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To have the opportunity to spend time in New Orleans is to be fortunate. New Orleans introduced itself and exceeded any expectation I had prior to arrival. While, yes, I was initially curious due to my Francophile predilections and love for jazz, it was the combination of these interests along with the regional cuisine, breath-taking architecture and sincere gentility that left me quite thankful to have had the opportunity to visit.
I want to first express my gratitude to TSLL reader Sandy who is a long-time resident of New Orleans and who was the catalyst for my trip as she suggested the Garden District Book Shop for a signing. Her hospitality, knowledge and thoughtfulness overwhelmed me in the most wonderful of ways. As Sandy shared, and I came to learn, New Orleans is a resilient city, and a must-see destination for any lover of singular culture that cannot be duplicated no matter where you have already traveled.
As I was sitting on the balcony porch of the bed & breakfast Sunday afternoon following the signing, I began to contemplate a handful of life lessons New Orleans or NOLA had revealed to me, and I wanted to share. Perhaps you too will visit and discover your own lessons, or perhaps you already have, and in that case, I’d love for you to share. Here is what I’ve discovered:
1. The gift of holding fast to a signature self
As I mentioned above, New Orleans can best be described as a resilient city. It has undergone countless shifts of power: established by the French, then to the Spanish, back to the French and finally purchased by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. But in more recent memory, it is the resurgence after Hurricane Katrina struck ten years ago and the defiant response to the BP oil spill five years ago that serve as a reminder that New Orleans, due to its unique self: the cuisine, the music, the architecture, somehow always finds a way to not only recover, but thrive.
The lesson is significant. If we choose to unearth our unique strengths and cultivate our signature style, talents and passions, no matter what life throws at us, we will be rooted so securely, we cannot be unearthed. We will remain, and just as New Orleans thrive has, we build the life we’ve dreamed and worked so diligently toward.
2. The strength found in differences
Speaking of the food, we ate well, very well, during the three-day visit in New Orleans. And similar to gumbo, which combines many different cultural food influences: French, Spanish, tribes, African, Italians and Germans, it is the intermingling of varying ways of life that come together to create something even more significant and profound.
Homogenization would be boring and lack stimulation, curiosity and growth. After all, when we are willing to learn and discover other cultures, that is when we discover even more about ourselves, deepen an appreciation for where we’ve come from, but also consider different perspectives as well. All of which enriches our lives.
3. Strive to follow your passion, rather than follow the crowd
The one observation that struck me immediately as we walked down Magazine Street the first night we were on our way to La Petite Grocery was the lack of chain stores. What a pleasant respite from the monotonous brands regularly seen on television and often on every metropolis street corner. Aside from a Starbucks and a small West Elm that has fought pushback recently, the rest of the restaurants, boutiques and cafes were primarily local businesses. This alone made New Orleans unique. I truly felt that I was in New Orleans and no other city was similar.
When we choose instead to offer our unique talents to the world rather than blindly do and follow what others expect and our most comfortable with, we may initially get some pushback as others don’t know what we’re doing. However, we will be doing ourselves the grandest service as we will become beloved, appreciated and respected by those who appreciate what we uniquely bring and offer the world unlike nobody else. Much like The Garden District Book Shop, I have yet to walk into an independent bookstore quite like it. It was cozy, yet full of ample just released best-sellers along with any coffee table, journal, cookbook and celebrated book of fiction you can imagine. The experience of the store owner and star-studded list of authors who had signed in the past 35 years of its tenure proved the space unique, and that is why people return or stop in for the first time – a must-see on their itinerary.
Needless to say, the lessons were rich and plentiful, and I had a most wonderful time. I would also like to thank a handful of other readers who without their recommendations I would not have enjoyed the trip nearly as much. Each of the destinations I visited I learned about from a reader. Jen especially, thank you for the long, detailed list of places to visit. Your email honestly served as a significant part of my itinerary. To followers on Instagram who shared their favorite places to visit, thank you for mentioning the Central Grocery to eat the must-eat Muffuletta sandwich – absolutely delicious. To Grace, Jaime, Courtney and Sandy, as well as a couple of readers who, while they couldn’t come to the signing, sent a family member or friend to have their book signed, thank you very much. I thoroughly enjoyed the intimate conversation, feedback and questions.
