It’s Time Somebody Did Something About That

There are a lot of things wrong in this world. Bad people do bad things. Every day. It’s pretty terrible.

You can turn on the news, locally, nationally or internationally and find out about all the bad things people do. Or, you can find out about how bad the weather is in a lot of places, or where mother nature wreaks unthinkable destruction on millions.

Alternatively, you can look for problems with “the system.” There are plenty of those too, so you won’t have to spend too much time looking.

You can read about how bad our schools are doing, or how corrupt government officials are (locally, nationally or internationally), or corporate greed, then again maybe you’re more interested the latest massacre, road side bombing, or other thing going on in your neck of the woods.

And always, when these terrible things happen, we are asked again and again to DO something about it. Or we’re told SOMEBODY should do something about it.

YES! we all cry – somebody should do something about this.

Immediately, if not sooner!

It’s an outrage no one has done anything about this before now. There are so many to blame because nothing has happened.

Global Warming is terrible! Glaciers are melting and the seas are rising. This puts hundreds of millions of people at risk.

I personally do believe global warming is happening, and I agree, many people are at risk. Okay!

Now DO something about it!

Hmmm.

I don’t want to stop taking hot showers every morning… and yeah, sometimes I stay in a while.

Well, I fixed my faucet that had been dripping… that’s something right? I’m saving water by not having it drip.

I wonder if the amount of water I use in the shower cancels out the amount I saved on the faucet?

Let’s see… there must be something else. <looking around my house…> Um…

I’ll just give myself credit on the global warming thing for the faucet, and I’ll ignore my carbon footprint thingie because I’m on a plane a lot for work.

Crap, that’s a lot of carbon too.

Is there something a little easier, please?

How about gun control?

YES! I believe in gun control. I don’t own a gun and I don’t think assault weapons should be available in this country.

Okay, whew.

Yes, let’s pass an assault weapons ban. That way, we can prevent crazy people from getting access to these guns that kill so many people.

But wait… the gun used in the latest incident was purchased by the mother of the shooter, and she passed a background check. And uh oh, there IS an assault weapons ban in the state where the incident took place and the gun she owned was NOT COVERED by that ban.

Well, crap, that’s no good.

Okay, but we can pass a new, more stringent law to ban any kind of assault weapon, including the one used in that incident.

Yeah! Let’s do it now!

But wait… the gun of choice on the street for the majority of gun crimes isn’t an assault weapon. It’s a handgun, because they’re easy to conceal and easy to buy on the street on the black market (where background checks don’t go.)

Oh, that’s really bad.

Now what?

Well, somebody has to DO SOMETHING about this right now!

We’ve got to…..

.

I don’t know about you, but I feel helpless.

.

I feel horrible about all those adults and children who were killed. It’s beyond comprehension that a human being, obviously a person with serious psychosis, did this… but he did. It’s caused pain and grief and a gaping hole in a community that will not heal for generations.

I wish I knew what to do about it, but I don’t.

I do think banning assault weapons is a good idea, and I think making background checks mandatory is a great idea, and I think banning the sale of all guns in this country is the best idea. (Tough luck hunters, and militia men, that’s what I think!)

But can I personally affect the outcome of what actually happens?

Hell no.

Maybe you think you do, but I have no illusions about that. I have nothing to do with that one way or the other.

I’m hoping some sawed off NRA type comes on my blog to tell me why doing these things is a bad idea, or some lefty liberal (who I’d sympathize with) tells me it’s a good idea, or an independent tells me the pros and cons and we’ll all be a little wiser, or pissed off, or informed with statistics, or lied to with statistics, and then the lobbyists will go to Capital Hill and help write the legislation along with the Congress and the President, or whatever is going to happen with this issue and you know what?

I’ll have nothing to do with it.

Not really, anyway.

Except for this blog post, clearly stating my views that global warming is bad, genocide is bad, glacier melt is bad, landmines are bad, corrupt dictators are bad, and oh yeah, assault weapons are bad too.

So, have I done my part?

I doubt it.

.

Maybe I should donate money to a cause, then I’d feel better, right?

Not really.

After Hurricane Katrina I donated a little money, and I felt worse because I understood that no amount of money I could provide would truly help those people who lost so much, family members, homes, everything. What was my twenty bucks gonna do?

But…last year I went to New Orleans and spent as much as I could afford locally on tourism, and talked to people there about surviving the hurricane, and talked to them about how they felt the recovery was going, or not going, and generally did “what I could” that way.

I don’t know if that counts because I really enjoyed myself and fell in love with NoLa, but I think it does. (But there is that carbon footprint plane trip hovering over my silver cloud…)

Well, anyway… somebody should just do something about all the bad stuff in this world.

And there’s no time to waste, so hurry up people.

Do it now.

 

Advertisements

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.

Vacation Reading List

One of the things I didn’t necessarily expect to do while I was in New Orleans was to buy books.  But after seeing a few of the bookstores in the French Quarter I couldn’t help myself. Every bookstore I found was a small, independently operated shop.

The FAB bookstore on Frenchman street has a wealth of books on or about New Orleans. I found Rob Walker’s Letters from New Orleans here, which I enjoyed a lot. The letters were not originally intended to be a book, they were personal observations Rob sent to his friends and family about his time in the city. All of the letters were written before Hurricane Katrina and some of his observations about the city are chilling, including one line about flooding I still remember: “New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen.”

