Here’s the thing, I didn’t go to New Orleans to change up my entire life. I really didn’t. The trip was intended to be a writer’s retreat / solo vacation / mental health break. I didn’t even have it in my mind that I wanted to make life-altering decisions while I was there. The only decision I thought I would make on this trip was whether I should have the seafood gumbo or the crawfish etouffee. That was it. I set a goal of writing at least 5,000 to 8,000 words of my book. Do you want to know how much writing I actually got done? How many words I wrote? Exactly zero.
What did happen, though…what I never, ever expected to happen…
I fell in love.
Completely, utterly, absolutely head over heels in love. Love like I have never known before. I didn’t see it coming; I wasn’t looking for it. It took me by complete surprise.
I fell in love with New Orleans.
Understand this: I grew up two hours away from New Orleans. Currently, I only live three hours away from there. I have been going there my entire life, and honestly, it’s never been one of my favorite places to go except for concerts and theater. It’s overrun with tourists, it’s HOT as hell, crime can be an issue, and driving and parking are an expensive pain in the ass. But the food is exceptional and the people-watching is second to none. And quite honestly, there is no other city like it in the world.
Only recently has my attitude about this city began to change. Once you step away from the heavily populated drunk-tourist area (Bourbon Street), you get to experience a bit more of a local flavor. I discovered Magazine Street last year and that’s when I began to soften my attitude a little. There are still tourists, but it’s not the same. It’s not a street that is synonymous with drunken debauchery. There are eclectic shops and restaurants and everything has an artsy, creative vibe about it. This soon became my favorite street to visit.
This past year, I decided to start getting serious about writing that book I’ve been talking about writing for the past 10 years. The story of the book I’m currently working on takes place in New Orleans, so I thought a writing retreat there would be a good idea. I had never been to New Orleans alone. This is when I decided that as a first-time solo traveler, I would go for something a bit homier than a hotel; I would stay in a bed and breakfast. I had never stayed in one before, and this seemed as good a time as any to cross out two “first-time” events in one trip – a solo vacation and a B&B stay. When I googled New Orleans Bed and Breakfasts, I came upon a place called House of the Rising Sun. It had great reviews, the price was right, and it looked adorable…I was sold. The only thing was, it was in a part of New Orleans that I was not familiar with – Algiers Point. I researched it as best I could online and went ahead and booked my trip. I still wanted to see this area, though. I was going with some friends to New Orleans for a concert in September, so we made a plan to take the ferry across the river to eat and bar hop and investigate this place. I found it charming and incredibly friendly. I liked it, but at no point did I think, “yeah, I’m gonna move here.”
Everything that happens next can only be described by one word: serendipity.
Once I finally get to NOLA for the weekend, it was almost dark. I called a friend and had him come over to my side of the river so we could have dinner and some drinks. I pre-gamed by having two snakebites at the Crown and Anchor English Pub that was a block from my B&B. I love this place…I came here when I investigated the town in September. It’s the type of local place where everyone knows your name *cue Cheers theme song*. Charming and friendly, just like the whole damn town. It’s fucking Mayberry, I swear.
The next morning, I get up early so I can walk on the levee and see the sunrise. This is when my heart exploded and I fell in love. (That sky is not photoshopped, by the way.)
It was just so beautiful and relaxing to walk down the levee, along the Mississippi River, with no busy city sounds. Just the sounds of the lapping water, passing ships, tugboat horns, and later in the day….the calliope from the Steamboat. Everyone was walking their dog or their kids or both. Everyone had a smile and a wave as they passed me by. This was when it first went through my head that I could live here. But, don’t we always do that when we go on vacation? Anywhere you go away from the stressors of “real life” seems like a quiet paradise, right? I didn’t give it much consideration at the time. I assumed I was having normal vacation thoughts.
And let me just add this – I have lived in Mississippi my entire life. We’re known as the hospitality state. It’s literally our nickname. But I can tell you this, I was spoken to, chatted with, and waved at more in my 5 days in Algiers Point than I have been in the last 18 years that I have lived in my current little town in Mississippi. True story.
Eventually, I ventured across the river into New Orleans proper. It was nice to just walk around, people watch and pretend to be a local. It was pre-Halloween weekend and VooDoo Fest was happening, so there were a LOT of interesting characters to feast my eyes upon. I take that back, there are ALWAYS a lot of interesting characters to feast one’s eyes upon in New Orleans. It is truly one of the things that make this city so amazing. Diversity. Eccentricity. Creativity. Multiculturalism. Joy. Harmony. Around every. single. corner.
Ok, I realize that I’m idealizing this town to the nth degree here, but I really do feel like this trip pulled the wool from my eyes and I saw this city for the first time through the lens of the new little hamlet I discovered across the river. By day three, I knew something had changed and this wasn’t just a vacation anymore. This was me exploring my new home. I’ve always wanted to live in a little village where I could walk to a restaurant or bar to meet friends, or I could bicycle to the local market to buy some groceries. I’ve also wanted to live in a place where I could experience all the art and entertainment that comes from living in a big city, but still have my quiet little home to go back to after the party is over. I honestly never thought I would find that kind of thing outside of the suburbs of New York City. I almost moved there after I graduated college in 2000. I stayed a month with a friend that was already there, and as much as I wanted to be there….it just wasn’t for me. I realize now that I’m a true Southern gal that really likes it down here, despite all of our flaws and often incorrect stereotypes. I didn’t want to leave my Southern home. Why New Orleans never entered my mind as an option until now, I’ll never know. Maybe it was just too close to home? Maybe it was my uneasiness of the city passed down from my mother who once got her purse snatched on Bourbon Street in the 1980’s? Who knows what the reasons are or were; I’m just glad that I’ve had my epiphany.
The remaining days there were filled with walking. Walking. Walking. Walking. So much walking. I never walk this much at home. I initially started this as a way to think about my book, characters, possible plot twists, etc. Very soon though, my walking had turned into me thinking of all the new possibilities I had just created for myself and figuring out how I was going to make this move possible. Once I made up my mind that I was going to do this, I felt energized in a way that I haven’t felt in quite a while. I felt my creative juices flowing again. I felt like I was breathing fresh air for the first time in a while. (Well, that part is probably literally true. I work 12-hour shifts as a nurse, so when I’m not working, I’m sleeping. What I’m trying to say is that I’m inside A LOT.) Over the course of my 4 days walking that levee, I walked almost 30 miles. This is not like me. I’m not the fittest individual around. I get little to no exercise outside of walking the halls 12 hours at work. So this feat alone was amazing to me. It all goes along with my feeling so free and unusually happy in a way that I haven’t felt in such a long time.
I ended up staying a day longer than I originally intended to. I simply could not stand the thought of leaving just yet. I needed one more sunrise walk and one more sunset walk, one more trip on the ferry across the river to the sounds and smells (and food) of New Orleans proper. I needed one more walk around the neighborhood that I knew I would soon make my permanent residence. And even as I packed my car and drove out of town, I could feel the town calling to me and telling me to come back home.
“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
Everywhere else is Cleveland.” ―