Revisiting My Ode to New Orleans

It is Autumn, 2012 and the HBO series, "Treme", has begun its 3rd Season. It seemed an opportune time to revisit the blog I originally wrote on September 10, 2005, a month after Hurricane Katrina. If you have been to New Orleans, reading this will bring back the memories in which you will recognize and feel the adventure I am about to unfold. If you have never had the privilege of visiting New Orleans, a unique and astonishing city unlike any other in the United States, then reading this should motivate you to go. 

In December of 2001, I took my daughter Rachel with me for a New Orleans adventure during the week between Christmas and New Years. I wanted Rachel to experience the city of New Orleans as I had done two times before. I wanted her to know that this incredible city offers everything a person could possibly want to satisfy all of her senses. 

I was hooked on the Crescent City for life. My plan was to return again and again. But then Hurricane Katrina came and devastated my lovely, exciting, delicious, extravagant, naughty, funky, live-and-let-live city of a myriad of music, a delicacy of tastes, a profusion of colors and accents and sights and sounds like no other place in the world. And worse, it profoundly devastated its people. Sadly, since Katrina, I have yet to return to my beloved city.
I vow that I will. In the meantime, I offer my "ODE TO NEW ORLEANS: A Return Visit with My Daughter in December of 2001.

  Our Accommodations were made at a hotel, which was THE best buy of the century. Since Christmas is the slow time in the Crescent City, we stayed at the rather luxurious Chateau Sonesta on the corner of Iberville and Decatur, with a Canal Street entrance, and one block from Bourbon Street, at the extraordinarily low price of $79/night. The room was large and the service was friendly and efficient. I highly recommend it.

FOOD Food in New Orleans is not what you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but rather an adventure in eating each and every time you sit down at a table. Having a sweet tooth the size Canada, the first place we headed on our first day was Cafe de Monde for their world famous Beignets (deep fried dough smothered in very white, very powdery, very sweet sugar) and  Cafe au Lait (made with chicory, a root first grown in France, that makes the brew taste stronger and smoother). I was determined not to leave New Orleans this time around without 
eating certain indigenous foods. Top on the list was Jambalaya (essentially Creole paella, but with sausage or ham). In case you failed to notice, I made little attempt to adopt either a Kosher or healthy eating style on this trip. The next on my “not to miss” list was a Mufalatta sandwich (some may say equivalent to a hoagie or sub sandwich, but some would be wrong). This sandwich, with its incredibly yummy olive salad, is far better than any hoagie I've ever eaten. I got mine at the Central Grocery (home of the original Mufalatta), while Rachel got her sandwich, next door at an even better grocery than Central. What she ordered was something between a Mufalatta and a Po'Boy sandwich, made with turkey, not roast beef, oysters or fried shrimp, and of course served on a baguette-like New Orleans French Bread, known for its crisp crust and fluffy center. I could  go on indefinitely about the food, but suffice it to say that we ate Rice and Beans (on Monday of course), Rachel took the leap and slurped an Oyster, and we both chanced tasting Fried Alligator (yes, it tasted a lot like chicken).

Rachel ate Gumbo (a seafood stew/soup with among other things crayfish) and we both had some of the best blackened, Creole-style fish we'd ever eaten... (onions, green pepper and tomatoes make the sauce and usually served over rice), though our was  served with sweet potatoes and collard greens (incredibly delicious!). If your mouth is not watering at this point, well, mine is watering enough for both of us. Did I mention my sweet tooth? I sampled a few Pralines (caramelized and hardened sugar and pecans) before I bought a box to bring home. So, as you can see, the trip was an epicurean's delight and believe it or not, eating was NOT the only thing we did

MUSIC Though Bob Seeger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" has for many years been my musical mantra, I would now have to say, the times they are a'changin. Since New Orleans, the music 
that most moves me (literally and spiritually) is Jazz, Blues, R&B and Funk or some combination thereof.