I also bought both of my David Sedaris books at FAB. I got When You are Engulfed in Flames which I thought was very funny, and I’m about halfway through Naked, which I don’t like as well as the first book I read. Engulfed in Flames is more recent than Naked, incidentally.

Another bookstore I enjoyed was Faulkner House Books, which is in Pirate’s Alley which runs between Decatur and Royal Streets directly beside St. Louis Cathedral (right off of Jackson Square.) If you’re not looking for this bookstore you’d miss it because not a lot of people seem to walk down Pirate Alley. Also, the bookstore entrance is so small you could walk right by it and never notice.

The woman who runs this bookstore takes great pride in her collection, which she carefully curates. I was pleased to find she had an entire group of Louisiana and New Orleans short story collections. I bought the work of one writer, Tim Gautreaux and started with his collection Same Place, Same Things. The stories are about poor people, and/or Cajuns living in Bayou country. Many of the stories were published in well known journals like GQ, or Harpers, or The New Yorker and I enjoyed almost all of the stories tremendously, they are incredibly well written.

After reading Same Place, Same Things, I went on a hunt in the Quarter for his other collection which is out of print. It’s called Welding With Children, and I was able to find it and I’ve read everything but the last story. My favorite story in this collection is called Easy Pickins which is about a dumb, down on his luck thief who wants to rob an old Cajun woman in her home. Let’s just say, things don’t go as the thief planned and what ensues is entertaining as hell.

Finally, I haven’t started reading Barb Johnson’s More of This World or Maybe Another which I picked up at Faulkner House, but Ms. Johnson’s personal history is so interesting I wanted to support her efforts. She spent 20 years as a carpenter living in New Orleans, and then went back to school to get her MFA. During that time, she won a $50,000 dollar grant, and with the money she chose to produce this set of short stories.

New Orleans Photo page now up!

Hi everybody, I’ve composed my New Orleans photo page on my Shutterfly site.

While quite a few of the images appeared on my blog, they are scattered across numerous postings. My Shutterfly site has the photos all in the same spot, with quite a few images that did not make it onto the blog. I hope you’ll check them out.

Enjoy!

Click this link: http://cdeminskiphotos.shutterfly.com/neworleans

Au Revoir New Orleans: a love letter to my NoLa friends

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this last blog entry from New Orleans. The three weeks I’ve spent in the city have been amazing and inspiring.

Blue Dog - NOMA Sculpture Garden

I’m proud to say that I’ve been mistaken for a native New Orleanian by the locals. This is, for me, the highest compliment someone could pay me here. It happened again just this morning by my waitress at the Trolley Stop Cafe on St. Charles, and she is a local. I feel adopted by this city and its people. After I paid my bill today we hugged, and all the other waitresses wished me a happy new year. Such happy sadness walking out that door.

After all the stories I’ve told in the 14 NoLa Diary entries and other posts I’ve written, there are many more experiences that feel like they were uniquely New Orleans adventures.

There’s Brandon, my host with the most, a fun companion, room mate and wonderful guy. I couldn’t have chosen a better person to be a temporary roomie with, and the fact that we’re both addicted to Top Chef helps. I’m incredibly glad to have been a “temporary resident” of the Lower Garden District too, and being part of this neighborhood enhanced my NoLa experience tremendously.

I met Aria while waiting for the bus on Canal to go down Magazine Street towards ‘home’. Within 10 minutes I felt like I bumped into an old friend, within 20 minutes she invited me to a Christmas Eve celebration. She and Jason are lovely, and I had fun meeting Jay, Justin, Shannon, Lindsay, Keith, Aaron, Ann and everyone else at that party. Shannon had me laughing my butt off (you who know me, know I’m an easy target for a jokester.) I felt like I met someone I used to know and got reunited with, strange to say maybe, but true.

There’s Brian and his wife AND Bob (their mascot!) at the Lucky Ladle, dishing out delicious breakfasts on Magazine Street with plenty of friendship and laughs. (The Bob Special and blueberry pancakes don’t hurt either…)

I can’t forget Otis, the proprietor of the FAB bookstore on Frenchman Street who helped me find Rob Walker’s Letters From New Orleans, a book I didn’t know I needed until I found it in Otis’s shop. Later I got the David Sedaris book When You Are Engulfed in Flames, which led me to chat with Aria at the bus stop, and then I later gave to her for Christmas. One happy, tightly-knit NoLa circle.

I should thank the proprietress at Faulkner Bookstore in Pirate Alley who turned me onto Louisiana short story writer Tim Gatreaux. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

I enjoyed meeting Stephen, the National Park Ranger at the NoLa National Jazz Park that told me about the free concerts at the U.S. Mint building, but then spent another half an hour telling me about the amazing history of New Orleans. He was so sweet, he commented to me “talking to you is easy.” (Thanks Stephen.) And I loved listening to the ragtime/jazz performances by Steve Pistorius and Jim Hessions.

Then there is George at the Tout-Suite on Algiers Point who gave me his personal card after we chatted for a half an hour and told me to “call him if I need anything, anytime.” I know he meant it, his kindness toward others was obvious. And the industrious young lady behind the counter, who left San Francisco to come back home to Algiers Point and run the Tout-Suite, who said “Bye Carol!” when I left at the end of my visit.

I met tourists Jeffrey and Jeremy on the streetcar, brothers separated by the continent of North America – one in L.A and the other in Brooklyn. We chatted about skateboarding, living all over the United States (and “meeting in the middle” to get together for the holidays) until they hopped off the St. Charles streetcar and I proceeded on.

