Call it the Crescent City or call it the Big Easy. Either way, New Orleans holds a unique place in the American myth. With its history of disasters—yellow fever, multiple hurricanes—or its varied cultural history—first French, then Spanish, then French again, then American, then Confederate, then American, then Frat—New Orleans is probably the most unique city in America. For all these reasons, a trip there will do wonders for your soul, and we have put together a list of exactly how. We hope, by the end, we will have you saying, “WHO DAT!”
1. It’s so humid, it’s like you’re doing everything in a sauna.
The first thing you will notice is the humidity. On the initial day of my recent vacation, it was 92 degrees Fahrenheit with 96% humidity. Ninety-six percent! If I’m not mistaken, that’s basically means it’s raining without water falling from the sky. When you go to other vacation spots, you’ll pay a pretty penny to sit in that level of humidity, but New Orleans just naturally produces it.
2. Bourbon Street
This is family-friendly article, so I cannot be too lurid in the descriptions of what I saw on Bourbon Street. In general terms, my friends and I arrived via plane on a random Thursday night during what is not considered tourist season, with plans to go to a jazz club and generally relax the first day. Not so—by the ending of the night, I was shouting that I was The Bourbon Cowboy (the name of a bar) and my friends were dancing to keep homeless people from asking them for money. Also, a drag queen purposefully threw beads from a second story balcony that nailed me in the back of the head. New Orleans is full of weird chaos, and it will challenge how self-controlled you are. (Hint: You do not have enough self-control, because no one does.)
3. There is enough art that the whole city is essentially a museum.
One block from Bourbon Street is Royal Street, which is a local strip of fine art galleries. On Royal Street, I found pop-art depictions of superheroes, Gothic paintings of voodoo ceremonies, and uniquely Cajun paintings of the city, not to mention other people practicing art in the forms of chandelier-making, hot-sauce-making, and various forms of miming. There is so much culture here it is falling out of the city’s ears. I also spent a significant amount of time at Jackson Square, which is where all the street performers spend their days. Those are indescribable.
4. There is more music than anywhere I can think of.
It seemed, at any given time, at least fifty percent of the city’s native population was carrying a musical instrument. The home to such varied musical styles as that of Lil’ Wayne, Fats Domino, and Harrick Connick, Jr, the city has an amazing knack for starting musicians off right. Every bar had someone willing to strum a guitar or to dance around. If you get sick of Bourbon Street, head over to Frenchman Street—it’s where the locals hang out, watching one of the scores of bands that play at dozens of bars every single day of the week.
5. The gay community doesn’t just exist—it will try to convert you.
There’s nothing better for your soul than having your belief system challenged, and while, as a straight man, I am generally supportive of the LGBT lifestyle, the gay community in New Orleans uses its unique blend of Southern hospitality and fighting gusto to get you. I don’t know what else to say other than to relate that, right after I was hit with the beads, I went into a nearby bar to relieve myself, only to be treated to an unclothed, voodoo version of Times Squares’ Naked Cowboy—and somehow, I didn’t bat an eye.
6. The food is wholly unique and soul-cleansing.
Starting with the names to describe popular dishes—jambalaya, etouffee, gumbo,atchafalaya—the food is like nothing you’ve ever had. Using various forms of shellfish as the base, each dish is one-hundred-percent unique and totally amazing. I found myself saying, “This is the best food I’ve ever had,” at every meal, and I may have actually meant it at The Rum House, where I had savory oyster tacos and sweet duck tacos. Also, don’t forget to try the alligator sausage. It tastes like chicken. And save room for the beignets.
7. The spiritual energy is amazing.
New Orleans is clearly a city of natural rebirth. Combine the history of disasters, the bleaching of the streets every morning, and the blend of intense Catholicism, voodoo, and occult practices, and New Orleans truly believes in spiritual rebirth. And don’t just take it from me, take from the dozens of psychics on every street, or from my friend who regained confidence about his recent home purchase by talking to a tarot card reader, or from my other friend, who is convinced she saw the Ghost of Madame Delphine LaLaurie. I even saw someone selling statues of the Hindu demi-god Ganesha. Higher powers are everywhere here. Reach out and connect with one.
8. Absolutely no one will judge you.
No other city is so un-apologetically itself than New Orleans. And the people there, whether it be the numerous tourists or the hard-boiled (almost literally) locals, all know that no one comes to New Orleans to have their way of living scrutinized. This uniquely Cajun vibe creates an atmosphere that let’s you be one-hundred percent who you are supposed to be. By the afternoon of our first full day, I found that my cheeks were incredibly sore. You know how that happened? I was smiling, ear-to-ear, almost every second. That’s how New Orleans will cleanse your soul.
Featured photo credit: Hannah Healy/Bourbon Street via flickr.com