Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Greatest City in the World

Do you know what it means...

Think about what makes a city a "great city." (Bear with me, the connection to CRPGs comes at the end.) What are the elements you look for? You may come up with a slightly different list than mine, but I'll bet we share some of the same elements:

  • A strong music scene
  • A good local cuisine
  • Nightlife and entertainment
  • At least a few great places where you can sit and have a relaxing drink in the evening
  • A variety of bars, from quiet adult ones to raucous clubs
  • Interesting architecture
  • Walkability
  • Friendly, interesting people
Now, give each city you know a score of 1-10 for each of these items (yes, I'm really into indexes), add 'em up, and what comes out on top?

My theory is that if you don't answer "New Orleans," you either didn't take the exercise seriously or you've never been there.

Maison Bourbon on an average night of the week. This isn't anywhere near the best club in town, and yet it beats just about any club in any other city.

Let's start with the obvious: the best music the world has ever known. This is not a hyperbole. I firmly believe that New Orleans-style jazz beats any musical form ever created anywhere else, and this is coming from a man who cries to Beethoven's string quartets. The great thing about having this belief is that you can stroll down any one of several streets in New Orleans on any night of the week and wander into a club, sit down, and just absorb yourself in it without fanfare. Show me any other city where you have this many choices without having to go through the trouble of reservations and tickets and cover charges and reserved seats. I might pop into Preservation Hall for a set (yeah, all right; they have a cover charge), then wander up to Maison Bourbon for a drink with Jamil Sharif, check my iPhone to see if Banu Gibson is singing anywhere, and jump into a cab across town to spend the rest of the night with Kermit Ruffins--all for less than a single ticket to see much lesser performers in another city.

(As an aside, between "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?," "Basin Street Blues," and "Bourbon Street Parade," New Orleans also has better songs about it than any other city.)

Then, how about the food? If you've never had a muffuletta, I don't even know what to say to you. You've experienced life on a lower level than I have. Get to New Orleans, hie yourself to the Central Grocery, wait in line, and eat one. Then send me a thank-you card. When you get sick of those--and you won't get sick of those--you still have po' boys, all manner of Cajun and Creoloe cuisine, barbecue, and the best French and Italian food found anywhere outside France and Italy. Oh, God, and then there's the breakfasts--which most places happily serve until 4:00 p.m. (Enough with the beignets, though. Seriously: they're fried dough. I can get that at any county fair.)

A muffuletta and a gimlet. Goddamn it, why did I leave?

Nightlife...didn't I already cover that? And if jazz isn't your thing (and, frankly, if it isn't, you just haven't listened to the right jazz), you have any number of other options, from dance clubs to adult entertainment to gambling, all within about a three-block radius. Bars? Everything from class to crass. Architecture? I'd pit the Vieux Carre or the Garden District against the capitals of Europe. Walkability? New Orleans is made for walking.

How about the people? Let's put it this way: to be a true "Parisian," you need to be born in Paris to parents who were born in Paris. To be a true "Bostonian," you have to live for at least 25 years in one of three neighborhoods that you would never live in if you weren't born there. To be a "from New Orleans" involves exactly one step: move to New Orleans. Or just visit for a long time. Some cities say they "value diversity"; New Orleans doesn't even have to think about it.

All of this applies to New Orleans any day of the year. During the Jazz & Heritage Festival...oh, Jesus, don't get me started.

I have been to every major city in America and most of the capitals of Europe, and there is simply none--none--that comes close to New Orleans at the top of my index. Granted, I haven't visited all of them, but what are the odds that Reykjavik or Riga are going to knock it off its pedestal?

Okay, so bringing all of this back to CRPGs...yeah, I was just messing with you there. I just don't have another blog to write this sort of thing on. But if you've been jonesin' for my updates, stay tuned because I've started dithering with Tera and I should have enough gameplay in to resume blogging about CRPGs by Friday or Saturday. Thanks to all of you for your patience during my absence, but I hope you understand--I mean, after all, look where I was:

Disclaimer: none of these people are me. This isn't even my photo.


  1. I've been to NO and know what you mean. It's the only city I've been to in the US that has a truly unique vibe, with San Francisco coming in a very distant second. It really is like no place else. I only wish I could've stayed longer and gotten more into its music scene.

  2. Andrew -- my brother & father visited NO around '02, but it was a "you know you're from the SF Bay Area if..." trip as the heat/humidity was too much for them. ;) I believe they were there because of its musical history, though I'm not sure which of their favorite (rock & roll) artists had been influenced by it.

