A New (Orleans) Experience

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New Orleans has character, if a bit unusual.

While Los Angeles has the glamor of show business, New York juggles currencies, and Miami is the ultimate vacation destination, New Orleans is different. It is more abstract.

The bizarreness dates back to the late 18th century when the French had control over Louisiana. Napoleon Bonaparte, who was at war with several other empires, needed money for battle supplies. So he sold the French Americas to the Yanks for just 4 cents an acre. Do the math. The whole city was purchased for US$7.00! And Napoleon went down in history for logging the biggest real estate fire sale!

But, despite being Francaise for just a few decades, the atmosphere remained, albeit modified with a twist of America and the weird. If you walk around the city, you will still spot the French coat of arms every 10 seconds. You’ll see it on lampposts, billboards, shirts, and various paraphernalia. It’s clear that the people of NO want to retain their history.

New Orleanians are not your usual media-projected Americans. Although they take partying to the next level via Mardi Gras and their night life, let’s just say most of them aren’t that accommodating. It’s as if they’re not used to tourists. They barely smile, waiters care only about bills and tips, and even our hotel staff wasn’t helpful. As visitors, we were left to fend for ourselves. Did their rudeness and unwelcoming attitude come from being descended from slaves? Who knows?

Bourbon and Voodoo
Bourbon Street is the most popular road in town. Located in the French Quarter, the street is reminiscent of the cobblestone roads of Intramuros, if slightly more preserved.

But no matter how historic the area looks, no matter how legendary the jazz is, Bourbon Street is probably one of the nastiest street I’ve even been to. Think Patpong district in Bangkok, or some streets in Malate, Manila. There’s the stench, local weirdos, sashaying drunkards, noise and, of course, the strip clubs.

One of the more famous features of New Orleans, aside from jazz, is the fondness for voodoo of its natives. To some locals, it is religion. Several voodoo shops dot the French Quarter. Each time I entered one, I got this eerie feeling down my spine. Like if I didn’t purchase an item, a curse would surely follow.

Books, dolls, candles, and other voodoo-related merchandise were guaranteed by the shopkeeper to work—for so long as you believe that they would work. The swampy bayou atmosphere added to the ambiance. Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone?

Creoles and Things Cajun
New Orleans actually offers haunted tours. Although I wasn’t able to go on one, we did pass by a cemetery on one city tour. I try to avoid visiting cemeteries after All Saints Day. But Orleans’ cemeteries attract quite a number of tourists taking pictures. French style mausoleums are certainly picturesque. This is where the dead reside? Aren’t people here scared of the souls of Hurricane Katrina victims? Or worse, hardcore Confederates? Guess not.

Then there is the very plush Garden District. It’s supposed to be where the affluent reside, but it also serves as a tour bus route for sightseers. Several celebrities, such as Nicholas Cage, Sandra Bullock, and famous athletes have purchased houses here. As with the mausoleums, the houses are striking.

Garden District estates feature the original manors built by elite Creoles of eras past. New owners would occasionally refurbish the buildings but they still kept the classic Victorian look. One of the most unforgettable: The house used in the Brad Pitt movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

If you start finding New Orleans sights too bizarre, you can just focus on the food. The praline cookies make a perfect pasalubong (souvenir) for friends and relatives back home. Another delicacy that locals and visitors are crazy about is the French donut. It may look like plain bread, but what makes it 10 times more special is the sweet milk powder that comes with it. Messy, yes. But there’s nothing better with coffee!

Now, I’m not really a fan of spicy food because it sets me off on a sneezing fit. This makes me an outcast during group orders. But Cajun cooking turned out to be the exception. Cajun Shrimp, Cajun Crawfish, Cajun Fish. Baked, barbecued, grilled. Spicy? Sure! But ultimately addicting.

Cajun food paired with good old amber liquor is the perfect dinner or snack while watching the NBA playoffs. The taste of Cajun Shrimp is particularly pleasant. It is far better than the Nilasing na Hipon (Liquor-marinated Shrimp) back home.

New Orleans, as I discovered, is better visited with friends than parents. And, if you plan to visit, do not bring the kids!

Print ed: 08/11


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