APW Book Tour(ish): New Orleans

When Amtrak asked us to do a Honeymoon Giveaway with one of the destinations being New Orleans, they asked us if we’d mind spending a weekend in The Crescent City, to write about it. Would we? Ha! New Orleans is one of my favorite places in the world, so I thought that would be just fine, thanks. Plus, I wanted to remind y’all that putting your honeymoon dollars to work in NOLA’s ongoing recovery was a brillant choice… not to mention eloping in the city (they just put in a wedding chapel in the Quarter, if you’re into that). And then, thanks to Amtrak, I was able to take Maddie along with me, which turned a good weekend into something great. Which isn’t to say that this post is sponsored. It’s totally not. In fact, we paid our own way in the city, so if this post is sponsored by anyone, it’s sponsored by me (the best kind of post).

So! We agreed to go to New Orleans, but we had no idea what was in store. It started on the train to Atlanta, when our porter, a NOLA native, remarked that we were lucky to be in town for Krewe Du Vieux. Now. As a person who loves New Orleans (and who watches Treme. You watch Treme, right?) my whole face lit up with wonder the minute she said that. We were going to be in town for the first parade of the Mardi Gras season? The local, racy, super ironic one? I felt like the universe was raining blessings on my head. But then it kept getting better, in totally surprising ways. Claire (who you remember from her post about caring for her nieces during her first year of marriage) invited us to hang out with her family, and the girls, over a Sunday morning brunch. Then we realized it was Super Bowl Sunday, which meant that we were presented with an enormous bucket of free crawfish when we went out to dinner, and that when we went to Preservation Hall, it was the emptiest I’ve ever seen it. So we ended the weekend just hanging out with forty other people and listening to legendary jazz musicians. You know, whatever, nothing doing.

And then, there was the joy of watching Maddie discover the city for the first time. But I’ll let her tell you about that.

From Maddie:

I’ll tell you the truth, I was prepared to be disappointed by New Orleans. Like my experiences with Paris and New York City, I expected New Orleans to be a place that’s great to live in, but which fails to live up to reputation over the course of a mini-getaway (or which requires a significant amount of money and access to truly take advantage of during such a short stay.)

Then I stepped off the train. And it smelled like my childhood vacations to Florida, charged with hot damp air and a soft breeze. I looked around and I saw people dressed like me, which is a rare occasion (with leopard jackets and zebra suitcases, oh my!) And as I scanned my surroundings I slowly realized that this might be a place where I would not only enjoy a visit, but perhaps even want to live.

Well, yeah.

On the way to our hotel, I kept asking Meg “How have I never heard of this place before?!” and she kept looking at me like I’d failed elementary school geography or something. But of course I’d heard of it. I just wanted to know why nobody told me that this is where I belong.

But I can’t give all the credit to the city itself. My tour guide was remarkable. Keeping us off the beaten path, Meg ensured that we were enveloped by the neighborhoods of New Orleans, so that rather than arriving as outsiders, we quickly became wrapped in the fabric of the city. Which, really? Is what it’s all about.

On our first night in New Orleans, after a day-long train ride, Meg took me to Praline Connection for fried chicken, pralines and sweet tea (yeah, I’m jealous of my former self even as I’m writing this). As we were finishing our meal, a band of young jazz musicians set up shop on the corner in front of the restaurant and began playing a serious brass band set. Meg and I threw money down on the table and ran outside to catch the action.

At first, the crowd listening stood mostly still while hesitantly moving their feet. Then they began to sway. And before long, they were dancing. And then Meg and I were dancing. Or at least, I was swaying and doing the hip-tap thing which are my cumulative dance moves when Michael isn’t around, and Meg was dancing. I remember looking over and seeing a group of jocks in their late-20s moving like Shakira, and a young couple dancing with progressively less restraint as each song came to an end.

I don’t know how to express the sentiment of that moment any other way than that I thought to myself, “This is what living should feel like.” I mean, within an hour of arriving in New Orleans, I was eating food that went straight past my lips and into my soul and I was surrounded by a hundred people who had collectively agreed that they didn’t care if they looked stupid doing it, they were going to dancing like no one was watching.

I don’t know about you, but that is more than I could hope for in a honeymoon. That’s what I’m looking for out of life, and New Orleans offered it up to me without question before we’d even had a chance to properly introduce ourselves to each other. And maybe that’s southern hospitality. Or maybe it’s what I really suppose: that New Orleans is actually the most romantic city in the world.

