It has many nicknames, but the Big Easy seems to fit it best. Maybe it’s because it’s so simple to fall in love with. Or perhaps because it seems so effortless to slip into the rhythms of the city. Whatever the reason, New Orleans has a way of getting under your skin and staying with you, and then rolling out the welcome mat when you return.
On our most recent trip to the Crescent City, we settled in quickly – our first real vacation since COVID-19 began – but the energy in New Orleans wasn’t dampened. Not even masked faces and rainy weather seemed to affect on the joie de vivre that permeates the streets, from the Garden District to the French Quarter, up and down the streetcar lines and across sprawling Canal Street. All visitors seemed careful, but were not wary of having a good time.
We woke early on the morning after our arrival, and walked the city just a little after dawn. The streets are mostly empty then, the jazz from the night before just a shadow of an echo. The streets have been washed down from whatever mayhem occurred in the darkness of the night before. Only the coffee shops are open, doors pushed back to let in some fresh air and beckon early risers with the smell of chicory coffee. At this time of day, New Orleans feels a lot like Europe in a way that the rest of the U.S. can’t hope to replicate. It’s something in the not-quite-quiet. It’s the way the houses are built and the history they’ve seen. Storefronts that have looked upon malaria epidemics and yellow fever. They’ve seen hurricanes and riots, countless wedding processions and funerals, though sometimes the two are difficult to tell apart; such is the spirit of celebration here.
If the mornings feel European, then the rest of the day feels solidly New Orleans. It just isn’t like any other place. It’s not just history or music or art, it’s the personality of the city itself. It has a reckless impulsiveness, bright color, vibrant song and almost hedonistic abandon. Have a Pimm’s Cup, have a Sazerac. Try a hurricane in a commemorative glass, here’s a daiquiri for good measure. Celebrate this moment, take a drink of life. Oysters fresh-shucked, slurp a few down. Gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish, red beans and rice. It’s homestyle, but not any home you’ve ever lived in, comfort food that hits in a place you didn’t know needed comforting. New Orleans wraps its arms around you, folds you in and doesn’t let go, until you barely remember you aren’t from there, that this is a vacation and not a homecoming.
And on the weekend we visited, it rained. New Orleans is always humid, but the rain does something else to the city. The umbrellas come out, unflattering ponchos go on and in any other place, it would drive people indoors in droves. But in New Orleans, the rain is just another flaw to accept and then, move on. What’s the rain when you’ve faced down a hurricane? What’s a soaked shoe when you could be exploring the delights of the city? Why dwell on the past tragedies of a place when there’s so much life and music, decadence and celebration here and now? A little rain? That’s nothing to the intrepid people of New Orleans!
And so, the Big Easy is exactly that. Big, vibrant, bursting with life. Overflowing with it, really. And easy. So easy to fall for, so easy to slip back into, and so easy to miss the moment you leave.