New Orleans with Cancer and No Booze

My recent trip to New Orleans proves it is possible to have a rich life while living with stage 4 lung cancer. Although I couldn’t drink because of the medication I’m on, I still had a great time.

I flew down on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. I hate flying and it’s been several years since I had to get on a plane. I had some anti-anxiety medication left over from when I was also on steroids, and I took one before I got on the plane. It worked wonders, and I wasn’t nervous at all on the way down or on the return flight. In the air, I finished an audiobook about the Arcadian settlement of Louisiana.

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A street preacher on Bourbon Street.

We arrived early in the afternoon on Tuesday so we still had half a day to explore New Orleans. Bourbon Street was one of our first stops, but I wasn’t impressed. It was pretty busy for a Tuesday night in the off season, but it wasn’t much more than cheap liquor and bad music. Plus, it stank!

We had dinner at Crescent City Brewing Company  where I had an alligator sausage po’boy. It was unremarkable, except that the sausage was a little tough and chewy.

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Beignets all day every day.

Then we had beignets for dessert at Café du Monde. They were an interesting treat and tasted like a crispy donut. My dad loved them so much we went back almost every day, and they lost some of their unique appeal as a result.

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My kind of parade.

As we were eating beignets, a parade of illuminated bicycles rode up Decatur Street. The cyclists had strings of LED lights attached to their wheels that lit up the night. Some cyclists hauled small speakers on trailers behind them that blasted music, while others used megaphones to produce wacky special effects and other noises. It was a joyful, and entirely unexpected, event, and was just one of several serendipitous experiences we would have before we left New Orleans. These “social” bike rides have been occurring several nights a week for the last seven years.

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A great place for arts and music.

On Wednesday, we explored Jackson Square and the French Market. We visited the old US Mint which had some interesting historical displays and artifacts about the process of minting coins. It also had two modest displays about Jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and Pete Fountain. We went to Central Grocery for lunch and split a single enormous muffuletta sandwich between the four of us. It had ham, salami, provolone, mortadella, mozzarella, and olive spread. I’m not a fan of olives but I enjoyed it none the less and suggest you should try it next time you’re in the Big Easy.

On the way back to the hotel, we stumbled upon a tiny National Park visitors center in the middle of the French Quarter. Named for the legendary pirate Jean Lafitte, the visitors center provided a good overview of Louisiana’s diverse cultural history, including Native American, African, French, and Spanish influences.

However, after only a day in New Orleans, the city’s luster had already begun to fade a bit. It’s impossible to ignore the large numbers of homeless people as well as beggars in the city. The French Quarter was also crowded with cheesy stores full of cheap trinkets for tourists, such as t-shirts and pralines. It reminded me a lot of Pigeon Forge. At the same time, there were lots of high-end art galleries, fashion stores, and restaurants. Later we visited the Garden District, and I was overwhelmed by the stark inequality. Massive mansions, decadent palaces, and enormous castles lined St. Charles Avenue. On the other hand, the homeless lived in tents under the freeway. The huge gap between the rich and poor disgusted me. Of course, it’s not just a problem that needs to be addressed in New Orleans, but across the country and around the world.

We ate dinner at the House of Blues and I had some pretty good salmon and Cuban beans. We walked around the French Quarter some more and stopped back at the Crescent City Brewing Company. As you will see, my dad has a habit of latching onto something once he likes it, while I prefer to try something new.

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A Sherman tank – very common and uninteresting.

On Thursday, we visited the National World War II Museum, which was one of my top destinations. It was a mixed experienced. The introductory session at the museum was very interesting and visitors board a train just like recruits did during the war. Each visitor was assigned a “dog tag” that allowed him or her to follow the story of a real WWII veteran. However, the museum was so crowded that it was impossible to find and use the interactive stations that told each veteran’s story. I was impressed that the museum included a section about the merchant marine, because it was an essential part of the war effort that usually doesn’t get much attention. The museum also did a good job of balancing local and national perspectives in the exhibits. Lunch at the Soda Shop turned out to be our worst meal in New Orleans. The service was very slow, the tiny shop was crowded, and the food was very expensive and bland. My uncle Dave exclaimed that it was indeed possible to have a bad meal in New Orleans!

The museum included a rather modest collection of tanks and plans. I was expecting more than just a Sherman, Stuart, and a few fighters. None of the vehicles on display were that interesting or rare. I also achieved a small personal victory over my fear of heights when I walked out across the catwalk that was suspended several stories above the ground. My one regret was not paying the extra $5 for the USS Tang experience, which recreated the tragic sinking of an American submarine in the Pacific.

We skipped the Nazi propaganda exhibit and the display about the Pacific Theater because we were running out of time, energy, and emotional stamina. The exhibit on the European Theater was quite comprehensive, albeit a bit superficial since it’s hard to accomplish both depth and breadth. The most interesting exhibit was the 4-D movie narrated by Tom Hanks. It only lasted an hour and was therefore also very superficial. However, it was very frank about the horrors of war and had lots of entertaining technical gimmicks. The nose of a bomber plane was lowered on cables when the movie discussed the strategic bombing campaign. The nose made it feel like the bomber was actually coming out of the screen towards the audience. Artificial snow fell when the segment on the Battle of the Bulge began. The chairs were equipped with motors that shook violently when the film depicted the detonation of the atomic bomb.

