...but her best part won't have to. My first trip to New Orleans was in college. My buddy Mark went to Tulane, and our friend Ben and I went to visit him for a week. I suppose it was Spring Break 1995, since Mark was scrambling to finish some papers so he would graduate on time. I had to be 21, since I went gambling on the Flamingo Riverboat Casino (which was zoned out of existence shortly thereafter). Ben and I spent the week wandering around, visiting cemetaries, bars, and generally being tourists. I loved the city then.
In 1996 I went back with my friend Steve for, of all things, St. Patrick's Day. I don't think we ever said, "Let's go down there for St. Pat's," but it turned out to be one great big ol' party there. We spent every day in Jackson Square, girl watching and reading under the sun. We spent every night in the bars -- the good ones playing Jazz and Swing and Ragtime and Blues. We went to the Piano Bar at Pat O'Brien's. We saw Matt "Guitar" Murphy play at the House of Blues, where we were treated to free beer by the lovely Suzanne, a Budweiser rep in town for a beer convention. We were served the beer by Rachel, who had a full-back tattoo. We hit every used book store in the Quarter. You can get a street map with just the used book stores on it.
Then in 1998, I went with a contingent of Illini down for Mardi Gras. Now that was some crazy-ass celebrating. We saw a bunch of parades, got a ton of beads, and generally partied ourselves silly for a long weekend. It was a bit more crowded down in the Quarter than I prefer, but I suppose that's to be expected. I tell all those who ask that Mardi Gras was the worst time I ever had in New Orleans, but that's no slight on Mardi Gras...it's a compliment to the remaining 364 days in the city.
The Illini were in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's, 2001. So there I was, down in the French Quarter again for New Year's Eve (with some bonus days on either side). I met up with my friend Ariel and we had a blast for a few days. Mom and Dad came down for the game. We went down in flames to Domanick Davis and the LSU Tigers, and the Tiger fans showed us just how much noise fans can make (they're legendary). Another fine trip, with some seriously good food. We managed to hit K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen and Emeril's Delmonico on that trip. My grandpa Les had insisted, during an IM conversation in November, that I finally get my keester to Brennan's for brunch on this trip. They invented Banana's Foster there, you see. It was during brunch there that we got a call from Aunt Lynn. She told us that Grandpa had collapsed the night before. He never fully recovered and died 8 weeks later. There are worse parting memories of a person, I'm sure. It was really good Banana's Foster.
My most recent trip was 4 months ago. Barbara and I were driving to D.C. from LA. We had to stop in -- she'd never been there before. We stayed at the Marriott at Canal and Decatur. I'd heard mediocre reviews, but they'd just remodeled and the place was just beautiful. I wonder if it remains so. We happened to be there for the 2005 French Quarter Festival. Good fortune on our part. We had a lovely day-and-a-half there. Got covered in powdered sugar at the Cafe du Monde. Took dad's recommendation and visited the Court of Two Sisters. Walked those ancient streets and listened to some really special jazz and blues and zydeco.
It suffices to say that I really, really love New Orleans. It was always a dream of mine to own or rent a little place down in the Quarter where I could visit whenever I wanted to. It still remains so, and it looks like the part of the city I love best has been spared most of the pain of the flooding. If it can survive the looting and disease, it'll be fine. New Orleans' heart still beats. The rest of it will, in time, be better than ever.