The French Quarter of New Orleans

When my flight landed in New Orleans, I made the same prayer I always make when I enter a city:

O Allah, Lord of the seven heavens and all they overshadow, Lord of the seven worlds and all they uphold, Lord of the devils and all they lead astray, Lord of the winds and all they scatter; I ask You for the goodness of this town and for the goodness of its people, and for the goodness it contains. I seek refuge in You from its evil, from the evil of its people and from the evil in contains.”

The next day, I went on a run in the morning, and ended up on a block that smelled like urine. Suffocated by the smell, I held my breath and ran a little faster to find my way out. Then, a disheveled man limping in my direction yelled inaudible things, and I sped onto the first alley out.

After the run, I ate a beignet for breakfast.  Beignets consist of fried dough covered in powdered sugar. For lunch, I ate a  po’ boy sandwich filled with fried oyster.

By dinnertime, my body felt fried. I craved nothing. To achieve nothingness, I needed something detoxifying, like a bowl of probiotic-laden plain yogurt. So off I went in search of my familiar panacea. The CVS Pharmacy seemed to sell more alcohol than anything else, and I opted not to walk inside. The Walgreen’s carried only flavored yogurt; I settled for Chobani’s peach yogurt.

NOLA_sunriseThe next day, I ran with a mission: to find plain yogurt.  I started with a jaunt along the Mississippi River and caught the sunrise. Then I looped around the city to look for yogurt. With only an hour to spare, and no probiotic signs after 45 minutes of running, I nearly gave up. Then I came across Rouse’s, a small grocery store that sold plain yogurt! I also bought bread, cheese, and apples for $15 to cover the remaining meals of my stay: two lunches and two dinners.

The po’ boy had also cost $15.

A runner in a city with lots of fried stuff. When I travel, I put aside my healthy food preferences and indulge in local delicacies.  I don’t think about calories anyway; but I know that anything extra will melt away in miles. Famous foods on my list for New Orleans included beignets, po’ boys, black eye pea fritters, fried plantains, pralines, and everything Creole that is Halal. After the first two dishes, my stomach rebelled, so I resorted to familiar foods instead.

I realized that no matter where one is, it is possible to find healthy food by going to grocery stores instead of restaurants. Also much cheaper: four meals for the price of one.

A Muslim in a city with lots of alcohol. I wear hijab, and in most cities I have found that my modest dress keeps away unwanted attention. However, in the French quarter of New Orleans, maybe the men thought my hijab was a costume? Alcohol appears to be the drink of choice in this neighborhood, in quantities that make people act like beasts.

I respectfully decline dinner invitations in which people will be drinking, so to be in a city drenched in alcohol, I could have felt out of place. Instead, I chose to explore the city during the day.

I discovered that the early morning is a bad time to run because the streets still smell bad. The key is to run at least 30 minutes after sunrise, at which point, soap replaces the smell of urine. City workers wash the streets with soap and water every morning.

Bubbling and glistening, I found goodness on the streets of New Orleans at this hour. The architecture  is French, like what I would imagine of a quant suburb of Paris. The art, displayed in rows upon rows of both indoor shops and outside stands, combines the impressionism of Édouard Manet with the expressionism of Jackson Pollock–the best of both worlds. The morning shops smell of coffee and croissants. The culture feels welcoming and charming, like Baltimore with a French influence. I even heard a group of people speaking French on the patio of a coffee shop.

In the morning, New Orleans offers beautiful sights, sounds, smells, and foods. This beauty gets masked in ethanol at night, and washed clean every morning. This cycle shows the resiliency and dedication of the people of New Orleans to preserve their city. I can only imagine what it would look like without alcohol; perhaps like a Paris more refined than Paris itself.