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Finding the (New Orleans) love on a global trek

La Rocchetta, the farm in Alto Lazio, Italy, where the family fell in love with Tony Chachere’s seasoning. (Photo by MIchelle Noon)

New Orleans love.

Even after traversing the globe, nowhere else has captured my heart in the same way and to the same degree. New Orleans has a flavor all its own.

Long before I moved to New Orleans in 2004 to attend Loyola University, each summer of my childhood was never complete without a trip to the “Magical City.”

Growing up in Dallas meant that whenever my mother had a spontaneous desire to visit New Orleans, a mere eight-hour drive away, we would simply jump in the car head out. Eight hours? That was nothing when New Orleans was the destination. In no time, it seemed, we were pulling into Mandina’s parking lot, our mouths salivating for the restaurant’s famous turtle or oyster and artichoke soup. Like I said: flavor.

I left New Orleans, having weathered several hurricanes, including Katrina, with a degree in music therapy 2009. I wanted to travel. After three months in Dallas to live at home and save every penny from two jobs, I was ready to head out to new landscapes.

The author rides in the desert, in a photograph taken by New Orleans friend Todd Geasland.

Ever since, I’ve been traveling around the world, a couple of months here and a couple of months there, with a brief pit stop or two in the U.S. in order to recoup my funds. During three years of travel and adventure, I have searched for places, people, and ways of life equal to the magic one finds in New Orleans. After exploring four or five continents and encountering amazing experiences, I truly believe in the uniqueness of New Orleans.

One thing I was not prepared for, however, was for its presence to follow me around the world.

I have encountered New Orleanians across the globe — in Morocco, Istanbul, and Mongolia. While working on a farm in Italy, I took a local train to Florence in order to watch the Super Bowl at Il Fauno, a pub owned by my father’s friend, Mimmo. Mimmo graciously stayed open into the early hours, Italian time, so I could cheer on the Saints and watch them win the championship.

While working at a hotel in Marrakech, I decided to use my vacation time for a foray into the desert. Unfortunately, my Moroccan friend was unable to accompany me. On the verge of giving up my desert trek, I discovered that a friend of a friend whom I’d met briefly two months earlier at Mardi Gras on the streets during the Bacchus parade was in London. Would he consider coming to Marrakech within three days to go on an excursion through the Sahara? Of course! He was from New Orleans, wasn’t he? Within 30 minutes of planning logistics, my new friend had bought a ticket from London to Marrakech.

Mongolia-Eagle Hunters home at the border of Mongolia and Kazakhstan. From left to right, the Eagle, the son of Mana (the Eagle Hunter), the author’s friend Manus McCaffery (from New Orleans), the author, Mana and his wife (Photo by Todd Geasland)

A few months later, in Istanbul, I met another friend of a friend who had lived in the Big Easy a year earlier. What greater pleasure than to reminisce about New Orleans with someone who knows it well?

Later, after riding the trans-Siberian railway with Russians who made Mardi Gras partiers seem like the most placid affairs on Earth, I was elated to uncover another friend of a friend with a New Orleans connection in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Finding a kindred spirit who can respond with the appropriate response to “Who Dat?” can, I discovered, be a transcendent experience.

Apart from the amazing people with whom I have been able to muse over every aspect of New Orleans, the city and life there, I have also found a way to prevent my pining for New Orleans from overcoming the exciting aspects of my travels and new discoveries: a can of Tony Chachere’s and gumbo file accompanied me in my backpack as I crossed six countries. When I brought out my sturdy canister of Tony’s in Italy to show the family with whom I lived and worked, I was nervous. Italy is rightly famous for its irreplaceable ingredients and delectable dishes. What would Claudio think of this strange American spice?

He loved it. I had to have my parents ship another. The 70-year-old Italian man of the house, a former restaurant owner in Rome and an incredible chef, displayed the can of Tony’s on the table at every lunch.

Of course, so much more defines New Orleans than spices, fellow travelers, expatriates, the Saints, and intense weather.

The sounds of New Orleans can never be replicated. No other city in the world can beat the exuberant and vital musical life of the Crescent City. Often, across the globe, I dreamed about Le Bon Temps on a Thursday night, John Rankin at the Columns…..or Zydepunks at D.B.A…..or the Trio at the Maple Leaf. The list could (of course!) go on and on.

Istanbul rooftops (photo by Todd Geasland)

I have seen some of the most beautiful places on the planet, met the most incredible people, and eaten the most exquisite foods, but even musical events that resemble something one might attend in New Orleans only provide a pale replica. In Istanbul, I squinted my eyes and listened to a Turkish rock band’s clarinet player squeal away on impressive runs of Turkish folk scales (something akin to what the Zydepunks put out from time to time). I gazed around
through the lights and saw a dingy rooftop bar that after a few beers could have passed as the upstairs of the Dragon’s Den. But when music stops and my watch says 1 a.m., closing time…..the illusion dissipates immediately.

Really? Such a disappointment when one has been weaned on a 24-hour city.

Am I complaining about how lucky I am to travel? Of course not.

Every day I am grateful for the endless stories I have stored away from what I’ve seen and learned from different cultures and experiences. At the same time, my travels also justify themselves more each time I meet New Orleanians across this vast globe.

I only miss the city that won my heart first. I hope that I bring a little bit of New Orleans (and not just Tony Chachere’s) to all the people I meet along the way. As most of you know, once you love New Orleans, there’s nothing you can do to shake its flavor.

Medora Davison submitted this article to NolaVie.


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