While strolling the Farmer's Market, we met a man selling music CD’s and asked him for some music locale suggestions. He proceeded to take our OFFBEAT magazine and rate the contents of the music menu from one to six stars for each night we would be in town. He made great choices, but I have a feeling that there were no bad choices. We went to Bars called "The Maple Leaf" and "Donna's" and "Le Bon Temps Rouler." At each bar, the music got better and funkier, the environment got smaller and smokier, and the number of people crushed in, rocking and bopping to the vibes, grew larger. For the most part, I loved it and I stood and bopped with the best of them, but on one occasion you could find me on the other side of the window....that would be outside, which any other menopause mama would totally relate to, given the excessive body heat and smoke inside. We came home with two new CD's and a whole new appreciation for what it means to participate in music as opposed to just listening to it or, God forbid, have it on as background. I will definitely be looking for "blues buddies" to accompany me to New Orleans style clubs at home.

So, that's Accommodations, Food and Music. What else? Ah, yes...

SIGHTS and SEEING We did our share of sightseeing. We saw the Bayou on a Swamp Tour, in which the guide designed his boat and made his living on it. He was very cute and an excellent guide to boot.


There were no alligators to be found, as they hibernate in winter, but we did see  herons and other lovely birds, and one animal whose name escapes me, but it resembles a beaver. 
We wondered at the canopies of Spanish Moss surrounding the swamp. We watched as the guide fished and caught crabs, which I’m pretty sure he ate with his family that night.

Another outing took us to the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum where we watched an hour-long video on Voodoo. We left with a Gris-Gris bag and perhaps a bit more skepticism then we’d entered with, but it was fun, though Rach thought it was pretty much a bunch of hooey (the museum, that is, not necessarily the practice of voodoo).

We went to the De Gas House, which I found to be fascinating. There is a long, involved history of the French painter, De Gas, and how he came to have this house in the Garden District named after him. It turns out his maternal grandmother was born in New Orleans and the story of his family reads much like a Soap Opera. The house has copies of many of his paintings, 17 of which he painted during his brief stay in New Orleans. As it happened, the guide at the De Gas House also gave tours of the city and had a tour scheduled of the French Quarter that very afternoon, to which he invited us. We learned that New Orleans is rich in history and the home of many cultures. Though its history is representative of the South in some ways, it is unique in other ways because of its diversity and liberal motto of live and let live.

We managed to do our fair share of shopping in New Orleans. One of my favorite purchases was a signed and numbered, beautifully framed lithograph entitled, “Royal Street – 1890” by Al Federico, 1996.

I must mention another of our walks in the French Quarter. We went to two bars of note. One, by chance, we stepped in for a drink and found ourselves to be the only women at the bar. The men were happy and gay (or gay and happy) and served our drinks, as well as took pictures with us to bring home. The other bar, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, was a "return trip", as I had been there once before on a "Vampire Tour" of New Orleans. It is dark and dingy and makes the BEST BLOODY MARY in the world, with a delicious pickled pepper, instead of a piece of celery, sticking out of the glass. I thought it was well worth the return trip. Rachel agreed.               

Creole vs. Cajun The city is a complete blending of Spanish, French and French Canadian, with some Irish added to the mix. As a side note, there are several synagogues in the city proper, the
most well known being Touro Synagogue...yes, there is an association with the famous Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI. Interestingly, we met the proprietor of a little eatery near our hotel who, as it turned out, was Jewish, from Morocco and knew our family name, Kessous!!!
It’s a small, small world. But I digress. Cajuns are basically descendants of French speaking people from Acadia, Nova Scotia, forced out of England to Canada and then to Louisiana in the mid 1770s. One of my guidebooks said that a Creole, from the Spanish word criollo meaning colony-born, is a native-born New Orleanian of French and/or Spanish extraction. It seems, however, that there are many different definitions of Creole and different outlooks as to who is rightly considered one. In any case, the word, Creole, has come to describe almost everything indigenous to New Orleans.

In conclusion, my intention here was to give you "Lagniappe" (Lan-yap).
That is to say, I wanted to give you a small taste of New Orleans,
while for the same price, "a little something extra”. I hope I have succeeded.

My Prayer for New Orleans


Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler! MAY THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!

1 comment:

lynnes112@comcast.net said...

Thank you so much, Sher, for sharing. It was beautifully written (as usual) and very informative. Want to come along as our guide? 😉. I am going to share this with my fellow travelers. I'm looking forward to our adventure!!