This weekend I am celebrating a major milestone: Saturday, Aug. 3, is my one-year anniversary of moving to New Orleans. While this might not sound like a milestone to you, it's a big deal for me because New Orleans is the first place I ever decided to move to on my own. I followed my heart – and by that I mean my boyfriend – to a place I had never been before with no plans of moving back home. It was one of the biggest risks I have ever taken, but it has proven to be a good one.
And while I could get sappy and tell you how I have found a new sense of self finding my way through a new city far away from the familiarity of the Midwest, I thought I would instead share the specific New Orleans things I have enjoyed discovering in my new city. While I do get homesick sometimes, there are a few things I now love about New Orleans and I can't believe I made it through 24 years of my life without these things.
The concept of the go-cup is so simple, but it has quickly become one of my absolute favorite things about New Orleans. Not finished with your beer? That's ok. Just put it in a go-cup and walk outside. It's also great when people are visiting and you can stop in a bar to grab a drink then continue wandering around. I get irritated now when I go home to Missouri and I can't bring my beer outside.
2. Lots of free festivals.
There is an overwhelming amount of things to do in New Orleans, but I really like all of the free festivals. One of my favorites was the French Quarter Festival because I loved how it took over the whole Quarter. While I have learned that festivals here aren't totally free, since you usually end up buying beer and snacks, it's still fun to spend an afternoon in the sun listening to music.
3. Carnival season.
One of the biggest misconceptions I had about New Orleans before I moved here was Mardi Gras. I thought it was one weekend of partying, and I had no idea about the whole Carnival season. I have since found that I like the Carnival season more than the actual Mardi Gras day because this year I loved the earlier parades like Muses and Endymion. Muses was my favorite, especially because of the cute kid who gave me his light-up bracelet. I felt bad taking a toy from a small child, but he was insistent that I take it and I thought it was so gracious of him to give it to me. I like to think of the act of kindness as an example of what Carnival is really about: Yes, there's a lot of partying, but everyone can enjoy something about Carnival season, whether you're a little kid sitting on a ladder or a Mardi Gras veteran riding on a float.
4. New Orleans hospitality.
While New Orleans is often in the national news for crime, the city deserves more credit for how generous and kind the majority of its residents are. I loved hearing about the "It's a Love Thing" event that took place at Gasa Gasa that raised money for Deborah Cotton's medical bills. Another "pay-it-forward" thing I stumbled upon was the Little Library (pictured above) that I spotted on a run. I thought it was so cute, and it shows how New Orleanians often take time out of their own lives to make life better for someone else.
5. Red beans and rice.
The red beans and rice ritual is the first thing I wrote about for this blog, and it is one of the New Orleans traditions I caught on to the fastest. I am in no way a gourmet chef when I make red beans and rice, but I am a huge fan of having Zatarain’s Red Beans and Rice every Monday. It was one of the first “local” traditions I noticed when I moved here and I have enjoyed adding it to my weekly routine. I'm still not sure if everyone actually does this each Monday, but I definitely do.
6. New Orleans vocabulary.
My vocabulary has expanded a lot since moving here. I know what lagniappe means, I understand the difference between Mardi Gras and Carnival and I feel better about myself that I can spell Tchoupitoulas.
7. Crawfish boils.
Honestly, I have only been to two crawfish boils and both were at Mid-City Yacht Club, so I definitely need to attend some more to get a full perspective on the New Orleans tradition. However, I loved eating crawfish at Mid-City Yacht Club and I'm looking forward to my next crawfish season. I was nervous to eat crawfish before moving here, but now I think of the little critters as tiny lobsters with a zesty kick.
8. Preserving history.
New Orleans is old; the city is about to celebrate its Tricentennial in 2018. One of the best things about New Orleans' age is how its residents believe in preserving its history. It was interesting to me how the whole city came together when The Times-Picayune went to three days a week, or how everyone was outraged after rumors came out that Tujague's might become a T-shirt shop. I love living in a city with so much history, especially because everyone thinks the city's past is important to remember.
9. Hollywood South.
I've been a movie buff for a while, so I love driving by a film set or seeing a movie that was filmed here (FYI: 2 Guns comes out Friday, Aug. 2, and part of it was shot in New Orleans and Kenner). The movie business is good for the economy, but it's also cool to talk about.*
10. Music, music, music.
This is an obvious statement, but there are so many talented musicians here. I knew New Orleans was a musical city before I got here, but I had no idea how big some of the musicians are. Allen Toussaint is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Aaron Neville recently performed with the Rolling Stones. Wynton Marsalis has won nine Grammy Awards. Impressive stuff!!!
11. Frenchmen Street, Magazine Street and other streets.
I love Magazine Street, Frenchmen Street and Harrison Avenue the best. All of them have different spots to eat, drink and shop and they all have their own character. I love that I can browse the boutiques on Magazine Street, run errands on Harrison Avenue and listen to music on Frenchmen Street – and, of course, run into quirky things such as this piano I found in a bar bathroom on Frenchmen Street.
12. Touristy things.
That's my mom posing with a man on Bourbon Street. While I like to think of myself as a New Orleans local now and say things like "Ughhh I don't feel like going to Bourbon Street," I do like sightseeing whenever family and friends come to visit. It's nice to have a reason to indulge at Cafe du Monde.
There you go, my friends. Again, I have truly enjoyed my first year, and I am so glad I moved here. I've been fascinated by the culture of this city, its resilience after Katrina and the kindness of its people. I look forward to discovering more things next year. Moving to New Orleans was definitely a risk worth taking.
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this blog post included a reference to Sylvester Stallone calling New Orleans "the new Hollywood." Stallone was referring to San Diego. We apologize for the confusion.