My Love Affair with New Orleans

I woke up yesterday morning and missed New Orleans.  I missed it.  The way you miss the person that you love when you are apart.  I yawned, stretched, opened my eyes, and rolled over in bed, reaching out to hug the city–but it was gone.  Just my stupid sheets in my own stupid bed in Pennsylvania.  No live music.  No festively decorated balconies.  No cornmeal-crusted anything.  Deep sigh.

What makes a person fall in love with a city in this way?  Since it was my first love affair with a place, it came as a bit of a shock to me.  So I gave it some thought, and I have several theories as to when I fell in love with New Orleans.  But I’m pretty sure I know why it happened.

Bourbon street at noon

It was definitely not love at first sight.  In fact, while walking around the French Quarter on the day I arrived, I recall thinking something along the lines of perhaps I scheduled too much time here.  No, I did not love New Orleans in my first few hours there.  I was unable to check into my hotel, exhausted from very little sleep the night before, and wandering down Bourbon street in the bright light of mid-afternoon (which is not really something anyone should ever do).

It wasn’t my first meal in the city that started my city-crush.  After my exhausted ramblings, I stopped for a sampler plate from Remoulade, featuring, among many things, my first taste of turtle soup.  Though I have to say–the fact that the waitress automatically brought hot sauce to the table did score the first point in favor of Nola and, particularly, its cuisine.  But my first literal taste of the city didn’t immediately ignite the passion I’d eventually feel towards New Orleans.

No, like most love affairs, I can’t really put my finger on exactly where or when it began.  There were moments when I realized that I might have feelings for the city.  The cocktail tour that evening was a pretty great first date with Nola.  While we didn’t go all the way that night, I could see the relationship going somewhere.  But the next day, things quickly turned serious.  Upon waking up–late–I slowly made my way down to the French Market cafe, where there was music playing.  So I sat down and ordered breakfast.  While basking in the surprisingly warm sun and listening to live music as I ate my meal–on a Thursday morning in late January–I realized how lucky I was.  I smiled at New Orleans, and she smiled back.

Oh yeah...that's love!

Holding hands and skipping down the street, Nola and I enjoyed two blissful days together.  We wandered through the park, visited more than our share of bars and restaurants, and chatted with the wonderful people that call New Orleans home.  We enjoyed po boys together, licking our fingers clean.  We took photos of street musicians–and tipped them accordingly.  Hell, we even rode a streetcar and visited the zoo.  By the time Saturday arrived and I had to sail away–which, when you think about it, is pretty damn romantic in its own right–I didn’t want to go.  As the taxi carried me away from the narrow streets of the quarter and toward the sterile halls of a commercial cruise ship, I snapped one last photo out the window of the cab.  Goodbye, New Orleans, I said in my mind.  I’ll miss you.

Had I been a cartoon, little hearts would have been streaming out of my eyes, knocking into things, and breaking into even smaller hearts.

It was on my last night in town that I realized not just that I loved New Orleans, but why I loved her…er, it.  You see, love is all about timing.  And at this point in my life, New Orleans was exactly what I needed.  And as I sat at a bar with a friend that night, I saw a cat out of the corner of my eye.  The cat was just wandering around the bar.  Being a cat, he (or she) felt like he had the run of the place, and a few moments later I noticed him up on one of the bar tables.  As he walked along the bar rail from table to table, he rubbed up against bottles of ketchup and women’s purses; occasionally someone would pet him, and he’d squish his face up in that happy cat expression that’s so damn cute.  And I thought–there’s a cat in this bar.  And no one cares.

This is why I love New Orleans.  Because for some reason, it seems that people there just take life a little less seriously.  And for me, this year has been about taking myself a lot less seriously–in fact, I just wrote about that over on my other blog, in a post where I finally allowed myself to curse in writing.  And why can’t I curse in writing if people in New Orleans can openly smoke in bars, men can paint themselves silver and stand on street corners with penis balloons between their legs and cats can roam freely amongst condiments on table tops?

I miss you, New Orleans.  And I love you.  Don’t ever change.


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