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NOLA! January 29, 2013

New Orleans was better than I expected, and I'd had pretty high hopes to begin with. 

What I expected: a Disney-fied city full of lights and magic and people who only cared about making a tourist buck. 

What we found: a working city full of lights and magic and people who cared about their city and the people visiting it. 

We stayed at the Hotel Villa Convento in the French Quarter on Ursulines. I'd just finished reading Heads in Beds (which was awesome, by the way, plus being half-set in New Orleans and written by someone who loves the city), and I was obsessed by this advice: Always tip the front desk clerk. 

Now, I was a front desk clerk for years. I worked a tiny hotel in San Luis Obispo, a sweet place where I made four loaves of bread every night before going to bed (we shut the desk from 11pm-7am, and I slept in a back dorm, staying from Friday night until Monday morning) so that the guests had fresh bread when they woke up. Every once in a while, I got a tip, and to that person I was grateful though I was sometimes confused. 

In the book, Tomsky says that you should always tip the desk. What's a twenty going to get you? Maybe nothing, but then you're only out twenty bucks. But hey, you might get an upgrade, or an extra perk, like a bottle of wine. I wanted to try it, but I was nervous. What if the clerk carefully picked up the bill between two fingers and sneered, "Is this a bribe, madam?" (Tomsky said this never happens.)

So as soon as we got to the small desk at the very old hotel, I said, "Hi, checking in, and uh, this is for you." I slid the bill across the old, scarred wood.

The darling man behind the counter said, "What's this?" (Worst nightmare.) 

I said, even more nervous, "It's for whatever you can do for us. [Stammering] You know, for a nice room, maybe?" 

"You're the last one in, and the only other room I have is the budget room." 

"Okay, then. That's just for you. I used to work front desk and I know how people can be." 

Oh, my friends. The look on his face! He just melted. "Oh! I NEEDED this. It's been SUCH a day, you have no idea!" 

I wasn't trying to buy a friend, and I know we would have made fast friends with Vincenzo anyway. But that just made it faster, right? Twenty bucks very well spent. I will absolutely do this on all my future trips. 

So our new bestie Vincenzo sent us down the block for a drink (I'd been up for literally 48 hours at that point, but really wanted to see a little of the city before we went to bed) to his favorite place, Pravda. At Pravda, we had a wonderful cocktail waitress named Lucy, who was so friendly it was unreal (we're from Northern California. We do politely disinterested, at best). She said, "Oh, you're not from here? Can I tell you some places to eat?" We expected her to return with a printed list of recommended restaurants. Instead, she brought us this. 

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Dante's Kitchen, best meal we've had in memory

And then she proceeded to take the time to tell us what she liked at each place and how to get to each one. ("Well, you could take a cab, but it would be better to take the streetcar. What you do is...")  This was Friday night after Mardi Gras season had just started. (Lala and I kept looking at each other and saying, "What? Are we in Canada or something? People are so nice.") 

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Speaking of Mardi Gras, we NEVER would have booked a trip had I known that Mardi Gras is not a day or even a week, but apparently a month or so of crazy-pants-time. But we were innocently clueless. Lala had an old friend there, and we met up with him and friends (awesome friends! Adopting them!) and did a local's night, watching the Petit Rex parade. A whole parade of little tiny floats! Plus bands! Jayzus! 

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And, oh, oh! We did a bike tour with Bob of Big Easy Bike Tours. This cannot be highly stressed enough: if you go to NOLA, go on a bike tour with him. Read his reviews there on Yelp. The man knows everything, and is passionate about the city.

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Bob, at the cemetery, talking about how the crypts are built. 

Three hours, pedaling through the (mercifully flat) town, we got miles and miles of information. The stories he told us about Congo Square in Armstrong Park made me teary, and I'll always think of that as the spiritual center of the town.

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His excitement was contagious, and the most important part was that he told us about THE DOG PARADE which was happening on Sunday. 

The Dog Parade (Barkus)! With New Orleans jazz bands? What? HEAVEN. 