After being exhausted both mentally and physically by the WWII museum, we took the trolley car back to the French Quarter. It was very cheap at $3 for a day pass and every efficient. Trollies moved quickly and arrived at regular intervals of about 20 minutes. The weather was also warm and breezy, so riding in the trolley was also very pleasant, even if it was crowded. It’s an essential resource for anyone visiting New Orleans.

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Circa 1855 soda fountain.

Back in the French Quarter, we stopped at the pharmacy museum. My paternal grandfather had been dean of the college of pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati where my brother is now studying to follow in his footsteps. Although we only had a few minutes before the museum closed, we had fun exploring the collection of medical equipment, bottles, and advertisements.

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Book heaven.

Our next stop, Arcadian Books, was another priority for me, and is said to be one of the best foreign language book stores in the Crescent City. As a Francophile, I originally planned to get a book published in French, but instead, I bought The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans by Lawrence Powell. The store was small and filled with books, and the owner was very knowledgeable and helpful.

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Everybody in the band is white because they’re German.

Upon exiting the bookstore, we immediately encountered the Louisiana Funky Butts, a brass band from Stuttgart, Germany. This was one of several fortuitous musical encounters we had before leaving the city. It’s amazing to find such great music out in the streets. The bands we found simply by strolling the streets were much better than the mediocre cover bands playing on Bourbon Street.

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Totally not phallic in any way.

After dinner, we went back to Jackson Square where we had yet another surprising musical encounter. Two musicians were performing in front of the Presbytère museum. One musician was on a drum kit while the other was playing the kora, a west African stringed instrument that sounds like a harp. I had never encountered the kora before and it was an interesting performance that highlighted the wonderful cultural diversity of New Orleans.

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10 pound rifled artillery.

Friday was our last full day in New Orleans, and we started out by visiting the Confederate Civil War Museum. It was small but packed full of weapons and various personal artifacts that humanized the soldiers and brought the Civil War to life. Several Louisiana units also received special attention.

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Very ornate.

Afterwards, we rode the trolley out to the Garden District and eventually arrived at Loyola and Tulane Universities. We stepped into the beautiful and massive Holy Name of Jesus cathedral which is located in between the two schools. It was a quiet and peaceful moment of reflection. The two beautiful campuses are located right across from Audubon Park.

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Dad at the Audubon Park.

The park was gorgeous and peaceful. It was filled with southern live oak trees that dipped their limbs down towards the ground. Some of them live for hundreds of years. The park was filled with ducks and turtles too. It was a peaceful and relaxing place. On the way back to the hotel, we took the trolley and looked at the decadent homes that lined St. Charles Avenue.

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The meat lovers special.

I wanted to have at least one slightly upscale and adventurous meal before we left and Cochon was on at the top of my list. My dad wanted to go back to the restaurant where we had lunch earlier on Friday, but my uncle Dave helped me gently persuade him to give Cochon a try. It was an amazing way to end the trip. The entire restaurant smelled like a smoky palace and the wonderful aroma stayed on my clothes until I got back to Cincinnati and did my laundry. I ordered the beef brisket with horseradish potato salad and split a boucherie plate with uncle Dave that had pork shoulder, pork check, pate, head cheese, intestines, and pickles. I tried it all and loved most of it. The pate was good, and the head cheese was very spicy. The pork cheek was delicious and salty, but the intestines weren’t really my thing. They were pretty chewy and didn’t have much flavor. My dad surprised me by ordering a boucherie plate as his main dish! I really appreciate that he was willing to try something new with me. The brisket was amazing – very smoky and flavorful.

Although I was sad to leave New Orleans, I also felt encouraged. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, because time felt so precious I felt the urgent need to accomplish things that I had left undone. I was worried that I might fall back into my old inertia-driven habits as the prognosis became more optimistic. New Orleans was an initial victory and proved that I can follow through with my new priorities. Because I was a Francophile, I had always wanted to visit New Orleans but never took the initiative to actually do it until after my diagnosis. There is a lot more that I want to accomplish and it feels good to get the ball rolling. Next stop Paris!

New Orleans was a relaxing break and a great distraction from dwelling on my diagnosis, job search, and anxieties over my personal relationships. It was very refreshing and invigorating!

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Lunch with uncle Dave.

The trip was also great because it was such a good family experience. My dad and uncle Dave went with me. I am extremely lucky to have my family that will help me fulfill me dreams. My dad and uncle Dave helped me plan and finance the trip. I was a little worried about spending so much time together and was afraid that we might butt heads over what to do, but it was very fun. I haven’t taken a family vacation for years and never one with uncle Dave. During the trip, I got to hear lots of interesting family stories, especially about my paternal grandparents who are now both deceased. I learned that grandpa Glasser flunked pilot school during WWII because he hit another plane during a landing exercise. I also found out that my dad ate reindeer hearts while at a conference in Sweden!

The only regret I have from the trip is not visiting Mid City Rock and Bowl or partaking in a crawfish boil. I’m not sure I’d like crawfish, but I want to try it in the spirit of living my new life without regrets. I have a three-month checkup later this month and it looks like the results should be positive. I think it would be a fitting celebration to partake in the weekly crawfish boil at BrewRiver Gastro Pub. Perhaps I can recruit a few friends to participate with me!

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