“New Orleans is, on the other hand, a comfortable metropolis which has a certain apathy and stagnation which I find inoffensive.” – John Kennedy O’Toole
I don’t need to pretend New Orleans is something it isn’t to love it more deeply than I have ever loved any city and most men. It stinks awfully, a specific stink. Acrid and sour, the stench drips from those iconic wrought iron balconies. It runs through the streets, bakes up in the heat, mellows at night. The tourism in the quarter is oppressive, and the violence is real. Just before we arrived, there was a shooting on Bourbon. 10 people hit. One dead, a nursing student, and it was senseless. For what that city pays, I can’t say. But it pays, has paid, for as long, it seems, as it’s been standing. It’s not of this world, whatever curse it labors under. But the thing about it is, that city makes you want to labor alongside it. It exists as a city on death row, a matter of when not if. It’s a mortal city for mortals.
If the stones and plaster could talk, they’d probably wail and moan like some campy poltergeist. And then, most finally, laugh themselves half to death. Because in the end, that’s what New Orleans is in the business of. It’s memento mori and joie de vivre. It’s hot sauce and chaotic jazz. Mausoleums and Spanish moss. Two story bicycles with streamers for nothing. It’s soporific heat. It’s eating a bowl of red beans and rice half naked in the middle of the night. And rolling off of I-10 into that, all of that, I cried. It was so good to be back.
I imagined when I finally went back to New Orleans with sober eyes, I’d be haunted by a thousand ghosts. But the only ghost I saw was my own. And I saw her everywhere. I saw her, seventeen in spike platform heels, slurping oysters & drinking Bloody Martha’s with pickled green beans for dinner and arranging one dollar bills just so and all facing the same way. I saw her twenty-nothing years old and in a mosh pit at One Eyed Jack’s with no shoes on, moronic and drunk with all sorts of erroneous ideas about herself, life, the universe, and everything. I saw her dressed up as Alex of Clockwork Orange fame, pupils dilated and sucking nitrous from a balloon. I saw her red faced and vomiting on sundry street corners. I saw her driving, walking, listening to Françoise, Lou, and Tom and feeling wordly. I saw her hunched over Baudrillard at the Rue de la Course, and I saw her snorting mali off the back of a toilet. I saw her at red cup college parties and waking tangled in a 9th ward shotgun.
Whether she was blue haired or corseted, in cowboy boots or black feathered costume wings, she was there. Everywhere I looked. That girl I can’t remember. The one I didn’t even have to try to forget. The truth of it is, she really is dead. And this trip was a trip to my own funeral. In the most jubilant way. Death to self is a beautiful thing, and while I was there the universe bequeathed me a shed snake skin, a shark’s tooth, and fair warning from a seer that unforgiveness & resentment is the very voodoo that could resurrect that dead girl I still love but don’t mourn.
So for the most part I did two things. Ate, and took this, my own private ghost tour, a funerary pilgrimage. We stayed at the Soniat House, my favorite B&B on the edge of the quarter by the Marigny in a quiet spot of town. The night we arrived I promptly walked around the corner to the Verti Marte and got a sandwich. A sloppy, transcendent sandwich. It’s called the Jazz and manages to incorporate grilled shrimp, sausage, and mustard remoulade. You should probably eat it. Well, eat half of it. It’s the length of my arm and twice as thick. The next morning, I went to see a clairvoyant to see what the city might have to say to me, and afterwards we ventured into the Bywater, my old stomping grounds, and had lunch at Satsuma. We went back that night for dinner and jazz at Bacchanal. Admittedly, we’re old hating haters of fun and could have lived without the loud music with our dinner. But the grilled octopus with spicy potatoes and grapefruit I had there may have been my most memorable bite of the entire trip. Though in all fairness I do have a well documented fetish for octopus. Purely culinary.
The next day, my birthday, we went uptown and spent the day antiquing (a verb I’m ambivalent about, but it’s efficient) on Magazine Street . I drove by my old home, reminiscing incessantly about the boring routes of my daily past life. I walked away with an art deco mirror with plenty of foxing, a brass tea pot, and a tarnished silver tray. And a pair of handsome monk strap shoes from Billy Reid. From me, to me. 31. Almost a decade since I called NOLA home.
Over the course of the trip, we managed to find every magic shop and curiosity cabinet, and also found ourselves, more than once, at Cafe du Monde, with it’s green and white striped awning and shuffling waiters in little paper hats. It’s filthy. If you really look, it starts to look back, the grime. But that bitter chicory coffee, so bitter the story goes that they brewed it with chicory to deter the reportedly effete tastebuds of Union soldiers, served alongside plates of misshapen, rectangular beignets piled precariously high with a careless, preposterous amount of confectioners sugar—it’s unmatched and worth all the indignities of being an utter tourist. I lived in turbans, linen, crop tops, and sandals to combat the heat, and I made sure to pay homage to Felix’s Oyster Bar, where I had my first oyster on the half shell as a teen runaway, and ate as much as I could of a muffelatta from Central Grocery, all the while realizing that taste memory and emotion are inextricably intertwined. I feel like that sandwich might just be okay. But to me it will always be the best sandwich on Earth.
I leave you with my guide. It’s by no means comprehensive, and I mostly entertain myself by wandering the streets. But here are some of my favorite places, old and new. Also, I am not as sad as I look in that photograph. Some people have resting bitch face. I have resting forlorn face. You win some, you lose some.
|Local Milk Guide to New Orleans|
Packed – essentials
Elder Futhark Runes & Wild Unknown deck
Elizabeth Suzann crop top & Ryan pant
American Apparel linen pants & knit cropped tank (pictured)
Hackwith Design House Chandler top & Millie kimono
Jeffrey Campbell Romero Sandal from Free People (pictured)
Block Shop Textile’s scarf (pictured as head scarf)
Lulu Organics Lavender & Clary Sage dry shampoo
Osei Duro bag (pictured)
Breakfast & Coffee
Cafe du Monde
Rue de la Course
Verti Marte – jazz sandwich
La Petite Grocery
Central Grocery – muffaletta
Felix’s Oyster House – dive oyster bar
Luke’s – oyster happy hour
Bag of crawfish from Big Fisherman on Magazine
Booty’s Street Food
Molly’s at the Market
One Eyed Jack’s
The Spotted Cat
Funky Monkey – vintage clothing
Antiques on Magazine
Bottom of the Cup
Marie Laveau’s (reported to actually have good readers despite what you’d think)
Lafayette Cemetary no. 1
Did I not mention your favorite NOLA haunt? Leave it in the comment section!
Last, a song. This one is for you Andy & Drew, wherever you are.