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You know that game you play at the bar? "Who would you go home with?" We played "Who would you adopt?" This was the one I'd have taken home.

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She was very small, very short like a French bulldog with a head like a pittie and legs splayed like a cowboy long months on the trail. I fell in love with her joyous waddle. 

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Dachshunds are natural peacocks, after all.

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Her sign says "Show us your ticks!"

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Mr. Smartypants here would like Miss Idaho.

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We saw Bob!! He gave us a football for Clara.

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There is a very cute moment when Lala gives herself over to something. Example: She's going to LA. Fine. That'll be fun, she thinks. Then, when she's there, she's all, "DID YOU KNOW ABOUT HOLLYWOOD? THE STARS! THEY'RE AMAZING!" There's hand-flapping, friends. It's awesome. At the dog parade, at first she said, "Nah, no beads, no worries. Don't need 'em. Just here for the dogs, thanks." And as the children continued to throw them at us from their dog-mobiles, she turned to me and said, "THIS IS AMAZING. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. I WANT MOAR BEADS MOAR." In the above picture, she was finally (regretfully) culling her Mr. T. stash. 

It was the best freaking parade ever. 

I also got a very funny shirt while there: 

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If you don't get it, that's okay. 

New Orleans, it turns out, is Lala's Venice. She wandered at night, long after I'd gone back to the hotel, jamming on the banjo with some punk kids, losing herself in the streets. She's in love. (And in a particular way, New Orleans reminded me very much of Venice. A city that runs on tourist dollars yet still retains stubborn civic pride; a city falling down, crumbling at the edges but still beautiful; a city that smells of diesel and stagnant water and pastries; a city gorgeous in its unapologetic debauchery.)

We packed so much wunnerful stuff into a single weekend. And I adore the fact the fact that we'll be back. 

Comments

wonderful, glad to hear you had such a fantastic trip! i will always tip as well from here on!

Always nice to hear of a great trip somewhere, and I'll have to remember the recommendations if I get back there. We stopped once on a cross country trip, but it's hard to get much sightseeing done with a 5 and 1-year-olds along. Would love to go back.

And LOVE the t-shirt!

My hometown New Orleans is about way more than tourist dollars, just like Paris is a real city beyond the tourist center. Did you get out of the Quarter at all?

It is a great city to see from the ground up, isn't it? And the Dog parade...how much more perfect could it be? You always manage to meet great people, do interesting things and have so much fun! (Could be because you are great people, so much fun and interesting, ya think?)


Yay! Glad you had such a good time and that you got to experience some of Mardi Gras! NOLA is my Venice for sure! Thanks for the post it made me happy! :)

Oh the teeny tiny float is so cute - I'm not a dog person so I'm afraid it trumps the puppies for me although their float signs crack me up. What a wonderful trip, I'm glad you had such a good time c

Sounds like you two had fun there; makes me interested in seeing it at some point. Also, love the shirt

So glad you enjoyed New Orleans. I love that town. And tell Lala that Bead Greed is totally normal during Mardi Gras! :)
(why, yes, I do have an entire language built around Mardi Gras beads. Having been to Mardi Gras in NOLA twice will do that to you)

OMG. This is exactly why I love NOLA soooo much. So happy to read this. Also, when are we going to New Orleans? ;)

Your comparison of Venice and NOLA is fantastic. It sounds like the beginning of a bittersweet novel full of heartbreak and redemption.

Oh Rachael.......I'm so happy for you and Lala!! I keep telling your Dad that New Orleans is on my "bucket list"!! Thank you for the pictures, they are wonderful. You only went for the weekend? Thats soooooo doable!!! I think I see a new book with an entirely different setting coming in the near future!! hahaha So glad you made GREAT memories sweetie!

When I was 18 years old and picking a college, I picked Tulane because New Orleans reminded me of everything I loved about teenage trip to Europe. After 4 years, I was heartbroken to leave, but luckily I married a New Orleanian so I get to go back a few times a year. I love that city - particularly Uptown and the Garden District, but of course, also the Quarter.

