Tag Archives: Mardi Gras

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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Happy Mardi Gras!

Today, I took one for the team. I stayed home on Mardi Gras.

If you don’t already know this, today is Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day, the culmination of our weeks-long celebration leading up to the somber season of Lent here in Catholic New Orleans.

If you’ve never been to Mardi Gras or to New Orleans, you should definitely put it on your bucket list. I know there are other Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations around the world, but ours is unique for many reasons. But I digress…

This story is about my family.

My family loves Mardi Gras. But we love it in different ways.

Uptown parade via Nola.com

Uptown parade via Nola.com

My idea of a great Mardi Gras is having a base camp at the beginning of the route with chairs and ladders and food and potty passes somewhere. My preferred location is on Napoleon Avenue, at the beginning of the parade route, nestled under a lacy canopy of live oaks, with actual grass beneath my feet. Because it the beginning of the route, you have to arrive early, while most of the city is still pondering their second cup of coffee. Or second Bloody Mary.

For Slick and The Trailblazer, a great Mardi Gras experience means being further up St. Charles Avenue, where throngs of high school and college students flock. (Mardi Gras is the new Spring Break.) The scene up there is a bit intense for me, and the thick crowds give me the heebie-jeebies, so I prefer to leave them with their own kind while I stay with mine.

For Mr. Wonderful, being in the thick of the action, not tied down to chairs and a home base, drifting with the crowd chasing an elusive Zulu coconut and eating from street vendors is Utopia. Before we had children, we schlepped through the French Quarter, caught the drag queen costume contest, roamed through the city in search of fun. It was never my thing, but he loved it so much I went along with it. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time, but I’m definitely a fair-weather fan of this season.

Once the kids came, we settled down a bit, hunkering in a hotel on St. Charles Avenue for the long weekend, partying til someone dropped. The kids slept on the floor of the old mansion-turned-hotel and ate pub food for days.

But as they got older, the family became divided. The teenagers tired of hanging with mom and dad for days on end. After three kids my bladder could no longer go all day with limited potty stops. But Mr. Wonderful’s lust for the party never ceased.

The kids and I were holding him back.

Then last week, Mr. Wonderful and I found ourselves downtown on a parade night with only The Caboose in tow. As we approached the parade route, the boy ran ahead to get there first. Mr. Wonderful glanced back at me, looking for permission to follow. I nodded my consent and he took off after the little dude. I caught up a few minutes later to hear them shouting and having fun, with an armload of beads and a giant stuffed fish. Two peas in their Mardi Gras pod.

So Sunday, when Mr. Wonderful commented about last year’s Mardi Gras Day rain out, and how upset he was when the rain clouds passed and he saw the TV broadcast of the people on the streets reveling without him, I knew I had to throw him a bone. I convinced The Caboose that he and dad would have a great time on the man-prowl. No one to tether them to a bathroom, no one to make them stay put in mom’s happy place. They could travel light, work their through the crowd, go where the wind would take them.

I sent them off without me, so they could have their kind of fun.

My theory was validated at 9:25 this morning, when the first photo came via dad’s Blackberry of a smiling boy.

Shortly after that came another photo of The Caboose holding his Zulu coconut. More followed, all chronicling the day exactly as I hoped it would go. Father and son, having fun together, making special memories at on Carnival Day.

The Mardi Gras prize: A Zulu coconut. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

King Zulu. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

Hail Rex. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

I’m sure (OK, I hope) when they return home this afternoon, they’ll both say I should have come. But the truth is it couldn’t be both ways. Their kind of fun is different from my kind. And today I wanted them to have their kind.

Next year I’ll probably go with them, and we’ll figure out a compromise that covers us all.

But I’m certain that someday I’ll hear them telling stories about this day – the year they went out by themselves – and the adventures they had. And I’ll smile.