Blog Post and Photograph by Iris Love Scott (1 February 2018)
Listen. Do you hear that? It’s time for Mardi Gras in New Orleans! Brass bands are blasting their horns and beads are flying through the air. Everybody is stepping high. The GOOD TIMES are ROLLING!
While New Orleans is a popular tourist destination, 365 days in the year, it is hyper-popular in February. Travelers come from all corners of the world to party and play at Mardi Gras. Tour guides will suggest Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, Po Boys, Beignets and Shrimp Creole. Oh, but New Orleans has so much more to offer. N’awlins is a rich gumbo of cultures thriving and vibing in one spectacular city. As for the African American Mardi Gras Experience, it is fun on countless levels of fantastic joy.
As a traveler from the city of Memphis, I visit New Orleans often and I can guide you through that special N’awlins, you will not find in the tourist books. Baybee! It is nothing like you’ve ever seen. Let’s start our tour in one of the city’s oldest cemeteries–St. Louis No.1, where the famed Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau, is believed to be entombed. Cemeteries in New Orleans are vast “Cities of the Dead.” The first Black Mayor of New Orleans, Dutch Morial, is one of the esteemed residents of St Louis No. 1. After Hurricane Katrina, many of the oldest above ground tombs were ravaged. Visitors are only permitted on the premises with a tour group. (www.saveourcemeteries.org/st-louis-cemetery-no-1)
Absolutely, visit the French Quarter. The area was once a neighborhood filled with free people of color. It was a safe haven for wealthy white landowners and their “placage” wives and families. The French Quarter was also known for the famed octoroon and quadroon balls where white men met and entered into placage, a recognized extralegal system for them and women of African heritage. Walk the cobblestone streets. When you’ve had your fill of overpriced Hurricane Drinks, take a short drive Uptown and stop by Jazz’s Daiquiri Lounge. (https://www.jazzdaiquiri.com) With over 20 combinations of daiquiris mixed and ready to serve, you will not be disappointed. The drinks are strong and will walk you down, slow and easy in the sultry spirit of the city.
Residents exclaim, “Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler!” Travelers won’t roll too far on an empty stomach. If you visit no other restaurant, have yourself a meal at the historic Dookey Chase on 2301 Orleans. (http://www.dookychaserestaurant.com) It’s been a culinary destination since the 1940’s. Who knows, you might see Denzel Washington, Lenny Kravitz or the Obamas at a nearby table. Another grand option is brunch at Lil Dizzy’s. Lawd h’mercy! (lildizzyscafe.net) Come hungry and know that you’ll need a nap when you leave. The locals are serious about their food.
I have been known to go to McHardy’s at 1458 N Broad to get a snack, while enroute for a Po’ Boy sandwich from Castnets. Yes, I’m greedy like that. Castnets, 10826 Hayne Blvd, is a fish market with a no-frills dining room, but never disappointing grub. Grab a couple of turkey necks with your meal. Visit now and thank me later. Willie Mae’s Scotch House, 2401 St Ann, is a little white house with food that packs a huge flavor–especially the Lima beans. (www.williemaesnola.com) Here is a word to the wise. Go early because when the fried chicken runs out, there will be no more until the next day. Period. End of Story.
Going to N’awlins without sampling the best jazz music on Earth is a trip not worth taking. Even if you think you aren’t a jazz fan, you will love the music. On any given corner in the Quarter, you can find soul-stirring music. Tip the musicians well, they work hard. And if you really want to shake a tail feather, wander over to Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club at 1931 St. Claude. The city’s best musicians have cut their teeth on that small stage. The drinks are reasonably priced and the atmosphere is laid back, but don’t wear tennis shoes or caps because you won’t get inside the door.
Kermit Ruffin’s Mother in Law Lounge (http://www.kermitstrememotherinlawlounge.com) in Treme’ is another nightclub to visit for good jazz music. Depending on his schedule, you can get a world class trumpet performance for the price of admission.
No trip to New Orleans would be complete without soaking the sights and sounds in Treme’. In terms of culture, it is the hippest, earthiest, and most vibrant neighborhood in the city. While there, you might see a second line jazz funeral procession step through the streets. It is heaven come down to Earth. The music and dancing defies description. The joy of life is to be had in the Crescent City.
As for museums, learn about the city’s history, art and culture at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, 1116 Henriette Delille Street. (www.backstreetmuseum.org) Culture runs deep in New Orleans, and this museum is intent on keeping it alive. There you will find exhibits featuring the Mardi Gras Indians, Baby Dolls and artifacts belonging to famous Voodoo Practitioners. For an ‘only in New Orleans’ experience, drive around the corner to St. Augustine Catholic Church at 1210 Governor Nicholls St. Sit in on a jazz mass and visit the Monument for Unknown Slaves. (www.staugchurch.org)
Here is one last tidbit about Treme’. Shhhh! Lean in close to receive this golden nugget. The smaller the club, the bigger the party. With that…visit Bertha’s at 1501 Basin. Watch what I say. Go see it for yourself.
Before you leave New Orleans, hop a streetcar on Mardi Gras and take a ride Uptown. If you hear chanting, singing and drums, jump off and follow the music. You might see the illusive Mardi Gras Indians. Compliment the Big Chief on his pretty new suit. If you praise the beauty of his suit, he might stop, spread his feathers and let you take his picture.
Don’t sit at home during the gray winter days of February. Don’t sit at home this summer. Leave your stress and worries on the couch. Put on your traveling shoes and get to N’Awlins, New Orleans, New Or’leans! However, you say it, come on down and let the GOOD TIMES ROLL!!!
By Iris Love Scott