Category Archives: new orleans

NOLA for Dummies Rookies

St Louis Cathedral

Special thanks to my friend LeslieAnn for the great photo!

My beloved city has been getting a lot of press lately. Camera crews are everywhere preparing for the Super Bowl. Talk shows are broadcasting live from the French Quarter and media credentials have been issued to reporters from over 200 countries. 

And as soon as the Lombardi trophy is handed to the game’s victor, we’ll shift gears into our biggest tourist event, Mardi Gras. After that, festival season kicks in, with event after event booking our weekends until the summer heat drives us indoors.

All this press will surely make a few of you yearn for a trip to the Big Easy. So I’ve prepared this little primer for traveling to New Orleans. Read it carefully before packing your bags.

Let’s Talk

First, let me address the name of our fair city. It’s New Or-luns. Not New Or-leens (unless you are singing a certain song where things must rhyme), and not N’Awlins. If you’re insecure with the pronunciation you can just say NOLA. We will respect you for trying, but we will love you for getting it right.

While we’re on the subject of word pronunciation, here are a few more you may want to practice.

The tiny, lobster-like crustaceans we love to eat are called crawfish (rhymes with draw fish). Not craa-fish (like in “Hey fish”).

Following that same pattern, the delicious sugary treats made in the French Market are called pralines (praw-leens, again, first syllable rhymes with draw), not pray-leens.

The nuts inside the pralines (remember, praw-leens) are called pecans (pa-cahns), not pee-cans. A pee-can is something completely different. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

And street names. Ahhh, street names. Don’t even try to pronounce Tchoupitoulas if you’re not from here. Just point and ask for help.

It will also behoove you to know that here, we ride in street cars, not trolleys or cable cars. And ordering a sandwich dressed means it will come with lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. When you’re ready to leave and you haven’t finished your drink, ask for a Go-Cup. Yes, they’ll pour your beverage (even an adult one) in a disposable cup and you can take it with you. Just don’t drive with it. That we take very seriously.

Cocktail Culture

Here in the birthplace of the cocktail, we love to raise a glass. (Please don’t judge. It’s just our way.) Locals don’t maintain a tourist’s pace every day. That would be deadly. But be prepared for a prevalence of adult beverages during your stay, and know what you’re getting yourself into.

For a list of 10 Classic New Orleans cocktails and where to get them, click here.

My suggestions: Make sure you try a Sazerac, the original cocktail. It’s a rye whisky drink with a fun history that you can read about here. It was developed by an apothecary in the 19th century, so you can claim it’s for medicinal purposes. They’re served all over town, but the legendary Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel is the place to go for the real thing.

I’d also recommend trying a Pimm’s Cup, a refreshing, relatively low-alcohol beverage best enjoyed at the Napoleon House. Skip the Hurricane and Hand Grenade, unless cheap liquor in large quantities is what you’re after.

Another pioneering bit of New Orleans cocktail culture is the daiquiri machine. These sweet and potent concoctions are kind of like an alcohol-laced slurpee. Daiquiri bars will boast more flavors than Baskin-Robbins, with machines lined up behind the bar to entice you. They’re great on a really hot day, but I’d skip those in favor of something a little more sophisticated.

The cocktail has become such a revered part of our history and culture you can now take a walking tour through the French Quarter bars and restaurants that have become famous because of their libations. Wear comfortable shoes and designate a driver if your hotel isn’t within walking distance.

When you have to “go”

Finding a restroom in a drinking and walking city sometimes presents a problem. During special events it’s nearly impossible. So city planners and event organizers will put out banks of portable toilets for the public to use.

Let me make this perfectly clear: If you are unwilling to use a Port-O-Let, you should stay home. When the number of tourists exceeds the population, there’s no avoiding it.

Watch your step

After a night of revelry in the French Quarter, a certain blend of “liquids” accumulates along the edge of the streets. We call that liquid Party Gravy. Never, ever step in the Party Gravy. Most of the time it’s harmless, just spilled drinks and the leftover puddles from our tropical showers. But sometimes people get a little carried away when they’re here, and forget their good manners. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Don’t discuss your footwear with strangers.

Unless you actually want to pay someone to shine your shoes, do not engage the shoe shiners. They will ask you in a somewhat polite manner if you’d like your shoes shined. Once you make eye contact and speak to them, they set the hook. Then it will go something like this:

“Want your shoes shined?”

“No, thanks.”

But he will not give up.

“Well, then, I betcha I can tell you where you got them shoes.”

“Sorry, no thanks.”

Still he will persist.

“I betcha five dollars I can tell you the exact street where you got them shoes.”

If you pause and make eye contact, you have accepted the bet. Certain that the dude has no idea where you purchased your shoes, you will engage. The shoe shiner will then announce that you “got them shoes on your feet” and that “your feet are on Bourbon Street.” There will then be a loud confrontation where he demands his $5. If there isn’t a cop within 20 feet you will pay the creep the $5 to get away.

Pace Yourself

No one comes to New Orleans to eat a turkey sandwich. Our food is rich and plentiful. And when it’s chased with a cocktail or two, you get easily fall victim to over-indulgence. Know your limits, and then only exceed them by a little. You gotta have fun, right?

If you decide to trek down to NOLA, give me a shout. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to make your visit memorable. And maybe even join you for a cocktail.

Have you been to New Orleans? If you have, did a shoe shiner ask you where you got your shoes?

