"I'm going to feed the meter - you mind the store," said the woman at Faulkner House Books. I wanted to ask if I could mind the store forever but she had already dashed. That a person would trust a complete stranger to look after their paradise of a shop is indicative of all that is great about New Orleans. And it's why I never want to leave. Have you ever felt such a connection to a place that while you're checking out its attractions, you're mentally calculating how to go about living there?
I've already started my plans to learn an instrument so I can work for under-the-table tips in the Big Easy. Here's why:
1. Its literary and artistic history. New Orleans boasts the only Edgar Degas home or studio open to the public in the world (he lived there from 1872 till 1873 with his mother's family), you can check out the place William Faulkner wrote his first novel and buy it at Faulkner House Books (located in Faulkner's one time lodging place) and you can walk the streets of the city's most famous fictional dunce - Ignatius C. Reilly, who won his troubled author John Kennedy Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for A Confederacy of Dunces.
2. Its easygoing southern charm. It doesn't matter if you've met a person just this minute. You're now their "sugar", "honey" or "baby". Would you like a cocktail, sugar? Hey baby, want to come watch my insanely talented jazz band? Can I get help you find a great food joint, honey? Yes, yes and yes.
3. You can't talk about New Orleans without talking about music. The kick up bossa beats flow from every bar you pass, impromptu live street gigs abound and the flair of every trumpeter, clarinetist, banjo player and bassist you come across is mind-blowing. Music is in the city's life-blood. One local told me musicians here struggle to find a niche for themselves because they excel at every genre - rock, jazz, country, blues - and most are classically trained. Such problems.
4. Its culture of death. N'awlins' Cities of the Dead attract thousands of tourists a day. Above-ground tombs are the go in this waterlogged region because coffins rise when it rains. And a rousing jazz funeral is the way many loved ones make it to their resting places. New Orleans jazzman Sidney Bechet said: "Music here is as much a part of death as it is of life." One woman told me the dead are celebrated because they don't want them coming back as ghosts.
5. The food. Red beans and rice Mondays, shrimp gumbo, po'boys (a Louisiana-style fried French bread sandwich), crawfish etouffle, I tried them all. And they were good. The city's foodie history is as fascinating as its musical heritage. Rice is all settlers could get to grow in this swampy area - combine that with French, Spanish and African influences and you get the Creole and Cajun delicacies we enjoy today. Yum!
6. The architecture. Bear with me now: it was French, it was signed over to Spain, there was a fire, it was rebuilt Spanish, it became French again, it was sold to America, the French and the Americans fought with one another. Today that equals a delightful French Quarter (where the houses are mainly Spanish) on one side of Canal Street, and some seriously impressive antebellum (pre-civil war) mansions on the other in the up-river and upmarket Garden District. You could stare at these beauties for hours and not get your fill of architectural delights. Anyone who could afford a house could also afford slaves so the once slave quarters still stand in all the backyards - many are now separate apartments.
7. The cocktails. New Orleans is soooo hot! I can see why southern belles lazed on their porches fanning themselves and sipping mint juleps. I wanted to try a mint julep but the bartender told me I wouldn't like it because it's mainly whiskey. So I had a Hurricane - a local concoction of dark rum, white rum, juices and lime. Lovely.
8. Open spaces and water. Okay I cheated and combined two in one. But there is just so much goodness here. Water defines this city as much as food and music (are you sensing a theme here?). Bayous thread their way through two huge parks (Audobon is 1500 acres, City Park is 500) and make for some great wildlife spotting. Farther out of the city are the swamps of horror films, all towering Cypress trees, Spanish moss and murky waters where marshmallow-eating gators lurk. We did a boat tour and they loved the treats. We also saw a spider as big as your hand with twig-like legs - yuck!
9. The spirit of the people. The sheer perseverance of its people pulled New Orleans through its deadliest natural disaster. The city has bounced back remarkably since Hurricane Katrina ripped it to pieces in 2005. Brad Pitt's Make it Right foundation has built 75 eco-friendly and hurricane-proof homes. But there are still painful reminders of that deadly day. In the 9th ward, abandoned houses display rescuers' spray paint on the front detailing the date the house was checked, how many were found dead, and whether there were any pets. Where there was once a packed and bustling community there are now many empty sections. We saw the levee and where it broke and imagined the devastation that ensued - 1836 people died, of whom more than a thousand lived in the lower 9th ward.
10. Its carnival atmosphere. Every day's a party in New Orleans. Combine the above ingredients and stir (include Hurricane the cocktail, exclude Hurricane the natural disaster). That's why.
Have I convinced you to make the move yet? What's the most liveable city you've visited?
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