From the time that I was old enough to understand it was my father’s birthplace, New Orleans has always held a special place in my heart and my imagination.
Before I ever set foot in the Crescent City – or even knew it was called “the Crescent City” — my grandmother’s annual Mardi Gras packages aroused a fascination with my dad’s exotic hometown. Grandma’s annual package included three essential items: her homemade fudge (maple and chocolate), Mardi Gras beads and doubloons, and a couple weeks worth of Times Picayune front pages.
Incredibly, I still haven’t been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
I was somewhere around 6 or 8-years old when we made our first family pilgrimage from Cleveland to New Orleans to visit Grandma Barrosse and the rest of my dad’s family. We went by train. It was the biggest adventure of my young life – and the moist summer evening heat, the scent of magnolia and honeysuckle, the little Confederate flag some relative gave me, and my terror of voodoo queen Marie Laveau are still among my most cherished childhood memories.
I was around 12-years old when we returned to New Orleans – this time by car. I remember that trip in sharper focus because I was old enough to appreciate taking in the wonders of the French Quarter, City Park and the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.
That second trip was also memorable because of my determination to capture green anole lizards (the dime store chameleons of my youth) in my Grandma’s backyard. I captured more than a dozen of them among the honeysuckle vines before my grasping hand, plunging into the vines after my prey — got stung by three wasps at once. Though they laid me low for a full day, I survived those stings – and most of my lizards survived the drive home to Cleveland.
A couple decades later, I returned to New Orleans for two years in a row to perform at a Renaissance faire in the suburb of Metairie.
Those two working trips to the Big Easy were a chance to reconnect with my nonagenarian grandmother, my aunts and uncles, and my father’s amazing hometown with its unique history, music, food and culture.
On the second trip, in 1985, Victoria (now my wife) joined me to work at the Renaissance Faire, meet the Barrosse clan, and enjoy the pleasures of the French Quarter.
My youngest daughter, Evangeline (a good Louisiana name) applied to Tulane University in New Orleans – and this spring, we were delighted when she was accepted with an academic scholarship. So, a 3-day father-daughter trip to my dad’s hometown was in order. The choice was between UCLA and Tulane – and this trip would help her decide.
Eva is a songwriter – and New Orleans is a musical melting pot unlike any other, where jazz, blues, big band, marching band, rock and roll, Zydeco, and all the rhythms of the Caribbean and Mississippi Delta come together in the streets, restaurants and bars.
On the day we arrived in town, we were delighted to discover that the last day of the French Quarter Festival was still underway and the Quarter was jammed with musicians and bands on nearly every corner — including this dynamic face-off between brass bands on Decatur Street.
We also went to Preservation Hall. My daughters had seen the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in concert at The Gainey Vineyard in Southern California’s Santa Ynez Valley – but to see these wonderful musicians playing their hearts out as we sat on the worn wooden floor of that modest, intimate musical temple in the French Quarter is a whole different experience.
The food at Evangeline was superb.
Here’s just a sample of the many spicy and tasty delights we consumed at Evangeline and at other French Quarter eateries, including The Gumbo Shop, during our visit…
So long mom. So long pop. I’m goin’ to New Orleans or else I’ll drop dead Down in New Orleans You know I love it there And I ain’t been there yet. The Rockme Foundation
I could imagine Eva attending class among the spreading trees, draped with Mardi Gras beads.
Perhaps she could even take James Carville’s political science class someday.
After our visit to Tulane we hopped that street car and returned to the French Quarter. The streets weren’t as crowded as they’d been the day before for the French Quarter Festival — but the the mood was still celebratory and the music was still playing.
Here, Eva is caught up in the New Orleans blues and the fancy steps of a veteran swing dancing devotee.
Ultimately, my daughter Eva chose to attend UCLA instead of Tulane. (Go, Bruins!) She’s a California girl — and we’re perfectly happy with her choice.
But on our father-daughter trip she fell in love with New Orleans.
And my love affair with my dad’s city was renewed.
We’ll be back in the Big Easy, the Crescent City, the Land of Dreams.
And New Orleans – as it has for centuries – will be waiting to fascinate and delight.
What follows is a photo essay to further celebrate the wonders of my father’s wondrous, historic, culturally resplendent hometown…