There was Joyce who let me into her decorating shop for a chat about her 60 amazing years running a business, and the Creole painter gentleman who met me at the bus stop and who couldn’t have been more charming. He said, as we got off the bus together, “give my best to the family for the holidays” although we had met no more than 20 minutes earlier.

And yes, even (harmless and well-meaning) “hobo Willy” at Down the Hatch. I’ll miss him too. Him and that other drunk guy on the corner of Frenchman who sells his paintings on the street who yelled out “Hey, you’re pretty!” (Thanks fellas.)

Yesterday I met a yoga instructor in Audobon Park, originally from Ohio but now in NoLa full time. We walked around the park together and chatted, keeping each other company for a bit. He quit his cafe job because he wants to dedicate himself to the service of others by teaching Yoga – in a circle of reciprocal energy, he says. Yes, that’s what New Orleans is about on its best days.

In three short weeks, all this happened and more. It’s my last day here and I think about these wonderful people and consider how these stories never would have manifested within a three week span anywhere else. There’s just something about New Orleans, something intangible, indescribable, and inspiring.

These people invited me to feel part of me is home in New Orleans. That, more than anything else about my NoLa travel adventure, means the world to me.

NoLa Diary #14 – Birds of a Feather: Audobon Park II

Today was a sunny day with temperatures in the 70’s, I decided to head back to Audobon Park to enjoy the scenery and to take more photographs of the birds in the park since there is such an amazing variety.

Feathered friends - Audobon Park

It’s very relaxing to walk in Audobon Park, and I love seeing all the little kids on their bicycles or the people jogging or sitting on the benches. Although the park isn’t that large, you can do a “lap” by walking the path that circumnavigates the park and take in different views of the scenery from many angles.

Beautiful fountain

And there are tons of birds. The air is filled with quacking, squawking, chirping and all manner of bird calls.

Enjoying the sunshine - 3 turtles on a log and two ducks looking on

 

And the birds aren’t just in the water either. Sometimes they climb up onto the banks of the stream that runs through the park and take refuge in the shade of the bushes.

I call him the Ugly Duckling - he's got a face only his mother could love

 

And let’s not forget the herons who never cease to amaze me; they are so beautiful…

The heron - such a majestic bird

 

And it seems that the trees in the park are ancient; I love their twisted limbs.

Beautiful Tree - Audobon Park

 

 

Audon Park and St. Charles Ave. streetcar

 

the only thing better than one NoLa classic is two: Audobon Park and the St. Charles Avenue streetcar together.

NoLa Diary Lucky #13 – the Allure of Algiers Point

In order to get to historic Algiers Point from New Orleans, you’ll need to take the Algiers Ferry. You can catch the ferry across Canal street from Harrah’s Casino.

TRAVEL TIP: As you approach the ferry entrance, you will see homeless people sitting on the steps, most drunk. You can avoid this entrance by continuing on towards the Mississippi River, walk over the streetcar tracks for the French Market streetcar and to your right you’ll see a ramped walkway marked “handicapped entrance.” When you get to the top of the walkway, go to your left and up the stairs into the ferry terminal.

I believe the best photographs of St. Louis Cathedral are to be had from the Algiers Ferry. You cannot get the entire cathedral in your shot if you are standing in Jackson Square – the Algiers Ferry shot gives you the entire building, and it is a beautiful view.

St Louis Cathedral - as seen from Algiers Ferry

The best reasons to go to Algiers are the historic homes, plus the Holy Name of Mary Church is picture worthy. A quick stop at the Tout-Suite Cafe across from the church is a great place to have lunch or a snack before heading back to the ferry.

If you do go to the Tout-Suite and you see a distinguished older gentleman with white hair at the counter, it’s probably George. He’s a local and a regular. He’s so friendly and helpful, make a few minutes to chat with him. You can’t help but be charmed!

———

SAFETY: Only go during the day. Don’t wave your expensive camera around or flash your i-Phone 4. Don’t walk around texting or talking on the phone. Pay attention to your surroundings.  Be alert and sensible, and have fun.

The first time I went to Algiers I was freaked out by the thuggish looking types I saw sizing up tourists on the ferry and hanging back in crowds watching everybody around them. I didn’t stray far from the ferry entrance and went back quickly. My second time, was a beautiful sunny day in the early afternoon, I felt relaxed, kind of knew my way around, and it was a much better experience.

I had no problems on either trip but for me, the second trip felt safer. Always trust your gut!

———

An Algiers home adornment

Okay, so you’re probably wondering how charming the houses are… how about this one?

This Algiers home is picture postcard perfect!

So many of the houses I saw were like the one above – manicured landscape, well maintained and great looking paint to accentuate the architectural embellishments. You could pretend on some streets that you were in Bermuda, not New Orleans. I noticed tropical foliage seems more abundant on Algiers Point.

This Catholic church is pretty, you can practically see the spires of the church from the ferry.

Holy Name of Mary Church - Algiers Point

And if you want a place to stop and relax, I can think of no better spot than the Tout-Suite. This couple opted for the outdoor tables to drink their coffee, but the inside is just as charming.

Tout Suite Cafe - Algiers Point

I loved this old Gulf station too, which had a classic charm all its own. Check out those Spanish tiles on the roof of the gas station! And the slightly rusted orange Gulf sign is a piece of Americana.

