Sunday, April 8, 2012

Travel Diary: New Orleans

Recently I took a 3 day trip to New Orleans to go to a conference. I managed to get lots of tourist-ing in as well, so I bring you: The return of the travel diary! Ever since I went on Birthrite Israel in 2001 I've tried to keep a diary of what I do when I travel to interesting places. That one I kept on paper, but I've been writing computer documents and posting them as blog posts (both here and on my other older blog) since then.

I haven't really had any travel updates since my honeymoon trip when we went to visit Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey, as most travel since then has been family-related (to NJ to visit my brother, to the midwest to visit my in-laws a few times). When I was in NJ last Fall me and my brother went into the city one day to check out the new world trade center building (or whatever they are calling it) and south street seaport, and the occupy wall street people, and also had some NY style ziti pizza (can't get that anywhere else!). Also during that trip I went out to Ethiopian food with my brother and some friends (which I highly recommend, it reminds me of Druze style food- they have these giant thick sourish pancake crepe things and put little heaps of different types of meats and veggies around, and everyone shares and grabs the food they want with pieces of the pancake) and tried raw beef for the first time- had this Ethiopian style carpaccio that was ordered by my brother and my BFF, it was really spicy and really good and served with kale and some kind of cheese (maybe it was goat cheese I don't remember) to cut the spicyness. Having tried that I now feel like there is no food in the world that can disgust me now, cause hey, I ate raw beef and it was great!

I went to San Fransisco a few months after my honeymoon in 2009 but was mostly doing interviews for jobs at a conference there. I did take one afternoon to walk over to Haight - Ashbury to wander around the hippie stores and browse through some vintage clothing shops and take in the sights, but that was it. See, I've been traveling all over the US for years and years to go to conferences for my job, but I hardly ever see anything except the conference hotel and the airport. That was actually my second conference in San Francisco, but the first time I went anywhere other than the conference hotel. I also stayed in a hostel which was an adventure in and of itself (an adventure in being paranoid about bedbugs and also cool asian roommates who barely spoke english).

This trip to NOLA was my first conference as a professor, and I've resolved that now that I'm not desperately interviewing and networking at conferences so I can get a job (cause I have one!), I'm going to actually enjoy some of these cities I'm traveling to. This year I went to New Orleans, and I'm also going to conferences later this year in Denver Colorado, NYC and hopefully one in Maryland in the Fall. Also possibly traveling to Milwaukee for B's cousin's wedding this Fall. In fact I'm going to be traveling so much this year that it finally felt worth the effort to sign up for frequent flier miles, so hopefully after all the travel this year, at some well-located conference in the future I can get a free ticket for B to join me! (My job pays for my ticket and the hotel, so if we could get a free ticket for B and just have to pay to board the dogs we could actually afford for B to come with me sometime).

So here's my 3 day trip to New Orleans and what I did (written while actually traveling):
Day 1: Caught a 10amish flight to Atlanta and then on to New Orleans. Took a bus downtown (I always like to take public transit when traveling to strange cities because you get to see the normal people who live there and drive through the less nice parts of town) and walked about half a mile to my hotel. The hotel overbooked so I got a free upgrade to a suite that had 2 bathrooms and 3 sinks and 2 rooms, it was crazy, it was around twice as big as my first real apartment in philly, too bad B couldn't come on this trip with me.

By the time I got all checked in and settled into my room it was around 5pm. I went over to the conference hotel and met up with a bunch of colleagues and friends-of-colleagues, and we all went out to eat at Red Fish Grill on Bourbon street. On the way to the conference hotel I passed 2 dudes smoking pot, 3 street bands and a lady who looked homeless sitting on the floor wearing a bunch of mardi gras beads, but she might have just been drunk. The first thing I noticed was the glittery trash everywhere- beads hanging from balconies and electric wires and all over the trees everywhere and beads in the sidewalk cracks and sewer grates. While we were waiting outside for seats a random mini-parade of 2 bands and a bunch of people happened by and threw beads and I got two necklaces.

Random Parade Burger King guy!