  3. I prefer Portland OR, lots of micro-breweries, and the weather is better! (unless you don't like rain.)

  4. I've been to New Orleans (Pre-Katrina) and I did love the city. I especially loved how you could walk out at any time of the new and still get great food.

    But for all the fun I had, it never made it to my top 10 places to live.

    PS. You've been playing TERA ?!? OMG are you under NDA? Can you share anything? I've heard so much hype about it but need something solid.

  5. You do know he is talking about "Tera: La Cité des Crânes" right? From 1986?

    What were you thinking of?

  6. New Orleans really is a great, great city, but I haven't been since I went down to volunteer post-Katrina. I was amazed and heartened that even then the spirit of the place was undiminished. That being said, however, it does not change my god-given right to have you play through very old rpgs and for me to be entertained by reading the descriptions thereof. Thank you.

  7. I once hired a very accomplished canadian trumpetist to follow me and my girlfriend through the barro gothic in barcelona playing parker and dizzy tunes it ended up being a something like a 38-40 hour hire but as the payment was in beer it wasn´t that heavy and it was quite magical

    Anyway I love that you bring up walkability I really hate the lack of it in the towns in the United States.
    When I visit a city I don´t want an endless sprawl of malls

    If I had a drivers license perhaps I would think different but there´s also the fact that you shouldn´t drive under influence and how can you eat the good food whitout the good wine and so on...

    Anyway yet again jazz if you haven´t seen this I would recommend it with all my heart it´s the best documentary series I´ve ever seen on the topic
    It takes about two hours before they even touch on other places than NO

    And I would love to visit New Orleans even if I doubt that I will be able to find Satchmo´s storyville and also if I found it I excpect I should be quite properly mugged whitin minutes

    If there was any doubt I´m quite drunk at the moment and also I´m residing in Europe furthermore I am not very good at writing in any lanuage

    Thank you for your post I have followed them for some time hopefully you´ll give the documentaires a chance I usually watch them when I´m travelling the narrators voice is marvelous


  8. You, my friend, have obviously never been to Montreal.

  9. Great article! My priorities for what I want in a city are very, very different from yours, but the structure of your argument makes for a nice writeup. :)

  10. Mprod, thanks for the comments. I have watched the "Jazz" series--jazz is the second great addiction of my life. Well...third, after CRPGs and vodka gimlets. I'd have a blog on jazz but there are already so many.

    Storyville was bulldozed years ago, but there's a marker commemorating Louis Armstrong's birthplace in the plaza in front of Police Headquarters.

    Emelyn - I have no idea what you're talking about, but thanks for jumping in, Ethan.

  11. Aelfric, I'm suitably chastened. I'll post at least three times this weekend.

    Anonymous - I have never been to Montreal. If it is honestly a better city than New Orleans, Seattle, San Diego, Charleston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, Vienna, or Port of Spain--all of which I have been to--then someone's really been hiding something from me.

  12. Opps, my bad. I assumed that you meant Tera which is also the name of a new upcoming MMO.

  13. |{P}|sez:
    I went through a "jazz phase" when I was 20 and in college. What a fun time. Now I dig "Stanton Warriors" and metal (age: 38).

    Best city in the world (especially if you are an RPG fan)?: Texarkana
    It's not quite Texas, not quite Arkansas. You can wonder around and look at the magnficant abandoned buildings. Walk through the "haunted" streets and stare at what was once was. Who knows who you might meet? I'd bring a skateboard for protection (JIK to tha JFA).

    New Orleans is allright, but I prefer where the people ain't to where the people are. I think Memphis, TN has better "Cajun" food though.

  14. |{P}|adds:
    Ah yeah. Perhaps "Texarkana" ain't right, tho it is weird. If you REALLY want some imaginative stuff, try Kansas City. I lived there several years. The weird part of Kansas City is they got all these old buildings that look like REALLY well built castles. Excellent mortar work and all. I'd sell you a map tour but that's $500.
    Here's some examples:
    (I used to skate home from the grocery store in on that street).
    (Try not to get yer ass kicked by black racists if you go to this one)

    Hey CRPG addict, what's up with your "jazz phase"? You think you're middle-age or something? 30s the new 20, unless you hang out with 1960s dudes, then 40 or 50 is the new 20. Check out these dudes, they're from around where I live:
    Their song "Psycho" hits like The Replacements and Camper Van B. in '87. You know what I'm talking about CRPG Addict...

