I’ll never be monogamous with one city. Aside from where I live now (also my hometown), which was chosen for me by default, I have a hard time saying to anyone “my top destination to live is…X.” Like changing food or music tastes, I have cycles with cities. Diverse vacationing is one thing – wanting multiple homes across the globe is another.
Last summer I took an extended weekend to see New Orleans, which I’d heard so much about – good and bad. My expectations were low thanks to Hurricane Katrina’s well-documented devastation in 2005, seven years prior to my trip. As many before me were, I was delighted by what I found along twisty bends of the Mississippi River.
Whenever I leave on a trip, I’m usually headed away from the South, to bigger, more progressive towns, like San Francisco, Seattle, or Chicago. New Orleans is just as old, but isn’t nearly as progressive in terms of city services or infrastructure, but is very socially liberal, like those other places. It has long been an LGBT destination, to party and to live, and thanks to its European influence, has a refreshing laissez-faire attitude toward all lifestyles, mainstream or fringe.
Two things struck me about the city. First, the young energy in the city. I believe part of this is thanks to an influx of volunteers and aid workers after Katrina who decided to stay (and after all, there are two large universities in the city). You can see it all over, but especially in the lesser known neighborhoods, like Freret, which reminds me a lot of Brooklyn. We had dinner in the Bywater one night too (at Maurepas), and it felt full of Mason Jar, vegan, yoga-y cheer. It’s also comparatively cheaper to live in than other Southern destinations, and has a long-held reputation in the food and entertainment industries (both popular with young people looking for inspiration and direction).
No matter where we went, I felt like I was in a college town. Streams of tourists probably keep the mean age low, but the far end of city (East Carrollton, near Tulane) was also youthful and busy. Phillips’ Bar was packed full of young, attractive gays.
I took the picture above just up Louisa Street from Maurepas. It was a beautifully restored NOLA-style home (shotgun?). Single story, but raised a few feet, with columns, a big front porch, floor to ceiling shuttered windows, and some sexy exterior lighting. A Porsche Cayenne was in the driveway, so I guessed the interior to be just as fabulous. A Streetview shot is below.
That brings me to my second revelation about New Orleans: the neighborhoods. From far west (Uptown) to far east (Bywater), none were ever fully manicured or tamed…even the nicest neighborhoods had crumbling homes and decrepit patches, no doubt in part from the past storm damage, but also indicative of the New Orleans attitude: Drive it until the wheels fall off. Normally, that would turn me off. No one likes to see a city in disrepair, but in New Orleans I think they are just making do with what they have – a jewel among salt crystals. It doesn’t have the capital, or the outrageous wealth of other cities, to undertake massive improvements. I’m sure some people question the value in saving a place that could be ultimately doomed by rising sea levels and the threat of another killer storm.
Taken together, these things produce an endearing New Orleans charm, and I am hooked. I don’t know that I could make it my home permanently, forever. The volume of social drinking alone is hard for me to fathom. But it would make a great place to indulge in storied architectural and neighborhood history, in relaxation and a slower pace of life…and in great food and vibes. Other cities are famed for their fast pace and concentration of PhDs. New Orleans takes a different approach, famous for its ambiance and concentration of peculiar characters and vivid realness.
If you’ve never been there, I highly suggest it. You’ll probably fall in love.