New Orleans

There are several perks to living down South.   One of them is to be within driving distance of a number of great cities, New Orleans among them.  It was thus a fortunate coincidence that the Society of American Archivists decided to hold their annual meeting there this year.   Now I am a systems librarian and not an archivist, although my training was in the latter field.  The basic reason for going, other then professional networking and catching up with old friends, was to speak on a panel at the conference.  But any such event is also an opportunity to see a new city.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, having drove down from Cleveland.  The area to the north of New Orleans is dominated by Lake Pontchartrain.  Interstate 55 runs over a narrow strip of land between it Lake Maurepas.  The road itself sits mostly on a causeway surrounded by nothing but marsh land and water. Sadly I don’t have a picture, but it reminded me of parts of Florida such as Alligator Alley – I’ve never been there, but the images Google brought up are similar enough.  It’s a fitting comparison since swamp tours are offered in New Orleans.

Now there are a few things that set NOLA apart from other places I’ve been.  For one, the bars aren’t required to close at a set time.  So many will say they are “open till” which basically means they will stay open until everybody leaves.  Some, I am told, stay open 24/7.  You are also apparently allowed to carry around alcohol as long as it is in a cup. The city also has a streetcar system.  I had thought such things were not found outside San Fransisco and Philadelphia.  The NOLA ones, some of them anyway, actually use vintage equipment.  It’s a nice touch and since they aren’t air conditioned you can open a window and even stick your head out.  I don’t recommend doing the latter since the tracks run perilously close to things like telephone poles and trees.

Of course there is also the food.  For me this was the part I was most looking forward to.  Now the funny thing about conferences is that a lot of people never leave the hotel.  Thus the coffee shop in the lobby will have a line a mile long and inevitably everything is overpriced.  The thing is you can’t really experience a city that way.  So I like to get outside my bubble and walk around.  In the process I had the most amazing croissant of my life.  It was from a local coffee shop.  Unlike most I’ve eaten, this one was square and filled with almonds.  It was so good I had one the very next day.

My bucket list included having Gumbo and Jambalya.  I got to have both as well as Creole Rabbit at a restaurant in the French Quarter.  Much to my surprise it was good and tasted kind of like dark meat chicken.  The collard greens, however, were not as good.  There was other, more exotic fare such as fried alligator and Crawfish Etouffe.  Sadly the desire to compare my own home made Jambalaya to the real thing won out (emphasis on the won part! – mine is nowhere near as good). The concierge at the hotel told me that there are over 1300 restaurants in New Orleans.  Someday I’d like to come back and hit a few more of them.

Oh and the service was super fast.  In particular both, Olivier’s (where I had the Rabbit) and a Cajun restaurant called Mulate’s served me in less than 15 minutes.  That’s probably explainable by the fact that I didn’t come during a peak time.  If the restaurants had been packed I would likely have waited longer.

No travel blog post about NOLA can really avoid talking about Hurricane Katrina.  Having never been to the city before I don’t really know what is was like prior to 2005.  But the areas I spent most of my time in were doing well.  The presence of the conference itself (not long after the American Library Association held their own conference in New Orleans) attests to that.  However the conference bubble only really included the French Quarter and the Central Business District – hardly the worst hit areas of the city.  Places like the lower Ninth Ward could very well be a different story.

Finally I must talk about the National World War II Museum where the conference held a reception. While we did not get to see the whole place their US Freedom Pavillion is impressive.  There was ample space for hundreds of people and the food was very good.  Above us hung a B-17 donated to the museum several years ago and a B-25 plus more plains I couldn’t identify.  There were walkways on several levels and the view from the top was very impressive.  My only complaint was that the only way to get all the way there was a single elevator.   One of my jobs in graduate school was as a tour guide aboard a World War II era museum ship.  So the reception brought back a few memories.

This trip marks the end of my traveling for a while. There is nothing on my agenda until the Mississippi Library Associations has its conference in Biloxi in October.  But fear not!  I am going to a party this week.  That might provide fodder for this blog …

Below are some pictures from my trip:





Sunrise in New Orleans.
















A German air raid shelter.























Article by Mike

Mike is the Head of Discovery Services for the Delta State University Library. He has lived in Cleveland since May 2013.

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