But for me, the real joy of the trip, the real lightbulb moment, came at the end. During the brunch with Claire and her nieces, it came up that her five-year-old-niece sings songs of her own composing, and likes an audience. I also (of course) sang songs of my own composing at five, so I tried to get her to sing one. She was feeling shy, so I thought she might feel better if I stood up on my chair and sang a small song about the chickens in the brunch garden (yeah, I just typed that) for her. So I did, and then we all had King Cake. Afterwards, Claire emailed me :

After we left Slim Goodies, Five-Year-Old Niece says, “I didn’t know grown ups could stand up on chairs in public and sing their own songs.” I laughed and asked “Why not?” “Well, usually adult ladies just like to sit around and talk in their inside voices. But not her.” So thanks for showing her that women can stand up and sing their own songs in public.

And then I realized that it had taken a five-year-old girl (who are always the wisest) to explain the whole book tour to me. The book tour has been about me singing my own song in public, and all of us talking about how we each have a song to sing, so we need to clamber onto our chairs and get warbling. It just took a small girl and New Orleans to point that out to me.

Because that’s how New Orleans does. Always.

P.S. Maddie has made me promise that if the winner of the Amtrak Honeymoon Giveaway chooses New Orleans as their destination, I will give them the Meg Keene New Orleans Itinerary (TM) if they request it. It will involve a lot of eating and music, so you know.

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  • katieprue

    Sigh. New Orleans. I want to go back and not have to work (conferences, bleh).

    Soo… photos 4 &5… where is that? That man looks familiar…

    • Maddie

      Those were taken at a junk shop/antique store on Decatur. The guy was the owner (super nice man. Told me all about the history of Mardi Gras beads. Those are originals! They were like…80 years old or something).

      • katieprue

        Oh how neat! Not that same person I was thinking of, but is it surprising that my memories of NOLA are just the slightest bit fuzzy? :)

  • panina

    These photos are so beautiful, and 5 year olds *are* the wisest! Thanks for sharing such a beautiful post, I am dying to go to NOLA and hoping for the chance next Fall- and I wondered if there is a way to persuade you to share your off the beaten path itinerary with someone who doesn’t win the contest? Thanks again for your awesome site.

  • Joanna

    I’m obviously not going to be the only one to request this…but I am actually doing my bachelorette party in NOLA in April so…can I get in on your secret itinerary? :) You’ve made me so excited to go!

    • Carbon Girl

      I am going to a bachelorette in New Orleans in May, so me too, pretty please!?

      • Erika

        OMG – both of you send me your emails right now. I just did mine in NOLA over Halloween and it ROCKED! And I have a place you can stay as well….we rented a lovely carriage house. emurdock@gmail.com

  • melissa

    Awww….. The Spotted Cat is my second favorite bar in the whole world. Well, I haven’t been to the whole world, but you know what I mean! And, I am so super jealous that Preservation Hall wasn’t super duper packed for you!

  • Cassandra

    LOVE these photos.

    And super love “”Well, usually adult ladies just like to sit around and talk in their inside voices. But not her.””

  • OH MY GOODNESS PRALINE CONNECTION. Sorry for all caps but.. I went to Praline Connection my first time in NOLA in 2005 and the YAMS. THE YAMS. THE YAMMMMMMMS. Okay, scrolling back up to read the rest of the post….

  • carrie

    The photos. They are so amazing!

    Also amazing? This: “Well, usually adult ladies just like to sit around and talk in their inside voices. But not her.”

    Fan-effing-tastic. I was always told I wasn’t allowed to sing at the dinner table. David and I have the opposite rule in our house. Singing at the dinner table is encouraged. Although not getting up on the chairs b/c our chairs will not support standing.

    I also wanted to say YAAAAAAAAAAAY for the Amtrak giveaway! I didn’t want to comment in the actual post because it’s not something we can take advantage of this year, but I love it.

    • I also love to sing out loud and make up my own funny songs based on nothing/random things/whatever’s happening right now. One of my colleagues does this when he’s stressed and it just breaks up the office atmosphere into something softer and fun :)

      And New Orleans, YES! What an amazing city. Love the colors of these photos, and the contrast with the black and white. So many women doing interesting, fun and unique activities — my faves are the trumpet player, 1% lady, thong-wearing bicycle rider and of course little nieces in pink.

      That looks like one fun/ny, rowdy and political street party!

  • carrie

    Oh, and Praline Connection reminds me that David teases me for saying “praw-leen” instead of “pray-leen.” I tell him I learned the word from New Orleanians (friend used to work at Aunt Sally’s) and that it’s a perfectly appropriate pronunciation. I’m sure everyone in these photos says “praw-leen!”

