New Orleans. What hasn't been said about this city? I traveled there last weekend for the Southern Foodways Alliance summer symposium, and it was the first time I'd ever been on my own, able to wander. I happened to be there when the Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage in all 50 states was announced, which was incredible. The photo above was just after a rally in Jackson Square, and as I walked around the city that day, there were signs of celebration everywhere.
One thing that struck me everywhere I went was the varied textures. As someone whose daily vistas are a rural farm carved out of a forest on a Tennessee plateau and a small Southern town on the Tennessee River (leaves, gravel, wet grass, asphalt, dirt) New Orleans, to these eyes at least, was popping with colors I'd never seen together, deeply grooved patterns in doors and latticed roofs, ornately scripted tiles on buildings and in sidewalks, epiphytic ferns bursting through even the most plain plastered walls. That first day, I walked and walked and walked.
And I think it's safe to say that each day after the first, I ate and ate and ate. The meal at Peche on our second day was one I'm going to have trouble forgetting. Fried grits topped with whole leaves of parsley and house remoulade, watermelon cubes drizzled in Anson Mills' benne seed oil, whose precarious shelf life makes it precious anywhere outside South Carolina, pickled shrimp with farro, fried dough that struck a perfect balance between salty and sweet, whole grilled redfish in blankets of salsa verde. We had sweating bottles of cold brew beside Bloody Marys, hot coffee, cream. The scene above sums it up.
And (like all good trips to New Orleans, I learned), leaving room for spontaneity is a must, as my first night showed. After dining with a cousin beside a band too good for that tiny room on Frenchmen Street, we ended up on her rooftop with blueberry pie, lavender ice cream, and cups of Basil Haydens, watching the city lights flash before us and the river flow through like one giant, shimmering mirror snaking its way out to sea.
"There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. There's a thousand different angles at any moment. At any time you could run into a ritual honoring some vaguely known queen...The city is one very long poem." -Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Vol. 1