There is a warmth here in New Orleans, which encourages you to come in, to sit down and enjoy. Perhaps it is just the service oriented economy, with people choosing employment in tourism and food industries, or maybe it’s just in people’s nature here to be friendly. But it shows through. It appears from the cook out back of the restaurant, having a smoke on an upturned bucket, nodding for us to come back and have a good time in the city, from the taxicab driver who welcomes you to New Orleans.
It is perhaps the first place I’ve ever visited which I’ve thought to myself, I’d like to return again. Certainly other tourists we meet all seem to think the same thing.
The night before we went to the Praline Connection, a local diner just east of the French Quarter near Frenchmen St. where the jazz clubs are. I had meatloaf and Siobhan had ribs, with sides of collard greens, alligator sausage and macaroni and cheese. We have been eating a lot here and while the food is fantastic, we haven’t had a lot of vegetables at all. I think there was a point where I leaped out of the chair and grabbed for a salad which floated by with a server.
Today we went to John Besh’s August for lunch. Similarly, our waiter immediately made us feel at ease, offering us sourdough bread but warning us not to fill up on them as better things were to come. We had salad with blue cheese and a handmade pasta with a deconstructed pesto cream sauce and heirloom tomatoes. We both had fish for lunch, which was quite nice, because it made for a nice light meal.
In the morning, we took the St. Charles Avenue streetcar out west from Canal Street towards the Garden District. The street cars are old classics, their heavy trucks squeaking around turns, windows open with a gentle breeze as rolled along. Again, as we passed on the west side, the city looks completely different. In the Garden District, large stately manors are framed by beautiful old trees in this part of the city. We walked towards an old cemetery, which are often listed as highlights in New Orleans guidebooks. Like houses here which don’t have basements, the dead are entombed into above ground structures, often for a family or social group like firefighters from a firehall. I can’t say I enjoyed it, it seemed a bit voyeuristic, although they are very popular, especially with tour groups at night.
The afternoon brought us to the Warehouse District, which, to the west of the French Quarter, featured museums. I went to the National World War II Museum, which features exhibits on the Normandy and Pacific D-Day campaigns. When you walk into the front door, you can see the giant wing span of a Douglas C-47 cargo plane, hung from the rafters, a common sight overhead during World War II. There’s also a film with Tom Hanks in the nearby building, which describes the fronts America fought on during that conflict.
It’s interesting how the museum ends with the question of whether the use of nuclear weapons was the right decision, given the first exhibition’s detail on the thousands who died to retake Europe during and after D-Day. Having visited the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, their definitive answer is quite different. However fundamentally different, I enjoyed visiting the Museum– it was quite a change from our previous days of jazz and bayous.
Our last night in New Orleans, we went to see more jazz on Decatur Street and had dinner at the Praline Connection again, as it was close by and I was craving the macaroni and cheese. The waiter there recognized us from the night before and encouraged us to come back. He referenced, like many folks here, the need for more people to visit and to see that, in his words, we’re getting right back to normal. I am glad we came to New Orleans. It is a city of excess, to be sure, but a warm and friendly one like no other.