The first of what we might expect to be a flurry of weddings erupted on Bourbon Street on a recent sparkling October night with an explosion of Mardi Gras beads, twirling white hankies, bobbing parasols, and a parade of revelers from coast-to-coast...
At least, I think that's what happened.
I can't be entirely sure, since last I checked my buddy's daughter wasn't near old enough to get married, considering she must have just gotten her driver's license like... last month?
How is it now possible that she and the young fella with the peach fuzz on his chin managed to engineer a destination wedding in NOLA, ferrying family and friends in from San Francisco, Seattle, Philly, Orlando, and Basalt (the center of the earth) to participate in mature adult activities?
But aren't we the ones that just graduated from college a few years back? Our gang was gathered like we were for each of our weddings, baby showers, baptisms, high school graduations -- wasn't it just last June that we were talking about college applications?
How did we end up in New Orleans, the city where the last thing anybody wants to do is act like mature, responsible, prudent adults? What is truly remarkable is that I remember any of it. Or maybe I don't, but based on accounts from reliable sources, it was an event worth remembering.
There were the expected travel snafus: late arrivals, hotel room confusion, air conditioners from hell, etc. etc. The older kids stayed at the Country Inn & Suites -- which was once a butter factory (only in NOLA) -- on Magazine three blocks off Canal, while the younger kids stayed at the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street, which was also the site of the ceremony and subsequent revelry, yet still nicely protected from the Bourbon Street bacchanalia.
The older kids did all the requisite tourist stuff: all five floors of the Ogden, though the fifth floor alone held enough walleyed, gap-toothed, corn-squeezed and pickled folk art to satisfy the Flannery O'Connor in just about anybody. We did Louisiana's oldest museum, misnamed on the outdoor sign as the "Civil War Museum" ("The Confederate Museum" would be more accurate), the WWII Museum (as good as museums get) and Tom Hanks' "4D" film "Beyond All Boundaries", which is a worthwhile experience. The weather doesn't get any better down there, so we had an awesome cruiser-bike ride through the Garden District and round 'n' round Audubon Park; we went on a super cool gator hunt in Bayou Stennett, where I managed to get in a tussle with a 15-foot alligator after he bit our guide's hand off, and we didn't even have to pay extra (though I'll bet the old Cajun's tips were pretty good).
Of course gators can't compete with NOLA food, drink, music and dance, and our wedding party got the royal treatment top to bottom. A cocktail reception took the place of a rehearsal, and the night was warm, loud and raucous. Our youthful, exuberant group picked up the trolley on Canal and bumped, whirred and jangled to the Columns Hotel in the Garden District, a truly classic if a little tired venue (it's probably worth splurging for the premier finger food, though the handful of little kids loved the cheese cubes and Ritz).
Later we discovered an amazing out of the way restaurant -- Le Citron Bistro on Religious and Citrus Streets. It's hard to imagine why this wonderful bistro was empty on a NOLA Friday night: the building is circa 1750 and much of the original structure is still preserved. Our hostess told us the whole fascinating story of the place while her husband cooked us up a delicious meal of redfish, gumbo, salmon etc. and an unreal bread pudding.
The true highlight of a NOLA wedding in the French Quarter has got to be the traditional second line parade with a brass band. We were led for about five blocks down Bourbon and back up Royal by a trumpet, trombone, saxophone, a real tuba and a giant MC with a purple peacock feather coat dancing and singing and clearing the way (he was about the size of a Beetle and I'm not talkin' about the bug). We had a squad car bringing up the rear, where the old old kids -- Gram and Gran to the bride and groom -- rode in a six-seater golf cart. The tuba man grooved on this and that funky riff and we danced our way through the Quarter waving our white hankies and whooping it up while two parasols bobbed up ahead.
Somehow after all this my wife and I ended up back in Coon Hollow, overlooking the mighty Pacific out to the Farallones. But just the other night before headin' for dreamland I was out on the deck listening to the waves and I swear I heard a tuba! And I thought back on our magical wedding weekend in New Orleans... Laissez les bons temps rouler!