Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A kinder, gentler me

I'm back to my usual cheery self today! I hope you'll all forgive me my tirade. 99% of the time, I'm as laid back as they come, but occasionally something will just strike me wrong, and I have to get it out. And I should know better than to let a dork like Limbaugh get me riled up, because that's his goal. You know what? If I let him get to me...the terrorists have won! So from now on, I will ignore his remarks for the sheer drivel that they are. To show you that I'm in a much gentler mood, take a look:

Awww, how adorable are THEY? See, don't you feel all warm and cuddly, just like I do? (And no, I'm not on any medication.) I'm a shiny, happy person today, and it's a sunshine day!


Okay, that's enough of that.

I would like to send my thoughts and prayers to those affected by the storms in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. I know a couple of you live in those places, and I hope you and yours are safe.

Lisa wrote, "I have never been to New Orleans but after reading your entry i feel as if i have been there." Oh, I bet I can do even better, Lisa! Since writing a little about it yesterday, I've been thinking of it a lot, and all these sights and smells have been running through my mind.

First of all, it's incredibly hot and humid. I live in the Midwest, and I've never felt humidity like that--it takes your breath away. We've been there in March, when there were actually a few cooler days, and July, when it felt like Hades on earth. One of the tour bus drivers told us a joke that people there tell. "Where do people from New Orleans go on vacation in the summer? Hell." If you don't like really hot weather, New Orleans in the summer is not for you. I actually enjoy really hot temperatures, so I just dress accordingly. I think the heat and humidity actually adds to some of the charm of the place. It's the Big Easy, and when it's really hot, you take everything easy. The talk is slow, the walk is slow, life is slow.

You all know by now how we love our food. One of the first things you learn about in N.O. is the food. I had always thought that Cajun and Creole cooking was extremely spicy, and I'm not a big fan of really hot and spicy food. But I found out that while it CAN be really spicy, mostly it's just extremely flavorful. The combination of the ingredients and spices they use add up to some mighty tasty stuff. Walking down the street, you get a heavenly aroma wafting out from the restaurants. Near the oyster bars, you get a strong whiff of fishiness (nothing like Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, though). In the French Quarter, your nose is also assaulted by some not-so-pleasant aromas. I don't even want to speculate, but they hose down the streets every morning, and then it all gets absorbed into the humid air. The cooking smells are especially appreciated after getting a snoot full of those other odors! You can stop at the Clover Grill for breakfast and have a big ol' omelet and a big ol' bowl of grits. You can stop there for lunch, too, and have a hamburger cooked under a hubcap. (It's one of the best burgers I've ever had.) Cheap eats are available everywhere, and if you want to go upscale one night, you can visit one of Emeril's restaurants, or one of the decades-old institutions like Commander's Palace. Try to have dinner one night on one of the galleries looking out on Bourbon Street. You can enjoy the cool breeze, and watch the crowds walking by below. To learn more about New Orleans cooking, you can take a cooking class and learn how to make dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp beignets. This is not a place to go if you're on a diet, by the way, although we do so much walking that we've never gained weight there!

The music...oh my. Y'all know I love my music, too! At 10 o'clock in the morning, you can stop into a restaurant and hear a group. As you walk in the Quarter, the zydeco blasts out of every souvenir shop, and the live blues, rock, and zydeco go on till the wee hours. At Fritzel's, you can hear some European-style jazz, with banjo, clarinet, trombone, and tuba, and at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shoppe, you can hear a piano player belting out cheesy piano bar tunes--sometimes very badly, but the people crowded around the piano join in and sing equally as badly. For an authentic New Orleans jazz experience, you have to go to Preservation Hall--a tiny, packed, hot venue, with everyone crowded in together on wooden benches, just to hear this world-famous band play. ALL the musicians that play in the Quarter are excellent, no matter what their style of music or instrument.


For a taste of New Orleans macabre, go see one of the cemeteries. Also called "Cities of the Dead," because of the above-ground tombs, it's a solemn, spooky, and fascinating trip. The architecture of the tombs is beautiful, but some have fallen into disrepair, and the crumbling bricks seems to be a symbol of the shortness of our existence on earth. Speaking of architecture, it's worth getting a book on the various types of houses in New Orleans, such as the shotgun, the Creole cottage, the Creole townhouse, and the gorgeous double gallery houses that are found in the Garden District. Several homes in the French Quarter are now museums, and available for tours. The architecture of these homes is a reflection of the climate: high ceilings, multiple, tall windows, and large covered galleries that surround the house. Most homes in the Quarter have a small street front presence, but a passageway leads into the interior courtyard. The homes often stretch back to the next street, with two stories that completely surround the open courtyard. What seems to be a small townhouse is usually a large, block-deep structure. When walking in the Quarter, if you peek through a gate on one of these passageways, you'll see a brick walkway leading back to a brick patio, with lush vegetation and often a fountain. It's like a secret garden!

