Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Return to the Big Easy

My husband and I spent the weekend in New Orleans. An old college friend was having a huge 40th birthday party. She and I met as freshman at Tulane more than 22 years ago—eek! that's a sobering number of years. She had always said that if she hadn't married by 40, she would make her birthday party her "wedding." And she did. A crawfish boil at her house in the Bywater Friday night, and the official party Saturday night at the Saturn Bar, an infamous dive bar and one of her regular hangouts in the Bywater.

At first, I wondered how a dive bar fit into her idea of the party cum wedding, but it turned out great. It's an old New Orleans bar with lots of style and charm that is made more charming by the low lighting. My friend had rented out the bar and brought into yummy catering. Servers passed hot crawfish pies and fried green tomatoes. While my husband bellied up to the raw oyster bar (I'm still not a fan), I ate the mini muffeletas and boiled shrimp. There were not one, but two bands, and of course, being New Orleans, an open bar.

I have lots of pictures and will probably turn this into a few posts, but before I do that. I want to pass along a plea from New Orleanians.

Go, visit New Orleans.

The city is still about excess and eccentricity. The people still know how to laissez the bon temps roulĂ©. The areas of town that most of us would visit—the French Quarter, the Garden District, Uptown—are intact and look much like they did pre-Katrina. The city has the vibrancy and lust for life and fun it always had. The restaurants and bars, the zoo, and now even the streetcar are waiting for you.

What it doesn't have as much of these is tourists. For better or worse, tourism remains New Orleans primary industry, and it is hurting. This weekend the NBA All-Star game was being played in the Superdome, and even with that huge influx of people, the city wasn't full. The bartender at the Napoleon House commented that the game had brought some attention to the city, but business was still down.

In the year post-Katrina, tourism and sales in New Orleans were good. My friend runs a cute boutique on Magazine Street, which sells New Orleans-centric items, and she did great business shortly after Katrina. People in the city and around the country wanted to support New Orleans businesses. Now business is slower and has not recovered to pre-Katrina levels.

So if you are looking to support one of the country's great cities, go to New Orleans. The drive from Austin is manageable. A flight is even quicker, but both are doable for a weekend. The Crescent City Classic 10K is on Easter weekend. Jazz Fest takes place the last weekend in April and the first in May.

And to answer the question I know you have: New Orleans has for many years been among the most violent cities in the United States. That dubious distinction remains. But for the most part, the crime now is as it was when I attended Tulane—limited to certain areas most of us would never knowingly venture into. Yes, there are times when crime spills over into other areas, but you are smart travelers and know where to walk and where to take a cab.

Okay, off my soapbox and on to the photos. We didn't have nearly as much time as I needed to reacquaint myself with New Orleans, but I did make some visits to Tulane, Audubon Park and the surrounding streets, and the French Quarter.

In bloom around the city:

A camellia bud behind the ubiquitous iron railings:

Another bud but I am not sure of the plant. I didn't see any open flowers.

Look to the right of the bird, and you'll see the chick poking its head out.
The oaks in Audobon Park:
You often see horseback riders in the park. There are stables in the back of the park.
You don't often see someone walking her pet goat in the park:
But in New Orleans you come to expect the unexpected.


  1. Your mystery plant with the red/orange flower is an abutilon. I bought one for my garden a few months ago from Barton Springs Nursery and it's kept its leaves through all the freezes, but it hasn't bloomed since I brought it home.

  2. That mystery bud(abutilon - thanks, Lori!) is beautiful. I'll have to learn more about it.

    Rachel @ in bloom/