Grand Madam: CIty of New Orleans

10 Jun

New Orleans, and the way I pronounce it in my head makes me a true hillbilly now and no longer a South Louisianian, makes me a Tourist now. I am a tourist now. I’m saying it in my head like this: “New Or-Leens.” South Louisianians don’t say it like that; there is no “leens” in New Orleans. I digress (I love saying “I digress”…). I visited New Orleans for the Pen to Press Writer’s Retreat end of May, first of June (and more on that conference later, for it was damn awesome). It was my first time back to the Crescent city, The “Big Easy” (and there I go again…who in So Louisiana calls New Orleans “The Big Easy?”) since 2003—that’s pre-Katrina, of course. When I arrived in the city, I felt a little star-struck at first. It was early afternoon, and my friends and I were sharing a room at the Monteleone hotel, an old stately hotel with a carousel bar that turns round and round. Early afternoon, in the not yet as hot as it’s going to get heat, in the French Quarter. There is a smell and feel and energy to New Orleans that you have to experience, it can’t quite be explained, even by the most brilliant of writers who have tried—writers can only hint of it, tease you on.


When evening came on and my friend and I walked the Quarter, including Bourbon Street, I then experienced the seedy loud drunken debauched side of New Orleans. From living in So Louisiana, and visiting New Orleans often in my adult years, I know there is much more to N.O. than the French Quarter, but that is what most people think of when they hear “New Or-leens” – Mardi Gras, French Quarter, Debauchery. And there it all was, coming at me in a locomotion roar of people, lights, sound, smells. You haven’t lived until you have smelled Bourbon street—an odor that repels and fascinates—parts horse or mule excrement, parts human piss and sweat and vomit, parts old city mold, parts spicy food wafting, parts spilled beer fermenting even more on the heated streets, parts body odor, parts rotting garbage. The noise is In Your Face—drunken calls, men shouting lewd comments, scantily-clad women (or men who look like women) enticing tourists inside their lair, clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages and the carriage masters tales, music that is parts jazz blues rock stripper-sleaze country. The sights—half-dressed women and men, faces slack with drunken stupors and lust and greed for this City’s offerings, neon lights buzzing, restaurant waiters standing in the doorways hoping to lure you in, derelicts wandering with vacant eyes or hungry eyes or desperate eyes, people with no good in their irises who stare with malcontented ill intention, and huge-eyed tourists who can’t snap it all up in one eye-bulging gulp. The Feel—this energy, this feel, this New Orleans, how can I tell you in such a short post that is ever-growing? I can’t! I need more time and space! And some of it will ever remain a mystery, unless you go there yourself.


And know this: if you do go, the New Orleanians will be appreciative. I’ve never seen a peoples so damned happy to have you eat at their restaurants, drink coffee in their cafes, buy trinkets at their shops, stay in their hotels—more than any time I’ve been in the Great Madam City of New Orleans, this I felt on this recent visit: they want us to come back. With any tourist city, and I know this from living in the Smokies, there is a Love-Hate relationship with tourists—we need your money, we hate how you change our towns into something anamorphically weird and monstrous. But, New Orleans had a taste of what it felt like to lose the tourists, the people who make New Orleans bulge like that crawfish sack, and it wasn’t a nice feeling at all, to understate. Right now, the Love-Hate is more like Love—visit visit and spend your money…the appreciation is in their eyes, their smiles, the way they say, “Thank you for coming, thank you,” and you know they mean it.


