Finding the soul in the Big Easy

“…I put a spell on you, because you’re mine…”

Nina Simone’s words came to mind as the hotel shuttle barreled down the interstate towards what appeared to be the depths of New Orleans. I could not help feeling that my soul was on a string gently yet forcibly being pulled in the direction of the French Quarter. It might have been the fact that we were going over eighty miles per hour (there is only a speed minimum sign of forty miles per hour), or maybe it was the history, the heart of what New Orleans has endured, displaying itself for all to see.

It was gritty.

Along the street in New Orleans
Night time in the Big Easy

Construction scaffolding, water damage, shingling crews and homelessness decorated the streets. The shuttle pulled onto the off-ramp. Our driver slowed and reached for a few bills to offer out the window as a young man humbly walked up. “Bless you, man.” he replied. Our driver rolled up the window and received a pat on the back from a fellow traveler. The driver simply stated “We are all one heartbeat away from a different life.”

The song of New Orleans was lament and hope which seemed to weep from every alleyway, open door and musician I walked passed. The city’s voice was jazz and it lived on the ashes of its past, hoping to one day again rise into the beauty it feels.

I felt it. I wanted to feel more. My hunt began.

The first stop was at The French Market Restaurant and Bar where my fellow hunter for this trip, Julia, and I sat down to a sampling of Louisiana soul food which included alligator gumbo, maque choux and crawfish etouffee. I added to this treat an Amber from Abita which came recommended to me by the Marriott where we were residing for this adventure. I was not disappointed. Abita’s Amber was traditional, not too heavy and not too light, leaving me room to enjoy my next stop, Cafe Du Monde.

Coffee and Beinegts at Cafe du Monde
Coffee and Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Beignets anyone? How about three. With a pound of powdered sugar you say? Might as well. Can you put that on the smallest plate possible? Perfect. Throw in some piping hot coffee and you have got a deal! If you’ve ever needed to put a diabetic into a coma be sure to stop by Cafe Du Monde, they will do their best.

Foolishly thinking we could walk off a bit of our soul food, Julia and I lumbered back along Decatur Street to our beds to be lulled to sleep with dreams of tomorrow’s songs.

Day two greeted us with a brightly lit sky, glistening architecture and a grumbling, empty stomach. Time to strap on the feed bag.

We stretched our legs along with the rest of the city and made our way to a previously decided upon destination, the Crescent City Brewhouse. A saxophone was howling at us as we neared the brew house and we were ushered in by a low methodical double bass echoing its rhythm in our chests.

We were entranced. Gripped by the honesty of the city’s soul.

A spiraling staircase floated us to our perch above the street and we sat amid the wrought iron relics while the jazz music below sang us a story of Fever. I ordered an alligator and pork sausage po’ boy with a side of roasted red pepper and crab aioli accompanied by a flight of five beers that Crescent City brewed just inside.

The beers arrived only moments after our waitress disappeared with our order and in no time I was ready to sample more. I quickly realized that this city was bent on providing us with every reason to stay. Of the five samples, the Red was my favorite closely followed by the dark lager. The Red followed a Viennese style of lagers and reminded me of the Amber I had the previous night while the Black lager offered a surprisingly light roasted note with a near absent hop flavor.

The beers had me excited to learn the story behind them but my po’ boy left me wondering why I didn’t choose the jambalaya instead. It seemed the song of our meal had ended and the po’ boy was the awkward kid in a folding chair wishing someone invited them to dance.

It was just sad.

Dry and lifeless. I was delighted that I ordered a side of the aioli. I slathered my meager sample onto the bread and took a bite. Ah yes, there was that soft music again. Would you care to dance?

St. Louis Cathedral.
Onlookers walk by outside the St. Louis Cathedral.

Easing down the street we stepped into an awaiting carriage that provided a half hour rolling historic tour of the French Quarter. With a “Get along!” our driver edged into traffic and regaled us with brassy, sarcastic and insightful stories of the Quarter. We clopped along down the historical streets where so many lives once had and still continue to inspire the culture in a never ending perpetual motion. From the St. Louis Cathedral to the oldest bar in the United States to the ever popular Bourbon Street, the tour provided us with a sampling of life in New Orleans.

The tour ended and so it seemed our visit was on its swan song. Julia and I lazily made our way to Cafe Du Monde for a last effort to absorb the intoxicating aroma that was New Orleans before we settled into our room for the last time. Conversations swirled around us and I was reminded of the few days I spent in France some years earlier. The air was balmy and my heart was content for the first time in a while. It was full of New Orleans’ soul– a soul so full of life that it didn’t mind sharing. It was a soul I looked forward to visiting again soon.

“…I put on a spell on you, because you’re mine…”

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