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Disclaimer: This amusing description does not even come close to what New Orleans has to offer. It’s a great destination, full of history, culture, and energy. For more comprehensive information on travel to New Orleans, click on of these links. Then pack your bags and head on down!

New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau — http://www.neworleanscvb.com/

Go NOLA — http://www.gonola.com/

Louisiana Tourism – the official tourism site of the state of Louisiana — http://www.louisianatravel.com/new-orleans

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Leaving the Storm Behind

With the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, I’ve made a decision.  This will be the last year I mark this anniversary.  I’m willing to tell the story one last time, as a final catharsis to anyone who still wants to hear it.  Then I’m going to declare it in the past.

The first responder marking says: 1 Dead in Attic. Photo credit: Eliot Kamenitz/The Times-Picayune

The first responder marking says: 1 Dead in Attic. Photo credit: Eliot Kamenitz/The Times-Picayune

Katrina is still in our daily vocabulary.  We use her as a reference in time.  We refer to her as an experience that reshaped our lives and our communities.  We blame her for our losses.  We thank her for our renewal.

Putting it in the past is going to be a hard thing to do, for every day I drive past vacant lots where families once lived, and empty houses with broken windows and spray-painted first-responder code still on the front.  But I also drive past gleaming new schools, manicured parks, and thriving communities.  Those who haven’t moved forward with rebuilding have obviously made their decision.

This memorial is across the street from the Convention Center. The inscription to the right reads: Honoring the people and remembering the events that occurred August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Photo credit: community.devexpress.com

I’m going to be part of the “new” New Orleans.

I’m going to reflect one last time on this event that changed my life.  I’m going to recall a few details, commit the lessons to my memory, and thank those you saved me when I most needed saving.

One last time.

The Running of the Bulls — New Orleans Style

The secret’s out.  We do things a little differently here in New Orleans.  Usually bigger, louder, and with a hell-of-a party at the end.  So when I heard about the Running of the Bulls, NOLA style, I knew Mr. Wonderful and I had to be a part of it.

Officially, the Festival of San Fermin in Nueva Orleans, NOLA’s Running of the Bulls is a little different from the centuries-old event in Spain you may have seen on the news this week.  It starts off with the traditional procession featuring the statue of San Fermin, the patron saint of Navarre, who is rumored to have met his death by the horns of a bull on the streets of Pamplona in the fourth century.  But our version differs from the traditional after that.

Our “bulls” are roller derby girls, clad in red and black with horned helmets and baseball bats.  They roll through the streets amongst the runners, shrieking and swinging their bats.  It’s one of those things that you really can’t explain.  You have to be there.

We started our day early, pulling out of the driveway about 6:30 a.m.  By 7:00 the crowd was already thousands-deep.  Some had coffee, others Bloody Marys (blood being the theme of the day), and the purists had their beer.  The bulls were tightening up their skates and straightening their fishnets, while the runners roamed the area seeking friends and photo ops.  It was surreal.

Me and my peeps getting ready for the big event!

At 7:30, the formal procession began, with the statue of San Fermin carried through the streets accompanied by musicians and hordes of the “faithful.”  As his procession concluded, the announcer called for the line-up.

The procession begins.

"Making the way" for San Fermin.

The Encierro (bull run) is led NOLA-style, by the Krewe of the Rolling Elvi.  (Yes, the plural of Elvis is Elvi.)  As they blaze the one-mile trail thousands of runners follow behind, waiting for the release of the bulls from one of the three “bull pens” along the route.  When the bulls hit the pavement, the casual pace turns frantic as runners hear the bulls coming up behind them, and the sound of the bats striking (and I do mean striking) is immediately followed by yelps from the runners.  The first couple of strikes let you know exactly what you’re in for, and gives you the chance to make the decision whether to remain in the street or seek refuge on the sidewalk.  I chose the former.  (No regrets.)  I did skip the gauntlet at the end, though.  (Maybe next year.)

Bull Pen at Line Up

The media reports said 10,000 people participated!

The Krewe of the Rolling Elvi led the run.

Some of the bulls took their roles with a bit of humor.  Others took it very seriously.  About 1 in 10 “whacks” was delivered with a vengeance.  I understood fully the sign announcing that we were to “run at our own risk” once that first serious blow struck my hind quarters.

Big Easy Roller Girl!

Whack!

At this point, you may be asking “Why?”

To that, there is only one response, ¿Por qué no? 

It was, without a doubt, one of the longest and most fun miles of my life!  Accompanied by my BFF Elena, (our husbands and Elena’s firstborn left us behind) I experienced a strange explosion of fear, excitement, and chaos, wrapped up in adrenaline.  Words can’t describe it.  So here are a couple of videos:

The first video was professionally produced, and is worth the 10-minute investment to watch.  It tells the story well.

The next video was taken by a cell phone, so its quality is less impressive, but it was taken by my BFF’s son Ryan, and makes you feel the chaos.  One of the shouts you will hear is Mr. Wonderful.

As with all things, there is something to be learned.  Never attempt to block a bat being swung at your backside with your hand.  There are no bones in your backside, and it can survive a blow better than a hand.  (I drove myself straight to the Urgent Care Clinic after the party for an x-ray.  Hairline fracture.  Well worth it!)   Mr. Wonderful took one on the thigh.

Mr. Wonderful's battle scar.

As El Padrino announced from the balcony of Ernst Café  before the start of the event, “New Orleans ain’t for the normal.”

So if you feel the need to experience this unique event next July, give me a shout.  I’ll bring the sangria.