Gulf Station - Algiers Point

Everywhere you look, people have decorated their homes so meticulously.

All dressed up - Algiers Point

And that is the allure of Algiers Point!

 

A word about what I’ve eaten in New Orleans

Dear readers, it is with tremendous reservation (no pun intended) that I broach the topic of food and New Orleans in the same sentence. So much has been written about what to consume, and where to consume it that I dare not presume to know anything more than what I experienced.

This post is not about what to eat in New Orleans. It’s about what I ate so far during my stay here. Your tastes and needs could vary wildly from mine and probably do. 🙂

Since my plan was to be here for weeks and not days and because I didn’t want to spend hundreds, if not a thousand bucks on food while I was here – most of the places I targeted were of the budget conscious variety.

However, an amazing source of information about resto’s in NoLa is The New Orleans Menu. If you want an exhaustive site with reviews, maps, days open, address, phone, full menu’s etc. CLICK HERE. The site is run by Tom Fitzmorris, who has written a daily newspaper column on this topic since 1981. Needless to say, Mr. Fitzmorris has already forgotton more than I will ever know about restaurants in NoLa. His site is arranged by neighborhood, and where to find a place that is open on Monday, when many places are closed.

TRAVEL TIP: There is a pesky trend of places only being open for breakfast or early lunch, and may close between 1:30-2:30pm. So if you come in for a leisurely lunch, you may be in for a surprise. It is best to call ahead if you aren’t sure and even if they answer the phone and are open, ask what time they close.

A list of budget conscious places where I ate:

  1. The Lucky Ladle – great breakfast, generous portions, reasonable prices (under $10), awesome and personable service by the husband/wife team who run this establishment on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. This place is a hangout for locals and is well loved in the neighborhood. Closed Mondays, and the rest of the time they close at 2pm. They accept credit cards and they have a display of tasteful artwork by local painters on the walls. I recommend the “Bob Special”.
  2. Central Grocery – the Muffuletta sandwich is what they are known for and with good reason. For $7.50 you can buy a “half Muff” which is bigger than most large sandwiches. Depending on when you go, I bet there could be a line out the door since it’s in the middle of the French Quarter on Decatur. Accepts credit cards. I’d recommend this for take out.
  3. Slice – after reading Mr. Fitzmorris’s recommendation of this pizza spot on St. Charles Ave. in the Lower Garden District I decided to give it a go. I was happy with my slice of pie with andouille sausage ($3 bucks). It doesn’t have much atmosphere, but it makes up for it in tasty food. Their open kitchen overlooks booths and classic rock plays in the background. They accept credit cards, open Mondays.
  4. The Trolley Stop Cafe – while the food here is basic breakfast and lunch fare, the prices are reasonable (most under $10), and the waitstaff are really nice and helpful. They’ll bring you drink refills before you realize you need one, and they get you your order quickly, plus they’re not looking to rush you out if you want to linger. There is tons of local atmosphere to soak up. Located on St. Charles Avenue near the St. Mary Street intersection. They accept credit cards, but they close around 2pm (except for Thurs/Fri/Sat).
  5. Mona’s – this Lebanese place on Frenchman Street (just beyond the end of Decatur Street at Esplanade) had good hummus with pita for around $5, and many other menu items were under $10. Two locals recommended this spot to me. The service wasn’t good and the decor non-existent. They accept credit cards. (One side of this place is a grocery store. I was able to buy a high quality can of stuffed grape leaves for $3.29. They went perfectly with the Greek salad I made at home.)
  6. Down the Hatch – I cannot recommend the decor and bar atmosphere.. I enjoyed their delicious hamburger and fries and it was reasonably priced (under $10). They accept credit cards.
  7. Dry Dock Bar – you’ll have to take a free ferry on Canal Street across from Harrah’s casino to Algier’s Point if you want to eat at the Dry Dock. I got a hot sausage po’ boy which I enjoyed a lot, but what I dug even more was the gritty, local atmosphere. It’s dark and dingy inside, something Elmore Leonard would like. I ate at the bar and yakked with the bar maid, she made me instantly feel like I was one of her regulars. You gotta love that about a place.
  8. VooDoo BBQ – St. Charles Avenue in the Lower Garden District. I wouldn’t recommend their St. Louis ribs (mine were overcooked) but their side-dishes of creamed corn pudding and sweet potato souffle were worth it on their own to grab as take out items. Although this place feels very “fast food” because you order and pay at the counter then bring a sign with a number on it to your table, they do have very pleasant waitresses who come to your table and ask if you need anything, and get you drink refills.
  9. Leonardo’s Trattoria – St. Charles Avenue, Central Business District. All of their pastas are made in house. They make pizzas in a wood burning oven. Their rigatoni bolognese ($16) was excellent, the service was with a smile. (One small nit – even though the resto was empty, my drink went unrefilled too long into my dinner.) The “decor” is a half dozen televisions all playing different movies on mute (Godfather, Rocky, Oceans 13, Saturday Night Fever, football) and the music playing over the speakers comes from the movie soundtracks of the films being shown. It’s kind of jarring to hear That’s Amore followed by the Bee Gees followed by Italian Opera. I’m just saying.
  10. Stein’s Deli – Magazine Street, this place is as close to a New York deli as you are going to get in New Orleans. I had the hot pastrami on rye with mustard (a NY classic sandwich) and they did it up right. The fact that they had full sour and half sour pickles means they know what they’re doing. I know local New Orleanians like Barq’s but in a deli, a real deli, you find Dr. Brown’s Cream soda. Not only did they have regular, they had Dr. Brown’s Diet Cream. Ahhh, a slice of NY heaven.

