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UAC 2012 (Part One): Hola From Nola

I began this post three weeks ago in New Orleans. Hence the title, which I like too much to change it even though I’ve been home for two weeks and am actually bidding you “Hola” from San Diego at this point. Part two, with deets about the conference itself, is here.

The City

What makes New Orleans awesome.

We arrived in New Orleans after two hours sleep and a long, tedious day of flying, and I’ll admit, I was underwhelmed. The muggy heat and the din of street noise were a bit … something. And not a pleasant something. My impression of the city began to improve over dinner with Kelly Surtees, her charming fiancé Peter, and their delightful friend Kira Sutherland. We found a barbecue place on a small sidestreet, where we gorged on fish and red beans and rice and numerous cocktails while flames occasionally erupted from the kitchen a few feet away. Good times.

The next morning Jonny and I rolled out of bed early and wandered the six blocks to breakfast at Cafe Du Monde – because apparently when you’re in New Orleans, it’s the law. We daintily sidestepped rivers of goo from freshly hosed sidewalks and wrinkled our noses at the city’s distinctive bouquet, the tang of a place that never really dries out. “The Virgos in Hell!” we dubbed ourselves. But the funk was worth it, because the place is not to be missed. Outdoor tables crowded together under ceiling fans, covered in a dusting of powdered sugar and dripping with sweaty touristas like us. Beignets were everything I’d hoped they would be, and my frozen cafe au lait was a delight. I was charmed.

Genteel Ruins of the Garden District

The heat and humidity were a tough adjustment, though, and we spent a lot of time in the air-conditioned hotel. Still, once we mastered a few simple survival tips (move slowly; hug the shade; stay indoors between noon and 8 pm; drink lots),  New Orleans got under our skin pretty quickly. My New Zealand-born husband had never encountered anything quite like the American South, and he developed a big crush on the place. We loved the food, the people, the art, and the slowness. We enjoyed the trolley. We adored both the languid glamor of the Garden District and the deep, stark, funk of the Treme district (read Joyce Mason’s wonderful account of her own Treme tour here. More about Joyce later in the piece).

And the food! God, I’d move there for the beignets alone.  We had hush puppies that were hot and crisp and livid with jalapenos, several iterations of meltingly light bread pudding dressed in caramel sauce, and – in what was perhaps the culinary highlight of my life to date – bacon-wrapped shrimp and grits. One morning I joined astrologers Joyce Mason, Anne Beversdorf, and Ricia Doren for a truly memorable brunch at Brennan’s on Royal Street.  Brennan’s is elegantly pink and just formal enough to make you sit up a little straighter and mind your manners. The waiters are gorgeous guys in tuxedos who all talk exactly like Wendell Pierce and served up our Eggs Benedict, Bananas Foster, and mimosas with dignity and flair. And like every single New Orleans resident I met, the octogenarian ladies room attendant wanted to know what I’d already seen so that she could offer her own recommendations.

And yammering away for hours with some of the coolest ladies in astrology? Priceless. The gathering was instigated by our mutual friend, my San Diego cohort Deborah Parker Smith, who at the last minute was unable to make it to New Orleans – salud, Deborah. You were right, Brennan’s is an experience not be missed.

View from the 34th Floor. Sweet.

Going out in New Orleans was enchanting. But after each long day of heat and lectures and a relentlessly sociable atmosphere, most nights Jonny and I grabbed a bottle of wine, ordered room service, and looked out at the twinkling city from our perch on the 34th floor, fantasizing about moving there, and feeling more than happy.

I imagine this is as familiar a story as you could ever hear about someone’s first experience of New Orleans. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of place, it seems, but for those like us in the “love it” category it’s like coming home, no matter where you come from.

Part Two continues here, with more about the conference itself and the inside scoop on some of UAC’s top speakers, including:

  • Richard Tarnas’ jazz hands!
  • Rob Hand crunching his ice!
  • Donna Van Toen on people who muck around with groups!

Three anniversary desserts. Three.

3 comments to " UAC 2012 (Part One): Hola From Nola "

  • Natori

    Hi April – Wow, you went from 34th Street in SD to the 34th Floor in N’awleans! Loved reading your blog posts.

  • “most nights Jonny and I grabbed a bottle of wine, ordered room service, and looked out at the twinkling city from our perch on the 34th floor, fantasizing about moving there, and feeling more than happy.”

    Oh, would that it were true – I’d be SO happy if ya’ll moved out this way – you’d be a scant day and a half away from me!

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