City Brilliance: New Orleans

After many years of traveling the world to meet with clients and work on projects (plus, I just like to travel) you might think that my favorite places are far-flung locations that require an overnight flight and subscription to Duolingo. It's partially true - there's nothing quite like landing in a city or country where you don't speak the language, can't make sense of the landscape, and need to adapt quickly to new cultural norms. (Jan Chipchase recently wrote a great post about this) But guess what? That can happen in this country, too.

The iconic Blue Dog by artist George Rodrigue.

The iconic Blue Dog by artist George Rodrigue.

New Orleans is America's most exotic city. Put simply, it's not like anywhere else and arriving there can be a shock to the system. The accent is southern but different somehow, and often difficult to understand. The streets feel more European than American. Mother Nature plays all her keys here -- a damp chill in winter, unbearable heat in the summer, and when it rains, it feels like the world is about to end.

To people who don't venture far outside the French Quarter, I suppose it feels like a Hollywood studio or Epcot - not real, just an escape from reality where the world is made of beignets, Hurricane cocktails, pretty plantation homes and jazz music. That's certainly part of it. But to me, New Orleans is as real as it gets. The city has a deep and complicated history, and there is a true sense of place. The best way to visit New Orleans is to see it all, even if you've only got a day or two. It's one of the world's most enriching destinations.

So, when I had a client project that was focused on improving storytelling capabilities (read: rethink their marketing message, give better presentations, increase engagement), simply running a workshop in a meeting room was not going to do it. They needed to get out in the world and find some stories of their own so they could get some fresh perspective and get back into practice. The obvious solution: an off-site, immersive working session in New Orleans. 

The famous above-ground tombstones.

The famous above-ground tombstones.

From Tennessee Williams to Anne Rice to Louis Armstrong and Lucinda Williams, New Orleans-born and bred writers, artists, and musicians have been telling their stories to the world throughout history. So, we spent our days with storytellers. We began by grounding ourselves in the place itself via a walking tour with the charming Dr Gumbo. "The Cure for the Common Tour" was a walk along the riverfront, through the colorful history of the city, finishing up - as you do - in a bar, cocktail in hand. We spent an afternoon inside The Cabildo talking about writing and storytelling with Tom Piazza, one of the lead writers on HBO's "Treme". We had lunch at the Contemporary Arts Center with a jazz band, learning about the importance of improvisation in music and art (and, innovation) in between musical interludes. 

We worked into the evening, albeit around the dinner table or at the bar, learning about the history of cocktails from one of the city's best bartenders (because bartenders = good storytellers) or doing a whisky flight with a meal to connect the flavors of food with drink. After dinner, we found our way to Frenchman Street, where I let everyone go off to find their own adventures (totally awesome and potentially dangerous).

They all made it back in one piece and the next morning, they all had stories. 

Inside Preservation Hall

Inside Preservation Hall

You don't have to go far to change your perspective or inject some adventure into your life, professional or otherwise. New Orleans is a great place to get it done. Here are a few places to add to your itinerary:

STAY in the Warehouse District or Garden District, not the French Quarter. I like Old 77 and the Henry Howard

IF YOU MEET for business, don't meet in the hotel - book a space at one of the city's amazing museums, like CACNO

DO see some music. It spills out from everywhere so it's an easy to-do, but make sure to hit Frenchman Street and Preservation Hall. Add Tipitina'sMaple Leaf, and Candlelight Lounge.

It may seem weird to visit this museum, which is located in a residential neighborhood in a former funeral home -- but, if you want to go deep into New Orleans culture in an easy and interesting way, this is a cool experience. Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme.

EAT everywhere. The food scene is outrageous, as you can imagine. I'd have to write an entire post dedicated to my favorite places in order to include them all. Here are two that I visit every time I'm in NOLA: Herbsaint and La Petite Grocery.

DRINK same as above: everywhere. Some of my favorites: Bouligny Tavern in the Garden district. French 75 in the French Quarter. Addiction Coffee. Catahoula for coffee and cocktails.

For more ideas, feel free to drop me a note.