Imagine your favorite place in all of the world. Would you do your damnedest to drop everything to go to it at a moment’s notice?
My answer is yes, and I can prove it.
Two weeks ago, when meeting a friend at a nightclub in Little Rock (I know, I’m not the posh, nightclub type, but I went anyway) he suddenly brought up the idea of going to New Orleans again. This is the same friend whose birthday we spent in New Orleans for last year. He wanted to go the next weekend. Without even an invitation uttered first, I feverishly accepted to come along. By the next day we were seriously committing ourselves to this trip.
Sadly two of our group members from the year before were unable to make it with us. After shrieking with stress for several days, worrying I might not get off work, I was free and clear to relish five days of my favorite city. I was still an emotional wreck until I made it to my friend’s car, driving down to NOLA, I finally settled a bit. When we made it past Arkansas’s state line, it really hit me; I’m going to New Orleans. I’M GOING TO NEW ORLEANS.
Let me quickly preface the reason why my friend wanted to spend such an invested amount of time in New Orleans. He’s building a career in magic and has been doing street performances in Little Rock. After some little successes in Arkansas-of all places-he decided to take on one of the world’s largest street performer hubs to see how he would fare. Thus, when we both entered the city late at night that Thursday, we flickered on like new and shiny neon signs. We actually made it to New Orleans. Technically, this would be considered my friend’s first tour for his magician’s career.
NOLA never ceases to astound me. Simply checking into the hotel was enough to floor me that instant. After getting our bags into the room, we quickly headed out to explore the closest shops. In all my experiences in New Orleans, cars are strictly forbidden. Get where you want to go on foot or bust in my opinion. It’s best to see this city at your own pace.
Right around the corner we found oodles of shops lined in what I like to call the “New Orleans Party Starters.” Basically that entails colorful masks, crazy shirts, boas, pimp hats, a small selection of booze, and BDSM fairy statues… OK so maybe the BDSM fairy statues were only unique to that first store we found, but you catch my drift.
We bought some little boozes for potential party purposes later on that weekend, only because we knew that some places escalated their alcohol prices after a certain time of night. Also I simply enjoy beer quite a lot. And it’s New Orleans. What did you expect out of me?
The next morning we scouted the streets and squares for prime street performer real estate. Already the palm readers and fortune tellers had taken their posts in Jackson Square, with live musicians scattered practically everywhere else. Although scouting was first priority, my spontaneous vacation companion had deemed it absolutely necessary to have breakfast at the famous Cafe Dumonde. Although I had not yet seen the movie, he told me that a scene from the recent film Now You See Me had been shot at this cafe. Woody Harrelson had indeed been acting right where we were breakfasting. Now having seen the movie, I’m still tripping out about it. I stood where Woody Harrelson stood. How bout that?
The powdered sugar-laden floor at the cafe was a direct result of the stuff dumped in mounds over the fresh beignets. All that and a cup of cafe au lait and the meal rapidly earned the title “Best Breakfast EVER.” We dined outdoors, picking up on bits of live music that played across the block, and utterly coating ourselves in patches of powdery white. The white fluff would be matted into the creases of my sandals for days, and honestly I hoped it would remain a little longer. Every time I turned my foot upward, seeing the bottom of my shoe, I was instantly reminded of everything I loved about this town.
We wandered onward past the cafe, discovering an entire market of local vendors, artists, and all those belonging to the growing and crafting world. It was like an endless festival of merchants, as though I had stepped into an older time and phased into ye olde merchant’s square. Well, one could only hope.
There were mass amounts of beautifully crafted jewelry, tons of masks everywhere, steampunk miscellaneous, Indian dyed garments, woven hammocks, edible goodies, house plants, and a mish-mosh of organic everything. Indeed, this little hippie was impressed.
Everything snatched my interest, most of all the live jazz bands with brass players bugling loud. At one point I heard a familiar tune strumming out, and by the time I spotted the guitarist I realized he was playing a very soft, dramatic version of “Mad World” by Michael Engel. I felt a twist in my soul. Thank you for that minor bit of perfection, dear sir.
Soon we discovered that Jackson Square would be the perfect place for any and all kinds of street performers. While overlooking the place, we met a sword-swallower who made me gleefully squeamish from his performance. After tipping him, he gave us a little indication that my magician friend would do well here.
