Say the words, “New Orleans,” out loud. You can’t help but smile. What do those two words make you think of? You don’t need to tell. Just enjoy the associations your subconscious conjures. You’re smiling now, aren’t you?
Imagine living in New Orleans. It is like nowhere else on earth. You can say that about anywhere, of course, but it is quintuply true in New Orleans. It looks like nowhere else. It smells like nowhere else. It sounds like nowhere else. It tastes like nowhere else. It feels like nowhere else. The friendliest people live in New Orleans. This is because they know what it’s like to lose their city and then rebuild it, keeping the best of what came before and polishing those facets like a gem or a pearl. New Orleans is special. It deserves to be preserved.
New Orleans is a beacon. It attracts all kinds of people, from frat boys striving to get pass-out drunk between the burlesque clubs at the start of Bourbon Street to students of architecture who want to absorb unique American structural idioms Uptown, in Tremé, or in the Bywater. New Orleans is all things to many, many, many people. A smallish city of only about 380,000 as of this writing, New Orleans was once home to over 600,000 permanent inhabitants. Just prior to the federal levee failures during Hurricane Katrina, the population totaled about 480,000 living, breathing, dancing souls. Ten years later, the census continues to play catch up. This is a robust and energized citizenry committed to remaking their city in it’s own best image of itself. The people who live in New Orleans are proud to call it home, and justly so. Go anywhere in the world and say you are from New Orleans. Everyone will know where you are talking about: the umbilicus of jazz.
After Hurricane Katrina, the population was officially zero. Everyone had to evacuate the city. Everyone who lives in New Orleans today lives here by choice. They made a conscious decision to move back or to start their lives anew from elsewhere more humdrum, to be part of a grand and noble project. Civic pride and esprit de corps form a palpable pulse that runs through the whole city from the biggest mansion on St. Charles Avenue to the most falling down double shotgun house in Gert Town. When you visit New Orleans, the people who live in New Orleans are glad to see you. They are happy to show off their city. They love living here. They wouldn’t, and they cannot, live anywhere else. When post-Katrina evacuees tried to live somewhere else they couldn’t find anything good to eat. That’s one reason they came back.
The best restaurants are in New Orleans. There are 800, give or take. You’ll find food in New Orleans that you can’t find anywhere else. Meals taste better when they are simmered in generations of tender care for Creole traditions.
Good memories are made in New Orleans. If you are bored in this city, it’s your fault. You can’t lay the blame on New Orleans. Something is happening every minute of every day. Some things are for tourists. Most are not. Every moment in New Orleans is precious and pregnant with celebration. The city blossoms like a flower left on a wet grave. In a homogenized world, New Orleans has its own way of doing things. The city is dense with delightful serendipity.
It is impossible to describe New Orleans to somebody who has never been to New Orleans. The city will leave you blinkered. Nobody ever says their stay was too long. Instead, everybody says the opposite. In New Orleans, the past is everywhere and the future promises to be similar, but in a better light and even more vibrant. Fall in love with New Orleans and the city will love you back with open arms and an open heart. Only a churl talks trash about New Orleans. It’s a place where you can’t help but be smiling all the time, even when it’s raining. It’s magical.
FEH Editor’s Note: Matthew King and Melanie Schmitt are the owners of La Belle Esplanade, a boutique bed and breakfast inn located in a historic property in New Orleans. For more musings from Matthew check out the inn’s blog.