Jackson Square, March 2008

By nature, I am a peripatetic traveler. I have to fight the desire to pack it all in, to see everything, and I usually exhaust myself in the process. I can put a thousand miles on a rental car over a long weekend. Thankfully, rental car agencies have yet to compare notes.

But for some reason, this impulse disappears when I go to New Orleans. I have tried to describe it in the past. To sit and watch and soak in the sights and sounds, rather than rushing from one attraction to the next. I would say it is the heat, which is certainly true during visits made in the summer; but recently I have been visiting in the spring, when temperatures and even the humidity are relatively comfortable.

I’ve been to New Orleans eight times and I’ve never gone to Mardi Gras World or many of the museums. I find myself sitting in a café or on the levee or on a bench in Jackson Square or Audubon Park. I pretty much gave up trying to understand this behavior; instead I’ve learned to accept my ability to sit or maybe, in a fit of hyperactivity, saunter through neighborhoods looking at doorways, iron railings, or gardens. But just this week, I read a column in the online edition of the San Francisco Chronicle that helped explain my behavior. Or, at least, it has provided me an excuse.

Cafe du Monde, March 2008.

It was written by travel editor Spud Hilton and appropriately entitled “New Orleans: The place to perfect the gentle art of going nowhere.” Lately I figured I had perfected it, but Crescent City sloth is apparently endemic. To Hilton, if “going nowhere” is defined as an art form, then New Orleans would be considered its Louvre. To him it involves: reading the Times-Picayune from front page to classifieds while seated at Community Coffee (I’ve done that); taking the St. Charles streetcar with a limited idea of where you are going (I’ve done that!); or finding a restaurant with cheap drinks and spending the afternoon (I need to work on this).

So now I am challenged to add to my repertoire. No, I’ll still head to a nearby bench when there is people-watching or sun absorbing to be done. I can still take the ferry to Algiers without disembarking. And I can sit through several sets or even acts at one of the music halls on Frenchmen Street. And now I don’t have to feel guilty.

Now I know it’s expected.