Once more the intermittent urge to write is upon me. Time is precious and the processing of life is all consuming. This, of course, does not stop one from utilizing the time/space continuum with a passion that borders on the absurd. Since my last missive I have traveled again. This time to a place I had not been to since a teenager. The Crescent City- New Orleans.
It seems ridiculous that I had not been there. I have a ton of friends who went to college there and attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival EVERY spring. My good buddy Larry Bressler did his externship as a chef there and everything about the guy was mardi gras all the time. My last communication with the big lug was him sending me a huge list of places to eat in his favorite city.
Anyway the lovely and dynamic Belle had her annual APHA Conference there and was going to be there for a week. Seemed like a good time for me to tag along. I went with no plans other than food, music and culture. Boy did this city not disappoint. We weren't off the plane more than an hour and half before I was seeing Ike Stubblefield and his band just tear the roof of some joint on Frenchmen street. It was a perfect intro.
We stayed at one of the conference hotels on Bourbon St. At first I was trepidatious, but the hotel was very nice. Old school, but opulent and a great refuge from the madness outside. And boy, what madness. I truly believe that Bourbon Street in New Orleans is America at it's worst. The place is a festering hole of drunken frat boys, out of towners, local street gangs and businessmen acting horribly while drinking copious amounts of grain alcohol and being accosted by barkers to see the semi nude women in the clubs. Any live music emanating from a bar was all 80's cover bands. It was deplorable in it's decadence. The smell alone would send me careening down any street to get the hell away from it.
But that's when the magic started. The Quarter has been occupied by some western influence for 500 years. The Spanish got there first only be ousted by the French who eventually gave it to Thomas Jefferson. The architecture is just stunning for an American city. It is the most European of places in our country. The cobblestones, and wrought iron and old, thick doorways with their centuries old layers paint and peeling brick are a pleasure to walk around. The tiny shops of eclectic geegaw and antiques and clothes and art and stuff is kinda funky and cool. Of course there is a plethora of touristy shit too. T shirt shops and praline shops and cheap assed chinese made beads and masks and garbage. You just gotta poke around to find the goods.
We saw music almost every night and we got the gambit from Charmaine Neville to the Rebirth Brass Band. This was always precluded by a meal that, each night, was better than the one before. The city has awakened from it's old world slumber and some great chefs are making a name for themselves creating lively and fresh meals using the great seafood and produce and meat indigenous to the south. Cochon, Boucherie,The Fresh Market, and many others. The highlights? Oh lord. I mean it was November so oysters were in season and plentiful. Raw, grilled, stuffed and buried in hot sauce. It just didn't matter; they were in front of me everyday and I got my lifetime fill of BP by products. It will be worth the tumor.
Its really hard to put into words how I felt but I found a note I typed in the airport the morning I left at oh shit thirty...
Good bye New Orleans . 'Twas a pleasure . Your denizens were
hospitable, friendly, welcoming, polite, helpful, gracious and generally fun. Your food is world class. From your food trucks to dive bars
to fine dining establishments, I ate my way through your town like a
termite in a sawdust pile.
Your musicians are so good that is impossible to add enough superlatives and adjectives to describe the variety of virtuosity I witnessed .
Your seething underbelly of vice; laid bare with nary a pasty to hide even a scrap of decency, entices the world weary traveler with a constant barrage of tactile offerings whose danger is obvious ,yet disregarded out of hand. Sure, it's the perfect place to destroy your liver, deviate your septum, and cause gout . But it is done with a sense of awareness that it is at once refreshing and ominous in its scope. No other city has the same kind of urgent relaxation blanketing it's sidewalks.
I can ignore the urban blight caused by what appears to be a disregard by the landed gentry for the less fortunate because it is obvious that everyone knows you are doomed. You will be swallowed by the water as sure as there is a tide and the centuries of holding back the big muddy will be for naught You will cease to exist in space, but in time your impact will be forever etched as the home of eternal fun
I. Will. Be. Back