  15. {P}, I spend lots of time in Kansas City--far more time than I would prefer--and...well, let's just say I don't share your enthusiasm for it. Westport has some promise, but most of the city is a dump, and I have a tough time finding a decent steak in a city that's famous for it.

    I assure you that my "jazz phase" is nothing to do with age. I simply have an affinity for the greatest music ever created anywhere in the world.

  16. 10) Amsterdam
    9) Lan Kwai Fong
    8) Paris
    7) San Francisco
    6) Yokohama
    5) Shanghai
    4) New Orleans
    3) Macau
    2) Milan
    1) Singapore

    1. At least NOLA is on there. I've never been to the three you put ahead of it, so I can't judge--but of course it's all subjective anyway.

      I've never fallen in love with San Francisco the way that so many other people seem to do. I'm not sure what I'm missing.

  17. HAhaha, I am so excited to see you off-handedly disparage beignets. I heard so many good things about Cafe du Monde before finally visiting, and then I ate one and was like "mmm ... crappy powdered sugar donut. Spectacular!" Whereas every other thing I ate in New Orleans was at least somewhat memorable (well, good-memorable).

    Also funny you mention Reykjavik, it legitimately has most if not all of those things you think mark a good city. I have spent several weeks there, both for business and pleasure (and got married there), and I can think of no other place whose main drag I would rather spend a morning-to-night day of leisure on. The people are genuinely the friendliest I have ever encountered anywhere, and if you have not heard of Reykjavik/Iceland's obnoxiously overrepresented music scene I will be surprised. But I also do not drink, so clearly my views on whether it has your appropriate alcohol-culture are suspect.

    (Seattle would be my global second-favorite city after Reykjavik, though Seattle's walkability is certainly suspect given that there are at least four or five different parts of the city, not at all close to each other, that you might want to hang out in)

    1. The best part is, if you go to Cafe du Monde at 03:00 like many people do, you get to share your beignets with the rats.

      I knew after I wrote that, someone would jump in and champion Reykjavik. I just didn't think it would take so long. I recently found out they have a jazz festival in the summer, so perhaps I will get to visit some time.

      I agree about Seattle. I've been telling people for years that it's my second favorite city, but everything I like is in little islands. In fact, come to think of it, I guess it's mostly Bellevue that I really like.

  18. Funny grading system since i like staying home and i don't drink.

  19. Yeah I haven't been to many cities, none in the US but a few in Canada plus Bangkok, Seoul, and Prague but I really don't like cities. I grew up in a city of 26,000 people I moved to a town of 6,000. My parents are in a town of 2,000 that I would love to move to, but I guess its all subjective since I don't like listening to music except at home, and I don't drink unless its at home, the cabin, or the step parents place. Plus for me the best places are just a skip and a jump to the woods. I loved reading your thoughts on what make a good city though, its nice to get another perspective.

  20. Considering how relatively close I live to New Orleans and never been, quite a few of my friends shame me for not having done so. I used to hate jazz because that was all my dad listened to, but now I've grown to appreciate it as one of my top three genres.

    I used to travel A LOT when I was younger (father worked for the airlines so learned the great virtue of patience by waiting standby). I spent most of my summers in El Cerrito, Issaquah, and Seattle, and until quite recently Seattle was my number one city (just loved its vibe and its nerdier quarters, part of what gave me inspiration to start my board game cafe).

    After doing some overseas trips, I'd have to say Tokyo and Auckland in New Zealand are really high up there. Tokyo enchanted me with incredibly beautiful scenery and how polite everyone was. Going there was like stepping into another world for me, and there would never be an end to the adventure.

    The moment I stepped into Auckland though, I felt like I was home with just how welcoming everything was, and any and all the amenities I'd ever think I'd need for thinking about permanent residency.

    I do think everyone should travel outside their comfort zone, at least once. To borrow a bit of what Bakuiel said, it's good to get a different perspective and never leaving home is a good way to get set in a mindset that might be a bit too rigid. Could also phrase it like traveling is like doing yoga on one's perspective on life in the world?

    1. It's funny to be reminded of this entry 8 years later. I should really delete it. While I still love the city, I now recognize that it's been the ruin of many a poor boy, and God I know I'm (close to) one.

    2. The Rising Chet.

      Just commenting to let you know someone read your comment and noticed the reference.


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