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He!! or High Water - Another New Orleans Trip Report

He!! or High Water - Another New Orleans Trip Report

Old Sep 13th, 2007, 02:00 PM
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He!! or High Water - Another New Orleans Trip Report

He!! or High Water

OK, all these great trip reports from New Orleans have inspired me to write mine up. Sorry it’s a bit dated – it’s from the end of April (when I started writing it and then got distracted)…

My old college friend D was a guest at my husband’s “A Pirate Looks at Forty” party in Key West a few years ago. While most of my college friends from my days at a New Orleans college had scattered to the four winds – ourselves included – D and I managed to stay in touch and get together every few years. This time, as we parted ways, Dan and I agreed that we would meet, and we would try to gather our other intimates, for an unofficial 20th reunion at Jazz Fest 2007 in New Orleans.

At the time we planned our reunion, of course, we had no idea that the doomsday scenario painted by weather experts for decades would actually come to pass between the date we made our pledge and the time we actually made good on it. We had no clue that our beloved college town would indeed have to survive and recover from the he!! and high water wrought by Hurricane Katrina. But like many alluring Southern ladies who beguile with their velvet glove and magnolia charms, this lady has a spine of steel and an indomitable spirit. Neither we nor New Orleans would take “no” for an answer. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, while New Orleans didn’t let us down, the rest of our old crew (krewe?) did, so it was just me and my old friend D, and our spouses.

D, the lucky dog, got to drive to New Orleans from Texas, while DH and I had to slog it from BWI to CLT to MSY, arriving late Thursday night. Even for this huge event that is Jazz Fest, for which people travel from all over the world, the airport seemed eerily empty. You could easily spot the Jazz Fest-ers by their claimed luggage, which includes the de rigueur folding chairs.

Our one bag (lesson learned here – take two and spread the weight!) lumbered down the chute, because for us, a visit to New Orleans requires MULTIPLE costume changes. From to Jazz Fest clothes (cool, with comfortable shoes), to walking-around clothes, to going-out clothes. Despite the casual-ization of the world, New Orleans remains a city where spiffing up to go out is not out of place. I for one not only enjoy putting on some Sunday-goin’-to-meetin’ clothes for brunch at Commander’s Palace, I also enjoy seeing others having done so – and at least during Jazz Fest, I was not disappointed.

Once we picked up our monster bag and collected our rental car, we drove to the Ritz Carlton on Canal Street. I’d lost my bearings – things have changed, the city is darker – and we got a bit lost, but not for long. Since our last stay at the RC (and since Katrina), the hotel has been renovated, and it is lovelier than before. While it’s a Ritz, it nevertheless retains a local flavor; how can it not, when it’s inside the shell of a grand New Orleans department store, the old Maison Blanche store? We checked, found our beautiful corner room with views of Canal Street, the Mississippi River, and the French Quarter, and promptly crashed.

Jazz Fest Friday

As it would all weekend, the weather dawned absolutely perfect. High around 82 degrees, bright sunshine, and low humidity. We woke early and hit the streets, wanting to explore a bit before our appointed rendezvous at the Fairgrounds at 11. We had the obligatory breakfast of beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde and people-watched in Jackson Square and on the Moonwalk. It was early, and the city was just waking up, but there were people about everywhere (C du M was downright crowded). We wandered the streets of the FQ a bit, bought folding chairs on Canal Street, then returned to our room to gather ourselves to head to Jazz Fest.

For transport, we used the Big Chief bus, which picks up revelers in front of the Sheraton hotel on Canal Street. As New Orleans goes, this is an incredibly efficient and orderly process. The trip to the Fairgrounds was eye-opening, as once you get past the recovering FQ and CBD, you see the empty shells of buildings, broken glass, shuttered businesses and the ever-visible waterlines and spray-painted doors. It’s sobering and devastating, but those New Orleanians who’ve remained are remarkably upbeat and welcoming. What a job they have done so far, and have yet to do.

