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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Orleans is Expected

I am pausing Holiday's Gloomy Sunday just long enough to write about New Orleans. 

I did not expect New Orleans to be so exactly what I was expecting from New Orleans. It was grimy, flood damaged, Victorian, accented and liquor soaked to a brass/drum combo soundtrack that drew a dancing crowd. And that was just our hotel room...(rim shot). 
View of lobby from our hotel room at the Hilton Riverside
We stayed at the Hilton (not too shabby) with a view of the purple infused lobby and its rotating bar clientele. It was better than the view outside, however, since it was gray and drizzling for all but one of the days that we were there. There not being a grand vista available, I concentrated on details and New Orleans has that in spades. Despite the drizzle, it was refreshing to be somewhere so easy to look at. 

We took a taxi, driven by the first accent in a parade of variations to be encountered as we moved through the city, to eat Po' Boys at the Parkway bakery. The place was packed and I expected a long wait but I didn't even have time to finish paying for my beer by the time the food was ready. Despite its glowing recommendation from a trusted foodie and the long history of the establishment, I have to say that the sandwiches were eminently forgettable. It's possible that they were the best of a type and that I have simply never had a true po'boy before, but I have had sandwiches masquerading as poboys that were better culinary experiences. They were fine, we were not hungry anymore, but as I live to eat, that's not good enough for me. I would go back though and try the oyster because just reading the reviews of the restaurant makes me think I must have missed something...hope springs eternal.

We could have walked back to the hotel if we hadn't needed to be back in time for the conference that had provided us the excuse to travel in the first place. Also, one of our number is perpetually freezing and needed to get back to the hotel (read: the bar) to warm her poor bones. We walked a couple of blocks to the trolley stop and paid the very economical $1.25 to ride to within two blocks of our hotel. We sat next to several food conversations, the only topic, in fact, that seemed to be up for discussion on the trolley at all.  

Woman waiting for trolley
The next night we stumbled out of a day of presentations to Frenchmen street to find jazz. We had the fantastic recommendations of Willy (a foodie friend and New Orleans resident) to lead us directly to the heart of what we wanted. Frenchman street used to be the local's French Quarter...people are still saying it is, but since I'm not a local and I found out about it, that's probably no longer the case. I think there must be some sort of law that requires at least three quarters of all jazz bars to have someone slurring "Summertime" and New Orleans was in full compliance. I love that song and I will sing it at any opportunity but if your version doesn't contribute something that Janis, Billie, Nina, Artie, or Stan didn't already, maybe it's best just to enjoy singing it for yourself

At Snug Harbor we found fantastic music and wonderful food all in an atmosphere sufficiently pretension-free to allow even the jazz novice to feel comfortable. We were lucky enough to happen upon a night with Jason Marsalis who gave a marvelous performance which I thoroughly enjoyed along with my filet marigny, lightly fried fish in a creamy creole sauce that was music to my mouth. I am a devotee of all things fried (including fried frying dough...) but this was in a class of its own. The breading was perfectly crisp and not at all greasy. It was like the fish was born into this rather than created - I found myself accompanying the music with emphatic fork gestures as if conducting. The sauce was so delicious I would have used the tinfoil wrapper from my baked potato to sop it up if I had run out of bread. I briefly considered creating some sort of distraction so that I could lick my plate, luckily, I decided to sip my vodka tonic instead. Who says drinking can't sometimes help you make better decisions?
Feeling decidedly uplifted and in love with New Orleans we merged into the busy pedestrian traffic and strolled along until stopped by the drums and jazz combo playing under the reflection of stop sign. A crowd had gathered and was enthusiastically dancing through the street - heedless of the slowly crawling traffic...I got the impression that this was not unusual to New Orleans drivers. A woman wearing black and white striped stretch pants owned the night and her enthusiasm drew others into her dance. I was thrown full into night photography without a tripod and a scene filled with movement and alternating between the electric brightness of headlights and the ensuing moments of blindness. Combining this with my shaky hands, heavy camera, and a certain number of vodka tonics (the exact number of which is a secret that will remain with me) I now have about 250 photos to search through to see if I can find any that captured that. Stay tuned...I may have to revisit the jazz and vodka until I can recreate the atmosphere...