THE UNIQUE CULTURE OF NEW ORLEANS
By Ian Robert Knight
Say the words “New Orleans”, and certain other words immediately spring to mind. Words like Jazz, Mardi Gras, Creole and seafood. It’s quite clear that New Orleans has a very distinct style all its own. And it’s the unique culture of New Orleans that makes it stand out from other major cities in the US. No matter how you say it – “noo-AW-lyenz”, “noo-AW-linz”, “noo-OR-linz”, or “noo-OR-lyenz” – you will say it is a great place to visit.
New Orleans is located on the Mississippi River delta, about 100 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, in Louisiana state. Given its location, it was a magnet for immigration from many parts of the world, particularly from France, Spain, Caribbean islands, and even Acadians from Canada. The city (and the state of Louisiana) was controlled by the French, then the Spanish, then the French again. Then in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Napoleon sold it to the US, and it became a state in 1812. And it remains multicultural to this day.
Visiting “NOLA” is a sensual experience. Sensual in that your senses will be working overtime during your visit to the city. Your tastebuds will enjoy distinct creole dining. Your ears will be treated to world-class Jazz played everywhere around town. And your eyes will struggle to keep up with all of the unique architectural and cultural sights and sites. Where do we begin?
I think jazz music is likely the first thing that pops into mind when thinking of NOLA. Jazz music in NOLA is a specific style that is instantly recognizable. It’s thought that jazz music originated in this city, and migrated to other parts of the world. But while other places adapted their own jazz styles, NOLA jazz remained true to its roots. Legendary jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, and recent superstars like Harry Connick Jr and the Marsalis brothers, contributed to a thriving music scene.
Live music venues like Preservation Hall, the Davenport Lounge, and Fritzel’s bring live music out every night. A visit to NOLA would be incomplete without some toe-tapping in a dark bar with friends.
Funerals and Cemeteries
At first, funerals may not seem like a cultural highlight. But NOLA funerals are unlike anywhere else. In NOLA, funerals involve parades with jazz bands. When marching toward the cemetery, slow, sad spiritual music like “Nearer My God to Thee” is played. Then on the way back, upbeat jumpers like “When the Saints Go Marching In” is played to a raucous crowd of celebrants. Everybody dances.
Even the cemeteries are different, compared to most we know. In NOLA, all the cemeteries are above ground. Because NOLA is built above a high water table, it’s impossible to dig graves, so everyone is laid to rest in tombs above ground. This leads to some very elaborate mausoleums. There are 42 cemeteries in NOLA, so there’s plenty to choose from. Consider ‘browsing’ the St. Louis 1, 2 or 3, or the Metairie cemetery. Be sure to check out the St. Louis Cathedral when you’re in the funeral mood, too. It’s the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States.
NOLA is also well known for its cuisine scene. A tasty mix of French, Creole, Cajun and Spanish cooking styles make for a unique menu. Bring your appetite to the city because you’re going to want to eat all the gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish etouffee you can. Other notable NOLA specialties include pastries called Beignets, Po-Boy sandwiches, and Muffulettas.
There is no shortage of great restaurants to choose from as well. With everything from fine dining options, to outdoor cafes with a view, to food trucks, NOLA has it covered. Be sure to take in a Sunday brunch with jazz and bottomless mimosas, in the name of tradition.