NON-budget conscious:

I had the most delicious roast beef au jus sandwich for lunch at Houston’s on St. Charles Avenue. The decor and atmosphere at Houston’s is upscale, with uniformed, aproned waiters, a piano bar, and old fashioned leather booths. My sandwich with an incredible plate of delicious (but slightly greasy) string fries and soda plus tip was a whopping $25 bucks. In my book that is a complete rip off, but hey, I gave it a try and the food, atmosphere and service was, as you’d expect at those prices, excellent.

Places I would SKIP:

  1. Joey K’s on Magazine at 7th – mediocre chicken fried steak, not as reasonably priced as other places, so-so service, bad blackberry cobbler dessert with gummy dough over top and sitting in the bottom of the bowl. I would not recommend this place at all, and I’m not going back.
  2. Domilise’s – I’m sure someone will write a rant about how can I possibly besmirch the good name of Domilise’s because it’s a NoLa tradition, but frankly being packed like a sardine in a tiny, greasy box and paying $11 dollars for a HALF a fried shrimp po’ boy that was nothing special with no available tables…I don’t give a hoot that Anderson Cooper’s picture is on your wall along with other celebs, if you’re not going to be nice to your customers, and have a decent place to sit and not over-charge for mediocre food in a sketchy-looking neighborhood, well, I’m not going back.
  3. Blue Plate Cafe – don’t worry, you won’t come across this place unless you are looking for it. The New Orleans Menu site gave this cafe three stars. I ordered “The Beast” roast beef sandwich. The waiter commented “Good Choice.” After two bites I called him over b/c the beef was dried out and overcooked. The waiter AGREED (the same one who said GOOD CHOICE moments ago) and added, “They make the roast beef here and sometimes they overcook it.” Ummmm…why was this served to me? I sent it back – the only plate I sent back since being in NoLa. The waiter was gracious about it. I ordered a hamburger – medium and it came charred and well done.  Overcooking roast beef is one thing, but any basic diner cook better know how to make a hamburger. Apparently they don’t. I wouldn’t recommend this place. (After I got seated, a line of people appeared out the door, a waiting list materialized and people waited on a bench outside for a half hour to get in. All I could think was WHY, but I know why – it was filled with well dressed white people who like it.)
  4. Surrey’s – Lower Garden District location (1418 Magazine). So, some people like coffee in the morning and couldn’t think of starting a day without it. For those that don’t drink coffee (me) but need caffiene (also me) I prefer diet Pepsi, or if one is not handy, diet Coke. I was informed when I requested my caffiene delivery system of choice that they had run out of all diet Coke. How on earth can a diner or cafe RUN OUT of diet soda? If they told their patrons they ran out of coffee, there would be a riot, right? Let’s just say that didn’t put me in a great mood, but I was determined to eat breakfast here so I glumly agreed to drink ice water. (The waitress was miffed at me for being unhappy that she had no diet soda to offer. I guess that’s my fault??) The $12.50 crab gratin with 2 eggs and garlic bread sounded good, and the eggs were cooked perfectly, the garlic bread was tasty but there were crab shells in my gratin. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to eat crab shells for breakfast and I certainly don’t like paying $12.50 for that experience. I also did not like the untoasted, mushy “crumbs” they used as topping. When I mentioned to the waitress I got shells in my gratin – AFTER I paid – I was treated so rudely that not only would I never go back to such a place, I would go out of my way to tell people to avoid being treated in such a surly manner. And yes, like the Blue Plate Cafe, there was a line at this place.

Overall, I’m disappointed in the food I’ve had in New Orleans since I’ve been here.

What on earth has happened to the dining experience in New Orleans? And why aren’t locals more demanding of good quality, good service and consistency from their restos?

I thought I could eat on the cheap and still have delicious local food made by the locals. It just ain’t so with consistency. The tourist places are over-priced, especially in the French Quarter. There is no way to know if a place has decent food until you try it, and at least half the time it’s disappointing.

Okay, fire away, I know I’m gonna get blasted about this post the moment I publish it. Feel free to disagree, provide your own recommendations, or what have you……

A NoLa Christmas Eve Day story, or, why I don’t drink

Today is Christmas Eve day and nearly everything in New Orleans is closed. I walked down Magazine to a pub with it’s gas lamp lights on and went to open the door but it was locked. I looked inside (imagining it to be a mistake since the gas lamps were so inviting and shouted ‘Yes, we’re Open!’) and actually saw the bar littered with dirty glasses, linen napkins and a variety of silverware. It was like I was walking around Pompeii after the eruption except without the people. Maybe they’ll be back soon, I thought, but it didn’t seem all that likely and I was hungry and wanted to find a place that might serve lunch.

So I kept walking and came across another place on Sophie’s Choice Street (it’s not actually called that, it’s Sophie-something-something I can’t remember) and saw all the lights on in a cute Italian trattoria on the corner. I could go for a nice hot plate of something Italian, I thought. Given the experience with the gas lamps minutes earlier, I cautiously approached the main window. All the chairs were on the tables, but the lights were all on, thus reinforcing the Pompeii thing. The sign on the door casually mentioned the restaurant would be closed on Christmas Eve day and Christmas Day, but clearly the people who own the restaurant must have cousins who run the Louisiana Power and Light Company.

