Living Madly – New Orleans, Mon Amour
The inability to travel has been one of the most difficult sacrifices I’ve had to make during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experiencing new places, trying new foods, and meeting new people — not to mention the travel and hospitality industry itself — have been part of my life and my career as a writer for more than 20 years.
Lately, I find myself thinking about one of the first trips I took as an adult: In October 1995, I flew to New Orleans with my then-boyfriend, Rob. It was our first time traveling together. We didn’t have much money, but we were crazy in love.
New Orleans, its majestic live oaks dripping with moss, seemed to offer the perfect combination of romance, passion, mystery and splendor. We loved that the city had a long and storied history, that it was French, and that, because we knew no one, we would be alone.
If I close my eyes, I can still feel the warm breeze coming off the Mississippi and hear the palmetto palms rustling in their pots. I can smell the rich aroma of cafe au lait mixed with the perfume of bougainvillea, its vibrant blooms draped across seemingly every fence and lamppost. It’s not hard to evoke the mouthwatering scent of caramelized sugar and roasted pecans drifting through the open doors of praline shops as people of all ages, sizes and colors walk along the French Quarter’s cobblestone streets, the white spires of St. Louis Cathedral towering over all of it.
Rob and I drank hurricanes — red, sweet and boozy — out of plastic cups as we strolled along Bourbon Street, collecting strings of plastic beads in metallic shades of pink, purple and blue. We dressed in our best clothes to visit one of the “cities of the dead,” the iconic, and slightly unnerving, aboveground cemeteries New Orleans is famous for. We ate freshly boiled shrimp on street corners and made love in our room overlooking a crumbling brick courtyard, every inch of it embellished with gurgling fountains and twirling vines.
It was in the cool, cellarlike confines of Marie Laveau’s Voodoo Bar on Decatur Street — a tiny dive of a place where they didn’t skimp on the gin — that Rob asked me to marry him. He didn’t have a ring, but it didn’t matter. Who needs a diamond when you have the Crescent City?
We got married six months later and returned to New Orleans for our honeymoon. We stayed in the same shabby chic hotel and took a trip to the countryside, where we watched alligators gliding through a bayou swamp and marveled at the size of ancient cypress trees. We heard live zydeco bands and rented bicycles so we could ride across the city to Lake Pontchartrain, our trip taking us through one of the neighborhoods that Hurricane Katrina would later destroy.
Over the years, we went back to New Orleans numerous times, sometimes for our wedding anniversary, other times for no reason at all. When our daughter, Madelaine, was old enough, we brought her to New Orleans with us. We took her on the St. Charles Streetcar to see native alligator snapping turtles and nutria rats at the zoo, and walked the French Quarter’s streets at night in search of a restaurant that would make her a grilled cheese.
Although we haven’t been to New Orleans in several years, it’s still with us. There’s a preserved alligator head on our porch that Rob bought as a souvenir on our first trip to the city. I never take off the fleur-de-lis bracelet he bought for me at a shop on Royal Street as a gift for our sixth anniversary.
For our ninth anniversary, Rob had New Orleans’ city symbol, a crescent and star, tattooed on his arm. And though I’m not usually one to hold on to outdated things, I still have the New Orleans travel guidebook I bought in 1995. Published by a company that’s been out of business for years, the book is so old that it doesn’t list websites or email addresses. I will never give it up.
Someday, when it’s safe to travel again, hopefully before too long, I’d like to go back to New Orleans. Maybe we’ll stay in a nicer hotel this time, and drink cocktails that won’t stain our lips red. But maybe not. Either way, it won’t matter.
Contact Emilie at firstname.lastname@example.org