I was walking around the French Quarter in New Orleans on the night of Dec. 30 with my family when the streets seemed to suddenly erupt with what, at first glance, looked like a stampede of well-dressed people. Leading the crowd was a bride, beautiful in a simple white dress and a deep blue sash around her slim waist. She beamed happily at the spectators, her shoulders moving to the beat of the drums that led the procession behind her, her blonde tresses shaking as they danced around, and all the while she waved her small white lace umbrella above her head. Beside her was her husband, waving his black umbrella and trying to keep up with his excited bride, probably not realizing how awkward his dance moves were or how wide his goofy grin was. Directly behind them was the band, somehow managing to simultaneously walk and fill the starry night with their jazzy music, followed by a couple hundred people, each of whom was waving an umbrella or a large handkerchief as he or she danced around the streets of New Orleans.
This wedding party’s sudden appearance was just a tiny glimpse into the fairytale land that is the French Quarter. I’ll admit: I didn’t really spend much time anywhere else during my visit to New Orleans. This is because everything about it was so enchanting. The traditional street weddings (I witnessed two), the live street musicians (Tanya & Dorise were my favorites), and the never-ending supply of sweet tea made New Orleans seem magical. Everyone — and I mean everyone — around me was having a great time. The neighborhood just had a constant good vibe about it, and it made me want to soak up the positive energy and save it in a flask for a gloomier time – for instance, dead week four months from now.
I fell in love with the French Quarter quite literally the second I stepped out of the car. The first thing I saw was a faded pink building, decorated with hanging flowers and plants that snake around the beautiful design of the black iron balcony. A whoosh of familiarity overcame me, the same feeling I had when walking through the ancient streets of Istanbul. “This place has been here for a long time,” I thought.
Built in the early 1700s as the center of the city (with a number of renovations in the late 1700s due to fires), the French Quarter is located on the most solid ground in New Orleans and has therefore barely seen any of the wreckage that was caused by Hurricane Katrina. Its colorful buildings and quaint atmosphere make its visitors forget they are still in America, and for a few hours, you lose yourself in its French-named streets and Spanish architecture. Its streets so reminded me of walking through the covered markets in old Damascus that I felt a pang of sadness in my chest and an overwhelming ache to wander among those cobblestone streets again.
As a citizen of Damascus, one of the places considered the oldest city in the world, I find deep joy in walking around old cities and neighborhoods. The French Quarter was the first place in this country where I found this joy reignited. It had everything my heart has ever yearned for, like time-worn buildings and mouth-watering shrimp plates: blackened shrimp, shrimp and grits, boiled shrimp, shrimp po-boys, shrimp etouffee. It seemed each restaurant tried to incorporate as many of Bubba’s shrimp recipes as it possibly could. And they were all so rich and excellent that I actually dreamed about them several times within the first week of my departure.
I spent about four days in the French Quarter, leaving only to go to sleep and come back in the morning. Would I go back and expand my traveling throughout the city? Probably. I’d like to see all parts of New Orleans. But do I regret how I spent my time there? Definitely not. The best shrimp and grits and sweet tea were constantly just around the corner. I consider myself lucky for having the willpower to have left the French Quarter at all.
Sarah Dadouch is the assistant opinion editor. Contact her at [email protected]