The Big Easy, pre-Katrina

Allison Pritchard

Before the horrendous hurricane wounded the “Big Easy,” New Orleans was a never-ending frat party. I was lucky enough to vacation there less than a month before Katrina did her dirty deeds.

Most of my time was spent in the elusive French Quarter. I was told that the quarter is the closest anyone can get to European flavor without leaving America. The vintage sidewalks and brick streets are filled with tourists and natives. Small alleyways with locked off doors lead to private courtyards and apartments. Mule-drawn carriage rides, the French Marketplace and fortunetellers sitting at card tables in Jackson Square all create the relaxed eclectic atmosphere.

No one who visits New Orleans can go out without experiencing (and overeating) the foods – powdered French donuts called “beignets” at Cafe du Monde, po-boys (subs made with French bread, filled with a meat of your choice) and seafood of all types.

The famous Mardi Gras World is where many of the floats are stored and created. I learned that floats are usually made by a “krew,” or group of people who come together to pitch in their funds and talents. The Mardi Gras festivities include crowning respected individuals in the community as kings and queens.

The numerous cemeteries of New Orleans are atypical. Most of the dead are buried above ground in family tombs, or in eerie outdoor mausoleums. The prestigious even pay ahead of time for upkeep of tombs.

The thing I will remember most about the old New Orleans is the night life. New Orleans is another city that never sleeps. Every night is Mardi Gras. The young and old alike fill the streets like a mob of kids in a toy store trying to get the last Beanie Baby. It’s a whole different world down there. People block the cars from entering some of the streets and non-glass open containers are allowed to be carried around freely.

Tourists and townies alike aren’t seen without a beverage in hand, such as “hand grenades,” a famous hurricane drink, and a rainbow of colored daiquiris from the ubiquitous pizza and frozen daiquiri joints. Everyone is cheerful and ready to party from bar to club to trinket shop at all hours of the night. The she-male strip clubs and prostitutes on the corner of foul-smelling streets are another part of the “Southern charm” not to be missed.

Everyone is adorned with Mardi Gras beads at drunken parties, but few have experienced the excitement of the real thing. Oodles of vibrant, tipsy faces in balconies eagerly wait to pick their next “victim” from the screaming crowd below. They carefully admire the street throng, waving their hands in the air, shouting “Beads!” Some are lucky enough for that to work, but others are signaled from the “throwers” above that they need to do more to earn their beads. A bearded tourist in a Hawaiian shirt even signaled for my mom to show her stuff – good thing she didn’t.

Life truly is a party and everyone is invited in the old New Orleans. It will take a lot of work and repair to make the city whole again. In the meantime, let us remember the good times, and hope that the Big Easy will be filled with merrymaking once again.

Allison Pritchard is a junior electronic media production major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].