On August 30, 2005, the people of New Orleans woke up (if they could even manage to sleep the night before) to a city that they did not recognize. Instead of the usual vibrant land of big bands and beignets, outside their now flooded homes was what seemed to be just an extension of the bayou. Hurricane Katrina had touched down in Louisiana the day before mercilessly wreaking havoc on everything in sight, and New Orleans was one of the cities hardest hit by the storm.
That was ten years ago.
Fast-forward to today and on the 10th anniversary of what was one of the worst natural/manmade disasters in U.S. history, you’ll find that New Orleans has picked itself back up. The city has not recovered 100%, but it is more than alive and well. It is moving forward and thriving.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Big Easy with my family a few weeks ago, and I absolutely fell in love with the place. It’s almost hard to explain, but New Orleans is this enchanting place that just sucks you in and makes you feel at home.
I finally understand the hype now. I finally understand why people who go to the home of the Saints can’t help but rant and rave about it. I finally get it. So just sit back and consider this my little rant about the pure awesomeness that is NOLA. Here are just 10 of the many reasons to love New Orleans.
Music is everywhere in New Orleans. Absolutely EVERYWHERE. Whether it’s coming from a live band in a bar, a guitarist in a café or one of the incredibly talented street performers, the music of New Orleans gives the city life. It gives the city a rhythm. It makes it impossible to walk down the street without bobbing your head or having a pep in your step. It’s amazing how music infiltrates every part of New Orleans culture, and it’s not that poppy nonsense we usually hear on the radio. These people have raw talent and play real instruments that don’t involve auto-tune.
The Street Performers
Although a lot of my love for the street performers overlaps with my love for the NOLA music scene, the incredible entertainers that fill many of the city’s streets are deserving of their own shout out. There must be some kind of unspoken rule amongst New Orleans street performers: Thou shalt not suck. Don’t get me wrong you’ll find plenty of people in their knock off Mickey Mouse and Dora the Explorer costumes haggling people for money in exchange for a picture, but then you’ll find the tap dancers, the brass bands, the opera singers, the break dancers and the human statues. You’ll find these truly talented people working hard to entertain with their craft, and again it just adds to that eclectic vibe of the city.
Where there’s good music there is often great art and New Orleans is no exception to the rule. From the multiple art galleries that line Royal Street to the Frenchman Street Art Market and the artists surrounding Jackson Square, creative expression is not hard to come by in the Big Easy. The art of New Orleans is just as diverse as its residents, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy from the art collector to just the passive admirer.
New Orleans architecture is my idea of a visual paradise. It is part classic Southern architecture with the grand homes, large columns and wrap around balconies. It is part European with the inner patios and ornate and flowery iron bars decorating the galleries. It is part Creole, which blends all of those elements with a hint of African and Caribbean influences that throws a splash of color on everything! New Orleans is just visually appealing, and who doesn’t like a city that’s easy on the eyes?
The Party Life
When people think of New Orleans, they often imagine the intense amounts of partying and drinking that goes on during Mardi Gras, but do not be fooled. The people of NOLA don’t wait until that one infamous week of the year to throw a huge party. As my friend who has lived in the city for more than seven years told me: “There is always a party going on in New Orleans.” And I believe her! At almost all hours of the day and night, party goers are strolling down Bourbon Street drinking one of the many signature drinks these bars have crafted with the sole purpose of getting people wasted. New Orleans also has several other festivals and celebrations throughout the year besides Mardi Gras (Google the Red Dress Run for a good example), and apparently you can throw a mini parade for pretty much any reason on any day of the year. I saw a police escorted parade with a big band going through the streets of the French Quarter inviting anyone and everyone along their path to join in on the fun. It was amazing. New Orleans knows how to have a good time with or without a reason.
Po-boys, beignets, pralines, jambalaya, gumbo, the #1 ranked fried chicken in the U.S. … The list of scrumptious foods you can stuff your face with is basically endless. New Orleans cuisine, like its architecture, is a blend of so many cultures and influences that not only is it distinct, but it’s also the best of all worlds. Southern comfort food with seafood and Caribbean spice added in, now that is a dangerously delicious combo.
The Unique History
The entire state of Louisiana has an incredibly unique history, and as the former capital city of the French colony that was established there, New Orleans is at the heart of that. Louisiana went from the hands of the French to the Spanish then back to the French for a brief period before finally being sold to the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, but the state did not adopt its newly found American-ness very easily. For over 100 years, French was still the main language spoken in New Orleans. Just like the food and the architecture, every part of New Orleans’ history along with its way of life and thinking are influenced by its mixed roots.
The Creep Factor
This may or may not appeal to some people, but part of New Orleans’ history includes some very creepy but fascinating stories. I went on a ghost and vampire tour throughout the French Quarter with Lord Chaz, New Orleans’ first ever ghost tour leader and quite the character. Whether or not you want to believe in ghosts and vampires, the stories of their origins in New Orleans are documented and true. Lord Chaz did the research himself (I highly recommend taking his tour). There is a documented story of a pair of brothers who kidnapped people and drank their blood. There is a documented story of a family who did Frankenstein-style experiments on their slaves. There is a story of people dying after having their blood drained, and these are just a few of the captivating stories I heard on the tour. Maybe I’m just a weirdo, but I love New Orleans’ slightly creepy side.
Everything that makes New Orleans the wonderful city that it is can be summarized by its vibe. It’s difficult to describe. You have to go there and just feel it for yourself, but I can give you an idea. It’s fun. It’s eclectic. It’s freeing. It’s non-judgmental. It’s musical. It’s artistic. It’s community- oriented. It’s welcoming. It’s jazz and blues. Beignets and jambalaya. It has a slight melancholy air to it but overwhelming sense of hope. It’s resilient…
It would have been easy and completely understandable if the people of New Orleans had abandoned their homes after Hurricane Katrina traumatized them and destroyed their city. But they didn’t. People told them to give up on what was there before, pave over the city and start from scratch. But they didn’t. In true New Orleans fashion, they kept their spirits high while picking up the pieces and rebuilding the city they loved. Their love for New Orleans was that strong and has brought the city up from what could have been its watery grave.
If their love and passion for their city doesn’t inspire you to feel the same, then it’s time for you to check your pulse, my friend.