Some random observations about NOLA about one month in

John and I arrived in New Orleans for our quasi-sabbatical on March 25 so we’re approaching one month in our temporary hometown.

I’m already getting pangs about time running short. We have Easter weekend coming up, then two weekends of Jazz Fest, then we pack up for home a few days later.

Weve seen so many artists and musicians since weve been in New Orleans -- but so far, we havent seen a single mailbox.

So after we’ve crossed the halfway point in our stay, here are some random observations about NOLA:

Things in short supply: street signs and mailboxes, apparently wiped out by Katrina and never replaced?

Things in abundance: musicians and artists, rats and cockroaches, potholes

Phrases people use that I don’t think I can convincingly say:

  • y’all, although I love it because it fills the “plural you” void in the English language
  • making groceries, as opposed to going grocery shopping
  • where y’at, which isn’t such an unusual question but there’s something about the pronunciation that sounds funny coming out of my northern mouth

Mudbugs are tasty, especially boiled with spices, garlic and onions -- but whether you call em palmetto bugs, water bugs or cockroaches, Southern weather grows them big and abundant.

Take a sweater: Weather has been lovely while we’ve been here, typically around 80 during the day and 60 at night. I almost always take a sweater with me when we go out, not because it cools off so much at night but because so many places we go are air conditioned like the refrigerator aisle when you’re makin’ groceries.

Really, people, it’s not so unbearable outside that you need that much cold air. Maybe they’re just getting ready for August?

Best tradition ever: the lagniappe. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; broadly : something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.”

It seems baked into the New Orleans way of doing business, far more so than any other place I’ve been. We recently got our second dozen oysters on the house when we hung out and chatted with the bartender at one bar,  and John frequently wears the free shirt he scored when he complimented the fried chicken at one of his favorite joints in the Quarter.

It seems the rule is it’s not an advertised deal — this isn’t about the 2-for-1 drinks at happy hour — but instead it’s at the discretion of the person waiting on you.

I’m not just saying the lagniappe is excellent because I like a bargain. (I do.) But there’s something so endearing about feeling you’ve gotten more than you paid for, that you’re getting treated special. Isn’t that why Cheers was such a great bar, because everyone knows your name?

According to Wikipedia:

Mark Twain writes about the word in a chapter on New Orleans in Life on the Mississippi (1883). He called it “a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get”:

We picked up one excellent word — a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word — “lagniappe.” They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish — so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a “baker’s dozen.” It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop — or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know — he finishes the operation by saying — “Give me something for lagniappe.” The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor — I don’t know what he gives the governor; support, likely. When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans — and you say, “What, again? — no, I’ve had enough;” the other party says, “But just this one time more — this is for lagniappe.” When the beau perceives that he is stacking his compliments a trifle too high, and sees by the young lady’s countenance that the edifice would have been better with the top compliment left off, he puts his “I beg pardon — no harm intended,” into the briefer form of “Oh, that’s for lagniappe.”

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8 replies

  1. I spent the last 6 months in NOLA on business 4 days a week. I wish I had known you were there! The good is wonderful and the people friendly, and I loved the weather. Try to get over to Jacques Imo’s for dinner one night, well worth it. Upperline restaurant is also a nice treat.

    • So sorry I missed you, Dean. Satish was here for a conference and I missed him, too.

      But glad to know the Wolverine MBA contingent is well represented in New Orleans.

      What was your favorite thing about spending that much time here? And your least favorite?

  2. you stick the outgoing mail half out of the flap.

    • Thanks, Deuce.

      I’d considered that but wasn’t sure whether our mail carrier would take it or if it’d just blow away — but on your advice, I put my credit card bill in the flap today and heard our carrier take it before dropping in today’s mail.

      Problem solved.

  3. Hmm, maybe there was some punctuation missing, and I’m sure you know, but crawfish are NOT cockroaches?? The caption was a little misleading (it might be hard to get a picture of the large roaches in flight), it’s one of the things I don’t miss about home…rarely saw a large palmetto bug, or esp. the little brown German ones that can easily infest kitchens by the thousands down there anywhere above the Mason-Dixon.

    With all the music, clubs, restaurants, brunches, it’s hard (not impossible) to live a fully sober life down there. Tourists, (y’all excluded) who visit during Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, conventions, seem to lose their minds in this regard and act unlike themselves for the most part!

    I don’t remember lots of ‘post’ mailboxes ever (most have flap boxes on the doors or hanging outside their shotgun apartments) in most neighborhoods.

    You’ve surely taken in some of the historic places too, cemeteries, architecture, (Hermann-Grima house), Tulane U.’s Jazz Archives (run by our friend Bruce Raeburn) as well as the Napoleon House and the SNOWBALLS!! Yum, the snowballs!

    Think you could live there fulltime? Wondering… ;)

    • Lenny,

      That booze-soaked tourism thing is pretty astounding. I’m not saying I’ve totally abstained down here but I don’t get the notion of spending the time and money to go someplace to get so hammered that you might not even remember you were there. Save yourself the effort and buy a keg at home?

      We’ve seen that other places, of course, including on some vacations we’ve taken in Mexico and in Key West. It’s like people are determined to have a full year’s worth of fun in their one-week vacation, or, as you say, that any sense of rules of good behavior disappear when they leave home.

      On a lighter note — yes, we have a mail flap on the door, and that’s great for incoming mail. But how do you send outgoing mail from a mail flap?

      And yes, we’ve gone on an excellent swamp tour, we went out to a beach on the Gulf coast, I did a ghost tour in the Quarter, and we’re constantly marveling at the architecture. We’ve been to Napoleon House a few times and there’s a snowball place right around the corner from us. I don’t totally get the appeal but we’ve had ‘em.

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