I’m planning a trip for students to New Orleans next week. None of them have ever been to the Big Easy. What do I show them? Where do I take them to eat? How do I convey the essence of the city to these students who have no idea what it’s really all about? What they know about New Orleans they have learned from watching television. I’m afraid it’s more Swamp People than Treme. Yes, they want to take a swamp tour. It’s on the schedule for the first day. We’re going to get it over with and move on.
So, tell me…how do I describe the food of New Orleans to them? Not Cajun, not creole, just New Orleans food…where they routinely put fried oysters on Eggs Benedict! I’ve decided to stop at Manchac and eat at Middendorf’s on the way into town. For me, not them. It’s not the way they fry fish up here in Arkansas, let me tell you, and I’ve missed it! We’re eating muffalettas at Central Grocery, po-boys at Mother’s, gumbo at the Gumbo Shop, oysters at Acme, and beignets at Cafe Du Monde. But they will miss the best food in town, in my opinion, by not eating at Galatoire’s or Jacques-Imo’s. Lucky Dogs are optional. They are too young to drink, so they’ll miss the Hurricane at Pat O’s, the Gin Fizz at the Sazerac Bar, the Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House, the Bloody Mary at Tujague’s, the Brandy Milk Punch at Brennan’s. No Hand Grenades or Yards of Beer for these guys either!
How do I answer them when they ask “what is there to do?” Goodness knows, in all the times I’ve been to New Orleans, I’ve never had an agenda. They don’t get it when I say “we’ll just go to the Quarter.” They don’t understand that you can spend all day sitting in Jackson Square simply watching people. When they ask “will we hear live music?” I just want to laugh and say “yeah, like constantly!” but I know that would be rude. We’ll ride the streetcar, visit Mardi Gras World, and tour the Cemetery over by Congo Square. But what I really want to do with these kids is take them across the river on the ferry to Algiers, hang out on a wrap-around porch on Royal Street and listen to street musicians, or take in a Tab Benoit show at Rock and Bowl. Sure, we’ll hit the French Market but I really wish I could take them shopping on Magazine Street. We’ll see the white alligator at the Audubon Zoo, but I wish I could take them gallery-hopping on White Linen Night. I know there will be activity in the French Quarter, but I wish they could hear someone scream STELLLLLLLLA during the Tennessee Williams Festival. I just hope they “get it” when we’re done and that they’ll want to go back…again and again. Only then, will I have done my job and made my mother proud.