The date was 07/07/07 and Casinos everywhere were probably bursting with all those people who didn’t choose this day to get married. Lady luck probably hadn’t been this over-worked since she was wearing platform shoes and listening to ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac way back in the summer of 1977. With all the sevens aligned in numerological synchronicity, this day was set to be the perfect day, and for me at least, it worked out to be exactly that.
“Ladies and gentlemen, on behave of the Captain and first officer I would like to welcome you all to New Orleans.” Crackled the standard airline etiquette over the in-flight PA system as the plane I was on touched down in the ‘Big Easy.’ Passengers reached for the cell phones while readying themselves for the scramble to leave the aircraft. For the first time on this particular trip, my flight was on time, and as we taxied to the gate I looked out of the window at the sky scanning for the dark clouds I’d left behind in Texas. They were nowhere to be seen.
“Please remember to check you have all your belongings with you, and if you have stored anything in the overhead bins please take care when opening them as items do occasionally shift on take-off and landing.” Continued the flight attendant. I collected my things excitedly, today I was going to meet New Orleans.
My friend Susan met me at the airport, smiling and as welcoming as she had been when I first came to know her last year. Back then I was in her home state of Mississippi with a small group from Massachusetts who had traveled there to do hurricane Katrina clean-up work.
Susan could easily be a poster girl for the ’southern hospitality’ people talk about. From her FEMA trailer, she cooked us dinner and made us margaritas every night. Her generous spirit and seemingly unending good cheer made her temporary home an oasis amongst the wreckage left behind by the devastating hurricane.
We’ve been friends ever since and I was excited not just for the opportunity to see New Orleans, but also for the opportunity to get to spend time with Susan under more normal circumstances. The plan was to spend the day in the city before heading back to Mississippi in the evening.
We stepped out of the airport terminal into the clotted Louisiana air that was boiling like soup on a stove. Susan had a plan which she relayed to me in her musical sounding southern accent.
“We’re going to drive down St Charles Avenue so you can look at the mansions. Normally we would take the streetcar but they’ve not got that working there yet since the storm," she said.
If I were a better tourist I would have done a little research about New Orleans and might then know what or where St Charles Avenue was. But in new cities I tend to take each moment as they come, discovering the place in the same way that a white water rafter discovers the rapids.
We drove past those impressive historic mansions of St Charles Avenue in the Garden District on our way to the French Quarter. Once there we parked near Jackson Square and began Susan’s walking tour of New Orleans. The first stop was a visit to Central Grocery to get a Barq’s root beer and a traditional New Orleans sandwich called a Muffuletta which I can only un-poetically describe as being full of meat, cheese, and olives.
Susan assured me that a muffuletta is a New Orleans ‘must-have’, and that a visit to this city should certainly include a visit to Central Grocery to get one. We ordered ours ‘to go’ then sat on the Riverwalk beside a levee overlooking the Mississippi River.
From there we walked the short distance to the sweltering confines of the bustling French Market with its stalls selling everything from foods and postcards to voodoo dolls and alligator heads! With no real-time constraints to worry us, we meandered along the residential back streets chatting and exchanging stories as we made our way toward Bourbon Street. Along the way, we took in the colorfully painted homes and occasionally peered through closed gates at the hidden courtyards behind them.
On Bourbon Street, Susan took me to Pat O’Briens for a hurricane cocktail, another essential experience on her ‘must-have’ tour of the city. We sat for a short while to rest our feet and enjoy the welcome chill of air-conditioning before continuing on our wandering way with our hurricanes in hand.
We walked along Bourbon Street through the fog of live music as the sound from the various bars and clubs was already spilling onto the streets and blending with the humid afternoon air. In the doorway of a small bar, we stood for a moment and watched a band play smooth jazz. The trumpet player was young while the drummer looked like he might have been playing in bars for 50 years or more. I suspected that this unlikely group of friends had probably been thrown together by their love for the music they performed so effortlessly.
The next stop on Susan’s ‘must-have’ walking tour was the Acme Oyster House. Susan was excited that I’d never eaten raw oysters before and explained that the Acme House was famous for serving the best raw oysters in New Orleans. She ordered a half dozen telling the bartender “He’s a raw oyster virgin.”
The plate arrived quickly and Susan explained the best way to enjoy raw oysters in a way that made me feel like I was watching a TV travel show hosted by her. She ate the first one then collected up and prepared another lifting up the fork and offering it to me. No thank you wasn’t an option, so with tribal consideration of not wanting to upset the host, I took the food offered to me.
“Good?” She asked looking for a reaction on my face. I nodded and mentally made a note to remember what this tasted like knowing that when it comes to food I have an abysmal memory. Between us, we finished up the oysters then continued our stroll.
On Royal Street, we browsed a handful of art galleries and antique shops pointing out the wonderful and the weird. In one gallery Susan was particularly taken with a sculpture called ‘Whirlwind’ by Martin Eichinger. I looked at the various paintings by Marc Chagall and was drawn into a simple painting of a barn in a field called ‘Arbol en la Manana’ by Jose Basso.
From the window of the Angela King gallery, a large portrait of a woman caught my eye. It was painted in a linear ‘drizzle’ style similar to that of Jackson Pollock. I later learned the striking portrait was titled Deserie and is one of many similar portraits by Andrew Baird.
Another ‘must-have’ tour stop was for a Pimms Cup at the Napoleon House on Chartres St. From there we walked slowly to Jackson Square where we looked at more art, this time by local artists who had hung their paintings on the railings of the square beside the stalls they had set up.
We wandered into the St. Louis Cathedral for a quick look before sitting on a bench outside among the tarot card and palm readers who were doing brisk business on this sunny afternoon.
“I can read palms,” Susan announced. “Really?” I said.
“Oh sure, here give me your hand and I’ll read yours,” she answered.
Maybe it was the mix of the Hurricane cocktail, the Acme House beer, and a Pimms Cup that made me just accept that Susan could indeed read palms, or maybe I was just going with the mood of the day as I offered her my palm.
She carefully studied the creases and impressions of my palm pointing out my lifeline.
“See this line?” She said while pointing vaguely. “These are children see? You’ve got 4 lines but they’re broken which means those were children you didn’t have but could have.”
I squinted and looked closer trying to see the four children in my palm as Susan continued.
“But this line here tells me that there will be one child in your future.”
“Really?” I questioned still examining my palm with her.
“No,” She said smiling. “I’m making this up.”
I laughed, realizing that New Orleans had one more sucker!
The final ‘must-have’ stop on Susan’s walking tour of New Orleans was Café Du Monde, right back where we started at the French Market. Here we had Café Au Lait and the café’s famous Beignets, a powdered sugar-coated fried fritter that hit the spot! I was hungry and feeling somewhat light-headed after the cocktails and beer, so the coffee and Beignets were welcome indeed.
I probably could have walked further, but Susan’s walking tour of the Big Easy was a perfect blend of ‘must-have’ experiences and unique moments that can only happen between friends on a day like today.
We had shared numerous stories with one another, and along the way had created this one, our shared 07/07/07 story; The meandering tale of what truly was a perfect day.