You first enter New Orleans a little tone deaf and flat-footed, tripping over the broken, heat-stressed sidewalks and the frenetic pace of Bourbon Street. Maybe there’s a Hurricane in your belly. You feel like simmering gumbo, stirred together with so many strange people—your flavors and stenches mixing, mingling with the notes of a distant band. A young woman melts into the sidewalk, a puddle of booze, pouring through the fingers of some boyfriend who has no idea how to collect her again out of the tumbling detritus full of plastic cups and beads and food wrappers. You may wonder what appeals to people in that neon stew.
Don’t worry. Bourbon is just one street in New Orleans. Each has its own tempo, one suited for college kids on spring break and another for people like me—a middle-aged woman celebrating her 40th birthday. And the incredible thing is, no matter what happens the night before, the evidence is swept away before daybreak. Trash packed. Streets cleaned. Friends found. Swish, sweep, done. In the morning, you get a second chance to fall in love with the city and how everything from its food to its music is designed to be a celebration.
Spend some time wandering around on foot, and you’ll find the right street for you. Live jazz saunters out of Frenchman in the evenings, if that’s your thing. On the weekends, newlyweds may parade around Royal under parasols, followed by a trumpeting brass band. Decatur offers beignets, and they’re easy to find-just follow the trail of powered sugar down the sidewalk to Cafe Du Monde. A friendly ghost may join you on Chartres if you stop by Muriel’s for a cocktail. One of my favorite things was sitting outside at Muriel’s, leaning over the wrought-iron balcony with a Honey Child, watching the crowds at Jackson Square (the ghost never made an appearance).
By the time you leave New Orleans, the city will feel less like gumbo and more like a warm piece of bread pudding, dripping with whiskey sugar glaze, sweet and satisfying. You’ll be ten pounds heavier. You’ll develop a certain fondness for bartenders who call you “baby” and the Uber drivers who share their life stories during lazy trips in and out of the French Quarter. It’s hard not to fall in love with a place like that.