With September comes an urge to head south and soak up some more of New Orleans - and I suspect that this will become an annual tradition, given the way the city captivated me at this time last year, despite the odds stacked against it, thanks to the Garden State Effect.
Despite fear of dating myself, here's the breakdown: In the movie Garden State, Natalie Portman's character tells Zach Braff's that listening to the Shins is going to change his life. Upon doing so, she made it impossible for me to give the band a fair shake. It was immediately over-hyped. As a result, when I listened to the band (both in the movie and live), I thought they were perfectly good ... pleasant enough in that melancholy sort of way ... but my life continued on without some great cosmic shift. Whereas other bands that could be considered members of a similar sonic family tree (Rilo Kiley, Belle & Sebastian, etc) completely shook me to my core. Why? I wasn't waiting to be completely blown away.
I've encountered similar situations in travel. As I was preparing for my first trip to Europe, friends and acquaintances told me that I was going to be blown away by Vienna. The Austrian capital was going to provide a game-changing travel experience. By the time I got there, I was so ready to be that dazzled that the bar was set far too high. Vienna was lovely. I had a fine time there, delighted in the coffeehouse culture, and appreciated my introduction to delicious Sturm wine. But when I came home from the trip, was I raving about Vienna? No. I was thrilled by Prague and Budapest, the cities that had been underpromised ... and yet had overdelivered in the most sensational way.
So when the time came to visit New Orleans, years after I'd fallen under its spell reading Anne Rice novels, I was nervous. I'd grown up wanting to visit New Orleans. I'd spent so much time daydreaming about what it would be like. New Orleans existed on a very short list, "Cities I've Wanted to Experience For Most of My Life." How could the New Orleans of my imagination actually live up to reality? Was this to be my Vienna of the Gulf Coast?
Thank you, New Orleans, for delivering. My partner and I ate po-boys prepared in the back room of an Irish bar, discussed the second-line culture at the tiny (yet mind-blowing) Backstreet Cultural Museum, and gazed upon Fats Domino's white Steinway. And by balancing time in the French Quarter and venturing beyond, we felt comfortable exploring and getting more of a sense of the local New Orleans experience. In fact, two of my favorite experiences were more off the beaten path: stepping around the tree in the middle of Cafe Degas, and dancing like mad as Rebirth Brass Band performed its Tuesday-night residency at the Maple Leaf Bar.
We were discussing a return trip during the second day of our first visit. It was that good.
It's not to be this September - we're about to extend a wedding-related visit to Las Vegas for a few extra days, and otherwise preparing for our October journey to Indonesia. But we're planning, New Orleans. Since we were last with you, we've been dancing to your music, cooking your cuisine, and sipping your cocktails. And I'm freely and enthusiastically imagining the wonders that await in the near future.
We'll see you there real soon.