NEW OR­LEANS, USA: A MARDI GRAS STATE OF MIND

NEW OR­LEANS HAS BEEN PAR­TY­ING NON-STOP SINCE 1718, WITH THE CITY’S TRI­CEN­TEN­NIAL CEL­E­BRA­TIONS SURE TO TAKE NOLA TO NEW HEIGHTS!

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY SU­SAN GOUGH HENLY

New Or­leans has been par­ty­ing non-stop since 1718, with the city’s Tri­cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tions sure to take NOLA to new heights.

New Or­leans de­fies def­i­ni­tion, pre­fer­ring in­stead to cel­e­brate its ec­cen­tric­i­ties and let the good times roll. Here is a place where the sun rises over the West Bank (to the east of the city), where there is no canal on Canal Street, and where French bread is baked by Ger­mans. With its wrought-iron bal­conies draped with beads and baubles, mu­si­cians play­ing on just about every street cor­ner, and par­ty­go­ers car­ry­ing plas­tic cups of al­co­hol through the sul­try nights, it feels more like the north­ern­most out­post of the Caribbean than a South­ern city in the United States.

Sure, New Or­leans is full of con­fu­sion and con­tra­dic­tions. But its ever-present mu­si­cal sound­track, filled with soul­ful over­tones and in­fec­tious rhythms, speaks both of spir­i­tual en­durance and cel­e­bra­tion. Here is a place to en­joy the mo­ment as you em­brace the sa­cred in the ev­ery­day.

A mul­ti­cul­tural melt­ing pot

The city, which was founded by the French in 1718 as Nouvelle-Or­léans, was taken over by the Span­ish nearly 50 years later and only be­came English speak­ing af­ter the US Civil War in 1865. The city’s rich African his­tory comes from Sene­galese slaves and the free peo­ple of colour who fled what is now

Haiti af­ter its rev­o­lu­tion.

French-speak­ing Cre­ole cul­ture… blend­ing black and white, Europe and Africa…was so­phis­ti­cated and ed­u­cated. The Ca­juns, by com­par­i­son, moved into the nearby bayou all the way from Ar­ca­dia in Nova Sco­tia when they were kicked out by the English. Over the cen­turies, new waves of im­mi­grants came from Ire­land, Italy, Ger­many and Viet­nam, each adding their own rich cul­tural tra­di­tions to give New Or­leans its multi-lay­ered tex­ture to­day.

An ever-present sound­track

Here in the Big Easy, peo­ple live to play mu­sic as evoca­tively and flam­boy­antly as pos­si­ble…on stage and inside churches, in bars and on street cor­ners, in pa­rades and, most joy­ously of all, at fu­ner­als.

This is where jazz was born and spread north up the Mis­sis­sippi River to Chicago and New York. This is where Louis Arm­strong got his groove, where rhythm and blues evolved from the slave songs of the cot­ton fields, where zy­deco ac­cor­dion tunes emerged from a mish­mash of Ca­jun and Cre­ole cul­ture, where hip hop and bounce have their roots.

Get ori­ented in the French Quar­ter at Preser­va­tion Hall, where the sole pur­pose is to pre­serve, per­pet­u­ate, and pro­tect tra­di­tional New Or­leans Jazz, then head di­rectly to French­men Street in Faubourg Marigny, which is the throb­bing aorta of New Or­leans’ mu­sic clubs. The cy­press-pine live mu­sic room of d.b.a. (with its ex­cel­lent se­lec­tion of craft brews and sin­gle malt Scotch) is the place to hear lo­cal leg­end John Boutte play. Lis­ten to El­lis Louis Marsalis, scion of the fa­mous Marsalis jazz fam­ily, at the city’s premier jazz club Snug Har­bor. Check out the blue-and-gold Blue Nile, in the old­est build­ing on French­men Street, and the Spot­ted Cat Mu­sic Club, a pop­u­lar jazz and blues hang­out among many more.

But don’t limit your­self to Down­town. Other must-visit spots in­clude The Howlin’ Wolf and New Or­leans rock and funk joint Tip­itina’s in the Ware­house District, Maple Leaf Bar in the Car­roll­ton neigh­bour­hood, and Chickie Wah Wah on Canal Street, not to men­tion Thurs­day zy­deco night at Rock ‘n’ Bowl.

For some­thing more laid­back, head to Bac­cha­nal Wine in the bo­hemian By­wa­ter His­toric District. This wine store turned ca­sual restau­rant of­fers a unique venue for the next gen­er­a­tion of jazz greats to per­form seven days a week.

And don’t for­get the se­cond-line tra­di­tion with brass band pa­rades run by lo­cal neigh­bour­hood clubs on many Sun­days. You can fol­low the pa­rades with a whole crew of lo­cals who dance ex­u­ber­antly, of­ten twirling para­sols or hand­ker­chiefs in the air. It is the quin­tes­sen­tial New Or­leans art form.

Typ­i­cal NOLA for the first timer

For the first-time visi­tor, ex­plor­ing the French Quar­ter is a must. Avoid touristy Bour­bon Street, where col­lege stu­dents make fools of them­selves on cheap booze, and ex­plore the qui­eter ar­eas of the French Quar­ter, such as Charles and Royal Streets, to ad­mire Cre­ole town­houses with their cast-iron bal­conies. Pop into St Louis Cathe­dral and lis­ten to buskers around Jack­son Square be­fore check­ing out nearby Pi­rate’s Al­ley, for­mer hang­out of French pi­rate and pri­va­teer Jean Lafitte and also home to Faulkner House Books.

New Or­leans does ceme­ter­ies a lit­tle dif­fer­ently than the rest of the coun­try. Since much of the city is be­low sea level, coffins are in­terred in above-ground mau­soleums. Take a guided tour of St Louis Ceme­tery No. 1, the most fa­mous of many Cities of the Dead, where the Queen of Voodoo, Marie Laveau, has pride of place. You can also take a street­car up to the Gar­den District and ex­plore Lafayette Ceme­tery

No. 1 with­out a guide.

The Na­tional WWII Mu­seum is ex­cel­lent, fo­cus­ing on the US con­tri­bu­tion to Al­lied Vic­tory in World War 2. It houses a fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of arte­facts from the Bat­tle of Nor­mandy and the Euro­pean and Pa­cific the­atres of war. There are nu­mer­ous war planes and a Land­ing Craft Ve­hi­cle and Per­son­nel (LCVP) land­ing craft – bet­ter known as a Hig­gins boat – de­signed and built in Louisiana, as well as weapons, uni­forms, and a 4D the­atre ex­pe­ri­ence nar­rated by Tom Hanks.

NOLA is just as much about food as it is mu­sic. Don’t know what dis­tin­guishes Ca­jun from Cre­ole food? Want to learn the dif­fer­ence be­tween gumbo and jam­bal­aya, find out the ori­gins

of beignets and po boys and how to make them? Sign up for a cook­ing demon­stra­tion and take-home recipes at the New Or­leans School of Cook­ing.

And, when your feet get too sore from walk­ing on cob­ble­stones, and the hu­mid­ity is wear­ing you out, en­joy a Mis­sis­sippi steam­boat cruise on the his­toric Natchez steam­boat. Lis­ten to live jazz and en­joy a cool­ing breeze with a mint julep or two on board as the Natchez chugs along the mighty Mis­sis­sippi. •

Be­low: The Na­tional WWII Mu­seum.

Open­ing im­age: Mardi Gras In­dian dancers.

Left: Colour­ful door­ways abound in NOLA.

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