Full of Soul
Vacation- Sipping on shaken spirits until our sensibilities are freed from fear and failure.
Luxurious living leased temporarily treating our tiredness –Vacation.
What makes a good vacation? Sipping spirits is often high on our priority list. And good food, sunshine, good music…It’s different for everyone, of course. I have friends who wouldn’t dream of a vacation without a hearty 17-mile hike. Others can’t be in a new city without visiting an iconic stadium…But is there anything that transcends personal preference that offers true rest and rejuvenation? And what about the commitments that drive our daily lives: loving others, supporting the local economy, listening and learning and growing. When we clock out and fly away does our plane ticket double a free-pass to forget those ideals for a week?
Back in April, I went to New Orleans for a lovely 4-day trip and these questions bounced around in my head. Shaking Spirits was freshly minted and I was hoping to come away with some magical insights into spirit-shaking traveling. Magical or not, here it is:
New Orleans: The city whose food and music are full of soul. A city climbing back up the ranks of the most visited locales in the US. I tagged along with my roommate, “V”, as we call her in the house. The award-winning employee that she is- (among her victories: nursing rookie of the year) scored a free trip to attend a conference. An additional, unclaimed queen-sized bed was calling my name.
In preparation for the trip we spent some time with Anthony Bourdain and his 2007 episode of No Reservations. Bourdain has that way about him, visiting NOLA 2 years post-Katrina. The episode was as expected: raw and redemptive, hopelessly hopeful. We shed a tear or two and took notes- Frenchman street was a local-er alternative to Bourbon, and there was a little café called Reconcile that we’d be sure to visit.
I returned from our trip on a Tuesday and on Wednesday I sat down to write. I decided that a post about the Big Easy should be carefree. I would include pictures of the carousel bar, where I sat atop a magical animal as it rotated around the bustling barkeeps. It moved at a pace any child would scoff at, but all of us adults found appropriate: 15 minutes per revolution. My ride was accompanied by a Vieux Carre- swirled with Bullet Rye, Hennessey, Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura & Peychaud’s- the signature cocktail of the oldest (and only?) kiddy-ride inspired bar and lounge.
This easy-going post would continue with images of the beautiful antebellum mansions we strolled past on our tour of the Garden District.
And then I'd finish off the post with a nice slideshow honoring the places and people that make New Orleans what it is: a great city.
You see, I thought I could content myself by writing only about these truly wonderful New experiences in the American Orléans. Keeping with the reasons tourists travel to this Southern city and forsake their 9-5’s long enough to rest or revel in the free-spirited, French-founded Louisiana legend.
But NOLA whispered something else to me that kept rustling my thoughts. My initial attempts at discerning the language, turned weeks of researching and learning about the shifting dynamics of a city not my own.
The hospitality industry: welcoming strangers and their money to come, enjoy, and leave. I don't feel this way about my out-of-towners. Truly. My coworkers always look at me crooked when I tell them where table 27 is from and each of their middle names. But I know I’m the exception. I also know that I’ve been blessed to have jobs in the industry that have produced hearty paychecks.
But at many of the popular tourists spots we visited, there was a the less-than hospitable energy. It made me stop and think. I began to imagine how these servers, many much older than the job demands dictate, felt about me. About all the tourism, about the work they do, the “salary” they make. In my research, I found that the hospitality industry has replaced many other "blue-collar" jobs in New Orleans for significantly lower pay. This is a contributing factor that makes New Orleans the 2nd worst city in The States for income equality. According to the linked article, 40 percent of the population earns just 7.5 percent of the income.
I continued to reflect on the dynamics of the city and my mind took me back to 2005, to the news coverage in the days following Katrina. Most vivid in my mind are the images of the looting "thugs". Even at 15 years old, it felt strange to me that in the days following the natural disaster that claimed 1,836 lives, the media chose to make Black crime the focal point. When the Ferguson riots recently took the spotlight, the same message seemed to be repeated: America- a certain ethnic minority is crying, "injustice," but as you can clearly see they are really the problem- look at how they are behaving, defacing their own city!
I clicked through the real images of the post-Katrina devastation. The desperation, the death. I thought again about the men and women working to welcome tourists all while they can barely make ends meet. I thought, how would I feel about me if I were them. What would I think? New Orlean's almost inaudible whispers finally took the form of words as I quieted my mind.
You want me now that I’m beautiful again, less broken, less Black
In a world where joy and sorrow are never far apart, how do we enjoy our travels with integrity? Here are a few (of many) thoughts:
Vote With Your Dollars (Be intentional)
With great gifts comes great responsibility. Traveling is a gift. Many of the men and women who create our leisure experience only dream of flying across the country, just for fun. I read a story about a young man working hard for $10 an hour in a hotel in New Orleans. He didn’t make enough to cover his expenses in the rising rental market of his city. This young man was providing leisure for his guests but didn’t have a place to lay his head. Do we consider him when we decide what hotels to “vote for” with our vacation dollars? Are we generous with our gratuities? Do we take time to find out which businesses keep the most money in the local economy, which ones offer competitive wages and benefits to the people in their communities that are more vulnerable to wage disparities?
Come as a Learner (Do Voodoo)
There are aspects of every local culture that are largely misunderstood. One of my favorite parts of our trip was our voodoo walking tour, lead by a certified voodoo Priest. There usually isn’t a better way to learn about someone’s cultural or religious practice than from a leader within that community. Not only did we debunk the myths of voodoo and learn first-hand what its practitioners actually believe, but we learned about how voodoo was integral to the internal abolitionist movement within New Orleans. It was fascinating to hear about the cunning of these Voodoo Queens (Priestesses) and the role they played towards fighting for justice and freedom for all. True American heroes. Among these figures, Marie Laveau is one of the most intriguing and influential figures in New Orleans history.
Walk the Business District
When I'm in a new place, I love to explore the business district and neighboring areas. When I walk past people at work- entrepreneurs, local and global business headquarters, and the eateries that sustain their hardworking citizens, I get a real sense of the city's identity. It was in this neighborhood that I peered into one of Emeril’s restaurants, stopped in the award-winning Cochon, enjoyed a cappuccino at the beautiful Stumptown Coffee Roasters, enjoyed a sazerac at Barrel Proof cocktail bar, and dined at the aforementioned Cafe Reconcile.
This aptly named café was in the eerily quiet Central City neighborhood. It serves up delicious Southern Cuisine while providing on the job-training for young men and women (ages 16-22) from "severely at risk communities." All because a Reverend recognized the hospitality industry as an opportunity for stable employment. Hospitality for all, justice for all.
Along our walk to the café, we spied, Dryades Public Market. This once dilapidated old school-house has been transformed into a bastion of health and community. It provides the neighborhood with access to healthy foods from local farmers. As we continued walking, I saw Hope Credit Union. A credit union committed to community development through providing affordable financial services. Financial institutions have been one of the biggest continual sources of institutional injustice and racism. Hope where their wasn’t.
Every city has many stories to tell. They will never be the airbrushed version that we see in the pristine downtown tourist-centers. Brokenness will abound but so will hope and resilience. When we travel, I think we need to brave and pull back the curtain a bit. To care about the people and the place that is welcoming us in. This celebrates and fuels our humanity in a deeper way than only imbibing surface-level comforts. But of course, save plenty of time to slowly sip on shaken spirits.