During dinner I had gator sausage and seafood gumbo which was interesting. The gator was kinda sweet, it was unlike anything I've had before, I can't really describe it. Also tried a piece of my colleague's crawfish and a random prof who heard I had never tried oysters before gave me one of her fried oysters, so I got to try 3 new animals at dinner! The oyster was not what I expected, the texture was more like a kind of tough mushroom, I thought it would be more like snot, but maybe that's what raw oysters are like? (still have yet to try those). As a result of this oyster conversation I got to relate my fun-party-talking-point about growing up orthodox and how I kept kosher until I was around 22. Apparently one of my colleagues knew that already (who I hadn't told- my other colleague already knew because I had told her) because she's friends with one of my dissertation committee members (who is jewish but not orthodox) and my committee member had told her? Which is kinda odd to hear that other people were talking about me, but I guess that's now just a fun strange fact that I'm known for- growing up orthodox. After that I walked back to my hotel in the pouring rain, but my colleague lent me her umbrella.

Gator Sausage and Seafood Gumbo

Day 2: I took the St Charles street car to the garden district, where I did a self guided walking tour from this thing I had printed out from the internet. It had lots of info on architectural stuff and also celebrities- I saw the old Anne Rice house, the house where Trent Reznor lived (apparently next to a city councilwoman who changed the noise ordinances?) which is now owned by John Goodman, + Peyton manning/Eli Manning's childhood home and Saundra Bullock's house. Also lots of interesting houses and architecture there. Finished up by going to the Lafayette cemetery and wandering about a bit.

Anne Rice used to live here! Note the blue color of the porch ceilings- according to my printed tour guide thing, that color is traditional because supposedly it keeps bugs away.

Took the streetcar back downtown and stopped off at my hotel room to change and drink a ton of ice water before going out again to the conference hotel, where I finally checked in and registered, and then went to hear a talk by the elected next president of the American Sociological Association. In the lobby I ran into a really famous sociologist who does gender research and told her the story of how because the LAST time I ran into her (at an elevator at a conference 3 weeks before my wedding) she recognized my name from one of my articles, I didn't change my name when I got married. She loved it. :)

After that I walked over to the St Louis #1 cemetery to see Marie Laveau's grave (The voodoo queen) and wandered around taking pictures there for a bit. I did not make a wish for love at Marie Laveau's grave (Which supposedly will come true- there were 3 x's which are a voodoo symbol all over her grave plus tons of offerings all around it and around another unmarked grave in the cemetery). Walked back to the conference hotel and on the way stopped over at Cafe Begniet, a cute cafe on Royal Street that reminded me of Italy, and had some begniets (New Orleans fried squares with powdered sugar- kinda like donuts) and a sweet tea, and briefly hung out with this very elderly lady (seemed in her 80s or 90s) who was also in the city by herself. There were birds walking around the floor eating little pieces of begniets.

Marie Laveau's Tomb

Walked back to the conference and went to a conference session. Then back to the hotel to change, then back to the conference hotel to meet up with a prof in my department who used to live in NOLA, my grad student, and a couple other profs from a university in the town over from mine (so some of these people I might actually see again, and not just at conferences!). We all went out to this fancy restaurant in some random part of NOLA that was like italian cajun style or something. I had catfish almondine (first time eating catfish which makes 4 new animals tried this weekend!). Later we thought were were all going to go out to music, but the prof from my department dropped us off at the hotel and drove away (later turned out he had to go pick someone up at the airport and couldn't go out for music but forgot to tell us?). So me and the two profs from the local university stood around talking for about 45 minutes and then I went back to my hotel.

The last day I woke up and checked out, and then went to the conference hotel and checked my bag. I went to a couple of conference sessions and also gave my presentation. It went great, and a bunch of people got up and left right after my presentation which I think means they came to see my research, yay! :)

My grad student told me he had seen a Dr. Seuss exhibit at an art gallery nearbye so after my presentation I asked the concierge where that is and she gave me the wrong information that it was 9 blocks to the east. But since we were on the west end of the french quarter, that meant I walked along royal street 9 blocks through the french quarter, and I'm glad she sent me in the wrong direction cause I never would have gone that far otherwise. I passed a bunch of art galleries, antique stores, and the street was closed off to traffic and there was a different band playing in the street on every block, lots of that louisiana style brass jazz, some bluegrass, one guy had a piano in the middle of the street. There were also a few living statues and a knife juggler dude. I also passed what might have been a jazz funeral- there was definitely people playing jazz and a lot of people in formal dress followed by a limo, but no hearse (but it could have been a funeral where someone was cremated?).

