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It is hard to know where to begin when describing the culture of New Orleans, perhaps the most diverse and unusual in the United States.
Perhaps best known for its French Quarter, the Vieux Carré, New Orleans is famous for the influence of its French founders and the architectural treasures they left. But history didn't stop when the United States purchased Lousiana, and every age since has brought new influences.
The original definition of Creole is a person of European descent, particularly French or Spanish, who was born in the New World. In Louisiana and the West Indies it also refers to the language, cuisine and people with roots in Africa as well as France and Spain. Their ancestors came to the islands and Louisiana as slaves and they mixed with the French, Indian and Spanish. Some of these people were freed before the Civil war and created a unique culture. Their descendants give New Orleans much of its flavor (in both literal and figurative senses).
Louisiana also became the home of the Acadians, French-speaking people who were expelled from their homes in eastern Canada by the English. In turn, mixing with other settlers, they became the Cajuns, most of whom actually live in the rural parishes of Louisiana.
Later on, immigrants from many parts of Europe, especially Ireland and Italy, brought their own culture to the city. The working-class dialects of New Orleans are sometimes likened to a Brooklyn accent.
One common trait shared by almost everyone in this mix is a love of food. While it has its share of famous restaurants, New Orleans is special in that you can get a good meal in almost any restaurant you find, and the cuisine draws influences from all of the lands the city's people came from.
And of course we can't forget music, especially jazz. Many of the earliest players were entertainers in houses of ill repute here. The Cajuns have their own unique music and you can hear it here, too. Like everything else, the sounds have mixed and mingled over the years in this city.
In the Big Easy, a visitor ends up slowing down a little and savoring life more than racing through it.
The incredible damage from Hurricane Katrina poses a great threat to this long-lived culture. In many cases, the poorest residents lived in the lowest parts of the city, and many more of them lost their homes, and in some cases their lives, than the more affluent on higher ground. In many ways, the cultural texture of the city was shaped by these people, and if they are not able to return, much will have been lost.
So many of the topics touched on here deserve their own articles, so I hope others can go beyond this brief introduction here.