A few doors down from the Italian place is a bar called Down the Hatch. Now, I don’t drink alcohol (not even beer or wine, and I never have, I’m not a recovering alcoholic either…) and so I’m not in the habit of frequenting bars. In fact, I tend to avoid them as they usually contain drunk people, and there’s nothing less fun for me than hanging around drunk people I don’t know.

This bar, however, had an alluring wooden sign hung out front with a cartoonish bar-maid holding up two plates of cartoon hamburgers with cartoon french fries. It would have been good enough for me if the sign had a bar maid with one cartoon hamburger with fries, but this one had two. It was all too promising in my famished state, a veritable oasis in the Pompeii desert. Along with that there was evidence (although somewhat dubious) the bar was open because all of its neon beer lights in the window were on. Given the penchant that people have for leaving closed, empty establishments well lit, I walked a little closer and heard music eminating from within and actual people sitting at actual tables.

I went inside and sat at the bar and ordered a hamburger with french fries (the non-cartoon bar maid suggested hamburgers were the best thing on the menu at Down the Hatch and who was I to argue her point, especially when she was agreeing with the cartoon sign outside.) Not only was the hamburger good, it was excellent. The fries too were well seasoned and had just the right amount of crunch to soft potato ratio.

While I ate, and for a good deal longer after I finished, I read the David Sedaris book When You are Engulfed in Flames. I should have known better than to bring a book into a bar and then sit at the bar and read while eating a hamburger even while 3 muted televisions hang over the bar.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when two rednecks (both wearing camo ballcaps) came in, ordered Pabst blue ribbon in a can, and asked the nice bar maid turn on the sound on the football game. She said to them very politely twice (loud enough for me to hear both times) Not everybody wants to watch the football game, fellas.

Yeah, damn straight they don’t. We Yankee college types with no place else to go on Christmas Eve Day don’t want to watch the damn game in a damn bar while finishing our damn David Sedaris books. But they turned the volume up anyway and I did my best to ignore them and the Jets vs. the Giants on T.V. (Don’t think for a minute the irony of THAT is lost on me, by the way…)

Then, just when I think it can’t all get a little bit better … in comes Willy. Actually, I have no idea what his name was, but he reminded me of Willy Nelson. Willy had that naturally weathered skin you get when you are in your 60’s, probably alcoholic and probably spent a lot of time outside. Other than that he was fairly short had well groomed white hair, an old dirty zip-up sweater and uh, distressed blue jeans. Let’s add in that Willy had a certain eau de toilette that was more toilette than eau. And that’s when I decided it was time to go.

The thing is, in any southern city, things take time. Getting your check isn’t obvious to anyone, not even the bar maid, when you’ve been sitting a while innocently drinking your diet coke and reading your book. Just because you put on your jacket doesn’t mean you don’t want to sit at the bar and talk to the homeless guy for a few minutes. This is New Orleans after all, almost anyone (including me on some of my worse days) could pass as homeless. And everyone is expected to be friendly. It’s just the way it is here.

So here we have me and Willy sitting at the bar, and the bar maid asks how he’s doing (because that’s the equivalent of hello in New Orleans and the only proper answer is “Awright.”) But Willy answers that he’s not so good because his wife died six years ago on this very day, but he’ll be okay, especially after the bar maid gets him a drink.

So old Willy looks at my book (which I’ve put down on the bar and closed, with my jacket on to desperately signal the bar maid I might want my check) and he looks at me and says, I’ve never heard of David Sedaris, who is he? And I say, Oh, he’s a humorist. Willy says, I prefer pencil and paper. I’ve written three books too. Yeah, I thought, I bet you have. Oh, I say, have any of them been published? But Willy has a quick answer for that and replies, The first one is still being edited professionally, and I don’t care how long it takes. The other two haven’t been published either, it shockingly turns out.

Then in a non-sequiter move he says I’m a hobo, I’ve lived outdoors all my life. I used to ride the rails all over. Now I have my donkey and my mule, and my shepherd who I call Dog. Oh, and I have a lamb too. I nodded and did my best to have a detached but vaguely affirmative reaction to these statements. Here in New Orleans? I asked casually, pretending he really told me he drove an old Ford pickup. Yes, he said, but we’re going to California soon. Yes, of course you are, I thought.   and then I slipped and said, You’re not going on the highway, are you? I don’t know why I said that, because that’s obviously just egging him on. Of course not, he said, we’ll go over the fields and across the mountains.

Well, that’s just crazy, I said in the same even tones I had been using all along. Yeah, he said, it is.

Then we had another side bar chat about the fact that Willy has lived in New Orleans for 27 years and he likes it a lot better than San Francisco and New York, but Amsterdam was really nice, he says. I ask him if he’s lived outside for that whole time and he says yes, even though his family has more money than god.

You have a good heart though, he says, I can tell by looking in your eyes. Can I buy you a drink? he asked. Oh my god, I thought, I’m being hit on by an old, smelly homeless guy in a bar. This is reason numero uno I don’t drink, I silently reminded myself.

Oh, no thanks, I said and gave no indication I saw him sizing me up, I’ve got to get going. The bar maid finally caught on to that and got my check, which I promptly paid.

