New outlook on NOLA

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Hunter Johnson, Commentary Editor

 

I don’t know about y’all, but the week I experienced before spring break could best be compared to escaping from a patch of briar bushes — excruciatingly painful and incredibly frustrating. When the worst was finally behind me, the first thing I did (besides help myself to a drink) was pack for the adventurous road trip that three friends and I were about to embark upon. We planned to head to the Great State of Mississippi to visit my hometown of Vicksburg and then stop by the Gulf Coast. Our third and final destination, for a nice change of pace, would be New Orleans.

General Jackson and the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. –Photo by Hunter Johnson
General Jackson and the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter.
–Photo by Hunter Johnson

I had decided on spending a few days in NOLA because, for one, it was somewhat conveniently on our way back to Dallas. From my few visits to the city, I also knew it was about as unique a city as the United States could muster. But I only allotted a mere day and a half to actually spend there; given my memories of the city, especially post-Katrina, I did not see much reason to stay any longer. I remembered it being a mostly dirty place with little appeal besides some good food and the historic French Quarter.

By the time we left the city for Dallas, however, I’d experienced a change of heart.

It really began as we started to drive into New Orleans. Since two in our group had never seen Lake Pontchartrain, we decided it would be interesting if we drove in from the north over the incredibly long bridge that crosses the vast expanse of water. Over the course of the nearly 30-minute-long drive across that bridge, I could see the NOLA skyline become ever clearer on that perfectly cloudless day. As a skyscraper buff, seeing the city reveal itself was a beautiful sight.

Over the next day and half, my perception of the Big Easy utterly changed. Yes, there are still large parts of the city that are impoverished and in dire need of repair. But something I had overlooked before was the culture of the place. Strolling through the Quarter, I found it (oddly enough) reminiscent of the time I spent in Barcelona, Spain, last spring. The layout of the streets, the shops and the restaurants immediately put me in a sort of happy place, and I had no desire to leave.

We also went out of our way to find a particular restaurant, and our lack of knowledge of NOLA streets had us beyond lost on our way there. That, however, permitted us to get an even fuller idea of what the city really was, and that some of the best food can be found in the least expected of places.

Although this must sound terribly cliché to say, perhaps what set the city apart the most were the people. Not since Rome had I been in a place where, walking down almost any given street, I could hear English, Spanish, French, Chinese and other languages spoken casually; it immediately gave New Orleans an international flair I had not expected.

The residents who lived and worked there were often beyond kind, and even the homeless I saw were hardly wallowing in misery. Rather, they seemed just as happy to be there as the tourists. Strangely enough, even the tourists were more relaxed and easier to handle than any others I’d seen. Perhaps that’s partially due to the legality of carrying an open cup of your favored booze wherever in the city, but if that’s the case then it was a brilliant move on the city’s part.

Granted, I am not a resident of New Orleans; I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people who attend this university and who hail from there balk at a few of my previous statements. Perhaps I didn’t see enough of the city to have a truly accurate idea of what it is today. This story is not meant to serve as a traveler’s review or a guide for future visitors. Instead, I just feel compelled to say that I believe I was wrong to view New Orleans as harshly as I had in the past, and I will jump at any future opportunity to get to know the Big Easy even better.

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