My Beamish Brood

My Beamish Brood

Monday, September 9, 2019

Dreaming of New Orleans

At the beginning of this month, Paul and I celebrated 13 years of marriage! In that time, we have traveled without children exactly twice, and one of those was our honeymoon in Colorado. In April of this year, thanks to my amazingly generous parents, we took our second trip together. This time we flew to New Orleans and spent a long weekend in the French Quarter. We made a short list of things that we wanted to do and see, but we left the majority of our time wide open to do whatever the spirit moved us to do.

I could sum up the trip in three words: walk, listen, and eat. We put in tens of thousands of steps each day wandering the shops and the waterfront, and it's a good thing we did because I ate my weight in beignets and seafood every day! And everywhere we walked or ate, we were surrounded by the sound of music. There were musicians on every corner and in every cafe, and not just a-guy-and-his-guitar live music, but accordions, banjos, upright basses, and even entire brass bands.

We stayed in a hotel just off of Bourbon Street, right in the heart of the French Quarter. We didn't rent a car, and we took public transportation only once, because there was so much to do right where we were that we didn't feel the need to go far. Thankfully I wasn't yet into my third trimester of pregnancy, because I still had the stamina to do a great deal of walking. But I'll take responsibility for every stop we had to make... Paul could have walked forever! We flew in on Saturday and spent the day exploring the area around our hotel. We had dinner at the French Market Restaurant and ate our fill of jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice, and just about everything else on the menu. I ran out of room long before I wanted to be done eating!

Early Sunday morning, we walked to the waterfront to taste our very first beignet at Cafe du Monde. Oh my word, it was a treat! There was about an inch of powdered sugar on the crispy pastries, and it was impossible to eat them without making a mess! The cafe had their service down to an art; we found an empty table and a waitress came almost instantly to take our order. We ordered our coffee with chickory and an order of beignets, she took our money right away and came back moments later with our food. There were no bills, no waiting, very few choices... it was perfect!

Later we attended Mass at the oldest cathedral in the United States, the St. Louis Cathedral. It was pretty neat to pray in such an historic location! After Mass, we wandered down Pirate Alley to Faulkner House Books, a tiny bookstore housed in the former home of William Faulkner. It was one of the few places on my must-see list, and while it was very exciting, it was overshadowed in my memory by the other New Orleans bookstore that we stumbled upon. Directly across the street from our hotel was a nondescript little storefront with a sign that said "Arcadian Books". Of course my interest was piqued, but the store had seemingly random hours so we kept our eyes open hoping to come upon it when it was actually open.

Our Lyft driver from the airport had recommended a spot for fried chicken that all of the locals frequent, so we decided to check that out for lunch. It was a dark, dingy hole in the wall, but the chicken was the real thing! Delicious and greasy... so when we hadn't walked off the weight of our lunch by dinner time, we opted for a light meal at Cafe Beignet down by the water. We listened to some wonderful jazz music while the breeze blew through the open air cafe, forgetting for a time that our hometown was covered in a frozen blanket of snow at that moment.

Later that evening, we decided to check out Pat O'Briens dueling pianos. It ended up being the perfect spot for me to rest my feet after a long day of walking. The pianists took requests from the audience, and we were serenaded with every song imaginable. We stayed for quite a long time and got to hear four different pianists. After hearing "Piano Man" played twice, we began to wonder how many times that song actually gets requested each night!

On Monday, we took another trip to the waterfront for a beignet and cafe au lait. We then took the streetcar partway across town to visit the shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. It was a peaceful refuge in the middle of a loud, dusty area of town. We spent some time praying and wandering the grounds, then began to make our way back. The walk to the streetcar was long, and the temperature had risen, so my pregnant body began to fade. Thankfully the people of New Orleans are kind and compassionate, and someone jumped from their seat to make a place for me to sit on the crowded streetcar. We got off for lunch at a restaurant we had our eye on for one of New Orleans' iconic sandwiches, the Po' Boy. It revived me enough to make the walk back to our hotel, but by the time we got there, I was exhausted and barely able to stand up. We turned the corner onto our street and low and behold, the bookstore was open! Paul asked if I was up for a visit, and I almost said no. But my love of books won out against my exhaustion and we decided to check it out. We were greeted by the most glorious sight... piles and piles of books, stacked, shelved, in seeming total disarray. In other words, sheer beauty! My energy returned as we perused the store.

After I had squeezed my way around and through the narrow corridors, my baby belly nearly knocking over books at every turn, we finally returned to the hotel for a break. We took a dip and read our books by the hotel pool in the central courtyard. In the evening, we returned to the restaurant we had gone to our first night in the city. The one cuisine we had not yet attempted was the crawfish boil. How could we leave New Orleans without eating crawfish? It was delicious... and spicy! I did the best I could, but my mouth was burning!

On our way back to the hotel, we passed by Preservation Hall, the most iconic spot to listen to live jazz in all of New Orleans. We had tossed around the idea of trying to get into a show, but we never planned ahead to make sure it happened. But when we walked by that Monday night, it happened to be about a half hour before one of their shows was about to begin. The line seemed manageable- short enough that we thought there was a chance we could snag tickets. We decided to step into line and give it a try. Paul ran to an ATM to get money for the cash-only tickets, and soon after he returned, the house manager came out to make sure everyone had their cash in hand. If we were not ready as we walked through the door, we would be turned away. No rifling through purses, no counting out bills. So we got ready and the line began to move. We made it into the building before the tickets ran out, but the house was packed! Miraculously, there were two floor-cushion seats available in the very front, so we managed to snag what I think were the best seats in the house! And when the music started, the energy was fantastic! The musicians were inches away from us, putting on an amazing show. Even though my feet fell asleep, I didn't want it to end!

But the show did come to an end, as did our amazing weekend away. On Tuesday, we spent the morning buying some souvenirs for the kids, sitting by the water one more time, listening to a street band, then we made our way to the airport to catch our flight home. I wanted the weekend to last forever, and I'd go back in a second! I am so grateful that I had the chance to spend some one-on-one time with my love before Baby Leo arrived. Hopefully we can make it happen again before another 13 years passes!

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