La DAUPHINE B&B
The Big Easy—a Latin City, a Creole World—
by Ray Ruiz
Just what is the fascination with New Orleans, aptly nicknamed The Big Easy?
Few cities conjure up such positive images at the mere mention of their name.
San Francisco is one such city, Amsterdam another—and, of course, Paris.
The infatuation with New Orleans begins with the city's sensual extravagance—
from the smell of rich French-roasted coffee to the night-blooming jasmine, to the
spicy aroma of crayfish boiling in huge restaurant cauldrons. All over town,
the air is filled with mouth-watering fragrances: shrimp remoulade, pungent
gumbo, luscious lemony crab meat, chilled oysters dashed with lemon, red
beans, beignets (French donuts) and heady jambalaya.
New Orleans remains a magnet due to the city's liquid pace and languorous decadence.
The city is a constant, sumptuous feast. Cool breezes waft through the French Quarter from
the Mississippi River as the sun sets on your day—a contrapuntal to the
nightlife, which only gets hotter.
As the evening progresses, a variety of live music such as jazz, soul, rhythm & blues, Cajun, zydeco and rock
accelerates the tempo as you walk down world-famous Bourbon Street—
bar crowds spilling onto the streets from open French doorways. Morning may find
you antique shopping along elegant rue Royal, or on a paddleboat river cruise
from Decatur Street after a leisurely lunch at Arnaud's or Galatoire's.
A Bit of History
Founded in 1718, New Orleans has often been compared to Paris, Genoa,
Marseilles, Lisbon, and Alexandria, Egypt. At times, it seems a little bit of each.
Nearly 80% of its visitors say it's the most unique city in America.
In other cities, immigrants assimilated and became Americans.
Here they became New Orleanians!—a species unto itself.
In 1803, the U.S. acquired New Orleans from Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase for $15 million.
At that time, Louisiana stretched from the Gulf of Mexico north to Canada and west to Idaho (13 states).
French is still spoken in some homes—a vestige of their French Creole past.
Half a million French-speaking Cajuns live just outside New Orleans and greatly influence local customs and
cuisine as well. Amazingly though, rather than a Southern accent, locals
speak English with more like a Brooklyn, New York accent (the result of Irish immigration some say).
What To Do?
O.K, so what do you do here? The short answer: eat, drink and be merry.
It helps that the city is inexpensive. A lunch of local fare such as an oyster
or shrimp po'boy, or a plate of red beans and rice, costs just nine to thirteen dollars.
For breakfast, beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde cost about $5.00.
The city boasts the best restaurants and chefs in the U.S.—
and the French Quarter, an 8-by-14-block rectangle off Canal Street
(the main street) where the first French Creoles settled, and the adjacent Faubourg
Marigny and Bywater is where it all happens. New Orleans is the 2nd largest port in the
world after Rotterdam. The greater metro area population is 1.3 million.
Tourists are generally safe in the popular areas and incidents are rare,
but do take caution as anywhere else.
As Tennessee Williams, who considered New Orleans his home, once quipped,
“There are but three cities in the United States:
New Orleans, New York and San Francisco. All the rest is Cleveland.”
If you could bottle it and market it, you'd be a millionaire.
© Copyright Ray Ruiz 2013. All rights reserved.
Photo credits: Streetcar: By Uncredited photographer for U.S. Department of Transportation (US Department of Transportation website ) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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