A few people contacted me and said they had planned on coming, but the weather didn’t cooperate. I just wanted to let you know that there are still a few signed copies at The Garden District Book Shop to pick up, so do be sure to stop in and enjoy a lovely respite in the Garden District.
Now to New Orleans as seen through my eyes, and destinations and places I highly recommend.
When I travel, I prefer to stay in accommodations that mimic a home environment as much as possible. Whether I rent an apartment or stay in a bed & breakfast, I would much rather have a full-sized living experience than a small hotel room if I can. With the recommendation from The Garden District Book Shop, I made reservations at the Grand Victorian Bed & Breakfast, and I was overjoyed at the location, grandeur and comfort. Located on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Washington, as you can see from the picture below, it is directly on the street car line. It is also one block away from the bookstore and two blocks away from Commander’s Palace (James Beard Award recipient in 2013).
With balconies to relax on in the afternoon, stunning tall 16 feet ceilings in recently remodeled estate, I was mesmerized.
The Garden District
As someone who prefers peaceful, tranquil locations, while I enjoyed the French Quarter, I felt fortunate to be able to return each evening to the Garden District where my bed & breakfast was located. With the signature oaks that serpentine over sidewalks and frame homes, the homes are classic shotgun style with covered porches and expansive tall windows. I could have spent an afternoon walking each street snapping photos. As you will see below, here are a few of the houses that caught my eye, but trust me, there were many more to enjoy.
The French Quarter
Visiting the French Quarter is a must, and while you are strolling, eating is required. From the famed Muffuletta to the beignets at Cafe du Monde (the line is long, but it moves fast), grab your three sweet, signature powdered sugar creations, a cafe au lait and sit on a bench overlooking the Mississippi River. It is a simple idea, but it is a good one as we enjoyed it on our first day out and about. The Streetcar is the best way to travel as it is cheap and convenient. Dropping us off right in front of our bed & breakfast, a 24-hour day pass is only $3.
And for book-lovers, which I know many of you are, be sure to stop into Faulkner’s House Books. It’s small, but quaint and full of history as well as new releases. Tucked away in a quiet alley in the French Quarter, you will be glad you stopped in. It was the Nelle Harper Lee autographed photo that caught my eye, but there is much more.
The Garden District Book Shop & Loomed
As I mentioned above, The Garden District Book Shop is a treat, and not one to miss. Yes, I will admit, seeing my book on the shelves with signed copies of Candice Bergen’s latest autobiography and Lena Dunham’s first edition signed copy stopped my breath for just a moment, but the kindness of the bookstore owner was something I won’t soon forget. Britton, as you will see in the images is a wealth of information, but oh, so humble. I could have talked his ear off, but that would have been rude. I did of course ask a few questions that I was curious about, and he kindly obliged me. Needless to say, after 35 years, the bookstore is still thriving, and to know that he met Julia Child and she had signed copies of her books in his store, well . . . I can’t quite describe it.
And just across the way in the “Rink” in which a handful of business are located including the bookstore is a wonderful linens company named Loomed. I just happened to poke my head in the day before the book signing and became mesmerized with their products. From dish towels to bath towels and even stunning silk scarves, I’ll share more in-depth in a few weeks, but do check out their website. Top of the line quality products that will add lovely finishing touches to your most lived in spaces.
Without any hesitation, I wholehearted suggest you enjoy at least one meal at Elizabeth’s. Located in its own neck of the woods outside of downtown New Orleans, it is worth the taxi fare. Everything is handmade, and you will not walk away unsatisfied. From the famed praline bacon (absolutely melts in your mouth), to the cheese grits that have now ruined any other grits for me, they don’t take reservations, so come when you can and enjoy yourself.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the well-known top restaurant for southern food, Commander’s Palace. Reservations are hard to come by, but worth making well in advance. I happened to score a dinner reservation the evening after the book signing, and it was a wonderful place to celebrate, dress up and enjoy. The service, the food, the mandatory dress code (I love that men have to wear collars – they all looked absolutely fantastic), it all made for a most wonderful conclusion to a memorable trip.
All images via TSLL captured with iPhone 6