I first wanted to visit New Orleans

after reading “Interview with a Vampire” from Anne Rice’s series decades ago.

She described New Orleans in such beautiful, vintage detail that I thought I must walk those streets and see those scenes.

The desire hovered in the back of my traveling heart, dormant but not forgotten until I got addicted to the Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Just reading the word, “mellifluous,” used to describe Agent Pendergast’s soft Louisianan accent was enough to renew my urge to visit. When Alex had a business trip there in October, I jumped at the chance to go.

Our first night was at a Marriott property—one floor from the top and a great view of the Mississippi River, where we saw, “The Watermelon Ship.” Okay, it was a big ship painted pink and green and black but it reminded me of the watermelon candy we got when we were kids.

The next hotel (a business-booked place) was a desirable location by day, but not so much by night. We aren’t party-revelers and being a half block off Bourbon street—which seriously never sleeps—wasn’t good for someone like me: notorious for waking up when feathers fall out of my pillow.

Shops at Jackson Square, New Orleans

Shops at Jackson Square, New Orleans

But let’s push that aside and talk about the beauty and surprises of being in the French Quarter.

First, the food. I could write volumes about the food. I love to eat and the folks there know how to cook. Some of my favorite restaurants:

Broussards on Rui Conte

Try the salmon served with a spinach farci that we wish we could replicate. The service was quietly perfect.

Court of Two Sisters on Rue Royale

How a restaurant as robust and rowdy as it could be romantic, I’m not sure, but it was. Amid the chaos of The Courtyard with at least 150 other diners were wait staff dancing through the crowded tables to deliver delectable food with a flourish. I had crabmeat pasta that melted in my mouth.

The Palace Café on Canal Street

Alone one afternoon, I stopped by their Sidewalk Café to be treated like I was a queen. I had pecan pie topped by praline ice cream and served with their special coffee. I think I walked miles that day trying to work off the calories. No regrets.

Cafe du Monde

I’m not wild about beignets, even when they are served in an atmosphere of crowded exuberance and powdered sugar-filled air, surrounded by musicians–a guitarist and a rotund young man who looked twelve but had the voice of an old blues singer. I could have eaten beignets all evening just to keep listening to him croon.

Besides the food, I was struck by how genuinely kind and polite people were. I don’t mean hotel or wait staff. I mean people smiling at you as you walk down the street and artists we stopped to chat with in Jackson Square, or the Tabasco Country Store owner who took the time to explain the Saints emblem (always wanting to be called Lily after grandma Lillian, I have a special affection for the fleur-de-lis) you see everywhere.

Cafe Beignet, New Orleans

Daily street bands & Cafe Beignet in NOLA

I have to mention the young man who helped me on the bus ride I took to the National World War II Museum. I’ve never ridden a city bus before. Standing in line I confirmed with him that this bus would take me to the museum. Yes. Climb on board and wait for the bus to stop at the museum. Tap, tap on my shoulder. The fellow tells me the museum is coming up on my right. Thank you. I sit and wait for the bus to stop. Tap, Tap—it’s right there! I smile and the bus drives by. Now I’m confused; does the bus stop after the museum? Tap, tap! You have to pull the cord to make the bus stop. I start laughing and he pulls the cord for me. I have to walk three blocks to get back to the museum!

National World War II Museum

I’m always humbled by our soldiers. Always. We traveled to DC in March and the memorials wreck me.

But this museum was something else. Maybe it was being greeted by a trio of World War II Veterans that automatically did me in. Or donating $10 beyond the ticket price because then WWII Veterans get into the museum free. Maybe it was reading the placards and knowing these were real people experiencing real events:

  • T4 Joseph F Gorenc’s photo of the year.
  • Pathfinders C47.
  • The bunkers of Normandy were sometimes five stories underground; built by enslaved soldiers. Dick Winter (Band of Brothers) talked about this.
  • LT boats were built of mahogany—hard, but light, but still, wood. Higgins designed the boat; adapted from a riverboat design of his. He drank a Fifth of scotch every afternoon starting at 12:01 because his wife wouldn’t let him drink at home.

Lloyd Naugle, D-Day Normandy Beach landing

Thinking of my Great Uncle Lloyd Naugle losing his life as a result of landing at Normandy Beach.

He was so handsome that I looked for his face in every photo I viewed, believing I would know him if I saw him.

Don’t miss the museum if you make this trip. It’s worth making a destination.

~I’ll mention the nightlife in passing. I’m not a fan of it. It was like every movie I’d ever seen where Mardi Gras was taking place. For the first time I saw beer-pandering.~

Other delightful glimpses:

  • The beauty and architecture of the place. Like Charleston, SC, it seeps into you and wraps you in a cocoon of history.
  • Street performers – although baskets were available for tips, the feeling was that they were there for the pure fun of it.
  • The Silvermen located around Jackson Square. Head to toe painted silver, performing art that didn’t move or break a smile, stoically entrancing.
  • Hip-hop dancers on the steps near Jackson Square.
  • The invigorating energy of the French Quarter.
  • Music everywhere—heavenly blues and melodic jazz.
  • Historic mule-drawn carriages conveying smiling passengers.
  • Tuba and drum band playing on the corner.

New Orleans, the French Quarter, took a while to sink into me. It’s like one of those movies you watch that when it’s over you think, oh that was good. But as the days and weeks go by and the depth of the film works itself into your subconscious, you realize: that was a magnificent movie. So I feel about New Orleans. I’d go back in a heartbeat and let the people, the place, the food seep back into me once more.


Read: Book Review: 100 Best True Stories of WWII