The other day my best friend called me up, all jazzed over a promo she’d seen for the HBO series Treme. Not only was she excited about being able to use the show as her vicarious passport to New Orleans (she works on Wall Street, where vacations don’t exist), but she also was ready to fill the void HBO’s critically acclaimed The Wire left after it ended at the height of its popularity. Gritty and accurate in its portrayal of urban Baltimore, The Wire resonated with many viewers despite its honest representation of urban decay in the worst order.
As such, a cult following of The Wire is probably counting down days to the April 11 Treme premiere, with hopes that it opens a raw and wretched window into New Orleans. But as I tried to explain to my friend, guns, guts and gang glory aren’t what we should expect from it. Of course it’s not some glossy Travel Channel production intended to lure in tourists. But it also won’t scare off those (like my mother!) who have yet to come and have no plans to. At least I hope.
I wish an HBO camera had followed Drew and me around this past Friday as we experienced a normal yet altogether atypical day in New Orleans. After taking our dog for a brisk walk around Audubon Park, we embarked on a trip to the Quarter. With the weather mild and slightly breezy, we rode our bikes lazily, taking care to stop and observe houses we hadn’t noticed before. I even went so far as to take pictures of a recently renovated Creole cottage and several homes bedecked in bold Caribbean colors.
We made it to the Quarter shortly before lunchtime and decided to try Red Fish Grill on Bourbon. Drew had the BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy, and I had the Blackened Redfish Burger, which was so good that at one point I re-enacted the infamous Meg Ryan scene from When Harry Met Sally. Yes, I did. And yes, it was that good.
After lunch we strolled along, popped into art galleries and stopped to hear bands set up at every corner. We even caught the tail end of Glen David Andrews performing with his band in front of St. Louis Cathedral. This time I was able to get video of him, and, like last time, he approached me and asked where I was from.
“I mean, is it that obvious we’re not from here?” I asked Drew.
But he didn’t respond because he was no longer by my side. He’d moved to a different location to get a better view of the performance and looked like a tourist as he maneuvered through the crowd, straining to soak up as much of the musical energy possible. He looked around, bopped his head a few times and looked over at me. We both grinned, almost in acknowledgement that there was no other place on earth we’d rather be.
For a couple more hours we perused shops. We also met watercolorist Robert Guthrie in his gallery and found a Quarter-themed print we’d like to get. I found an Indonesian mask in Frangipani that I was ready to walk away with in spite of its $1,000 price tag, and the owner was nice enough to knock down the price and offer shipping.
“Uh, I live Uptown,” I told the owner. “So there’s no need to ship.”
“Oh, Uptown! Uptown New York? Wonderful. I love New York City,” she said. “It would be cheaper for you to just take it back on the plane.”
Instead of stammering some snide remark, I calmly explained: “I’m a local. I live Uptown, as in off Magazine Street.” And that was that. She understood. By the time Drew and I made it back home, it was already past dinnertime and we were spent from our “nolacation,” as I like to call it.
Along those lines, it was the perfect way to end a magical week in New Orleans. Drew’s family visited last weekend, and it’s a trip we’ll never forget. We devoured massive plates of food at Mandina’s, K-Paul’s and Patois and noshed at Brocato’s, Sucre and Mahony’s. We spent a day in the Quarter, including a fantastic trip to the Audubon Insectarium; we went on a driving excursion (wherein I discovered neighborhoods never seen before); and we did a tour and had lunch at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie and afterward headed to the Cajun Pride swamp tour, where we finally saw river shacks and alligators.
I’m glad I heeded our readers’ great advice of going with the flow for our family’s visit. I took a vow to remain relaxed and flexible in my expectations, and it worked. As it turns out, there’s not much one needs to do to showcase the city of New Orleans in all its glory. It has a way of doing it all on its own.
As my family and I discovered together, New Orleans is a nuanced place with much to love. You can find a bit of history, zest and beauty in just about everything: through the Garden District’s sleepy streets, in a Sazerac at the Columns, during a run along the riverside levee, during a drive through the Ninth Ward, in the wails of trumpets, along the Quarter’s corridors, on a jagged ride inside the St. Charles streetcar, at a crawfish boil or at the sight of architectural grandeur.
There’s just so much to savor and so much to love.
And now there’s a first-class TV show dedicated to our great city.