So, yes, the conference was great. But New Orleans was even better. During our (my husband accompanied me on the trip) first hour on Bourbon Street, we found ourselves right smack in the middle of a Pride rally, while in the distance someone on a megaphone announced “Jesus is your only resting place,” as we passed by Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. Sensory overload! I think my husband put it best–he likened thinking you’ve discovered New Orleans by walking down Bourbon Street to thinking you’ve discovered Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, by driving down Route 30 into the heart of Amish Country. It’s just one flavor of the area–an overblown representation–fun but not authentic, necessarily. Or at least not the total picture, for sure. And in the middle of the madness, we spotted not one, not two, but many ALA badges on people walking down the street (which kind of spoiled the fun of playing, “Is that a librarian?”).

While we did spend time on Bourbon Street, and had one memorable dinner at Pat O’Brien’s with some of my fellow Laura Bush Scholars (it had just poured, and the seats were wet and the awnings were dripping, but the Hurricanes kept coming!), we spent more of our limited time on the surrounding streets in the French Quarter, particularly Decatur. On Decatur Street, we had a memorable conversation with Jack of Jack’s Metal Arts. Jack makes beautifully rustic gas-lit lanterns and brackets. His store was obviously a workshop, not a showcase, and he was eager to tell us that he had made most of the fixtures we would see lighting the entryways to many of the establishments in the French Quarter. Jack was not a high-pressure salesman; Jack was a proud salesman. We took his card, and I would love to order some of his lanterns, someday, for the lamp posts that line our driveway.

We had gumbo and andouille sausage and creole. We had muffulatta from Central Grocery. We had alligator. And of course, we had beignets from Cafe du monde. However, what made our visit at the Cafe even more memorable (aside from walking around back on a tip by a friend and watching the beignets being made through a window) was the outrageous fact that Andrew Zimmern  and crew were filming a segment for Bizarre Foods of Travel Channel fame. We definitely got in the way of the camera, so we will watch for the episode. Not sure what’s bizarre about beignets, though. Here he is-

The highlight of the trip for me was Monday evening. I have always wanted to eat at one of Emeril’s restaurants, so weeks before I had made a reservation at Emeril’s Delmonico. We knew it would be a splurge but decided it would serve as my 50th birthday dinner (I turn 50 next week). I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was afraid I would be disappointed–that it would be one of those over-priced, meager “gourmet” dinners that was more show than substance. I was not disappointed. We had a wonderful dining experience! From the minute we walked in the door only to be greeted by not one, not two, not three, but maybe five (?) wait staff and escorted right through the kitchen to our table, we had a nonstop, exciting culinary journey with food that was unbelievable and service that was attentive and indulgent but not affected or pretentious in the least. But the best was yet to come…

After dinner, upon the advice of our waiter (confirmed by consulting a list of must-sees from a friend), we took a cab to dba on Frenchman’s Street–outside of The Quarter–to see Trombone Shorty. He was fantastic, but our waiter had actually recommended we go to see Amanda somebody (can’t remember her last name) who, according to him, had “been singin’ since she was a wee little thing”, but she didn’t show. No matter. The music we heard, the atmosphere, the vibe–everything was captivating and vibrant. The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Unfortunately, we weren’t in New Orleans long enough to do any of the tours that seemed so interesting (the cemeteries, Garden District, swamp/voodoo tours); we didn’t get to ride the streetcar. We did get down by the water–the Riverfront by the Convention Center. Bright and early Monday morning, I hopped the ALA shuttle from our hotel, and I was the only one aboard. The driver laughed and said that I should be sure to tell everyone back home that I had a 55-passenger limousine all to myself. But mostly, we just walked and looked and listened.

Meat and potatoes are made for each other, as are ALA and New Orleans. The joy of visiting the Big Easy for the first time was heightened by the knowledge that we were in the company of thousands of librarians from all across the country and around the world–a diverse and vibrant community in and of themselves (some were even wearing their badges in the airport!). I couldn’t help but wonder, though, as we walked around the heart of the bustling southern city, which appeared energized and unscathed, what destruction and loss could still be found in the outlying areas where I know many are still recovering from the devastation of Katrina. The view from the airplane flying into and out of New Orleans made it quite apparent how such a disaster could happen. Hopefully, it will not happen again, at least not to the same extent.

Thank you ALA and New Orleans–I hope there is a next time!