Day 4 of Mom and my niece’s visit started with a fried brie salad at Gott’s. Panco breaded and fried cubes of brie, strawberries, blueberries, candied pecans and mixed greens in a raspberry vinaigrette. We all 3 ordered it so there was no tasting going on, just a lot of agreement on what’s yummy.
When they first brought us menus, they brought 2 papers with it, a list of specials and a notice about oysters. It explained about availability and price changes. I’m remembering a 50% increase along with apologies and explanations. Though the Gulf is 100 miles from here (remember that Anderson Cooper and the rest of you reporters who keep saying you’re reporting live from the Gulf when I can see you standing across from Jackson Square – you too could help New Orleans tourism just by making it clear how far we are, you are, from the oil), the seafood it supplies is part of the city’s pulse. Though I want to shelter my niece, Elle, from the big bad world, I was glad for her to see the impact of corporate greed. Maybe her generation won’t grow up writing memos like, “So what? It’s done now.” I was glad for her to see that environmental concerns are planetary concerns, human concerns. And 14 is old enough to learn not to shit where you eat.
Afterward, we took the streetcar into the French Quarter. There were several of us getting on at our stop and the machine didn’t want to take one of my dollars. I tried it this way and that, getting frustrated, feeling I was holding up the works. The streetcar driver said, “Relax, lady. It’ll all get done.” I know that people think of Los Angeles as “laid back,” but it’s actually a pretty tense city. At the very least, I was tense there. After 6 months of letting go of horn honking, constant helicopters, sitting in traffic for an hour to go a few miles, fighting for parking spots, 10 hit and runs to my car, getting hit twice by metro busses, etc. (and that’s just the driving aspect of life), I’m still apparently a fairly nervous wreck when it comes to transportation. If my tension was that obvious to a stranger driving a streetcar, I wonder how many other areas of my life are affected by the defenses I built to survive life in Los Angeles? (and New York? and D.C?) What I do know is that they are fading, the NOLA girl underneath all the big city defenses is emerging.
We headed to the Presbytere, a museum next to the St. Louis Cathedral, to see the Mardi Gras exhibit. Mom had wanted Elle to see the elaborate costumes and hoped to find one like the one she wore as a Mardi Gras Queen all those years ago to show Elle how heavy and unwieldy there are. But, Katrina continues to affect things in the city – they’d closed the museum to put in an exhibit for the upcoming 5 year anniversary of the storm. Defeated, we looked around the square trying to think where to go next when I spotted dozens of kids in sunny yellow t-shirts getting off a bus in front of Muriel’s and passing us. When it hit me, I exclaimed, “I know these kids! They’re the Roots of Music kids.” I’d just seen them play at the last Wednesday at the Square when 70 or more of them joined Galactic onstage for a few songs. For photos and a recounting of that day:
They were heading toward the Cabildo, the site of the transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France to the United States in 1803. We decided to let the kids get set up, that we’d hear them when they played, and headed into St. Louis Cathedral. The oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in America, the 3 steepled building is as recognizable as it is beautiful, but not being Catholic, I’d never ventured in. As with many Catholic churches, the paintings and windows were elaborate. Elle joked, “It’s so pretty, it makes me want to become Catholic.” As it is also a tourist attraction, pew-kneeling parishioners had to block out the clicking of cameras and the small child with the jester’s hat in Mardi Gras colors whose jingle bells jingled as he explored through the rows.
As we exited, a few more kids in yellow t-shirts passed by and a tall, dark and handsome smiling man seemed to be in charge. We asked where the kids would be playing and something remarkable and yet typical of this region happened, he invited us into his world. Turns out he was Derrick Tabb, the founder of Roots of Music, a group that provides music training, tutoring, meals and rides for middle school kids throughout the city. They currently serve around 125 kids and more than 500 are on the waiting list. If you’re in a generous mood, these kids and this program is money well spent.
He said the kids were rehearsing, as they do Tuesday through Saturday of every week. We followed him deep into the Cabildo, through a courtyard and into a back room where beginners were learning horns. Something about “no excuses” was written on the board. Not only were they reading music and learning about rests and quarter notes, they were being coached on posture, breathing and proper arm placement. We stayed awhile then went up the beautiful winding staircase to watch the intermediate group. Then to the third floor which held the tuba players.
