If there is one thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of travel, it’s that the more you immerse yourself into the culture of where you are, the more rewarding the experience will be.
This past weekend I flew to New Orleans for a friend’s big birthday bash weekend. 100 of her friends traveled to the Big Easy” from all over the world to her help celebrate her 50th in a way that only this city can offer. Most of the activities stayed clear of the French Quarter and the tourist scene and took place in parts of the city that felt “real”. You can’t help but feel the deep culture and history of this city, once you get yourself beyond the “sleaze”.
We had a couple of memorable dinners but one stands out in my mind, not just for the incredible cuisine, but also because of the company that evening. I was seated between a very distinguished young man from South Africa and a writer from Los Angeles. Across from me was an Italian who was living in London and a couple from Mississippi. Some folks I had met 10 years ago at the 40th birthday bash. The conversations were diverse and entertaining.
After dinner our group left the restaurant and formed our own parade in typical New Orleans style. Two NOLA cops on motorcycles led us and a second line band as we marched a few blocks to our next stop. It was a first for me – to be dancing up a New Orleans street, along with 100 other folks enjoying the moment. It was pure happiness and not just for our group but for all those who came out of their houses or restaurants and bars to watch our small parade go by. I enjoyed every bit of that 4-block walk and it is etched in my mind forever. And that’s the sort of thing that separates a city like New Orleans from a city like “Vegas”.
I was blissfully exhausted when I boarded my flight home Sunday night. When I ordered a glass of wine, the flight attendant happily announced that the man in 1 A is buying everyone on board a drink tonight. He was getting married and wanted to celebrate with his fellow passengers. Le bon temps continued to roll.