Here, I want you to have this, Willy said and slid a quarter across the bar to me, which under any circumstances is a wierd thing to do. It was like he was tipping me for agreeing to talk to him or something, and entertain his crazy comments. No, I couldn’t, really, I said – but he got a little mad, and said, I’ll be really insulted if you don’t take it. Soooo, I took the quarter and said thank you and put it in my pocket, embarassing as it was for me to be taking money from someone who obviously needed it more than I did.

It was nice meeting you, Willy said, and extended his fist for me to bump.

Now in the circles I grew up in, we didn’t fist bump, we shook hands. It seemed like the only sensible thing to do was to extend my hand to shake his, but he continued to offer his fist for me to bump, so, okay, I bumped his fist. But I had waited too long while keeping my hand extended and so Willy felt obligated to comment.

People don’t shake hands anymore, he said, they fist bump because I don’t know where your hand has been and you definitely don’t know where mine has been.

That little comment made me want to vomit on his shoes right there, I have to tell you.

That’s very true, I agree, I don’t know where your hand has been, I said, feeling a bit distressed.

Willy laughed at that, and it was just about then I noticed he had one of those tyvek emergency room bands around his wrist, peeking out from underneath his dirty sweater.

Okay, I’ve got to get going, Merry Christmas, I said.

Merry Christmas, Willy replied, and god bless you.

As I walked home, I wondered if it would be possible to run my hands under boiling water – just for a few seconds – to burn off whatever leprosy Willy didn’t want to spread to me? I got in the door and washed my hands, twice for good measure, under bracingly hot water, and I left the quarter at the bottom of my pocket to be Germ-X’d later with alcohol gel.

Should I write all this craziness down on the blog, I thought? No one would believe it, I answered myself. But after another half hour of David Sedaris chastising me in my head for not writing down what was obviously a good true-to-life nutty experience, I relented.

So there you have it… Merry Christmas, from New Orleans.

NoLa Diary #12 – the amazing people of New Orleans

No amount of words can express how wonderful most of the people are here in New Orleans. A few encounters today encapsulate the best of my experiences.

I went out and did some shopping before the holiday, and as I walked down Magazine Street, I stopped to photograph a charming storefront. It was Probst Decorating and Interior Design. I liked their old time lanterns, potted plants and worn brick building combined with green holiday wreaths along with the requisite NoLa bicycles out front.

Probst Decorating - Magazine St

After taking the photo an older woman looked at me from inside the store – even though the sign on the door said Closed. I walked up to the door and wondered if I was in trouble for taking photos of her store. When I got to the door she said through the closed door, would you like to come in? Yes please, I answered. So she walked into her back workroom to get her door keys then back to the front of the store where she unlocked the door, let me in and started turning on all the lights.

I’m not open today, but I saw you wanted to come in. I don’t keep the door open when I’m here by myself, she said. That turned into a wonderful conversation about how her family has owned this 130 year old building and run this decorating shop in it for the last 60 years, and she has worked in it all 60 of those years. She told me about her mother opening the shop, and how after 60 years she is ready to turn things over to her daughter. She mentioned she makes all the pillows and curtains and is now referred to as “the lady that works in the back.” I joked with her that they only needed to call her one thing: Da Boss. She laughed at that. We said our warm goodbyes and she encouraged me to come back around sometime to visit.

I went across the street to pick up some groceries and walked to the bus stop to grab it going back home. A man approached and struck up a conversation with me while we waited together. He asked me if I was from New Orleans, because he thought I was. When I told him no, but that I’d been in town for about 2 weeks, he asked if I was staying for Mardi Gras. Unfortunately no, I said. That’s too bad, he answered, because I’m about ready to adopt you as a native once you been to your first Mardi Gras. And anyway, he continued, by the end of this conversation we’re gonna be just about family.

An extraordinary glimpse of Mardi Gras in December - pure luck!

 

And that sums it up for me: we’re all just about family – the human family. New Orleans can be such a great example of how people rise up to meet their humanity. The family of compassionate souls includes people like that woman, making pillows and curtains for 60 years running her decorating shop. Or the man at the bus stop, who got up early today to deliver donated toys to children on his way to work as a painter and said gently yes, he was a little tired. When he shook my hand with his paint covered hand, I felt like I’d never done an honest day’s work in my life.

New Orleans is a very special place, and I’m extremely glad I decided to come here and stay awhile. These vignettes and experiences in the neighborhoods are, I’m convinced, the real gumbo of NoLa with an extra helping of love.

Passion for clarinet

This is a collection of photos of the wonderful people of NoLa I’ve spotted in my wanderings here…please enjoy.

Tromboner salute

Of course the French Quarter is an endless source of wonderful images of musicians…

Singing her heart out on Royal

This gal sure could sing. She was belting it out without a mic. She projected loud and strong, along with her back up band doing a great job.

Slice of Life street scene - Bourbon St

The personality of New Orleans pours out of every brick and lantern in the city, and of course from the hard working people…

Workmen in the French Quarter

There are quiet moments when you can’t help but be charmed by such a place….

Resting by Traceys - Irish Channel

And take in so many smiles and good wishes…

Man with bowler and bicycle

…yes, these things and more are what gives New Orleans its flavor.

Enjoy this wonderfully moving song by Susan Tedeschi called 700 houses, her impressions of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina…

and Happy Holidays everyone.

NoLa Diary #11 – A story in signs

Everywhere you look in New Orleans you’ll find scribbles, scrawls, grafitti and interesting street art. I took some of the shots I got and made up a little story.

