My birthday was this past weekend. It started on Friday with an unexpected call from a new friend, Lena, a girl I’d worked with on my first film here. She was in the neighborhood so we decided to walk to Gott’s and have a yummy lunch.
I had the shrimp BLT wrap and we split a refreshing cucumber/jicama salad. It reminded me a little of having lunch at Mel’s on Sunset Blvd. in L.A., one of my favorite things to do.
All of my friends here are new friends but people (including me) aren’t as guarded here, generally. It’s easier to get to the place where you feel warmth and genuine care coming from someone new. To illustrate that point, Lena offered to cook me a birthday dinner in her home the next day.
Friday night, a friend of a friend who I’d met a couple of times, picked me up and a group of us went to Free Friday at Tipitina’s.
Two of our group were easily young enough to be my sons so it’s a good thing people of all ages socialize together here. Walter “Wolfman” Washington played. He’s an amazing guitarist with a deep and soulful voice. Twice, he played the guitar with his TONGUE. All of the men in the audience had immediate respect and curiosity. I overheard the guys around me puzzling out if he was using his teeth or his lips or his tongue and how? All of the women were sorta fluttery. I, for one, never knew how much I wanted to see that until I was watching it. Though he only uses his hands in this video, you can get an idea of what an amazing musician he is, especially in the first half:
The next morning was to be our local version of the running of the bulls. As it started at 8 am, there were some guys already in their white costumes with red sashes planning to pull all-nighters. In New Orleans, the running of the bulls consists of running from bar to bar to refuel while being chased by roller derby women wearing hats with horns and smacking at people with plastic swords. Notice how many folks run with beverages or 12 pack boxes in their hands:
I didn’t attend so I could pace myself for my birthday weekend, but it looks like a must-do for next year.
Saturday, I decided to participate in a New Orleans birthday tradition, pinning money on your chest. On your birthday, you pin a dollar to your chest and throughout the day, people (including many, many strangers) wish you a happy birthday and some add money to your chest. My Friday night host contributed the first dollar and made me take a solemn vow to pin it to my chest. Good thing I did it as he joined us Saturday night.
First, I went to Lena and her sister’s for a wonderful home cooked meal. When you can’t be with the ones you love, love the ones your with. I miss my best friends since high school, sisters who often cooked for me in L.A. It was nice to have some version of that tradition, even if the players and cuisine were different. Lena even made me a wonderful cake complete with candles.
We headed to Frenchmen’s Street and wandered around until Billy Iuso and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux began playing at d.b.a., a great bar and music venue.
Many of my new friends were there, ready to dance the night away. The second set was INSANE. They did a version of “Li’l Liza Jane” that started as a slow chant and built to a pitch that got us dancing so feverishly, the wooden floorboards bounced beneath our feet. The last song of the night was an Indian chant to which everyone in the house seemed to know the lyrics. I realized that one of the thing so many people from this region have in common is how many of us have Native American blood. I, myself, have Cherokee ancestry. Living here is the first time I’ve realized how disconnected I am to that part of my history. Maybe that’s one of the many reasons I’m so obsessed with the Mardi Gras Indians, who celebrate their ties to Native American culture, be it through blood or history.
Here’s a few seconds of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux singing “Li’l Liza Jane” at d.b.a. a year ago.
I ended the night with $21 pinned to my chest and a smile on my face.
Sunday, my friend, Doug, and I went to the fundraiser to keep Mother-in-Law’s Lounge open. For a recap of the history of this kooky and amazing place where the mannequin of Ernie K-Doe still holds court:
I donated my birthday money and we had a few beverages before walking through Treme and getting a bite to eat. The evening ended watching reruns of “I Love Lucy” and laughing our asses off.
All in all, I’d say it was a fairly perfect birthday. Thanks to everyone who made it so!