Summit in the Swamp – Graduation in New Orleans

Overlooking Ursalines Street
Overlooking Ursalines Street

Little did I know when we dropped off daughter #2 (she bitterly resents that designation, so let’s call her S) in NOLA four years ago that we were taking her to a city she would grow to love so and call home. But that’s certainly been the case. Husband J and I have loved his place since 1986, when my frequent flyer miles on the now defunct New York Air enabled us to go there for our honeymoon. The alternative was Detroit – anyone remember how New York Air flew primarily to Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and New York? Never an explanation for that bizarre combination. We were already living in Boston and New York, and, Prince aside, Detroit didn’t really seem like the best option.

S has taken full advantage of the city, and at her graduation the city itself almost seemed to assume human qualities and participate in the ceremony. Her graduation, at one of the city’s stellar institutions, is likely the only one in the U.S. with an equal amount of jazz music to spoken word. And what about the second line handkerchiefs handed out to the graduating students, as well as Topsy Chapman singing “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.”

In keeping with family tradition, a large contingent of family members from all coasts made their way to New Orleans for the festivities. Many of us stayed at the Hotel Villa Convento on Ursalines Street across from the convent in the French Quarter (yes, that does seem to be an oxymoron). The hotel (not the convent) is where husband J and I stayed for our honeymoon in 1986 – we actually found it through a Let’s Go guide we consulted in a bookstore and that we were too impoverished (or cheap) to actually buy. The hotel is by folklore the famous brothel, The House of the Rising Sun, and has been owned by the same family for decades. It has a faded charm that embodies the city – our rooms had balconies that fronted Ursalines Street, and which were the perfect location for a before dinner glass of wine.

Seersucker - what else can you wear to Delmonico's?
Seersucker – what else can you wear to Delmonico’s?

Emeril’s Delminico’s did its usual spectacular job of service and food for the graduation dinner on Friday night. We were in a smaller room with two tables of eight that felt as private as could be without being a private room. A smaller group of us were at Appolline on Magazine Street the night  before and I still can’t quite figure out why that restaurant is never more crowded. Graduation night we made it to Frenchmen’s Street, where the music rolls as solidly as the Mississippi itself.

This visit we checked out a new area of town as well – the Bayou Boogaloo Festival in Mid City – lots of great bands and unusual watercraft making their way down the bayou. We were particularly pleased to get there because we’d actually tried to go a day too early only to find we were ther only attendees aside from the vendors setting up! Reading schedules closely has never been a strong suit in this family.

After our second – and successful – trip to the festival,  we went to the Bywater area – scene of gentrifying and gentrified shotgun houses – and had a great time at Bacchanal. You walk through a wine shop, buy your wine, and sit out in a shaded back yard listening to music. The band we heard even included a tap dancer. There’s also a great small plate menu and sitting under the trees, with food, wine, music, family and friends at hand sums up New Orleans.

Homemade raft floating down the bayou...
Homemade raft floating down the bayou…

So what more can I say? Daughter S is planning to stay for another year. And I did manage to get a run in. The swampis fun – but there are a couple of summits waiting to be climbed in about five weeks.