The people are one of the special things about New Orleans. I know they depend on tourism, so they sort of have to be nice, but I've generally found them gracious, friendly, and genuinely happy to talk to you. They love their city, and it shows. The wait staff will usually tease you and joke with you, and give you advice about what to order. There are lots of street performers, and we saw one guy both times we were there! We made sure to say hi and tell him we remembered him from the first time.

I've only been there twice, but I already have so many fond is a very unique place, and the French Quarter is not for the faint of heart! I remember being in one club, listening to Dwayne Dopsie and his band. The waitress was chatting us up, asking where we were from, etc. A cross dresser came in, and it was quite obvious that this was NOT a woman. The band started playing "One Way Out" by the Allman Brothers: "There's a man down there, might be your man, I don't know...." The waitress leaned over to me and said, "That's a man, honey." Ha ha! I remember having Hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's. The first time, I had too many, and learned a hard lesson. The second time, with Kim and Steve, I was a little more careful--but MAN, those drinks go down easy!--and it's so pleasant to remember sitting out on the patio, under an umbrella, sipping on Hurricanes and chatting. At one point, Kim stuck straws into her mouth, like walrus tusks (we have pictures!). I remember heading down to Bourbon Street after that, the neon lights starting to come on in the twilight, and dancing to the zydeco playing in the shops as we walked. Having Hand Grenades at the Funky Pirate and listening to Big Al (my guess would be that he's 400 pounds) singin' the blues, dancing with Ken to the slow songs, and sometimes the fast ones! Late at night, going to Lafitte's (dating from the 1600's, it's the oldest building in the city) and sitting in the flickering candlelight, sipping a Bailey's. Heading out to the swamp, navigating down channels with Spanish moss hanging down from the trees. Playing the washboard vest with a band to the song "Colinda." Yes, I really did.

It really is a unique and magical place. Seeing the devastation that Katrina wrought was almost more than I could bear. They still have plenty of work to do, and it may be many years before things are mostly back to normal...I'm not sure they'll ever be the way they were pre-Katrina. I hope and pray that they get a handle on the crime, because tourism is their lifeblood, and people want to know they're safe when they visit. We've been fortunate to never have had a bad experience there, but we've also been warned by people that we've met on vacation that we really don't want to go there yet.

I love ya, New Orleans! Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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buckoclown said...

Thank Goodness that Darth Beth <heavy metallic breathing> is gone. :o)
Yes we love the good food, and excellent music.  We have taken two cooking classes down there, one on each visit.  That is one thing that we will continue to do during our travels.  2009 will be a very busy year at my job, so some short vacations will be in order.  I see a Vegas trip and a New Orleans trip (as well as our annual Florida timeshare "vegecation") in our 2009 cyrstal ball. :o)

deshelestraci said...

OH the puppies and kitties are a nice touch!  Glad you got your vent out yesterday.  We all need to vent from time to time.  
Never been to NO.  Perhaps one day.  I see trips to Disney and the beach in my future.

luvrte66 said...

So glad you're okay, Traci! What terrible storms, and so many prayers are with you all.


jimsulliv3 said...

Cute picks - I received the same ones yesterday. I haven't been to N.O. since my Army days, but I always liked it. Est-ce que vous parlez Francais aussi?


shrbrisc said...

I would love to visit new orleans someday but I am like you I want to wait til the crime is down and they are more like new orleans again.

queeniemart said...

i have watched many Anderson Cooper's telecasts about the President's pathetic failure of cleaning up and helping N.O.  
I loved reading about your time there....i would love to go to a husband would LOVE the food....he loves hot and spicy. I would just want to go and experience it ALL.
I bet i would love that music too!
HUGS, lisa

luvrte66 said...

Jimmy wrote: "Est-ce que vous parlez Francais aussi?"

Say wha--? Err...I mean, oui, Monsieur! Wait, I guess I should make sure I know what that means before I say "oui!"

I have my Dad's Army phrase book from when he was in Italy in WWII. At one point, I knew how to say in Italian "Where are the American soldiers?" Oddly enough, I've never had the chance to use that phrase in real life.