That evening we dined at Bayou Burger, a funny little bar with humorous waiters and great music. Overall, their burgers were top-notch and grandiose. Every time I’ve been to New Orleans I find several new places and am gladly reminded of old places I adore. We visited a stately little stone and crystal shop at least three times over the course of the trip, but happened upon it for the first time that night. My friend and I went crazy over a little giraffe figurine carved from opal, my favorite gem. I bought myself a chrysocolla stone. I had previously read that they help with emotional and mental balance, and since I’m bipolar I thought I’d give it a shot. Couldn’t hurt.
When the first day of street performing began, it was certainly a slow start. Once we moved to a better shaded and higher-traffic area couples and families started to crowd around my friend. I genuinely enjoyed watching all of his tricks, still trying to figure out how half of them work… Let’s be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how all of them work.
When we broke for lunch I felt the instinctual need for meat, particularly the iron in red meat. Naturally I stumbled into “that time of the month” barely a day into the trip. It was time to replenish the blood I was horridly expelling every few minutes. We ventured back to Bayou Burger and I devoured an entire venison burger smartly named “The Hunter.” Oh, and God yes there were sweet potato fries with homemade honey mustard sauce to match. Deer, sweet potatoes, honey mustard, in New Orleans… There is a God.
After a bit of downtime we headed back out into the streets, finding an even better place than we had earlier. Mule-drawn carts pulled up to the sidewalk, releasing moonlit giddy tourists and calling up more for the next ride. What a lovely, rotating audience. Just as I watched my friend recreate his voodoo doll trick for the god-knows-how-many time (it’s one of my favorites because it gets the little kids all fascinated), an older man with a crazy Nawlins’ beard and top hat sidled up next to us to watch. He introduced himself as one of New Orleans’ top magicians, no longer a street performer but someone who actually gets booked in bars and clubs. After confirming my friend’s legitimate desire for magic, he actually stayed with us for just under an hour to give my friend some incredible little lessons. Immediately I watched him improve under this skilled magician’s short-lived guidance. He was absolutely overwhelmed with what had happened that night. He was commended by a real, weathered magician who saw potential in him. And he made ten bucks per hour. Wins all around.
Obviously there was only one thing left to do after such a victorious day: we partied hardy, yo.
Well, specifically and alcohol-wise I partied hardy. My friend was more of a sturdy leash who considered my drunkenness a form of comedic entertainment. I aim to please.
Seriously though, we drank, went to my favorite strip club in New Orleans (yes I have a favorite, it has a two story pole!), wandered the thriving, frenetic streets, and made it safely back to the hotel. The rest of the night was a purely ecstatic reflection of our earlier happenings. What a fan-fucking-tastic night… Excuse my Cajun French.
Sadly no performances could occur the next day as it had decided to rain on and off all through the night. So what the hell, we went out and adventured through New Orleans, heading to places we’d never seen or heard of before. Also, I got to check off an item from my own list which was to dine at the New Orleans Hard Rock Cafe. My favorite kind of music plus memorabilia from many musicians I admire? And delicious food? It’s as though I should move into the place. That would be weird though. I did, however, get to sit behind Dave Grohl’s drums. Yes, to those of you who know, THE Dave Grohl who originally began as a drummer in Nirvana. I sat behind his drum set. Sweet bitches.
We took to the streets nearly the whole day and night, flipping a coin to indicate which direction we should go, disregarding the finicky, misty rain. We found voodoo shops, antique stores, and a deluxe little confection shop called Sucre. These candies and chocolates were spectacularly ornate, beckoning to be looked upon, held, and tasted. Yet it was the macarons that heralded my focus. The layers of flavor and texture mingled vibrantly between my teeth, coating my tongue in sweet, hazelnut delight. It was a vividly sensual experience to have with a cookie, but this was no simple cookie.
I felt like a kid again the whole night. I meandered through the streets thinking only of my present. It was the best vacation there I have ever had. I never wanted to leave. I wish I hadn’t. My soul literally ached the further we drove away from New Orleans the next morning. I want to go back. I will go back to live there even if it’s only temporarily. How fantastic it is to know a city so committed to its joyful spontaneity and brilliant life. I will be a truer part of it by the end of the year.