There is a city in the southern United States that has this uncanny ability to make everyone in it happy. It’s the city where everyone smiles—and not in a retarded “I got hit by a brick and now I can’t wipe this silly grin off my face” way. It’s a genuine sense of overwhelming joy that this city brings out in people. This city is New Orleans.
I have now visited Nola four times, and I still haven’t gotten enough. Every time I go there, I can’t wait to arrive, despite the excruciating eight-hour drive. Every time I have to leave, I dread departing more than the long, exhausting drive back.
What is it about this city that has this ridiculous effect on people? Why does a pedicab driver, pedaling a 200-pound rickshaw with two 200-pound customers in it, smile at passersby? Why are the hordes of tourists, who have all woken up with massive hangovers, out at 10 o’clock in the morning, laughing and dancing on the streets without a worry in the world?
Is it the booze that is flowing uncontrollably and endlessly in every watering hole in the city that essentially is a huge watering hole? Could very well be. It’s a well-known fact that alcohol brings happiness—when you hit even the slightest feeling of sadness, trouble, or there’s just something bothering you, you can start drinking and all this negativity goes away as quickly as you drink. And when you start getting sober and these negative feelings start returning, you just start all over. It’s like a magic way of indefinitely postponing every unhappy thought or feeling, ensuring they never come back.
But here’s the thing. You know how bakers never eat bread or cake? It’s because we’re naturally programmed to get fed up with things, especially those that are around you all the time, 24/7. Everything can get old, may it take as long as it will. So it’s understandable that for tourists, Nola in small doses is this embodiment of happiness that occurs only once in a while. But let’s come back to the pedicab driver who can’t wipe the smile off his face. Or a streetcar driver who sings while operating this ancient means of transportation. Or the countless of local New Orleanians who can’t get enough of the Mardi Gras parades so that they voluntarily and happily do them many times a day for months in a row?
Let’s leave the booze and the party aside for a while and look at New Orleans as a home—as it is to almost four hundred thousand people.
First of all, it’s a beautiful city. The French Quarter is like a tiny piece of rural France that’s implanted into the United States. I think it’s a city with one of the most beautiful old architecture in the entire North America. And if you look beyond the French Quarter, you have the Garden District with magnificent Southern architecture that has its own feel in Nola—which is somewhat different from the rest of the South. And hey, if you miss the modern big-city feel, there’s the Financial District that has skyscrapers and the scent of money.
There aren’t many cities in the New World where you can take an old streetcar to work—in New Orleans, you can. Even though the streetcar seems to be used by mostly tourists who do it for the experience, it’s an actual means of public transport for the locals. Unlike in San Francisco where the famous cable car is almost exclusively for tourists these days.
Second of all, it’s a city with some of the best food man has ever invented. The Cajun and Creole cuisines that dominate the city and the region are to die for. Who wouldn’t want to start their day with a few beignets, have some delicious seafood etouffee for lunch, and finish off the day with spicy alligator jambalaya—while between those meals, and especially with dinner indulge in cocktails from Sazerac to Hurricane, flushing them down with great local craft beers? Yes, you will get fat quick in Nola, and yes, you will probably eventually die of alcohol poisoning, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and deal with problems in the order they present themselves, shall we?
Third, it’s a city of culture—although this may appeal to the locals and tourists alike. Apart from the obvious appeal of the French Quarter—even if you don’t drink—the city offers the National WWII Museum, one of the largest and most fascinating World War II museums in the world. The numerous cemeteries of New Orleans, especially Saint Louis I and II are often compared to Pere Lachaise in Paris—even though maybe less famous people have been buried in Nola.
But one of the most important cultural aspects of Nola is the music. Nowhere in the world can you enjoy such amounts of completely diverse music. Just pick a bar—any bar—and absorb all the musical goodness. Whether you like heavy metal, rock’n’roll or jazz, there’s something for everybody. Go to the Musical Legends Park to enjoy soothing jazz, My Bar@635 to ask the band to play whatever rock’n’roll tune you can imagine, or any other establishment on Bourbon Street and around where you hear the music you like. And then just sit down, enjoy your cocktail or beer, and laissez les bon temps rouler.
Of course, lest we forget Mardi Gras—the endless parades in the two months preceding Ash Wednesday when all New Orleanians and visitors alike party like there’s no tomorrow. And should you be interested in wildlife, the alligator-infested swamps where knowledgeable tour guides take you around in a boat are only a short ride away.
The South in general is an extremely friendly place. That friendliness, however, takes another level in New Orleans. I don’t think I ever met a rude person in Crescent City. Even people who visit it from the ruder places in the country somehow mellow in Nola and become happy and friendly. Again, maybe it’s the booze, but from the perspective of the local New Orleanians, they’re nice and friendly all the time, everywhere, no matter what they do and who they are. It’s like southern Spain where people don’t have a mean bone in their body.
And here’s a weird aspect. New Orleans is geographically prone to outrageous natural disasters. Remember Katrina? Well, hurricanes and tornadoes happen there all the time, albeit on a smaller scale than Katrina. The city gets flooded, people lose their possessions and even homes, and endure all sorts of hardships due to the weather. But none of that breaks the spirit of the good people of New Orleans. They rebuild, they clean the city up again, and they move on with their lives.
Because they know their home is in one of the greatest cities on earth, and no storm can take that greatness away from them.
(And for those people who go to Vegas for every stag night, forget the casino city in the desert for once, and have your stag night in New Orleans. I promise you, it’s going to be the best stag night ever. Las Vegas is overrated; Nola never disappoints.)