I’m in N’Awlins! It is… an astonishing mix. Dignified antebellum grande dames draped with Mardi Gras beads on their wrought-iron upper balconies sit cheek-by-jowl with sleek concrete modern banks adorned with cocky neon signs. An ornate “classical” style court building gleams internally from multiple glittering chandeliers I see winking from a side window. Looking up at upper-story windows, I can see the shabby charm of peeling paint on bannisters winding up narrow, steep staircases. Peering through a many-windowed door, I spot a battered brick entryway with peeling plaster walls — draped with glittering brocade hung over elegant antique chairs and a chaise lounge.
The streets are narrow and busy at 9pm, with impatient taxis darting around more cautious passenger cars like sleek tuna irritable at having to cope with those slower and less bold than they. Bicycle rickshaws are immensely popular, wheeling along the narrow roads with joyously inebriated passengers. Jazz blares brassily down one street; before the sound can fade completely the semi-sweet scent of marijuana heralds the soulful warblings of a folk musician accompanying himself on guitar. Later I catch the scent of clove, where a dark-skinned saxophonist takes a break, crouching in the slight alcove before a store that is closed for the night. Two storefronts later a young man sits at a card table; his sign proclaims him a palm reader and tarot interpreter.
The buildings I’ve been in are stacked several story-layers tall, with small rooms and low roofs. Everywhere I’ve gone so far is highly air conditioned, with lots of ceiling fans, and the hotel room is far larger and more elegant than I expected. Along the street, a billion tiny shops announce their wares: antiques predominate, with New Orleans-themed tchatchkees a close second. The night is humid and warm, and people stroll past me on the street holding virulently green, cheap plastic drink containers shaped like a bong with a grenade as the base.
In places the streets have decorative white ceramic tiles announcing their original names when the city of New Orleans was the capital of Louisiana. Some of the narrow, one-way streets are old enough that they don’t have pedestrian walk signs. Sidewalks and driveways are often decorative brick, or crumbling — or both. Outside the restaurant an older man solemnly and slowly re-grouts one of the large slate-colored flagstones that’s come loose. People step casually around him, chattering together; a small family group asks me to take a photograph of them, and I do so. There’s lots of building going on — and lots of buildings that need work. Coming off the highway I passed an enormous rusting hulk of piled-up, twisted metal and wood that must’ve once been a building but now looks like it was stirred by a hurricane.
For dinner I went to a place the hotel concierge recommended as casual, cheap, and very Cajun — three for three! Her suggestion is a definite win. I had a sort of sample plate, which had a bit of jambalaya, red beans & rice, an andouille sausage, some crawfish etoufee & rice, and some bread. Delicious! -but also spicy — I ended up gulping my iced tea frequently. Also very filling! I couldn’t finish it all. With ice cream and an iced tea and the 10% off card from the hotel concierge, the entire meal is only $20! I tip Javon, the interestingly-named waitress, well; she took good care of me.
The table next to me had a father (with an odd foreign accent) and daughter (who was very American sounding) sharing “gator tail bites,” an appetizer. I wonder if it’s named under the same principle as buffalo wings? :) Jazz and jazzy rock covers are playing in the background, and seafood, jazz, and fleur de lis decorative themes are all over the place. The restaurant’s name is Oceana Grill. The t-shirts on the busboys read: “Got Oysters?” -which makes me giggle. Decoratively painted on the wall of the small room I’m in, in the restaurant, are a variety of recipes: “chicken gumbo,” “deep fried Blue Channel catfish (for 6)” and, closest to me, “Hurricane #5” with “Category #5” painted on the depiction of the drink, and “Katrina: the Mother of all the hurricanes” neatly written at the bottom. For fun I copy down the recipe, curious as to whether it’s actually correct:
1 1/2 oz vodka
1/4 oz Grenadine
1 oz Gin
1 oz light run [sic]
1/2 oz Bacardi 15% proof rum
1 oz Amaretto
1 oz triple sec
2 oz grapefruit juice
2 oz pineapple juice
I wonder if I can get beignets tomorrow? Closing with a lovely quote I found, with which I quite empathize:
“Wandering out is our natural state of widening our awareness, and we often accomplish this through dreams, creative processes, engaging new ideas and feelings.” –Kelley Harrell, urban shaman, http://www.soulintentarts.com/