Anyway, we caught up with the Texans in short order and promptly staked out a comfortable base at the Gentilly Stage, which is one of the big stages but not the biggest. If you’ve never been to Jazz Fest, it’s an amazing experience – multiple stages, all going at the same time, with musical acts both huge and obscure. And everywhere you go, FOOD, glorious New Orleans FOOD. Not too expensive, either. The only ick factor – for which I was well-prepared by bringing my own TP and hand sanitizer – is the porta potties. Disgusting.

I kept waiting to run into someone I knew from my school days, but instead, I looked up at one point and one of my co-workers was walking right past me. Big double take! (We never did run into any schoolmates, except the ones we’d planned to meet.) So, in between alligator sausage and crawfish stuffed shrimp and fried green tomatoes and beer, we dug into some great music, including a new favorite – the Subdudes – as well as good ol’ Van Morrison (and man, he does look ooooollllldddd…).

Rick and I snuck out after hearing a few numbers from Van (had to stay for Moondance, dontcha know) and got back to the hotel to change for dinner. I’d had a very hard time getting a table at some of our old favorites, so we tried something new – the Pelican Club, which is in the FQ. It’s a gorgeous old building, but they really cram the tables tight together (I decided what to order by looking at other people’s plates). If you like seafood, you won’t be disappointed – we have lovely meals accompanied by a chilled dry rose wine (NOT the pink wine of the 80s!).

Saturday – Heading Uptown

After a long day on our feet Friday, we indulged in room service breakfast Saturday morning, after which Rick and I drove uptown to Audubon Park. (The streetcar was not running, and I’d rather drive than take the bus – too many unsavory memories of the “Freret Jet” from my college days…). We had some time to kill before meeting up with the Texans (who were staying in a rented cottage Uptown), so we strolled the Park and up and down Magazine Street. With a few exceptions, this area was not especially hard hit by Katrina, and seems to be making a very good recovery. Nevertheless, few tourists venture here, and people were quite surprised to find tourists in this part of the city. (We made a point to spend money, even if it just meant stopping for iced tea every few hours.)

We hooked up with the Texans on the campus of our alma mater and took a nostalgic tour of the grounds. School was still in session, with exams about to begin, and we felt both old compared to the students (they seem so young, don’t they?), and grateful not to be missing Jazz Fest because we had to study. We strolled some more Uptown, which is truly a beautiful area, and made our way to the Riverbend and the levee. Old habits die hard … lunch was at Cooter Brown’s, where I was obliged to enjoy plump, succulent oysters (they now cost a bit more than the $1/dozen of my college days) and Abita beer and a disgustingly decadent burger. Luckily, the long stroll back to our car and Audubon Park worked off a little of what we ate.

We parted ways for the afternoon, with plans to regroup for dinner. Rick and I headed back to the FQ, where I succumbed to the siren song of Royal Street art galleries. Tarnation! I always vow to keep my credit card securely stowed, but it never fails that some gallery will have some work of art in the window that magnetically pulls me in. (The only saving grace is that I am well familiar with the gallery mark-ups, and am a Professional Negotiator, so at least I didn’t feel too violated after I purchased a beautiful, dramatic oil painting). I also restocked at Bourbon French Parfums – where I’d had a personalized scent custom-blended for me some years ago.

Saturday’s dinner was at Cochon on Tchoupitoulas Street in the Warehouse District. As the name suggests, this place is all about PIG, and it’s getting rave (well-deserved reviews). Consistent with the funky, industrial vibe of the Warehouse District, the place is all polished concrete floors and smooth, linear wood, with an open kitchen. One of my clients, whose daughter is a server there (but who was off that night for – you guessed it – Jazz Fest), had arranged for us to be met with a delectable bottle of wine – a very nice start to the evening. The food was fab … if you like pig, that is. From charcuterie to pork belly to pulled pork, all parts of the pig get star billing here, as do down-home Cajun foods like rabbit (or lapin, if it makes you feel better) and fried chicken livers. To finish off the meal, DH was convinced to order moonshine, and what a revelation it was. Not firewater, but a smooth sweet liqueur with a faint taste of corn.

