American Cities: New Orleans

Last month we spent a week in Chicago to see if it would be a city we might be interested in living in long-term. And while we had a good time, we walked away knowing that we’d never call the city home. This month, we explored a new potential city: New Orleans.

Other than Texas, I’ve never been to a state in the South (and Texas certainly doesn’t count as deep south – it’s more an entity all its own!). So I was excited to explore Louisiana. The first thing I noticed: I love driving in southern Louisiana (or at least being chauffeured – still haven’t learned to drive a manual yet!). The long bridges over the swamps are fantastic and the flora is exquisite. But other than lunch stops in Lafayette and Shreveport (beginning & end of the trip), the rest of our time in Louisiana was spent in/around New Orleans.

And I have to say, we LOVED it! My last post was all about the excellent vegan/vegetarian restaurants we found in the city, but it was so much more than that that brought about our appreciation for New Orleans.

For this post, I’ll start indoors and then make my way out (both outside and out of the city).

No city tour is complete without a visit to at least one (in this case two) museum(s). Our first in Louisiana was the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. If I’m being honest, I didn’t know a ton about Southern art and for that reason, I’m glad we went to the museum. I can’t say a loved many of the pieces curated for the collection, but the painting below has such a fascinating history.

Titled Bélizaire and the Frey Children and attributed to Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans, it was commissioned in 1837 by Frederick Frey (a wealthy German merchant and banker) and his wife Coralie D’Aunoy Favre (from an elite family rooted in New Orleans since the Colonial era). It depicts their three children, as well as Bélizaire – the 15-year-old enslaved domestic owned by Frederick.

By the end of 1837, two of their children had died (ages 5 & 9) and a few years later, their third child died as well. Bélizaire was the only child in the painting to survive to adulthood. The painting remained in the family, passed down to other descendants, but sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century, Bélizaire was intentionally painted over. It wasn’t until 2005 that a conservation attempt was made to reveal the original painting – once again showing the uncomfortable relationship between the enslaved boy and the children of his master. Above you can see both versions of the painting.

The second museum that we made it to was the New Orleans Museum of Art. These days, we spend more of our time in African, Asian, and Native American art as opposed to American and European art. Two of the pieces I really enjoyed were Sacred Grove, Nikko by Yoshida Toshi [Japan] and Seven Exterior and One Interior Palace House Post by the Kedjom-Keku or Babanki-Daso Peoples [Cameroon].

But my favorite pieces in the museum came from Alia Ali, a Yemeni-Bosnian-Us artist: Blue Pearls & Ochre Waves. She uses fabric to get viewers to think about the peoples, cultures, and histories that produced them. The photos below were made with what is often considered West African print, but is in fact often made in the Netherlands or China.

She’s also made additional pieces using Indian, Japanese, and Javanese prints. I’d love to see more of her work in person.

When you’ve spent the afternoon indoors, it’s time for a night on the town. The two bars we spent the most time in were Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub and The Carousel Bar & Lounge. Both super fun with very different vibes.

Fritzel’s was laid back and definitely had an Irish feel. The Carousel Bar was glamorous, but I avoided going for an actual spin. Both had top notch bands, which I have to admit were better than the drinks they served. We got better drinks at Peychaud’s and Napoleon House, but neither had live music.

We also wandered through and past other bars with live music – there’s something for everyone, but we tended to avoid the spots with cover charges or multiple drink minimums.

New Orleans is a great city just for wandering – whether we were on Bourbon or Frenchmen street (peach & orange buildings), over in Mid-City (tree), or down in the Garden District, the architecture was stunning. We even took a trolley to wash our laundry and found the stunning homes with the yellow & red doors.

We spent our final full day in the Jean Lafitte Bayou – a National Historic Park & Preserve south of New Orleans. We booked a tour through the Louisiana Tour Company, but opted for the covered boat tour over the airboat – we knew we made the right call when we saw one fly past us. We loved our guide (who claimed to have shown a Disney crew around and was credited in The Princess and the Frog). He was born and raised in the bayou and was missing the tip of his big toe as a result of his friendliness with the alligators.

After our uncomfortable experience swimming with whale sharks last summer in Mexico, we’d decided to avoid wildlife excursions, but it seemed the only way to tour the swamp was to go looking for gators. It was clear from the start, some of these alligators were practically pets. They answered when he called, adored eating marshmallows, and a few even enjoyed a good head scratch. It was obvious he knew which alligators enjoyed the attention and which preferred to be left alone.

But we finally got to the real reason of our boating excursion – moss draped trees, small waterways, and overall gorgeous scenery. The tour lasted nearly two hours and minus a few stops for extended stories, nearly all of time was spent meandering through the bayou.

We had a fabulous time New Orleans and absolutely know we’ll go back. We debated back and forth about whether it was just a great vacation city or someplace we could actually see ourselves living. It wasn’t until we visited a different city in the South that we realized New Orleans doesn’t quite make our “home” list. But if you’ve never been, I’d absolutely recommend planning a future vacation to visit.

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