The Goodbye is an occasional series about women leaving a place behind. Are you moving and feeling nostalgic? Fill out this form, and you could be part of the series.
What is it like to say goodbye to New Orleans after living there my entire life?
When my husband and I shared the news that we were moving, our grown children looked perplexed. Friends stared in disbelief. Colleagues were bewildered — I had a wonderful job as chief operating officer of the Catholic Foundation. My octogenarian aunt shrieked, “Have you lost your mind? Did you fall down and smack your head on the sidewalk?”
And that’s exactly what leaving New Orleans feels like — disorienting, jarring and painful. Because, you see, New Orleans is different.
A lot of people live in American cities, and each day they walk out of their front doors into those cities. In New Orleans, we do that, but we do something more. We walk into an entire culture — our own cuisine, social structure, architecture, body of literature, even cemeteries. So, of the 300-plus million people living in the United States, the 300-plus thousand in New Orleans are unique.
And while people often take their cities for granted, New Orleanians have a sort of transient global amnesia, awaking each day with fresh eyes to be enchanted by the wonder of it all. More than anything, we love seeing the spark in people’s eyes when we say, “I’m from New Orleans.” They, too, know the magic of our city.
Besides a few years away at college, New Orleans is the only home I’ve ever known. Over the years, close friends moved away seeking better career opportunities — especially after Hurricane Katrina. But I was never lured away. It is said that in New Orleans you can be the richest poor person in the world. The cost of living is high, but there is so much to enjoy that is free or affordable: festivals, live music, parades. And where else could my children have grown up with such a distinct sense of community, of identity, of place?
I met my husband — a native of Alexandria, Va. — on a blind date in the Marigny, the city’s first suburb, or faubourg, just downriver of the French Quarter. He fully embraced life as a new New Orleanian — becoming a member of a Mardi Gras Krewe, and not missing a day of Jazz Fest (a true “Guardian of the Groove”). He gladly traveled to work across the Midwest, so he could return home on Fridays to don his flip flops, sit in our backyard and sip his bourbon. But I could see the toll that the extensive travel was having on him. New Orleans is not an easy place to get to and from.
Then, his mother fell ill. Work travel was compounded by travel to care for his mother in Alexandria. Something had to give.
In October, we moved to Old Town Alexandria, which I think of as a colonial French Quarter with its shops, restaurants and river-front parks (sans the strip clubs and frozen daiquiris of Bourbon Street, of course). My husband’s travel is more manageable, with one-hour direct flights just a metro stop away. I have an exciting job in the “Little Rome” neighborhood of Washington, D.C., surrounded by basilicas and Catholic universities, which remind me of New Orleans.
Now, instead of a streetcar, I take the Virginia Railway Express, which is less charming but certainly more efficient. And I’ve slipped a few times and said “Thank you, baby,” when the conductor offers his hand to help me de-train. (I think he secretly likes it.) I’ve had to resist the urge to ask for a “go-cup” to take my cocktail from a bar while shopping on King Street. And I laughed out loud when I found New Orleans staples like Tabasco and Community Coffee in the “International” aisle at the grocery store.
So, rather than saying, “Goodbye, New Orleans,” I’ve become an ambassador of sorts: yelling “Who Dat” to anyone in New Orleans Saints gear, sharing my chicory-laced coffee with delivery men, serving chicken and andouille gumbo to neighbors, and bestowing a bottle of Peychaud bitters on a local bartender so he can make me a perfect Sazerac.
You may even find me throwing Mardi Gras beads from a balcony in Old Town. Come join me, and we’ll laissez le bon temp rouler — let the good times roll.
Here are the eight places and experiences in New Orleans I’ll miss the most.
A daily stop on my way to work, the Bean Gallery is a quintessential example of New Orleans coffee house culture, which predates Starbucks by 250 years. This spot is filled with locals enjoying good conversation and a great selection of hot and flavored iced coffees.
Established in 1947, Dorignac’s elevates grocery shopping to an art form. It features staples of Creole cuisine (their tagline reads, “Yeah, we got dat!”), and is frequented by local chefs. And the butcher will argue with you when you give the wrong response to his, “How you gonna cook my pork chops?”
This is the grand dame of NOLA dining. I enjoyed my last supper before leaving the city here, which consisted of a Sazerac, shrimp and tasso Henican, turtle soup with sherry and a Creole bread pudding soufflé.
Bayou St. John runs all the way from my own neighborhood near Lake Pontchartrain to the Mid-City neighborhood, and was used as a trade route by the indigenous peoples of our region. It is rumored that Jean Lafitte, a pirate, used it as a passage into the city and that Marie Laveau practiced voodoo on its banks. Today, it’s where New Orleanians love to fish, kayak, paddle board, picnic or just take a stroll. Two of my favorite festivals – Bayou Boogaloo and Greek Festival – are celebrated along its banks. I will especially miss my favorite landmark on the bayou: the beautiful Magnolia Bridge.
The Superdome is home to my beloved New Orleans Saints, and I loved walking up the ramp on game day in a sea of black and gold. As a shelter of last-resort during Hurricane Katrina, the dome housed our city’s helpless and hopeless and laid bare decades of inequity and structural racism. But when the dome reopened in September 2006, I stood alongside men and women crying with joy as U2, Green Day, Rebirth Brass Band and Trombone Shorty played “The Saints Are Coming.” I know I’ll never feel that euphoria in any other stadium.
New Orleanians eschew chain stores and prefer unique boutiques such as those along Magazine Street. I will miss my favorite shops, including Dirty Coast and Fleurty Girl, which peddle unique NOLA-themed gifts that only locals understand, Sucre, a dessert boutique, and Scriptura, which sells beautiful NOLA-inspired invitations, notecards and other paper goods.
Visiting New Orleans? Find Josephine’s recommendations mapped out here.