Prose Poem: Quarter Time

Quarter Time

A ghost-woman of Storyville calls my name in the Quarter. Creole beauty, she wraps a lilac scented shawl around bare shoulders, a feather in her hair. Louis plays piano. Pops knows his Rag. His syncopation, sublime. Fats and Jelly Roll got nothin’ on him. He is King of the Zulu’s. 

Algiers feels dangerous. The hush of Catholic streets bid me wander down. I duck into the Dry Dock. Eat a po’ boy. Listen to the cackle of women fighting over brown bottles of beer. The church bell rings. The bar maid says its time. I run to the ferry. Cross the Mississippi. Get off the Point. Back to gas street lamps. Cracked and cobbled walkways.

 .

At the end of Decatur, I cross Esplanade. The River Styx between the Quarter and the Marigny. The hulking Mint looms over the festivities. On Frenchman faces peep out of dark corners. Artists sell grotesque nudes in watercolor. Where is George Dureau tonight, I wonder? One drink minimum, no cover at the Spotted Cat. I go in. Drunken dancers surround the brass jazz band, youthful faces flush in the dim, smoky room.

.

I’m in love.

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NoLa Diary #10 – the Muffuletta and the Mississippi

Just like the Hudson River is a character in the story of New York City, so the Mississippi River is a primary character in the story of the city of New Orleans. So what could be better than a picnic lunch right beside the mighty Mississippi? On a warm, sunny day like today, nothing could be better.

Today’s NoLa story starts in the French Quarter at 923 Decatur Street, where you can find Central Grocery Co. When people talk about Central Grocery, they get religious, frankly. Central Grocery is the indisputable home of the original Muffuletta sandwich. This sandwich is so famous it has it’s own vocabulary. You can get a full Muff, a half-Muff, and to complete your rite, the pilgrims drink Barq’s Root Beer.

Central Grocery Co. - home of the Muffaletta

There are two doors in the front of Central Grocery. One for people coming in – aka THE LINE – and the other one for people leaving. So I got on line (thankfully only about 10 people in front of me, at 11:30am on a Wednesday) and bought my half-Muff for $7.50, a bottle of Boylan’s Creme, and some Zapp’s Sweet Potato chips to round out my culinary experience.

Considering the size of the thing, a half-Muff is a full sized sandwich under ‘normal’ circumstances (not NoLa though, where portions run huge.) $7.50 is a completely reasonable price. It’s got a bunch of deli meats like salami, mortadella, plus provolone and their original olive spread on an Italian roll. They cut the thing in half (which they call quarters, haha), and wrap it in Central Grocery Co. printed paper.

The inside of Central Grocery looks it's full 100 plus years old

So I got my sandwich and made my way to the Waterfront Park, which is just on the other side of the French Market, across the Streetcar tracks and runs alongside the Mississippi River. Every few 100 feet there are benches to sit on flanked by garbage cans (conveniently) and street lamps.

I sat down on a park bench and immediately noticed this is NOT the Hudson River kids.  If the Hudson is the shy boy who sits in the back of the class, the Mississippi is the dish throwing girlfriend who beans you on the head with her beer mug on a bad day. This girl ain’t no lady.

I watched the turbulent muddy waters of the Mississippi whirling in vortices in the center of the river and thought uh, I wouldn’t want to captain a ship in those waters. The Mississippi looks dangerous, which makes sense because New Orleans looks dangerous too (and is, some of the time.)

One of the many working tugboats on the Mississippi

Watching boats on the Mississippi is like watching a wrestling match. You’ve got freighters and tug boats and ferries and paddle-wheel cruisers for tourists all jockeying for position in the center-most parts of the river where, I’m guessing, it’s more navigable.

Does this boat look big? I can tell you it IS, and on the river it's like a floating toothpick.

It’s quite a show to watch these big boys turning with the bends in the river and the water dashing against the rocks which line the sides of the river (I was sitting at the top of the “embankment” where the park is located.)

Great view of the candy apple red paddle wheel of the Creole Queen chugging down the Mississippi

And as I finished one quarter of my half-Muff washed down with my Boylans, I declared myself full, even though I had purposefully eaten no breakfast today.

Muffuletta consists of

 

I packed the other quarter (haha) into my rucksack and made my way down off the embankment and disappeared into the crowds in the French Quarter.

 

This big boy rounds the bend in the Mississippi and heads toward the bridge

Nola Diary #7 – A NoLa Secret – Old U.S. Mint free Jazz concerts

Would you like to know about a well kept secret spot on the edge of the French Quarter? Well, I found one: the Old U.S. Mint building near the French Quarter Flea Market is holding regular jazz concerts for free in their new beautiful state of the art performance space on the 3rd floor.