    • Maddie

      They do!

    • Claire

      We do. As a native New Orleanian, I can confirm “praw-leen” is, in fact, the way it’s said. So there :)

  • mimi

    On behalf of pretty much everyone else reading this, can you please share your NOLA itinerary, Meg?! I haven’t been there since 2001, but I’d love to go again (maybe on the City of New Orleans).

  • Oh wow, the PHOTOS! Thanks for a peek into a city I’ve never seen but can almost SMELL!!

    And five-year-old girls? WISDOM and no mistake. She also has Meg pegged as a Lady Who Will Stand On Chairs fearlessly. Cheers, raised glass to your successful book tour and priceless book (of course!).

  • Rasheeda

    Goodness gracious my heart hurts just a little bit thinking of how much I miss that city! Now off I go to get my husband to take me to New Orleans for our anniversary…

  • Class of 1980


    Genius. Would love to see December. ;)

  • Kimberly

    Gorgeous, gorgeous photos–they capture the LIFE of the city! NOLA is now on my bucket list!

  • Hypothetical Sarah

    Oh, New Orleans (swoon). That’s where the boy and I had our first real date while on an Alternative Spring Break rebuilding trip. Suuuuper fond memories of that city. And those little girls are super cute.

    I’ve referenced APW enough to turn my little sister into a reader. I was ready to send her and a gaggle of her Tulane friends to a NOLA book reading… and then I saw that there wasn’t one. I’m pretty sure they had as much fun as you at Krewe Du Vieux!

  • April

    Oh. My. WOW. I’ve still not visited the Big Easy but clearly – need to get myself there. And soon.

    Just loved the photos, loved the write-up here about the city, loved hearing about your experience and then WHAM: got whupped upside the head with a dose of 5-year old wisdom at the end and teared up. AWESOME. :-)

  • I haven’t been since we eloped. If I win the Amtrak getaway, that’s where we’ll be going. If not, I’ll have to save my pennies and get there soon, because I miss it and all those photos are not helping. :)

  • Rachel

    I love new orleans SO much. One highlight of my trip was seeing Kermit Ruffins at MidCity Lanes. Even the bowling alleys in NOLA have live music. for those of you planning your itinerary, the frenchman hotel on frenchman street is a great location.

  • Ms. A

    This totally OT, but _the_ APW book has been in the top 100 bestselling books in its category on Amazon for 39 days, and is still #1 in wedding planning (it’s sub-sub category, its #2 in weddings overall). It also has a shipping delay of 6-11 days bc, I am guessing, they can’t keep it in stock. That is pretty amazing. YAY!

  • Well this post really makes me want to give New Orleans another try… Looks like you all had so much fun and the photos are fabulous Maddie!! Goodness! And kids ARE the wisest, aren’t they?!

  • Erika

    Happy happy love love love. I love New Orleans! I too Maddie had a similar feeling about visiting NOLA for the first time. Except mine was for my BACHELORETTE party over Halloween weekend! Bam! Lets just say it was out of this world FUN and I have a scar to prove it. :) (my husband went over labor day for his bachelor party during southern decadence). But man….I LOVE that city. I’m not sure if you live here in the Bay Area, but I just went to an awesome NOLA event called SANFRANOLA down in the mission a couple of weeks ago. Our cities are so similar that there will be more events! So glad you guys had a blast!
    Put on by: http://gnoinc.org/

  • Noemi

    Ok, I have been reading this blog since 2009, and this is the first post to actually make me tear up. I always thought I was some sort of cold-hearted freak, not crying about deceased loved ones or happy marriages, but hearing the wise words of a little girl? Totally got to me.
    I am going to stand up on my chair and sing my own song. Thank you, Meg!!!

  • Claire

    Love the photos! It’s like Maddie captured a little slice of the city’s soul and shared a taste with all of us. Yum!

    Now I’m off to brush up on my public singing skills.

  • LIndsey M

    I visited New Orleans for the first time in March of 2007, for a work conference. At the time I was super unhappy with my job, where I was currently living, and my life in general. I felt the same way Maddie did about New Orleans, that I belonged here. I wandered into a shop on Royal street and bought this little piece of art that said “only you can change your life, no one can change it for you.”
    Now that is hanging up in my bathroom, in the house I bought in New Orleans last year with my husband. Not kidding. I love this city.

