New Orleans: Let Life Happen

Back in the 1930s, a Lions Club – two hours by train from Dallas – faced a dwindling membership, largely because one of its members was so obsessed with “Big D” that he spoke of little else. Lions grew weary of his ramblings.

Upon learning that the old geezer had never even been 50 miles from home – let alone to Dallas – the Lions decided to pass the plate. They collected enough money to send him on the train to Dallas for a week. Maybe this would either shut him up – or at least provide a slide show in case of a last-minute program cancellation.

“How was Dallas?” a member asked. “Don’t know,” the man answered, “I didn’t see it.”

“Didn’t see it? We sent you up there for a week,” the questioner fumed.

“I know it, but there was just so danged much happening around the depot.”

My wife and I hold similar awe for New Orleans, one of the unique cities of the world. It lays claim to all of our senses, defying description, no matter how rambling. Words and pictures provide faint justice.

It is a city that must be seen, heard and felt up close. If New York is a city that never sleeps, New Orleans might be described similarly, albeit dozing from time to time, but always with an eye open. It is a city of toes tapping, jazz bands playing, chefs honing recipes and much, much more.

Ah, the food! There are world-class restaurants in a city where average eateries don’t last long. “The aroma brings us in and the dining brings us back,” one visitor said.

One can gather brochures and visit points of interest for weeks, or merely “let life happen” as we did during a recent three-day visit.

Lodged at the boutique Maison Dupuy Hotel, we settled in, truly so on day two, when a seven-inch rain poured down.

We read for hours, learning much about the city and this four-star hotel – the last built in the French Quarter before a moratorium on hotels was enacted in 1975.

The newspaper’s account of a musician’s wake warranted a second reading, and now, sharing. A “special embalming technique,” the mortician claimed, made it possible for an old-time jazz drummer to be placed in a standing position, leaning against a faux lamp pole, during the wake. The writer said this was “thinking outside the box.”

The body was “casket ready” for the funeral the next day.

But the deluge delayed burial. The jazz parade would lead the horse-drawn hearse to the cemetery another day.

A lovely courtyard wedding at our hotel was showered with sunlight on the final afternoon of our stay. Though uninvited guests, we – and a couple dozen others – felt like participants, taking it all in from room balconies.

Mingling with wedding guests later, we heard raves for reception delicacies prepared by Michael Farrell, a nationally recognized chef whose ascent to the top of the culinary mountain began as a dishwasher at age fifteen – thirty-one years ago.

At the hotel’s Le Meritage restaurant, he creates unique dishes, including a signature offering–grits, shrimp and red-eye gravy. If you’re neutral or less about grits, you’ll come alongside.

Despite one rain-out, we succeeded in “letting life happen.” Warm thoughts flooded, interrupted by a blast of Carnival Conquest’s whistle. It hurried us from a jazz luncheon at Arnaud’s, an exquisite restaurant mainstay in the Crescent City for ninety-four years. Two hours there passed too fast.

We walked to the pier, noticing yet again a horde of Lutheran youngsters in New Orleans on a mission trip – 35,000 strong from throughout the nation. They were ever-present throughout the week, gathering for meetings in the Superdome and fanning out across the city for service projects.

Before boarding, we heard the clang of a streetcar. They have three streetcar lines now, and a fourth, down Rampart Street, is under construction. It takes more than Hurricane Katrina’s best blow to fell New Orleans. The city is clearly back, and we are glad. Whether on mission or on vacation, it is a destination not to be missed. And the stout java? I’ll take it, agreeing with most Louisianans that it doesn’t take much water to make good coffee.

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site:

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