How to Pretend You’re in New Orleans Tonight
While your travel plans may be put on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Home Around the World invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations for exploring the culture from home.
Over the decade since my first visit, I have often imagined myself at home in New Orleans. I think of the syncopated mixing of a snare drum, the simple pleasure of an afternoon stroll with a take-away beer in hand, and the candy-colored shotgun houses sinking into the ground at strange angles. So it wasn’t a big surprise when I grabbed my life in early 2021 and moved to Crescent City for a few months. Why not be in a place I love during this difficult time, I thought? Why not live in my daydreams for a while?
Above all, New Orleans is resilient. Mardi Gras parades were canceled this year, though that didn’t stop New Orleans from finding ways to celebrate (nothing ever will). For the past few months, marching bands have moved to street corners in front of masked, socially distant spectators, rather than in front of overcrowded nightclubs. Strangers still talk about the saints from their porches. My visions of this city may still be filtered through a visitor’s blurred lens, but I know I’ll pretend I’ll be there long after I’m gone. Here are a few ways you can, too.
Turn up the radio
New Orleans music is a collage of sounds: it is the birthplace of jazz, the frenetic dance music known as bounce and popularized by superstars like Big Freedia, the call-and-response songs of the Mardi Gras Indians, and much more becomes. For an overview of the sounds of this noisy, percussive city, there’s no better place to start than from the wonderfully eclectic WWOZ, a community-sponsored radio station that has aired since 1980. Fortunately, you can listen to it online from anywhere. It’s only a matter of time before you get to know the different DJs and get used to your favorites.
Create a curated playlist
“New Orleans is not a peripheral music scene,” said Soul Sister, who has hosted a show at WWOZ for more than 25 years. “New Orleans is the reason for everything.” Soul Sister was one of the few local experts I consulted with putting together a playlist that will send you straight to New Orleans. Her recommendations include a bounce classic by DJ Jubilee and the music by the Rebirth Brass Band, which brings her back to the afternoons when she partied on the street: “It reminds me of the energy and freedom of Sunday parades To be in the second row and to dance for three or four hours non-stop through all parts of the city, “she said.
You can also find some classics on this playlist – Professor Longhair’s exuberant piano, for example, starts it – recommended by Keith Spera, who writes on music for the Times-Picayune / New Orleans Advocate. By the end of the playlist, you will no doubt agree with Mr. Spera’s assessment of New Orleans music: “There is no unique style of music in New Orleans – is it jazz? Rhythm & Blues? Wireless? Bounce? – but you know when you hear it. “
Expand your cookbook collection
New Orleans food, just like its music, contains a multitude: Creole, Cajun, African, Vietnamese and other flavors collide like nowhere else. A good place to start is the Dooky Chase Cookbook, the collected recipes of Leah Chase, who passed away in 2019, of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, an institution that houses civil rights activists, presidents and countless regulars at their location in Treme, the neighborhood where jazz is located was born. Next, take advantage of the Cajun’s influence on the city with the Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Lost Bayou by Melissa M. Martin, who oversees a restaurant of the same name in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. Ms. Martin recommends making her grandmother’s oyster soup. “I can imagine her stirring a pot on bayou petit caillou and seasoning a broth with salty Louisiana oysters, Creole tomatoes, and salted pork,” said Ms. Martin. “The marriage of three ingredients brings me to the tiny fishing village I call home, where salt was and is always in the air.”
Make a nola-style noodle soup
“It’s New Orleans’ best kept secret,” Chef Linda Green, better known as Ms. Linda, told me when I asked about her specialty. Festival and second-line visitors come to her to eat ya-ka-mein, a salty beef noodle soup that is often eaten as a night snack or as a cure the next morning (hence the nickname “Old Sober”). The origins of the dish are puzzling: a product of cultural exchange involving black soldiers from the Korean War or Chinese railroad workers from the 19th century, depending on who you ask. Ms. Linda’s family recipe is also a mystery (she credits global chef Anthony Bourdain for encouraging her to keep it a secret). But she’s shared versions of her recipe so you can try it at home. “That brings you pretty close to reality,” she said with a wink that I could almost hear over the phone.
New Orleans is a city full of history and knowing what to see without a guide can be difficult. Thanks to Free Tours by Foot, which has transferred its expertise to YouTube, you can feel like you are on your own personal tour. You can now stroll through the grandiose Garden District, leave the sensation of New Orleans voodoo traditions behind and delve deep into jazz history in Treme. “New Orleans is full of painful history, and it’s also known as one of the funnest cities in the world,” said Andrew Farrier, one of the tour guides. “I think it’s useful for all of us to know how these two things can live so close together.”
Fix a drink
Unlike so many depictions of the city’s pop culture, the New Orleans drinking scene extends well beyond the vortex of debauchery on Bourbon Street. Of course, there are the classic New Orleans inventions like the Sazerac, but for something else, turn to one of the city’s most revered mixologists. Chris Hannah of Jewel of the South invented the Bywater as the New Orleanian Spin on the Brooklyn. “I swapped rum for rye among the ingredient replacement parts, as a cheeky allusion to our age-old saying” New Orleans is the northernmost tip of the Caribbean, “” said Hannah.
Have a little party
While it’s impossible to completely channel the spirit of a New Orleans pub at home, combine the above playlist with your quarantine pod and “setup” and you could just approach. What is a setup you ask? It’s a staple pub order that gives you a pint of your choice, a blender, and a stack of plastic cups. This is also an often overlooked part of New Orleans drinking culture, according to Deniseea Taylor, a cocktail enthusiast accompanied by the cocktail goddess. “If you can find a bar with a facility, you really are in Nola,” said Ms. Taylor. “The first time I saw a setup, it was paired with a $ 5 fish platter, a match made in heaven.”
Relax with a story or two
It should come as no surprise that, with its triumphant and tragic history, syncretistic culture, and ubiquitous love of fun, New Orleans is a place of tale. There is a wide canon of literature to choose from. For something new, take The Yellow House, a treatise by Sarah M. Broom that Times book critic Dwight Garner described as “powerful, rolling, and multi-chambered.” Try “Coming Through Slaughter”, a fictional depiction of the life of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden by Michael Ondaatje.
If you’re in the mood for a documentary, Clint Bowie, Artistic Director of the New Orleans Film Festival, recommends Lily Keber’s “Buckjumping,” which illuminates the city’s dancers. For something fictional, Mr. Bowie points to “Eve’s Bayou” directed by Kasi Lemmons. It’s hard to forget that New Orleans is a city built on a swamp when you feel the oppressive humidity or lose your footing on torn streets, and this movie will take you further into that ethereal setting. “Set in Louisiana bayou in the 1960s, we couldn’t think of a better movie to evoke southern Gothic daydreams about visiting the moss-covered Louisiana swamps in Spain,” said Bowie.
How are you going to channel the spirit of New Orleans into your home? Share your ideas in the comments.
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