming up with the fire almost touching the ceiling. I asked one of my fellow drinkers, “What’s on the grill?” In his thick Louisianan accent that I could barely understand, he said, “ersters, cha-brolled – goes good weth tha mud bugs.”
I ate oysters until I had the butter running down my arms and face, the succulent texture and fresh ocean flavor consumed me. Three dozenwere eaten before I knew what happened, and I was in heaven.
A Party Metropolis
Details about the red-light district or the other undesirable portions of the city need not be mentioned, as all big cities have these elements. And, of course, Mardi Gras, the biggest party in America, goes on and on for days at a time. There must be a bit of indecency and a free-spirit atmosphere in the city, for it seems you are obligated to have some sin and debauchery to maintain your reputation as a party metropolis. There are strip clubs, transvestite bistros, and even a bondage supply store, right alongside the Jesus action figures in the store next door. Whatever it is you may want or need, you can find it in New Orleans.
One of my favorite past times while in New Orleans is to attend a cooking school, usually specializing in Cajun and Southern recipes. The seafood is so fresh and comes straight from the docks. It’s still moving when you drop it in the pot.
For starters, there’s the best soft-shell crab in the world. There is a short window of opportunity to harvest these ocean delights. For approximately three weeks, the crab molts and loses its shell. That’s the time to snatch these brachyuran from their cozy home and aquatic nest and toss them into the deep fryer.
There is nothing better than deep-fried soft shell crab with collard greens, field peas, sweet potatoes, and hush puppies, and throw in a side of cole slaw. That’s what the Cajun French say is so good it will “Make you slap ur Granma.” Alligator is always a fun eating adventure, and if you listen to some of the tales about catching them, you’re transported into another world. If you ever get a chance to make it to this city of diversity and lovely Cajun people, you must take the plunge and delve into the soft shell crab.
The Garden District
A short distance from the French Quarter, by way of an authentic streetcar line, if you desire, is the Garden District. A couple of hours walking with a tour group for the historical background gives a great view of, as stated in Wikipedia: “The area was originally developed between 1832 and 1900 and is considered one of the best-preserved collections of historic mansions in the Southern United States. The 19th-century origins of the Garden District illustrate wealthy newcomers building opulent structures based upon the prosperity of New Orleans in that era. ”
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, located in the heart of the Garden District, is the oldest of the seven municipal, city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans, established in 1833. There are immigrants from over 25 different countries and natives of 26 states buried in the above ground tombs.
Visit The Big Easy
Put the city known as “The Big Easy” on your bucket list. It is one of those places that, every five or six steps down the street, you happen across another party, or an artist, or another great restaurant to try new and exotic food you have never eaten before.
The party continues in the French Quarter as it has since the pirates of Jean and Pierre Lafitte walked off the ship in 1793 and shouted “ Laissez les bon temps Rouler,” which means “Let the Good Times Roll.”