The first time I visited New Orleans, the city glittered gaudy and brash. To my eye, everything clashed: the gold, green and purple colors in the tinsel garland, Fleur-de- Lis flags, Creole cottages and littered alleys. The smell of stale beer filled the air and everyone wore multiple strands of cheap beads, some bigger than baseballs.
But, my husband joined a krewe, a club of sorts, and we return annually. This year Nawlins smells better; the city bought a new street cleaner–with a deodorizer!
NOLA seeps into your soul. The streets hum a jazzy beat, one that nudges my core. This community loves to party and escape daily life, and frankly, that’s what I come here to do. I now see the tinsel decorations as charming and understand there’s meaning behind the Mardi Gras colors.
After Katrina hit, we missed the water-downed pre-lent celebration. We wanted to support the city, but sadly, there were no hotel rooms available.
Thinking back to our return in 2007, the people just ambled through recovery mode. Everyone talked about hurricane damage, disaster relief and flood zones. Many shopkeepers told me they hoped to stay in business.
But Mardi Gras 2008 ripped with full-throttle frivolity. Super-krewe Endymion, my husband’s and good friend Gary Granfield’s group, returned to their original mid-town parade route. Over a million and a half people, including many multi-generational families, gathered to snatch throws, baubles and stuffed animals. Jay and Gary threw over a thousand strands of beads– each.
Hotels were full; ladies in elegant low-cut gowns and men in tuxedo swirled at traditional balls; Big Ass Beer signs competed with Jesus Saves posters and Elvis and Marilyn Monroe impersonators roamed the crowd. Sure Bourbon Street boasted a lusty and busty "Girls Gone Wild" display, but I found plenty of other choices in Crescent City.
Chris Granfield and I elected a day of relaxation, away from the madness. Spa specialists Valerie and Debbie at Ofadean Salon lavished us with the most awesome massage and facials. We've already booked services for next year! http://www.ofadeansalonspa.com/about.php
Another surprising wonder is the availability of seating at the city's famous restaurants. Any other season, you'd have to make reservations weeks in advance. But during carnival, the locals stay home and the college kids don't frequent these places.
Arnaud's Restaurant in the French Quarter, my favorite, has a menu and reputation that never disappoints. We start with shrimp in a Remoulde sauce, just on the edge of too hot, and end with a flaming tableside preparation of CafÃ© Brulot. The spicy orange coffee slides down easy, like silken mousse.
And we don't skip Po'Boy sandwiches at Felix's, beignets at CafÃ© du Monde, and drinking hurricanes in Pat O'Brien's, while singing along with the dueling pianos.
I've grown to love New Orleans, wearing sequins and wrapping boas around my neck. She's a fun place to be just a little naughty and gaudy.
For some great recipes check out: www.arnauds.com