Life in the Quarter, as the locals refer to the French nook of New Orleans, certainly has its perks. To start, living within walking distance of Vietnamese po-boys and fresh produce is quite convenient, given the high humidity. Not to mention the scenic route of Royal Street is not unlike that of New York’s Bleecker Street; a pleasant familiarity which I welcomed.
I would later discover the art of the New Orleans Stroll. New Yorkers think they can stroll. Boy have we been misinformed. The NOLA stroll (not to be confused with swagger) represents a of a way of life that demands one to become fully enveloped in their surroundings, even when nothing but the heat of the sun on your neck and a street lined with shacked up shanties are all you’ve got to absorb.
So with our best foot forward, our Tuesday looked something like this:
1.) Orange and Juice: Meena sported her 2009 “Syracuse Marathon Men” t-shirt to breakfast, so it wasn’t a surprise when a woman proceeded to ask her: “Excuse me, did you go to Syracuse?” What was surprising was that while New York is over-saturated with ‘Cuse alumns, New Orleans has a population 360,740 (as of 2011). Hence, an unexpected run-in with Orange alumni. With bagels, coffee and 25 years between us, we reminisced over dining halls, programs that are no longer offered (nursing, specifically) and of course, the Carrier Dome.
2.) French Market: In the spirit of supporting local businesses, we ventured down to the quarter’s second pride and joy (the first being Bourbon Street), the French Market and French Flea Market. Upon gawking at the intricate detailing of local artist Nurhan Gokturk‘s watercolors, Meena commented that her best style (under no training) was limited to stick figures. Without missing a beat, Nurhan used the back of a manila envelope for an impromptu sketching session of both Meena and myself, free of charge. (I’ll let you critique his work for yourself):
3.) Sam the Snake: “Sam just thinks I’m Mom, Dad and the whole nine yards!” exclaimed John T. the ‘reader’ on duty at the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum on the year and a half-old rare West African python he sat stroking. “I’ve known her since she was about the size of this here pencil,” his face beamed like a proud papa in denial of his daughter’s drug habit. With a stoic expression, he went on to describe, in detail, of the method his other python (“Two feet longer than this room is wide”) used to kill and consume its prey, and potentially humans if it came to it.
I let him finish. Hiding my fear, I asked if he ever felt in jeopardy, being the owner of “the 3rd most dangerous python in the world.” He stared me square on and simply replied, “Nope.”
Meena, with tougher skin than I’ll ever have, answered the call to hold the one and a half year-old. That’s just one line I refuse to cross.
We later discovered John T. was not lying about aforementioned python:
4.) One Small Step for Man: A “po-boy” down here is sandwich art, and can include anything from corned beef, ham, swiss and olives or straight up fries. As twentysomethings on a budget, our resident expert Emily recommended the divine Vietnamese po-boys from Moon Wok, which came in at $3 a pop. We were game for some fried tofu po-boys (sans jalepenos for me), and divine they were.
5.) Old School Meets New Rule: The sounds of an amateur brass band in the distance is common in the Quarter, but for an authentic experience, the Preservation Hall jazz band rightfully deserves all of my five stars of approval. Due to limited seating (and I mean limited, circa 30 seats!) we were forced to stand and endure the heat with nothing but a few ceiling fans to remind us of what cool felt like. But the upbeat syncopated rhythms of Shannon Powell’s drum coupled with Marc Braud’s trumpet solo, the bright, soulful result was sweeter than the sweetest whiskey-infused brown sugar sauce on bread pudding. (And that comparison is the truth.) Their control of each note demanded our attention and respect, jazz lover or not.
Cut to the Maple Leaf, a mid-size bar and music venue that regularly plays host to local bands. Taking the stage were a cast of characters known for their 2012 Grammy win, a NOLA brass band called Rebirth. With the same passion and control as Preservation Hall, these boys used nothing but brass, percussion and their voices in a combined jazz and hip hop sound to take us out of the sweaty bar and into a party worth staying for.
6.) Late Night Eats: Fact: New Yorkers have some of the best food establishments at our disposal open at convenient times, up to, but not including dollar pizza. While most kitchens in the Quarter close up at 10 or midnight, for a short drive, NOLAites can venture out to the Garden District for a warm and savory Spinach and Artichoke quesadilla at the Balcony Bar and Cafe. (Every place here has a wrap-around balcony. This particular establishment makes me want to install one in my future home.)
And if you’re wondering how we could’ve gone an entire day without a beignet from Cafe Du Monde, well, we did indeed save the best for last. (Not intentionally.) The French Market locale happens to be open 24/7. We devoured our sugar-coated puffs of fried deliciousness at the prime hour of 2:00 am, in my personal opinion, the only time a beignet should be devoured.