This building’s upkeep is sponsored by the state of Louisiana in conjunction with the National Park Service. Yes, you read that right – the building is a part of our national treasures in the U.S. National Park system. The park is called the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, and it might just be the only national park in the country dedicated to a uniquely American musical art form – and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have stumbled upon it.

Today I saw a one hour jazz piano presentation along with a ragtime and jazz history talk by Steve Pistorius which was a lot of fun. They have other concerts planned with Jim Hession, Phillip Manuel and the park rangers themselves who also play jazz. You can pick up a schedule of performances either at the U.S. Mint building, or at the Jean Lafitte National Park location at 419 Decatur Street.

 

Steve Pistorious tells us about Ragtime beside the new Baby Grand piano in the beautiful perfomance space on the 3rd floor

 

New Orleans – a poem

New Orleans

The constant drip of the waters

Drip by drip, drop by drop

The dripping leaves, the rivulets of water running down the colunnades and green fronds

The soil is as full as a wet sponge, not one drop wrung out

The fecund scent of moist decay hides a terrible secret (cracked foundations scoured clean by the waters)

In my dreams, George Dureau drinks a bourbon on ice, his French Quarter companions blow lazy smoke rings with their thick, wetted lips

White flowers drenched in moonlight glow ghastly pale and irridescent in empty cemeteries

Drip by drip, drop by drop

Droplets of history pool in the gutters and drip down the shutters hung askew

One hundred fine ladies languish in lavendar bathwaters while sipping sweet tea

The streetcar lumbers along St. Charles Avenue; it casts off wet sparks and disappears into the fog

Sticky amber liquid parfum (a gift from her mother) dots the delicate wrist of the debutante

Drip by drip, drop by drop

A chef weeps into his red beans and rice, his salt the same peasant stock as his Bayou ancestors

Sweat beads on the forehead of a laborer, mopped with the edge of his shirt, soaked and stuck to his brown skin

At the feet of a stone maiden a fountain springs forth, a refreshing stream in the muggy sunshine

Drip by drip, drop by drop

And the sacred, unstoppable Mississippi flows on drop by muddy drop

 

NoLa Diary #1 – Day One, or why you should skip Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street on a hazy Monday morning

 
Today was my first full day in New Orleans. It was overcast and a cold wind blew through the city today and with it a damp chill. The temperature was perhaps in the low 50’s, but the locals were bundled up in hats, coats and scarves and I heard more than one person remark how cold it was.
 
I’m staying in the Garden District, and I’m a short walk from St. Charles Avenue and the streetcar which goes down St. Charles, underneath the highway overpass (right by a WWII memorial) and eventually skirts the edge of the French Quarter at Canal Street.
 
I jumped on the streetcar and got out across from Bourbon Street around 10am. As you can see from the photo above, it was empty. All the rum drinks, all the jazz, and all the vomiting tourists over the weekend were nowhere to be seen. What I did see though, bothered me. Bourbon street has a lot of titty bars/strip clubs all over the place. I can see maybe ONE strip club on Bourbon Street, okay… but 4 or 5? The French Quarter isn’t that big, and Bourbon Street deserves to be treated better than a $10 dollar hooker at any hour of the day. I silently wondered if Katrina brought so many “Larry Flynt’s Hustler” bars to the center of the city? I was not pleased.
 
After walking down Bourbon Street for 7 or 8 blocks and seeing garish neon, strip clubs, and boarded up bars I turned down one of the side streets until I hit Royal Street where I ran right into a rag-tag band, (for purposes of this post I’m calling them the Yes Ma’am Band) playing in the center of the street.
 
And they were good. They had drawn quite a little crowd, and if I hadn’t over-exposed this shot so badly, you’d be able to see their guitar case was pretty filled up with dollar bills.
 

Yes maam band - French Quarter

 
 
 And so my NoLa adventure has begun. I’ve been talking to the locals, when I can find them (there are a lot of transplants – I’ve met people from New York City and Boston working in the art galleries on Royal Street) and generally getting into my NoLa groove.
 
Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be warmer and sunnier, so when I get better shots of the lovely architecture I’ll post some of those for your enjoyment.
 
I didn’t spend my whole day in the French Quarter though, I took the Canal Streetcar (#48) after purchasing an unlimited ride pass at a convenience store ($3) all the way out to City Park, where the art museum, sculpture garden and other activities await. I read on the sign when I got out there everything is closed on Mondays (just as many of the restaurants are closed on Mondays too) so I just took in the sights on the 20-25 min ride from the French Quarter to City Park. Much of the area on Canal Street seems to be undergoing re-building, as remaining evidence of Katrina but the park looks promising, especially when the weather is nicer.
 
Okay, that’s it for now, but more to come soon.