When we told people that we were taking a vacation to New Orleans, the reaction was always the same — “Oh, you’ll love it, the food is incredible!” Now, I like a tasty meal as much as the next person, but I realized something definitively on this trip: I am not a gourmand. Or at least, I prefer to spend my money elsewhere.
We did have some yummy jambalaya, delicious fish, and exceptional crawfish étoufée. I learned what a muffaletta is. It’s this ———–>, and it was okay.
And I must admit, I really enjoyed the beignets at Café du Monde. Although, I didn’t like the coffee with chicory as much as I’d hoped I would.
For Reuben and me, what we enjoyed most about New Orleans was the music.
When we lived in Seattle, one of our favorite things was to find venues with free (or cheap) live music, and we saw some great and diverse acts. In Portland, it’s a little more difficult, both because of the size of the city and relative size of the music scene, but also because now we have a child.
On vacation alone, in the birthplace of jazz, where nearly every venue has live music spilling out into the streets, we were giddy.
Our very first exposure to the New Orleans music scene happened at Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub. To be perfectly honest, there were only two reasons why we picked this place first:
1) It was the first non-dance club we passed on Bourbon Street after leaving our Bed-and-Breakfast.
2) There was a sign outside advertising $4 Hurricanes.
We hadn’t learned yet that you have to order the cheap to-go drinks from the window, so instead we went inside. Immediately, I was adorned with a string of beads, and we were escorted to the back of the dimly-lit pub, to a bench just one row back from the band. I was enthralled. There were antique decorations draped along almost every surface of the ancient brick walls. The rhythm of the music just a few feet away made it impossible for me to sit still, so I soaked it all in as I slapped my leg to the beat. In my other hand was a Hurricane, this one of the $11 variety. We hadn’t realized the drink would be so much more expensive inside the bar until after we ordered it, but this was one time when I felt that the experience was worth every penny.
Our stop at Fritzel’s began a theme of the vacation, for me anyway. I found that whenever I was really intrigued by a musician, that I would up seeing him again elsewhere, and completely unexpectedly.
First it was the trumpet player who was right in front of me as I drank my Hurricane. Maybe it was because he was among the first musicians I heard play in New Orleans. Maybe it was because he was so close that I couldn’t avoid watching him. Maybe it was because he was bald. Either way, I enjoyed listening to his trumpet blast throughout the small room.
Two days later at a Rotary dinner at Pat O’Brien’s (where, as an aside, a friendly waiter brought me the most amazing drink of fresh-squeezed lemonade, orange vodka, and triple sec) I saw him among the quintet serenading our event. It was almost uncomfortably crowded in the open courtyard, but I spotted him immediately.
The music that night wasn’t exactly my taste. At least, it didn’t make me want to dance in the same way I’d wanted to at Fritzel’s. Still, I found it intriguing that in a city with as many talented musicians as New Orleans claims, that I would happen to see a repeat performance from one of them (as a tourist, no less) in a matter of days.
But that was just the beginning of my double vision experiences in NOLA.