Written By: Agata (Student, Spain)
Arriving to New Orleans was hard. It took more than ten hours of driving from Austin. We found terrible traffic jams around all the big cities we came across in our way: Houston, Beaumont, Lafayette, and, especially, Baton Rouge. Later, someone told us that after Katrina the city of Baton Rouge grew dramatically, and now the highway for entering the city is too small for the current size of the town.
Anyway, fatigued and sleepy, we reached the city. We left the car in the neighborhood of Marigny, where we were staying. The first impression was very positive. Although it was night time and the streets were badly illuminated, the surroundings seemed pleasant and completely different from all the other cities that I had visited in North America before. As we were walking, I could notice that each house was different from the others. However, they had something in common. They looked both majestic and decadent. The palm trees and other plants were growing wildly in the middle of the cracked sidewalk, creating the impression that the nature was devouring the civilization.
After a couple of blocks, we arrived to our house. Janelle, our host, was waiting for us in the door. “Hi, are you Álvaro and Ágata?” she asked, shyly.
“Yes, that is us!” we answered.
“It is nice to see you! How was your trip?” she said, smiling.
“Long, but we are finally here!” I answered.
“Wonderful! Welcome to New Orleans! Happy Mardi Gras!” she exclaimed.
Yes, I forgot to mention that: it was Mardi Gras in New Orleans, i.e. one of the biggest carnivals in the world. The most important day of the celebration is the Fat Tuesday, but during the previous weekend all the city is immersed in the colorful festivity. Big parades, each of them organized by local krewes, go across the city, playing music, dancing and throwing the typical beads and other presents to the mostly drunk public. I have to admit that even if I love carnival, I am not a big fan of the huge events; I loathe massive crowds. However, it was a unique chance to live such a particular celebration. Moreover, I could not leave the South of the U.S. without visiting New Orleans.
And there we were. We walked up the stairs that crossed the lovely patio, dominated by an enormous tree, which was covered with pink tropical flowers. It was a huge residence with three floors. Our apartment was on the highest floor. Janelle showed us the space. It was a renovated traditional house, spacious and clean.
“Here is a list of some of the closest restaurants and bars. I will send you some additional information later. Do you have any further questions?” asked Janelle.
“No, I guess that we are fine, thank you very much,” Álvaro replied.
Afterwards, upon leaving our backpacks, we went for a walk to Frenchmen Street, one of the most well-known areas for live music in New Orleans. We were exhausted, but also truly excited to explore whatever the city had to offer. Our adventure had just started.
At Dat Dog, one of the first bars that were on Janelle’s list, almost everyone was dressed up but us. Well, the majority of the people were dressing normally, but they had added something eccentric to their outfit: a brightly colored wig, some glitter, or a couple of beads. Others, the most committed to the festivities, wore more elaborate costumes. The woman next to us was wearing a full-body cow costume. She saw me staring at her and she started a conversation. “Is this your first time in Mardi Gras?” she asked.
“Yes. Our first time in New Orleans, actually,” I responded.
“I see. You have to get yourself a costume! Where are you from?” she said, placing loud “moos” in each sentence, to be true to her character, I guess.
“We are from Spain. We are staying in Austin for a month and we are in New Orleans for the weekend. We have just arrived,” Álvaro said, pretending that we were having a normal bar conversation.
“Oh, good for you! You are going to have the greatest time of your lives! This carnival differs from all the others carnivals around the world. The whole city has been preparing for this celebration for an entire year,” she claimed. “You will see: the lights, the colors, the music… It is magical!”
Right after we finished our drinks and we said goodbye to our new friend, we decided to go for a walk in the neighborhood and try to find some live music. Frenchmen Street was full of people: groups of friends that seemed to have been been partying for several hours, young punk girls selling jello shots to the tourists, old drifters preparing po’boys, a traditional sandwich from Louisiana, talented street musicians playing in each corner… We stopped to listen to one of them, who was sitting on the floor playing a resonator guitar. Even though he was by himself, he sounded like a full band. He combined different melodic lines at the same time, which built a beautiful and complex composition. We gave him a couple of dollars and continued our stroll.
Following that, we heard powerful funk music coming from inside a bar. Through the glass we saw a large band, which included trumpet and other metal instruments that I could not identify, guitars, keys, drums, and at least three singers. In front of them, a lot of people were dancing. “Let’s try this place!” said Álvaro.
Without noticing it, we were dancing enthusiastically surrounded by strangers. The band did not stop: they joined together each song to the consecutive one, without giving a pause to the audience. At some point, maybe half an hour after we arrived, they increased even more the intensity of the music until an unbelievable point, and then they finished their performance. “Wow, that was amazing,” I stated.
“Yes. And I think that is enough for today, we should go back and have some rest now, we have a long day tomorrow!” Álvaro opined.
When we arrived home, we received an email that Janelle had sent us. She suggested some of the parades for the next days and also interesting places to visit. She told us not to move our car, and try to go by foot everywhere. On Sunday they –she, her husband and their little kid– were going uptown where many of the parades started. It was too far away to go walking, but they could give us a ride. “Well, I guess we are settled for the weekend,” I said. “Now, we only have to prepare our costumes!”