I love the recap of the trip - sounds like you had such a great time.
BTW, I LOVE the shirt.

I absolutely love your comparison of Venice and New Orleans! So glad you two had a wonderful time, it's one of my favorite cities. (I'm very food motivated, of course, so you can't get much better than New Orleans!)

Sounds like a fantastic time! Great post!!

Wow - this was fun! I've never been to NOLA, but would love to visit.

I teach a course in American Popular Music, and we talk about Congo Square. Would it be ok if I show your picture of the memorial as part of it? (Just in class, with mention of whose picture it is?)

I love this! The shirt, the parades, everything. I have a friend who goes to school in New Orleans and I've been meaning to visit but have no money. We're going to do a crawdad bake when she comes back for spring break (we're in Colorado.)

So awesome reading this!! :D :D

just, smiling :) i do think the two of you take a lot of the magic around with you...

Ohhhhh, I love that shirt. People need to put on their listening ears. It would have saved SO MUCH STUPIDITY. Please tell me that you went to Cafe du Monde and ate beignets. I've only been to NOLA once, but we ate beignets five times in three days. We were dedicated. If you didn't eat them, please promise me you'll do it on your next trip. So delicious. I'm glad you had such a great time!

Best.Shirt.Ever!

Did you have beignets? A Pat O'Brien's Hurricane? I didn't take the bicycle tour (didn't know about it) but went on a ghost tour, which was incredible. Glad you had a great time. Took me about two minutes, but I love the shirt!!!

Love the shirt!! Never knew you were a hotel clerk. There is nothing better then the smell of bread baking. Looks like you had a wonderful time.

"Are we in Canada?" Snorting coffee. T-shirt? Picking self up from floor. EXcellent start to the day here!!

Love that shirt! Here's hoping to get to a time, real soon, when NOBODY hates figs. :)

Hi babe--great NOLA adventure. Outside of SF, it was your mom's favorite city, I managed to get her there twice. Pralines, oysters, River Road recipes all stayed with us.

I proposed a fix when New Orleans flooded--dig out canals, build up the buildable land, rebuild NOLA style. Venice West, and the world applauds.

Love,
Dad
(Fig friendly dude)

Oh my gosh, you wrote this so joyfully it just made me grin. I want to go to there!

Love the shirt. And your blog. You make me want to go back. But most of all, I love how much you love life. We could all use more of that. Figs are wonderful by the way.

How wonderful! I'm so glad you had a great trip to NO. I have been there once and I loved it. Hubby was at a work conference and I got to play tourist and had so much fun. Now that I know about the dog parade, I want to plan a trip to see it!

I have a daughter who now lives inNO and we go there frequently. The city reminds me of walking around IN a museum. never thought I would see that city much less love it.glad you had a good time. Get out of the French Quarter...see Uptown..go to Jean Lafite swamp...see the Creole plantation. best, mary in Cincinnati...800 miles from NOLA.

Great pics in a Great city! Do you and L have the "size 6" market cornored? Whow. New eating plan clearly making your lives beautiful!

Oh that fabulous t-shirt! I live in Colorado Springs (home of Ted Haggard, Focus on the Family and mega-churches- nuff said?) and would love to have one. Or maybe 2 or 3 since I think my sister and her wife would like it too (tho they live in Germany so it may not translate as well). Oh wait, my older daughters and at least one of my sons-in-law will probably want one too. Do they do mail order? Although after reading your post, I'm considering enrolling my youngest daughter in hockey camp over Spring Break and taking myself to 'Nawlins for a few days.

As a Canadian reader your Canada reference warmed my heart. Sounds like a wonderful trip and must put it on my 'to go!' list :)

So glad you and L had a fab time! I first went to NO when my husband's sis lived in the Quarter; he and I went twice during Jazz Fest. Best. Times. Ever. Friendliest people, delicious food, wonderful music everywhere, all the time. Every day felt like a celebration of LIFE.

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