Thursday, April 29, 2010

All That Jazz in New Orleans

Today starts the second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and I’m leaving before the music starts this afternoon. 

I’ve just wrapped up two days in the Crescent City (and am sitting in the Enterprise Rental Office on Chef Menteur Hwy, typing today's entry as I await the four-cylinder chariot that I’ll drive to Natchitoches—pronounced, for some reason, as NACK-i-tish), and thought I'd post some reflections. I coordinated my trip to be here at the same time as my son (Ceilee) and daughter-in-law (Tosca), who are in town for the jazz festival. I was in town mainly to be with them and to enjoy the Cajun cuisine (I'm just catching the tail end of oyster season). Ceilee & Tosca have two good friends from Las Vegas, Kenny & Ricci, who just moved back to New Orleans, and we stayed at Ricci's mom's house in suburban Chalmette. As Kenny's new job doesn't start until Monday morning, he served as our tour guide.

One of the specialties of the Big Easy is frozen concoctions served up in to go cups. You can get them all over town, and the best known of these is probably the hurricane—a deadly combination of gin, vodka, rum, triple sec, amaretto, and a splash of fruit juices which is guaranteed to seed the nucleus of a tropical storm in your stomach. However, I was no sooner picked up at the Amtrak station Tuesday afternoon than we headed for the Port of Call—a hole in the wall bar on Esplanade—and a sampling of what was touted as a much superior amalgamation of alcohol and fruit juices styled a monsoon. While I didn't conduct a blind taste test, I am willing to attest that enough tastes will make you go blind. I was glad I wasn't driving.

Who dat?
After a relatively slow morning the next day (if you moved faster your head hurt), our group grabbed poboys at a nearby sandwich shop (poboys are to the South what grinders are to New England, and heros are elsewhere), and I had my first taste of a muffaletta, a regional specialty made with multiple varieties of salami liberally coated with a salty olive mix and toasted cheese. Yum! Fresh from those fortifications, we got in Kenny's car and made our way down to the French Quarter to see the sights. En route, we passed a ramshackle repair shop which displayed this hand lettered sign:

No Loitering
No Crack Dealing
No Cat Selling

I found myself wondering what series of events convinced the proprietor that he needed to post that sign and clear up any confusion about what kinds of activities were in bounds. I especially wondered about flogging felines. My imagination was further stirred by Kenny's assurance that you could show up at this place at midnight and reliably get a flat tire fixed. It struck me immediately that this establishment had a business model I had not run into before.

After struggling to find mid-day parking in the Vieux Carré, we started strolling down Bourbon St, replete with its bawdiness and hype (one of the cuter t-shirts being offered up was "I Got Bourbon Faced on Shit Street"; my other favorite was "In Dog Beers, I've Only Had One"). While I'd been hoping to make an appearance at the Acme Oyster House on Iberville (my favorite raw beer in the Western Hemisphere), Tosca was not feeling well and we staged an orderly retreat after only imbibing one round of three-for-one beers and a hand-rolled cigar (I watched the guy roll it right in front of me).

After a quiet evening of grilling at Ricci's mom's (where the hands down highlight was locally procured andouille and boudin sausage), we retried early, husbanding our energy for a second foray into the French Quarter this morning. Our plan was to enjoy a distinctive New Orleans culinary experience: breakfast at Brennan's. Ceilee's mom (Annie) and I had celebrated her 24th birthday doing this very thing more than 36 years ago, and I figured it was time to do it again.

Unfortunately, logistical snafus sabotaged our good intentions. Tosca needed to retrieve her driver's license from a not-open-early
to go frozen daiquiri shop where she'd inadvertently left it the afternoon before, and I needed to do bureaucratic battle with Enterprise Car Rental in order to get the same rate in person that I'd been promised over the phone when I made the reservation last week. (While I'd like to tell you that such corporate mendacity is isolated, this particular experience is numbingly not distinctive to New Orleans.)

In any event, common sense (and a steel will) prevailed and I was ultimately able to rent the car for the conditions I had been promised. I'm now on my way to a Creole lunch in Lafayette. I hope Tosca's day goes as well as mine, and the music is as soulful as the food.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

funny typo in the 6th paragraph i think you meant bar not beer