Travelife Magazine columnist DONDI JOSEPH celebrates life and death in New Orleans, a place he fondly refers to as Sin City.
“Between a shitload and barrel,” answered Louis, with a touch of sarcasm.
I had asked him how many fresh oysters he shucked every day, and immediately afterwards, I’d realized, “Gawd! What a stupid way to ask an important question!”
I sounded just like the patronizing tourists who ask the guys at Felix, a favorite local haunt, that same unoriginal question 5,000 times every day. Putting embarrassment aside, I then asked if I could take his photo.
UNEXPECTED RESPONSE IN SIN CITY
He suddenly turned, and with a serious look, answered, “When you take a picture of a black man, you need to turn on all the lights!” And then he grinned widely. It was so unexpected and so politically incorrect that I just laughed.
The ice broken, I happily ordered my second glass of sparkling wine with a dozen fresh oysters and a dozen chargrilled ones.
BIRTHPLACE OF JAZZ
I was in the infamous French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. This is also known as “NOLA” for short. Or more popularly as “The Big Easy,” and chargrilled oysters are a NOLA culinary delight.
Many NOLA places serve decent versions of this, but not many serve them with the richness and flavors of Felix.
THE CHARGRILLED OYSTERS AT FELIX
The oysters at Felix are plump, juicy and layered with melted Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses. It also has sea salt and garlic parsley butter.
The restaurant itself was easy to find. I simply googled for the “best oyster bars in New Orleans” and Felix was one of the top choices.
Aside from the great food, NOLA lives and breathes world-class music of outstanding quality. It is, after all, the “Home of Jazz and the Blues.” So music is all over the place, in every nook and cranny.
A WONDERFUL START
On my first morning, I stepped into the lovely courtyard of my B&B, the Old World-style Creole Gardens Guesthouse and Inn. There was jazz playing on speakers throughout the courtyard. It was real mainstream stuff — the kind I enjoy.
“Nice touch,” I said to myself as the music followed me into the dining room. Here, sunlight filtering through the white lace curtains added a warm glow to the pastel yellow walls.
I sat next to the grand piano. This is where I sipped my coffee while waiting for my breakfast of spicy Cajun sausages, fried eggs, and corn grits. The buzz of the small, friendly crowd was pleasing and I began to feel at home.
The jazz continued to play, punctuated by applause. Eventually it became clear that it was a live broadcast from the morning session of the world-famous New Orleans Jazz Festival, on the second day of its first weekend.
THE NOLA WEEKEND
I almost jumped out of my seat! The jazz festival immediately went on my priority “must do” NOLA weekend to-do list. I went to the jazz festival for a few hours the very next dat and walked away a happy, smiling man. I had touched music heaven.
ABOUT THE BIG EASY
The Big Easy is a gumbo of cultures, but its French legacy lives on with a pride that seeps out from under NOLA’s blanket of Americana. It is visibly the most Catholic city in the United States.
However, it is also one of its most decadent cities. It is a good-time destination, a crazy, fun mix of culture, food, history and trashy tourism.
Voodoo is considered a formal religion which was adopted into the Catholic faith as a tool for the conversion of locals into the Church. It continues to live on and is inexorably mixed into the locals’ religious practice, where saints are venerated side-by-side with gris-gris dolls, gods, and artifacts.
NEW ORLEANS: A GHOST TOWN
But apart from New Orleans’ never-ending hustle and its layered history and traditions, and beneath the beautiful iron and flower-laced galleries and the balconies of the mansions and homes in the French Quarter and Garden District, lies the macabre.
New Orleans is considered the most haunted place in the world, where hundreds of thousands died violently as a result of conquest, disease, war, raging catastrophic fires, floods and hurricanes. And, yes, murder.
HOW TO SPOT A HAUNTED BUILDING
Local experts say it’s not a question of which buildings are haunted, but a question of which are not. In an even more macabre twist, NOLA’s past history is filled with tales of serial killers of amazing strength and cruelty. These are the types who would strip the skin off their victims and drink their blood.
Many of the rescued survivors of these killers reportedly then turned into serial killers. These perpetuated the vampire legend, and eventually these became models for The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice and Charlene Harris’s Louisiana-based novels published under the label Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood.
Watch out for the next section on the visit of Travelife Magazine columnist Dondi Joseph to New Orleans. In the meantime, read more about traveling to New Orleans in Travelife Magazine.