While my neighborhood market sells King Cake during Carnival season, the people of Portland don’t really celebrate Mardi Gras. So, what’s with the title of this post? The answer—I just came back from New Orleans and while I was there, everyone I met loved hearing that I was from Portland. Many said, “Is it really like Portlandia?” or “I really want to go there”, which is exactly what most of my friends here said when I told them I was going to New Orleans. So, is Portland like Portlandia? Sort of, just taken to a wonderful extreme.
It amuses me that I went to the Big Easy during Carnival. I’m an introvert who tends to stay away from crowds, which is why I left New York and moved to Portland. It never occurred to me to dive into the Mardi Gras mayhem, but when my husband told me he had a conference in New Orleans, there was nothing that would prevent me from joining him. I’m not sure why the conference was scheduled during Mardi Gras, but hey, I’m not going to complain. I had a hoot.
Both Portland and New Orleans have things in common: art galleries, live music, a strong food culture, good coffee, and the scent of marijuana. But New Orleans has more of everything packed into a small area, which makes it a great walking city, and you can get beignets and coffee at 1:00 AM any day of the week. While there I spent my days going from gallery to gallery, talking to artists, and my nights with my husband dining in fun restaurants or listening to live music. Oh yeah, did I mention the parades. During Carnival in NOLA, parades happen…often. Many people plan to watch them, but even if you don’t plan it, you’ll see them anyway. There’s no avoiding the flying beads and marching bands. Who would want to?
It surprised me how easy it was to leave the mayhem when I needed a break from it. Most tourists flock to the French Quarter, and while I did wander the streets there, especially Royal Street with all of its galleries, I enjoyed strolling along the river or visiting the other neighborhoods. I loved the restaurants, museums, and artist owned galleries in the Warehouse District and the music along Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. While Portland has many streets with restaurant after restaurant, we don’t have anything like Frenchmen Street, a stretch of bars with live music every night. And the quality of that music is over the top.
We passed through a number of other neighborhoods on the streetcar, neighborhoods that may not have recovered from Katrina as well as others. All of the neighborhoods that draw tourism have been revitalized, but what about places where lower income people live? I wonder how much gentrification resulted from the rebuilding of the city. But then, isn’t gentrification happening in most cities? It certainly is happening in Portland, a topic I discuss in a guest blog I did for Backwords, Williams Avenue—Culture Found and Culture Lost.
Still, there’s much to love about New Orleans, and despite how enamored I am with Portland, I look forward to returning to the Big Easy. Though, maybe next time I’ll go during Halloween.