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New Orleans= Sizzleville
Thomas R. Fletcher
A steamy mist rises from the freshly-drenched streets. The rain I hoped would cool things has instead produced a sauna. The sun blazes, hotter than before. I should have known better than to think a rain shower could cool this town. My shirt, the collar soaked, has a growing trail of wetness streaming down my chest as the sweat gushes. I long for the comfort of my hotel room, my air-conditioned sanctuary. A huge tree offers some shade. I stop to catch my breath in the cooler air. I watch as folks board the streetcar at the corner of Poydras and St. Charles Avenue.
The doors to the corner office building burst open. A rushing stream of people pours forth. Workers charge to their lunch breaks. Several lovely ladies stop to sit on the expansive steps of the building, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. A blonde with a body some women would kill for, takes up a position on the steps. She sits, legs hiked high in her short black dress and heels too high for comfortable walking. Sheís giving what might be considered undue attention to her ice cream as she caresses, tugs and lasciviously lip-wrestles each mouthful. In New Orleans, this is merely a fragmentary reflection the sultry city. Having escaped the manufactured reality of an air-conditioned office building, she and her fellow-workers linger in the sunís glowing heat. Thatís the difference between the folks who live here and the folks who donítĖa greater tolerance for things hot. Iím rushing toward air-conditioned comfort. Theyíve found a brief escape.
It isnít the spicy food. It isnít the pretty ladies in their sun dresses. It isnít the steamy climate. It isnít any one of these things. Itís a swirl of these and more that gives New Orleans her attitude and makes her one of the hottest destinations on the map. Permeating the air is a sensuousness as dense as the bank of humidity that smothers the town. There is a simmering sultriness, as if something were about to boil over. Vice lurks just around the corner. Hedonism is the order of the day. New Orleans is the only place Iíve seen, where one finds a world-class restaurant next door to a strip club. Food isnít the only fleshly temptation. The homogenization of America has largely bypassed New Orleans. She is a one-of-a-kind destination, a city of contrasts, home to spicy food and spicy ítude.
Letís start with the food. Here one may fully satiate the desire for rich, succulent, mouth-watering food. Gluttony is a serious temptation. Great restraint must be exercised. When I return to New Orleans, it will be for the food. I never had a bad meal in New OrleansĖnot even close. Rather, I savored some of the most delicious meals ever. I tried things Iíd never tried (crawfish, turtle soup, and Bananas Foster for a short list). I ate in out-of-the way places as well as world-renown eateries. I was constantly blown away by the quality.
A late lunch at The Patrick Restaurant on Camp Street is where my food adventure started. Anxious for something different I ordered the smoked salmon, crawfish, and asparagus baked pennŤ pasta topped with mozzarella. It was heavier on the crawfish than salmonĖvery tasty. The crawfish, much like lobster in consistency, had a spicy sizzle. I finished my New Orleans gastronomic thrill-ride at the world-renown Arnaudís, which has been around since 1918. Here I was taken by the turtle soup and the creole crab cakes. Along my journey I had several varieties of gumbo, jambalaya, and ťtoufťe, sampling both Creole and Cajun dishes. The Creole-style developed from the European and African influences in the city, the Cajun-style developed from the country cooking of the French-Acadians who, kicked out of the Acadia region of Canada by the English a couple hundred or so years ago, made their home in Southern Louisiana. (Cajun is an English corruption of the word Acadian.)
New Orleans residentsí passion for food has produced some of the best cuisine to be experienced anywhere. Dining out is an important part of local life, and food seems to be the talk of the town, as I found listening in on a conversation at Galatoireís, a restaurant popular with residents and visitors alike.
"You wonít get a bad meal in New Orleans," said resident and owner of the UpperLine Restaurant JoAnn Clevenger. "They canít have bad food and stay in business. They [restaurant owners] rely on the locals when the tourists arenít here, and we wonít put up with bad food." From my experience, she was speaking truth.
The early history of New Orleans, established in a swampy location at a bend in the Mississippi River, was a history of death due to the malaria-ridden mosquitoes that inhabited the swampy location. The constant threat of death gave rise to the give-a-care wild, party spirit that pervades the city yet to this day, and the French Quarter is where the party is. Well known for her rambunctious Mardi Gras celebration, anytime seems to be party time in New Orleans, particularly in the oldest section of the city, the French Quarter. Founded by the French in 1718, the French Quarter was the original city of New Orleans. The narrow streets were designed for horses and buggies, not modern automobilesĖso there often are more people in the streets than autos. From street mimes, musicians, palm readers, to touristsĖitís a great place to people-watch and be entertained. Characters are everywhere, such as the cab driver who picked me up in the French Quarter to haul me back to the downtown Holiday Inn. His was the first cab Iíve ridden in equipped with a DVD player. He was watching a Steven Seagal action flick or something of the sort, talking on a cell phone, talking to me, dodging drunk pedestrians and other vehicles as he meandered out of the QuarterĖI could have walked to the hotel sooner. The guy had to have a multi-track mind, which was a better than the streetcar driver I had the day before. He didnít talk to the passengers. He talked to vehicles crossing the tracks in front of him.
"Iíll cut you open like a cantaloupe." "Iíll flatten you like a pancake." "Iím going to knock all your wheels off." Every time a vehicle crossed in front of him, the litany would start. I seriously wondered about his sanity.
Known as the birthplace of Jazz, New Orleans has more than its fair share of good music and the raw talent seems to be everywhere, from the small pubs to the street corners. I enjoyed getting acquainted with ZydecoĖa unique style that takes its name from a snap-bean grown in Louisiana. Zydeco uses an accordion, guitar, washboard, bass, and drums to achieve its distinctive sound.
Some ads promote New Orleans as a family destination. Not every place that promotes itself as a family destination actually is. I donít recommend it for kidsĖthat is unless you donít mind your kids being exposed to the bawdy, sexualized atmosphere. However, New Orleans is a unique destination adults should visit at least once.