Just Back From

Vibrant New Orleans

New Orleans

is, first of all, beautiful. The entire French Quarter is a National Historic Landmark, made distinct by its architecture: multi-story pastel wooden buildings, wrought-iron balconies covered in vines, all in perfect compliment to the slow Creole cadences heard on the street. Strolling through the quiet passageways to inner-courtyards of the historic buildings offers a peek into private oases. And the constant sound of a trumpet in the distance or a saxophone around the corner adds to the transcendent energy.

While the city has a European look, it is distinctly American. New Orleans has a rhythm all its own, and a distinct feeling of openness. Brass bands entertain afternoon crowds, and neither the musicians nor the pedestrians seem to notice pouring rain. Strangers share their life story on the sidewalk, Jazz clubs pack dance floors with people born in different eras (and different tax brackets). And the food is fantastic, from gumbo and beignets to po’boys and sleek, modern dishes.

The culinary smorgasbord of New Orleans is irresistible, and I recommend not thinking about calories until your weekend is over. My snobby New Yorker palate was blown away: from the gorgonzola tarte at Muriel’s, to the heavenly coconut cream pie at Herbsaint. Between meals, even perpetual wallflowers will be compelled to hit the dance floor at one of NOLA’s many blues clubs (check out The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street), or have a leisurely cocktail at the Carousel Bar.

After a few days of hedonistic revelry, any traveler could use a healthy dose of balance and perspective. The best opportunity to achieve just that is to partake in “voluntourism.” During my trip, I spent a day volunteering with Beacon of Hope, a unique grass-roots organization where the homeowners work alongside volunteers. We rolled up our sleeves and painted a house in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, the home of a mother and daughter named Cindy and Bonnie. Working with these women and hearing about their Katrina experience was very poignant.

Throughout my weekend in New Orleans, what struck me most about the city was its positive energy. It’s palpable. The momentum that began with Katrina has rallied the Big Easy into a new age. And the city is now being flooded by a new generation of educated young people. “There is a feeling now that anything is possible, that if you have an idea you can make it happen” shared Scott Bosworth, a local restaurateur. The devastating storm washed away a lot, but in return gave the city a fresh start, and challenged its citizens to rise to the test.

Published onAugust 1, 2012

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