If the Angry Birds had NoLa cousins, these would be them.

These grafitti birds (above) were on the side of a building on Magazine Street. I imagine they have names like Earl or Bobby Joe, and they’re probably the NoLa cousins of the Angry Birds (who are city slickers.) The NoLa birds aren’t as angry as they are mean; they’re so mean they have teeth, which is saying a lot for a blue bird.

Then again, NoLa is also a place where dirty means tasty. We can stroll through the French Market to buy a plate of Dirty Rice at the Cajun Cafe, which you might eat along with your Alligator Sausage Po’ Boy.  Yummy, n’est pas?

Alligator Po' Boy anybody? Get one at the Cajun Cafe in the French Market

After you’ve eaten your share of Gator, you say you want to do some dancing to work off those Cajun calories. So, we point our feet to Frenchman’s Street. Before we get there, at the corner of Decatur and Esplanade, we’ll pass the BMC club. From the look of their artwork (below), they sure like to swing.

But since we’re going on to Frenchman, we’re going to have to cross over Esplanade at that corner, go past the firehouse on the right hand side and continue towards the left down Frenchman Street.

BMC Club - 504 Esplanade

Frenchman has tons of clubs and is known as Bourbon Street (minus strip clubs, thank you very much) for the locals and those in the know.

It's all about the mermaids and jesters on Frenchman Street

I don’t know the name of the club whose doorway I photographed (above) but we can call it The Mermaid. Remember, in NoLa, you get extra points for no signage, or if you’re place is very hard to find, and especially if it looks run down. This club qualifies in a few of those categories so it must be fantastic inside.

Dark Meat Fried Chicken Special

But look! Across the street we could have had Jamalaya Dark Meat Fried Chicken and Greens on special today. Too bad we ate that Alligator Po’ Boy, now we’re full…

Electric Ladyland Tattoo - Frenchman Street

Oh gosh, I told you not to go drinking with Earl and Bobby Joe, those guys are bird brains! It’s no surprise you wound up at the Electric Ladyland Tattoo parlor on Frenchman Street. Thank goodness they have a sign in the window (not shown here) that says No Drunks. Whew, you almost wound up with that mermaid on your forearm.

You can hardly stand up anymore with all that dancing and those shots of bourbon you drank. Let’s head on home…

Possible Side Effects

Wow, I should have never let you convince me to go for a beer at the Saint, that after-hours place on St. Mary Street near Magazine. As we saw from the “possible side effects” sticker on their dumpster while you puked alongside it, there is some truth in advertising.

 

 

NoLa Diary #9 – Scenes of Magazine Street

Today’s petite photo study of Magazine Street began somewhere around the Jackson Avenue intersection heading in the direction of Audobon Park.

This is a totally different neighborhood (as you can see) from my study of Magazine Street near the freeway overpass. Then again Magazine Street is 6 miles long and has its own bus route so it’s easy to understand how one area could look so different from another.

A blue beauty on Magazine Street

 

I know it’s December 20th and all good common sense would say it couldn’t be 80 degrees and muggy today, but I swear to you it was hot walking down the street in the sunshine. I only had on a short sleeve shirt and I still started sweating.

It’s impossible for me to imagine New Orleans in the summer based on this December weather, but if today is any indication, I’d say it’s got to be unbearable. Thank goodness I was surrounded by so many interesting sights I hardly noticed.

Did you know bicycles are apparently a “thing” here in NoLa? Well, they are. Everyone seems to have one and you see them everywhere chained to black wrought iron fences.

Three bicycles on a wrought iron fence - how NoLa!

Or perhaps chained to a bike rack, right near the corner…

Bicycle on the corner - Magazine St

you get the idea though.

But one of my favorite buildings in this stretch has got to be the Magazine Po’ Boy and Sandwich Shop. The building is truly an amazing piece of architecture (check out that gorgeous wrought iron balcony on the 2nd floor) and history, it’s a beauty!

Magazine Po' Boy Shop

And while I didn’t stop in to buy a sandwich, I want to show you the front of the local “Chinese Food” restaurant at the corner of Magazine and Andrew…

"Chinese Food" - corner of Magazine and Andrew

This places looks scary with it’s “rent this bench” sign and its wire mesh panels that go over the windows (painted dark blue or black I think). Well, this is the place everybody told me makes the absolute best Chinese food in town. It doesn’t even have a name!

Apparently you have to go in through that front door, past the convenience store in the front, and go to the back where there is a Chinese food counter. This kind of wierd instruction about “finding” a place is an intoxicant to a New Orleanian; they love all things hidden, especially out of the way food places no one but a local would know about.

I had already had my chicken fried steak lunch at Joey K’s further up Magazine Street (my verdict was “eh” – I wouldn’t recommend it) so I’ll have nothing to lose by going in this place at some point and trying the Chinese food. The gentleman outside in the white t-shirt and red sweater over his shoulder in the photo above also recommended the red beans and rice.

Somehow I think the worse a place looks outside, the better the food is supposed to be inside. This seems to be a NoLa thing too, like the bicyles. I’ll have to report back to you on the Chinese food – or other soul food sold here – in some other post.

Shadows and light on Magazine St

Everywhere you look here there’s a play of shadows and light, good and bad. The city itself is a study in contrasts. And everyday I have here is a new opportunity for me to see a new facet of New Orleans.