Some places are year-around party centrals: think Vegas. Other places are year-around get-away destinations, such as Honolulu. New Orleans is both.
The city itself is down-toned and not terribly flashy, with a marvelous French undercurrent in names, food and (increasingly) speech. The people in New Orleans are a joy to be around. Europeans comment on how European the city feels. Others key into the Creole culture of Southern White, Southern Black, Cajun and Franco-African that has led so many people from French-speaking countries such as Haiti to make their home there.
We arrived in New Orleans on the Thursday before Halloween weekend. We knew the city would be packed with revelers: the Voodoo Jazz Festival was on Saturday, as was a Madonna concert, and all kinds of parties, including Halloweens In New Orleans, a fundraiser for the AIDS hospice charity, Project Lazarus. Being New Orleans, the biggest action would be on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, a nonstop party zone with open drinking, dancing, unannounced street bands, musicians all over the place, and people from across the USA wandering about, zombie-like, until not long before dawn.
Some things we had to bypass, like shorts and T-shirts that would have been typical for late October. Hurricane Sandy was barging her way into the Northeast, and she pushed a cold front all the way down into the Gulf. Temperatures plunged from 70s-80s F to 35-60. Not dressed for cold weather, we did not go out on the street as much as we wanted. I had also wanted to sit in the Café du Monde for beignets, but the lines were too long. During the thick of the weekend, we avoided Bourbon Street for a couple of reasons: the crowds made it a challenge to get anywhere, and the vibe was sometimes negative. The women in our crew said they did not feel comfortable with the way some of the male partiers were carrying themselves.
If ever in that situation in New Orleans, go one street down to Royal. It is every bit as nice as Bourbon, and much easier to navigate.
As we were on Royal Street, in fact, at about 9 pm, we saw on of the occasional brass bands that flourish in the French Quarter making its way in the cool, breezy weather. Leading the band was a skeletal bride and groom, bride in white wedding gown and groom in black vaqueiro outfit, complete with sombrero. It was beautifully surreal, a mixture of New Orleans pageantry (sponsors of the band, all on foot, were dressed in full party gear and tossing beads) and Dia de los Muertos. We applauded them as they went by. It was not the only brass band we would see that weekend – one marched from the street into our hotel, the Monteleone, with a wedding rehearsal party the evening before.
The cold weather did not dampen the festivities much that weekend, especially once the sun went down. We did our share of public drinking, attended a costume ball and ended the trip with a Sunday afternoon riverboat ride on the SS Natchez, fully equipped with six bars serving free liquor, and two food buffets generously heaped with fried foods plus beans and rice.
This was my second Halloween in NOLA. I have never had a bad time in the city, and I would go back there any time of the year (except Mardi Gras – I am not into that kind of mob scene). The city just feels good.