At the end I got to the gallery she sent me to, and realized none of the paintings were Dr. Seuss, so I walked a few blocks south to the Mississippi River. I walked a block along the river (I could hear jazz music in the distance the whole time), and then back up to Decatur street where I passed this huge church and also the famous Cafe du Monde (although I didn't stop in cause it looked like a touristy zoo). Walked past the church where there were tons and tons of artists selling paintings along the fence, along with even more music, and there was a wedding going on inside with all these girls dressed up as southern belles.

After that I went back to the hotel and browsed through a few antique shops along the way. I decided to turn down a street to see if there were any good food places nearbye, and low and behold, the Dr. Seuss gallery was right there, RIGHT across the street from the conference hotel, ha! So I went inside and checked out the gallery, which had a neat original sketch from cat in the hat next to the finalized picture from the actual book, along with some other Dr. Seuss prints for sale that I could not afford.

Went back to the hotel, got my luggage, and walked another half mile to a bus station in the less touristy part of town. Took the bus up to a connecting bus, which came every half hour, and like 5 of us were transferring buses to the airport bus and just missed a bus and had to wait half an hour for the next one, so after a few minutes of silence, as some times happens in these situations, we all sat around talking the whole time. Turned out the couple next to me were from my hometown in NJ! But much younger than me- one had graduated the HS in 2006 and one in 2010.

Also got to talking to this other guy who was kinda rednecky, had a really thick rural accent and who I thought at first would be really conservative (I guess I have my own stereotypes, but I got to talking to him anyways cause we were all bored and talking) and it turns out he is hugely into the occupy movement. We talked for like 45 minutes between the wait and the bus to the airport (he lived in NOLA and was visiting a friend a few stops before the airport) about the economic state of this country, and he told me that he had been arrested and pepper sprayed several times, once for "de-arresting" someone who was being arrested by pulling her back into the crowd. Him and his friend had also been cutting apart mardi gras necklaces into beads, putting them into knapsacks and building velcro things on the bottom so he could release them while running away and I'm under the impression they got arrested after doing that.

He also told me he used to be in the military and had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and that when he was there he was told that if he went to search someone's house and they didn't want to let him into their kids rooms because it would scare their kids, that if they resisted at all he should just shoot them. That made me heart hurt.

Took the plane back, and hung out with my chair who was on the plane. On the first plane I sat next to a religious studies professor from another random college- I saw her reading a paper about religion and asked if she was at the sociology conference- turns out there as also a religion conference the same weekend in NOLA and she started giving me all this advice about being a junior professor. On the connecting flight I hung with my chair and her daughter (who is also a sociology prof) at the airport (her daughter had taken an earlier connecting flight) and sat next to a dude who was flying to his MIL's funeral.

I don't know why but I think when traveling alone I get a lot more bold. I had a LOT of random conversations with strangers on this trip (old lady in a cafe, people on the bus, lady on the plane), and half of them weren't even sociologists! Plus I made friends with two local profs who arn't in my school but who are both around the same stage in their career- one is a first year prof and one is a second year prof. So yay, friends! All in all, an awesome trip.


  1. New Orleans is a particularly awesome and unique town because of history and geography... The mixture of southern culture, the Creole/boyou culture, and the remnants of French culture makes for a culinarily unique and fascinating town.

    Back when the Mississippi river was "west" people that needed to leave just ended up in New Orleans, making it a VERY unique place... Similarly, I enjoy San Francisco, which served a similar function at another time. NYC in the early 20th Century has the same melting pot aspect... though as NYC's media dominance has come to dominate America's "generic" culture, the uniqueness of it faded away.

    I mean, we may not see Hassidism as a unique culture because we float amongst them, but they really are no less unique than the Amish, a relatively unique cultural group concentrated in a small geographic area (one in the US, one in Israel), with their own food, language, and customs.

    I went there with some friends before I was Orthodox, and while none of them were Orthodox, all were New York Jews with a New York Jewish food bias... the fact that Turtle soup had turtle in it freaked them out.

    Fried oysters I don't care much for, it tastes like a weird mushroom. OTOH, shucking raw oysters is a really neat experience, but you need a good raw bar for that.

    The interesting reptilian foods of the gulf coast are so interesting... Two of us that grew up non-Frum and in "southern" environments (him far more than me, I just explored my surroundings) are always a hit with kids asking about eating snake, alligator, etc. :)

    Glad you had a great trip.

  2. Travelling is a very nice pastime especially if you go to places which boast a lot of cultural and historical heritage. With this in mind, have you ever considered having a travel diary to list down the details of your trip and also, the things you have learned.

    Travel Advise


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