New Orleans was all I hoped it would be– mysterious, decadent, full of old ghosts and oddballs. I can’t possibly hope to make sense of it all, but here are the highlights:
Part One: The Conference
Marvelous Macmillan sent me to the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute where I had the opportunity to meet some of the amazing independent booksellers who are keeping people reading and buying books across the country.
Barring the terror of being rear-ended on the way to the airport, missing my flight, and nearly missing the whole party, the conference was like some kind of bizarre and wonderful dream. The first night, we dined in a beautiful little private room with painted walls at Susan Spicer’s Bayona. Strangest moment? Looking down to see my book set up as the centerpiece on the table. After that, it was all a blur. We talked about Shadow & Bone, but we also talked about how indies are doing after the close of Borders, our favorite comfort reads, and Comic Con. Bayona is one of the best restaurants in NOLA and I do not remember a single thing I ate.
Day two: The signing! All of the authors were set up at tables ringing a giant ballroom. I had a few minutes to meet the delightful Andrea Cremer and Veronica Rossi–both glamorous and gracious. Then I was whisked off to my table to sign. It was… heady? Unreal? How many times as a kid did I imagine this moment? “Can you make it out to Lauren?” “Can you write ‘happy birthday’ to my daughter?” Why yes, yes I can.
The signing was followed by barbecued shrimp and grits, and an absinthe party at (wait for it) Pravda. Oh, Tsarpunk, you follow me everywhere. I actually loathe absinthe, but I managed a couple of sazeracs with the helpful coaching of Allison Verost and Mark von Bargen. I was too tired to sleep so I joined some new friends for dancing at One Eyed Jack’s, then fell into bed at 4am.
Part Two: The City
* Walking tour of the Garden District with my friend Jimmy and our wonderful guide Nita of Magic Tours. She’s adorable and happens to play drums in an all-girl jazz band called “Some Like It Hot.” (I find it very odd that John Goodman now lives in what was Trent Reznor’s house. I realize properties change hands all the time, but somehow it just seems weird. Like wife swapping or something.)
It was cool to see Anne Rice’s house, the inspiration for the home of the Mayfair witches, but I have to admit to being more intrigued by the mansion across the street and its rundown carriage house.
As we passed the cornstalk fence surrounding Colonel Short’s Villa, Nita told us that after Katrina, whole swaths of the city were just grey– covered in trash and debris, totally lifeless. But then out of nowhere, you’d see a giant yellow sunflower poking its head out of the wreckage. In a novel, that would feel like a heavy-handed metaphor. In real life, it’s just a beautiful thing.
Later that night, Jimmy and I strolled the filthy madhouse that is Bourbon Street on a Saturday night. It all had a very End Times feel to it. If New Orleans is a slow seduction, Bourbon Street is a stranger trying to hump your leg. Best moment? A tie between Jimmy “borrowing” some poor guy’s bike and the college kid who giddily told me, “I’m a philosophy major! I love writers!”
* The raucous dinner at Eat NOLA: wine, butterbeans, much giggling with friends I haven’t seen since junior high. The karaoke that followed is best forgotten. We will not speak of it again.
*Best shopping: A tie. I loved browsing new and retro fashion on Magazine street, and popping into sweets-purveyor Sucre (the store is like a little bonbon itself). But my favorite purchase was made at Masquerade, a mask shop off of Jackson Square. There are feathers involved and it had to be shipped. I promise to post a pic when it arrives.
*Best savories: short ribs at Cochon Butcher, oysters Bienville at Antoine’s, fried catfish po’boy at Parkway Bakery
*Best sweets: the marmalade drenched Gateau Basque at Luke’s, warm chocolate pudding cake with caramel corn at Herbsaint, and of course, beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde.
*Best cocktail: Easily the French 75 at Luke’s. At the risk of receiving hate mail, all of the NOLA cocktails seemed to skew a little sweet to me. Maybe LA drinkers have a different palette?
*Best local color: The Chart Room (most definitely a dive bar) where I met a sorority girl with a thirst for vengeance, a hollow-eyed bartender wearing– no joke– a shirt embroidered with golden yetis, and a weeping woman who swore she’d met me in a dream.
Finally, can you SOLVE THIS MYSTERY? On my last day in NOLA, I came across this bizarre building on the corner of Magazine and St. Mary. The first person to post a (verifiable) comment solving the origins of the crest and its relationship to the building’s history gets a $25 gift card for Powell’s Books or Powells.com.
I also want to shout out Eve Troeh and Georgia Archer who were kind enough to share their NOLA recs with me. Eve wrote beautifully about the city here. If you care about freedom and net neutrality or you just like a good story, I highly recommend checking out Georgia’s film Barbershop Punk. (It will be screening in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina in February, so if you’re down south, don’t miss it!)