I want to say more, but I best stop here and maybe say more later if I’m a mind to. Yet, there is a New Orleans in the early morning, which I captured in some of my photos above. The New Orleans before tourists and hawkers and traffic and horse/mule carriages are about. When the street sweepers are sweeping, when the owners of establishments have washed the tourists vomit and pee and spills away, when the morning sun is peeking over the cities history…that is when I loved New Orleans the best (other than the food-oh, the food is a post all on its own).  I’ll be back…


14 Responses to “Grand Madam: CIty of New Orleans”

  1. Cynical June 11, 2008 at 3:54 am #

    This really brings back youthful memories for me.  I\’ve been to New Orleans three times, but the last was in 1968.  Forty years.  That\’s scary and I don\’t like it.
    Peace, Doc

  2. Ann June 11, 2008 at 8:12 am #

    Hi Kat,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your commiserating comment about the deprivation of being without a car at times!
    Above – love your description of the smells of Bourbon St. So often the smell of a place is omitted. Can\’t say that your description invites me to visit. :) But when I do, at least I\’ll know what to expect. LOL

  3. Connie June 11, 2008 at 9:15 am #

    I like to read your thoughts.

  4. caroline June 11, 2008 at 1:38 pm #

    Incredibly sense-overloaded description of Bourbon St. It takes the all-observant skill of a writer to give us the total feel for a place. Thanks for that.
    Thanks too for your visit. I do think the \’friends\’ thing is overrated. Some people need that kind of validation and that\’s OK I guess.
    I think Laoch\’s comment about some people using \’friends\’ for spamming purposes is worthwhile considering.  

  5. caroline June 11, 2008 at 1:47 pm #

    Just for the heck of it I clicked on your \’friends\’. Did you know you have 148 friends? Hey! somebody\’s got to keep you up to date!

  6. Stephen Craig June 11, 2008 at 2:25 pm #

    Dear Kathryn,  Yes I did send you an invite to 
    The Hotel Monteleone on Rue Royal is a great place.  Love the Carousel Bar and the French restaurant used to have a fantastic rack of lamb.  Was there in the 90\’s and met the food and beverage director Hans Mueller.  Actually survived five Mardi Gras in a row and the last stay at the Monteleone was for nearly two weeks.  Many fond memories.
    As ever be well,
    Stephen Craig Rowe

  7. Deborah June 11, 2008 at 10:59 pm #

    I want to hear all about the Writer\’s Retreat.  I have wanted to attend one but never have.  Do tell.
    Blessed be

  8. JaAG June 13, 2008 at 8:32 pm #

    Naw\’leans. How\’s that for a phonetic spelling? ;o)
    I remember the iron works in the French Quarter and wonder if it is gone now, post Katrina. I remember the Cajun or was it Creole cookin\’ smells on Bourbon Street. And the music, the jazz, that noise… sublime. When ya gonna visit Seattle?  :o)

  9. Linda June 14, 2008 at 11:38 am #

    I have got to go there.  Wish I\’d gone before Katrinia tho.

  10. Michiko's June 15, 2008 at 1:10 am #

    I was sorry to learn of Bourbon st …I believed in a big country like the USA, some city are likes The New Orleans?
    Thank you for sharing the pictures,

  11. Barb June 16, 2008 at 3:20 am #

    Hi Kat,
    Sounds like a wonderful trip! I also enjoyed the photos as well
    Yes, the joys of a broken wrist.. in doing everyday things I have
    managed to sprain both thumbs and pull a shoulder muscle..
    Darn it;s not easy being me…
    As this happened in early May and I am now wearing my second cast
    I am hopeful if the x-rays are okay to have this cast off the end of
    this week. Until then typing with two fingers is more frustrating than
    enjoyable.. I have managed to get out and take a few pictures so at
    least cabin fever hasn\’t set in..
    Thanks for dropping by now you know why I haven\’t been posting or
    commenting for a bit :)
    Be Well

  12. Gumbo June 16, 2008 at 8:27 am #

    Great description of our most famous Madame! Had a great time and enjoyed the pics again. When we going back?  AhhhhWooooo

  13. Jorge June 16, 2008 at 10:02 pm #

    I used to live by the French Quarter, and your piece stirred up a lot of nostalgia. As you said, there is no place like it. I hope the city will recover some semblance of its previous grandeur. Be well,

  14. Pamela June 20, 2008 at 1:38 pm #

    I also pronounce it with leens-oops! I have never been, and as I am very sensitive to bad smells that probably is a good thing. I much prefer the beauty and quiet serenity of your mountains, and the smell of a fireplace.:-)

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