On May 19, my daughter graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans. The day’s events included an amazing unified commencement ceremony in the morning where all the graduating students gathered in the Super Dome. That afternoon, we watched her walk across the stage as she received her diploma from the College of Science and Engineering. Honorary doctorates were conveyed to notable people at the unified commencement. Among them were Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, who sang her song, “It’s Raining.” The unified ceremony also included an inspiring and thoughtful commencement speech by two-time National Book Award winner, Jesmyn Ward.
While my wife and I had visited New Orleans several times on previous trips, visiting the campus and taking our daughter to school, our visits had, for various reasons been limited. This time, we saved up some money cleared our calendars and decided to spend a week in New Orleans, exploring the city and its surroundings. Even a week in New Orleans might have been beyond our means, except that we had a place to stay where we could make many of our own meals. The food in New Orleans is terrific and part of the experience that should not be missed, but it can be expensive.
Among the highlights of our trip were visits to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, the Voodoo Museum, and the Audubon Aquarium. One morning we drove down to Jean Lafitte National Park and took a swamp tour, where we saw numerous alligators and turtles. While we were frugal with our food budget, we did splurge on a fine dinner at Muriel’s on Jackson Square. The food was fabulous and I especially appreciated the care the wait staff gave to our daughters and they’re challenging suite of food allergies. They went the extra mile to make sure everyone went away happy. One highlight of Muriel’s is the haunted room upstairs. I took several photos, but never saw any ghosts. There were sarcophagi, which seemed fitting given the release of After Punk the day we dined there.
What makes New Orleans truly special for me is less the touristy stuff and more a magical blend of the people and the overall atmosphere of the city and its surroundings. New Orleans essentially exists in a wetlands environment and life surrounds you. Not just human life like you’d find in a big city like New York or Los Angeles, but magnolia trees and pines, insects and small animals. Of course, you do see a wide variety of the human condition from the desolate, to many people struggling to make a living, to people of privilege throwing cash around at every opportunity. Of course, it’s a city in peril every time a hurricane or even a drenching rain comes through. Global sea level rise could threaten the city. Yet the science fiction writer in me has a hard time imagining the city vanishing forever. It’s versatile and it changes and adapts. There is literal magic in the air. Sometimes it’s just a helping hand from a stranger when you didn’t expect it. Sometimes it’s sitting on a balcony and listening to a trumpeter a block away giving you the gift of his songs. Sometimes the magic comes in walking down the street and seeing a parade break out for no reason that you’ve heard about.
It’s probably fitting that we spent our final evening in New Orleans actually watching a magic show presented by Dr. Joe Dalgo at Potions Lounge. The show captured a lot of what I love about New Orleans. He drew me in with storytelling and history. It felt less like a “show” or an “event” and more like a gathering to appreciate Dr. Dalgo’s talents and knowledge. It was entertaining but I also felt I went away having made new friends.
Speaking of friends, Marita Crandle, who runs Potions Lounge also runs Boutique du Vampyre. She hosted a marvelous signing for me and is one of the people who truly makes me feel at home in New Orleans. If you visit the Crescent City you should visit the Boutique and also pay a visit to Potions. If you can’t make it to New Orleans, you can still shop online at: http://feelthebite.com. Not only will you find signed copies of my vampire novels in the Vampire Library section, but you’ll find my wife’s Monster Eye Bag Charms in the Cabinet of Curiosities.
My daughter has left New Orleans and that makes it hard to say when I’ll be back. I’ve been gone less than a week and yet it beckons me back. I don’t know when the next trip will be, only that there will be a next trip because I have indeed learned what it means to miss New Orleans.