In a former life I worked as a tourism research analyst. Along with all of the numerical stats, I would also analyze all of the visitors’ comments and it was no surprise to me that “LOVE” was the most common word used by visitors to describe their trip. “We loved our experience” … “we love this city” … “we loved every powdered sugared bit of New Orleans”, and so on, I’d see with common regularity. It makes me proud to know that my city knows how to be a gracious host, and that so many have such a wonderful and unique experience when they visit. Last week I tagged along with a group of conventioneers and photographed a New Orleans City Tour for PWP Studio, and saw my city through a visitors eyes firsthand. There’s so much I take for granted just because I live here, and it all seems so everyday to me. But this city has its own unique heartbeat, and it takes on a life of its own when you get to see the wonder and delight of people experiencing it for the first time. Ladies and gentlemen … to your left let me direct you to St. Louis Cathedral. Have you ever heard that story about how New Orleans burned down in 1788 because it was Good Friday and the church bells weren’t allowed to toll to summon the fire department? OK, seriously y’all … everybody doesn’t bury their dead above ground??? Visitors find it quite fascinating to walk amongst the beautiful monuments in the city’s many cemeteries, and I find it fascinating that they find it fascinating.
I had the privilege of sitting near the convention organization’s founder, Mr. Jerry, and his lovely wife Ms. Margaret. They were going to tell me the secret to staying married for 70 years, but given that if I actually accomplished that I’d be 120, I decided to move the conversation along. Besides, it was time to hop out and stroll around City Park. The group quickly dispersed and divided itself between checking out the amazing artwork in the sculpture garden, and finding out firsthand why it’s not a good idea to wear black while eating a beignet!
It still causes me great pain to hear about the devastation and havoc wreaked on New Orleans by hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and you can see the horror in the visitors’ eyes when they hear about it, too. I wish that I was far enough removed from Katrina that I could wonder if the tales being told, like the story of the church bells, might just be fodder for a tour guide’s embellishment. But I hear the Katrina lore and turn my head to hide my sorrow because I know all too well that those are true stories.
The road heading uptown is lined with majestic oaks, and I hoped the visitors were noticing the sun dancing through the branches the way I did. I found myself thinking about the way that southern writers go into such exquisite detail to describe the lush greenness of uptown New Orleans with almost as much vigor as they describe the suffocating humidity. My wonder was interrupted by the clacking sounds of oncoming streetcars as we made our way along St. Charles Avenue and the visitors were delighted with their charm. But what tickled me most was the visitors’ amusement when it was pointed out that there are still Mardi Gras beads dangling from the trees on the avenue from last Mardi Gras season.
I loved seeing New Orleans from a whole new perspective, and I enjoyed seeing her shown off in such style. And I absolutely loved being able to capture it all for our visitors to relive when they got back to their convention! I’ve always known what it means to miss New Orleans, and now I know first hand what it means when she welcomes you in!
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