I've never been to NEW ORLEANS

What a place! Unfortunately for New Orleans, nowadays, the first thing people think of when they think of the town is Katrina. But the funny thing is, I would never have known there was ever a disaster in that town if someone hadn't told me, because everything is back in full swing, and in fact, most of the more visited areas weren't really as affected by the flooding. I'm not diminishing the grand scale of the disaster, I'm just doing a little PR for the city here, and reporting that in fact it is still the same sin-filled playground it has always been.

My weekend started on Friday, when I woke up very early in the morning, arriving in NOLA at 9:30 AM. My best friend Georgia and her fiance Micah, who was born and raised in New Orleans, picked me up and brought me back to their lovely new apartment. It's about 4 times as big and as nice as my place in NYC and for the same thing I pay, so I could immediately see the allure of moving outside of New York just for the comfort of things like space and dishwashers. We dove right into Louisiana culture by picking up some crawfish, corn and potatoes, and bringing them to the Levee, where we sat on the grass and feasted. I had never eaten crawfish before, and I can only explain it as a combination of eating a shrimp, crab, and lobster - but it really has it's own distinct flavor. The Louisiana preparation is full of spices and flavor (I think there's this mix of seasonings that they boil the crawfish in), and I even got the hang of yanking off the tails to reveal the meaty deliciousness, and sucking the juice out of the heads. I was still pretty exhausted from my early morning traveling, so I got to view a lot of the cool old houses and neighborhoods from the car, and we stuck around their place for dinner.

Saturday was spent in the French Quarter. We started the morning by having the famous beignets at Cafe du Monde. I think if I lived in New Orleans, it would be very difficult for me not to eat those puppies every day. Golden chunks of fried dough drowning in powdered sugar, washed down with an iced coffee or cafe ole. I went on to eat beignets several more times during my trip - I haven't weighed myself since leaving. We wandered around and shopped for a lot of the day, and then met some friends of ours who have moved to New Orleans and now have a baby - Amanda and Aaron - for a very decadent New Oreanian dinner at a restaurant called Galatois. We walked down Bourbon street,
and even on this night in what is considered the off season,
Bourbon street was utterly filled with people carrying alarmingly large alcoholic beverages in plastic cups, and people standing on balconies waiting for some nudity which might warrant some bead throwing.Every other establishment is a strip club, although a lot of them have chic french names like cafe deaux deaux, adding to their allure. At one point we passed a man holding a large cross which eventually formed into a circle of men creating a prayer group. Good luck fellas - these dens of iniquity weren't even washed away by a life altering natural disaster - I'm not sure how much your metal cross is going to accomplish!

Sunday was quite the opposite of Saturday's debauchery feast because we spent it in nature. Micah took Georgia and I to the Jean Lafite swamp and nature preserve to see if we could spot some real live alligators up close and personal. It felt like it was 115 degrees in the shade and about 425% humidity while we walked along the swamp path, but it was worth it because we saw about 4 alligators - one so close I could have reached out and touched him. And this isn't like at a zoo where the animals are behind glass - this is a wooden footbridge over the swamp with no railings or walls - just you, nature, and the alligators, who hopefully aren't feeling hungry. We also saw these crazy huge spiders in large numbers, and dragonflies that were so incredibly colorful, I was getting ideas on what colors I wanted to paint my bedroom. But the most exciting thing was seeing this huge monster alligator (he was, thankfully, across the swamp) fully open his jaws in a kind of yawn, revealing all his teeth and just how many people he could fit in that mouth if he were so inclined.

Monday, when Micah went back to work, Georgia and I spent literally all day wedding dress shopping. It was funny - because we are opera singers and are very used to wearing gowns - even some white wedding gowns from time to time - we were very pragmatic about the selection and fit of the dresses, and there was very little squealing and no crying. But I did have a moment of disbelief that this person who I've known for almost 15 years, who I met when we were these young impressionable freshmen in college, is taking this big life step, and at one point I exclaimed, "You're trying on wedding dresses! This is so surreal." I took my maid of honor duties seriously and tried to help her decide on the best dress, but it was difficult because she looked gorgeous in everything. I may not have cried when I saw her trying to dresses on because it felt a lot like a costume fitting, but during the ceremony I'll definitely plan on waterproof mascara, that I'm sure of.

All in all I got to see this fantastic and crazy city, I got to spend some quality time with my best friend and her future husband, and I got to eat a lot of really delicious food, and get drunk in the middle of the day. Who could ask for much more from a weekend getaway?