We followed our host back down the stairs and watched a large group of kids practicing on drum pads on the floor. Their instructor was hard to please and at least as strict a disciplinarian as the others. He was introduced as Mr. Ruffins. It’s a small town full of family legacies, so I’m going to go ahead and guess that he’s kin to Kermit. Elle’s been playing drums with her school band and her 3 year old brother plays too – all day. She leaned over after watching Mr. Ruffins in action for awhile and whispered something about that if he was her teacher, she wouldn’t like him. Likable wouldn’t have been an accurate description of his teaching technique, it’s true, but when we finally went upstairs to watch the drummers do what I’d seen them do onstage a few weeks before, Elle immediately changed her tune. Derrick Tabb’s 3 year old nephew plays with the big boys but this is a town where Trombone Shorty and Harry Connick Jr. played at that age. You don’t get points for being a baby here – if you can play, you can play. Period. When the nephew was given a solo, Elle leaned over to whisper again, “He’s better than everyone in my band, including me.”
The discipline involved in their showmanship and the attention to detail required make for a stunning sight. Sure it was a rehearsal, but they put on a hell of a show complete with precision arm movements and fancy drumstick tricks. So many times, I’ve wanted my mother or those I love to be here to share something with me, see it with their own eyes, taste it with their own mouth, etc. When I saw the Roots of Music kids playing at Wednesday at the Square, I had wanted to share it all with my mom and here she was beside me, swinging her legs like she was marching with them in a Mardi Gras parade. And Elle was completely mezmerized. What a joy to get to share the music, the experience, with my family. And Mr. Tabb, a prince among men, took us through the Cabildo like it was the chambers of his heart, showing us what matters most to him – music, community, family.
Not to spoil the surprise, but when our week ended, after shooting a movie together, eating amazing food, seeing beautiful places, I asked Mom and Elle what their favorite moment was. Neither hesitated – the drums.
Later, when I looked Derrick Tabb up online, I realized that I’m not just a fan of his generosity and commitment to the youth of this city and the paying forward of its musical traditions, I’m actually a fan of him! He’s one of the drummers of a band I’ve discussed half a dozen times on this blog, the best brass band in the world in my opinion – Rebirth Brass Band. Do whatcha wanna! Hope I didn’t say anything ridiculous about Rebirth in front of him.
Afterward, we went back to Cafe du Monde for more beignets and hot chocolate. I don’t really know why our “doughnuts,” (fried bread with sugar on it a la churros, funnel cakes and other “doughnut” types) taste so much better to me than any others, I only know that Elle is now ruined for life for all other fried bread treats.
We wandered down Royal St., a street as famous for its shops and galleries as Bourbon Street is for booze and debauchery. We selected an adorable dress for Elle then fantasized about which fancy chandeliers we’d hang in homes we live in when we daydream. Then we went into Fleur de Paris, a shop I’ve loved since it opened in the 80’s. Uniquely feminine and stocked with custom and one-of-a-kind pieces, it’s like a fantasy of feathers, silks and things that sparkle. The store is most famous for its hats. The website shows a few – this is my favorite page of some of the styles. You can’t imagine how much more beautiful they are in person, but at least you get an idea.
We took the streetcar back to my neighborhood then went to my neighbor, Christina’s, for a wonderful home cooked meal of shrimp bar-b-que. Unlike other places, our shrimp bar-b-que has nothing to do with bar-b-que sauce or grills. It’s made on top of the stove with gobs of butter then served with a baguette. It’s messy, you eat with your buttery fingers and sop sauce with torn bread leaving crumbs and drips everywhere, but it is oh so very good.
As a side note, this is my 100th post on this blog. I want to thank all of you for making it a joy to stick to this, for giving me someone to write for. Thanks, in particular, to my subscribers and other faithful readers who are now reading their 100th post in my journey from L.A. Woman to New Orleans Lady. (Both great songs, by the way)
Here’s a few photos from our day and a couple from the Roots of Music concert at Wednesday at the Square.