Coincidentally, and conveniently for me and DH, one of the Texans’ favorite singers, Marva Wright, was performing for free at the French Quarter Bar at the RC. I knew I was in a New Orleans groove when I switched from my usual rum drinks to the gin-and-tonic of my college days (drinking age was 18 back then…). Marva was a BLAST! And what was better was knowing we only had to ride the elevator to go to bed when we ran out of steam.

Sunday – Jazz Brunch and More Jazz Fest

As is our tradition, Sunday meant brunch at Commander’s Palace for us and the Texans, so we reconvened at the revered old restaurant in the morning. Commander’s has gotten a facelift, and looks decidedly more current with a turquoise, green and brown color scheme, yet retains it’s Old South charm. Starting with mimosas and Bloody Mary’s, we enjoyed a decadent brunch while being serenaded by a wandering jazz trio.

But we didn’t linger over brunch because we were heading back to Jazz Fest. Rick and I scurried back to the RC, changed, grabbed our chairs, coozies and survival kit, and soon we were camped out yet again at the Gentilly Stage, enjoying the weather, the mellow vibe, and the music. Highlights were the New Orleans Social Club, the incomparable (and apparently ageless, since she doesn’t look a day older than when I saw her on a college riverboat booze cruise) Irma Thomas, and Bonnie Raitt.

By the time Bonnie Raitt hit the stage, we were drunk on sunshine, beer, music and the special bonhomie that is peculiar to Jazz Fest. We didn’t make it to the end of her show, so boarded a bus back to Canal Street. It felt good to rinse off the dust, grime and sunscreen and get fresh for dinner out. This time it was a casual drop-in dinner at Remoulade in the FQ, which featured more of those yummy Gulf oysters, as well as a mojito or two.

Monday, we dashed back to the airport for an early morning flight and return to reality. We left New Orleans sated, having enjoyed the company of old friends, dined splendidly, entertained royally, and heartened by the progress of recovery of the Queen City of the Mississippi (which we recognize still has a long way to go). We pledge to return soon, and spend lots of money to help recovery.
Callaloo is offline  
Old Sep 13th, 2007, 02:17 PM
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Fabulous trip report Callaloo. I am really glad you finally got around to writing it

I haven't been to Jazz Fest, but it is on my list of things to do!!!
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Old Sep 13th, 2007, 02:47 PM
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Fabulous report!! Makes me want to go back so badly, and brings back some great memories.

Hanging on the wall behind me as I write is this poster https://ssl.netnation.com/~art4now/jpost76.htm which we purchased for $3 I believe that year. Ours is one of the signed numbered 1st editions, but I wouldn't sell it for anything. It's a wonderful reminder of a terrific period in our lives: just married, no kids (both born later at Touro Infirmary), hitting the Jazz Festival and having BB King drive up in his long black limo. Hot and dusty yes, great food, and always bon temps.

- First anniversary dinner at Elmwood Plantation, having the oldest of old black waiters sing us happy anniversary in a wavering voice as he he held our anniversary bread pudding in front of us in his shaky hands.

- Mardi Gras and all the beads thrown in our direction once we had kids on our shoulders.

- My first Super Bowl in your alma mater's stadium.

- DH's first hotel job, asst controller at the Royal Orleans. Archie Casbarian was his GM (owner for ages now of Arnauds)

Great city to start a marriage in, and great memories! Thanks for jogging them! Your trip sounds wonderful...makes me realize we really should make a trip back. We'd have to stay at the Royal Orleans of course.
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Old Sep 13th, 2007, 02:53 PM
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Hmm...that url didn't post right. Try this instead http://tinyurl.com/2euvgy
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Old Sep 13th, 2007, 03:27 PM
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Love that poster! And Jazz Fest is really the best way I know to taste New Orleans (with all five senses). Mardi Gras -- well, my life would be complete without ever doing that again!

OO, BTW, my alma mater is Loyola, not Tulane; their campuses are both Uptown.
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Old Sep 13th, 2007, 04:43 PM
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Boy, you have a wonderful writing (and living) style. Thanks for posting your report! I leave in three weeks and you have given me some great ideas.
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Old Sep 13th, 2007, 08:09 PM
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Your great report makes me want to go again.............and I just got back.
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