    • Erika

      That’s amazing. Rock the freak on! And I’m a weeeee bit jealous :)

    • Kelly

      That is awesome Lindsey! I came here for grad school and, if I’m honest, to avoid a five year relationship ending in a marriage proposal I knew was coming and didn’t want. New Orleans was the farthest and most exciting option, so I jumped on the opportunity. I’m so thankful I did – moving here has changed me in so many wonderful ways that I could not imagine my life without this place. I too love this city. :) Cheers!

  • “Or maybe it’s what I really suppose: that New Orleans is actually the most romantic city in the world.”

    It totally is! My biggest piece of evidence is that New Orleans is where my proposal story starts. Actually, it’s kind of where our whole ‘love story’ starts – except only the hubs was there, while I answered his drunk-and-I-think-I-love-you phone calls.

    And I had no idea that there was a wedding chapel in the French Quarter! If I’d known about it, we would have had our wedding there – such excellent symmetry. Perhaps a vow renewal the next time we’re down there…

  • How awesome! I always wanted to visit New Orléans…and Meg, would you share your itinerary with us all, so that we can save it for when we go…please: :D

    Also, Maggie, the next time you go to Paris for a mini-getaway, drop me a line and I’ll write you an itinerary of the city so that you can love it as much as I do! I also love NY but I haven’t been there in 12 (long) years so I’m guessing any itinerary of mine would be obsolete, but I was told, though, that my favorite café (Veselka, in the East Village) is still there…so that you know ;)



    • Also, that last bit about standing on your chair and belting out your own song? YES.

      Also, also? Your starry top is GORGEOUS.

      • meg

        Frankly, I wasn’t dressed right for that parade at all. I should have been wearing my sparkle dress and showing a ton of skin. But, in my defense, I had NO IDEA I was going to end up at a parade. Next time, I’ll do it right.

    • AND, these PHOTOS. I just lost the rest of my day, right here.

  • Amelia

    I’ve always WANTED to visit New Orleans. Now I think I HAVE to.

  • ASH

    Just because I’ve thought about Claire’s post often, and this post broke my heart all over again seeing her and her nieces…can we get an update sometime from her?

  • I know what it means to miss New Orleans… I spent my college years at Tulane and they were probably the best four years of my life. I get back there occasionally, but never enough to satisfy my soul. I miss my second home! Thanks for the recap and the wonderful photos- you made me smile.

  • Esther

    Love this blog and am 3 chapters into the book! It’s making wedding planning a lot more fun.

  • Amy March

    Nitty gritty though- how’s the soundproofing on Amtrak? Cause if I’m on my honeymoon (or the worlds most awesome first date) I’d like to feel free to make some noise.

    • meg

      Lady, it’s a TRAIN COMPARTMENT. I mean, let’s be reasonable here. Unlike a plane, you can have some fun. Let’s not ask for the moon.

  • Rachel

    That story of beauty from the five-year-old girl is truely something. Wow. An incredible way to sum up the book tour for sure, and all of APW at that. To Meg, I am in love with the way you are doing life, for what you are making of it and the things you are doing with it. Yay to doing what your heart says it should.

  • “I stood up on my chair and sang a small song about the chickens in the brunch garden”

    *stands up on the desk and gives a barbaric yalp* “O Captain! My Captain!”

  • Geepuff

    Fella and I go down to NOLA as often as we can and crash at friends’ teensy tiny house in the Marigny…I think I recognize some of those places! Love it!

    • meg

      Yup, we were in the Marigny. It’s one of my favorite places. Any thing but the Quarter. I hate the Quarter, the end.

      • Erin

        I am born and raised NOLA and after Katrina I lived in the Marigny. It’s my personal haven. I love the Quarter anytime but tourist season (no offense to any tourists). Every neighborhood in New Orleans has it’s own life and personality, including the Quarter and the Marigny. My husband and I had our second wedding (our first was here in Paris where we live now) in NOLA in May last year and we haven’t been able to go back since. When you are from New Orleans and no longer live there it’s like being a fish out of water. You must go back to be able to breathe. There is no place like it. Everyone should go at least once.

  • I love the French Quarter. I dream of one day shooting a wedding there.

  • Wow those pictures are amazing! You really get the emotion from them. I wish I could find my courage to stand on my chair and sing my song. Great post. x

  • Tamara Van Horn

    I love the Quarter, but love so much about New Orleans overall…it was so great to see this wonderful post! And then…ugly cry at the wisdom of a five-year-old. Thanks Meg. Again with the ugly cries on APW!

  • Claire

    You sing it, Meg!

  • Danielle Ericsson

    Your story makes me long to visit New Orleans…sounds like a great trip idea!