After a week in Los Angeles, returning to New Orleans felt great. On the plane, I ran into a fellow L.A. to N.O.LA actor who I’d carpooled with to Baton Rouge. I met a woman who’d run major art museums, taught college and painted part of the Ernie K-Doe mural on the (just-shuttered) Mother in Law Lounge. She was beautiful, smart, talented, over 60 and dying of cancer. I liked knowing that we were heading to a town where being older and dying wouldn’t detract from how sexy-cool she is.
As we passed over the country, I felt the $6 cupcakes, hard water and dry air disappear behind me. How did I ever afford a city where it’s a $191 ticket for jaywalking? Every city has its charms but here’s a few that were waiting for me in NOLA.
I touched base with a friend and when I asked what was going on in his life, he pulled out a guitar and sang his answer. It was a beautiful song that wound from his relationship to his work life to his friendships with a refrain about walking on. “I’ve got a girl, she’s sweet as can be. But, there’s something wrong. It must be me…” It was honest and whimsical and he made the whole thing up right in front of me – and he’s not even a musician by trade.
I ate lunch at a La Madeleine, a French country-style cafeteria. A woman greeted me with, “Bon jour, ma cher,” a combination of French and Cajun. The cashier finished her sale with, “Bon appetit, my baby,” a combination of French and good ole Southern charm.
The curls returned to my hair, my skin stopped cracking and my sinuses stopped burning. The radio announced a birthday party last Saturday for WWOZ – our local station. I love driving around listening to the people I’ve seen in concert this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more live music in the last year than in all my previous years combined. To listen to the live feed:
There were banners over Magazine Street announcing, “Merriment on Magazine,” a shopping season kick-off sponsored by local merchants – also on Saturday. That day, there was also a Christmas parade on St. Charles and later, a walking parade of hundreds of people dressed as Santa.
I spent Saturday walking the French Quarter, eating my favorite dish at Coop’s, the pasta rosa. Coop’s is a dive bar with sports on TV’s and casually dressed regulars as well as the tourists who’ve been let in on its secret – it got great cheap eats!
Sunday, game day, we had breakfast at the brand new Camellia Grill in the French Quarter.
The original Camellia Grill was opened in 1946 and was best known for the friendly and entertaining service of its longtime employees. After Katrina, it changed ownership (to an outsider) but the feeling and the food remain the same. I never go to the one in Uptown because of the line – it must be listed in every tourist brochure AND the kids from the nearby colleges love it.
The Camellia Grill in the tourist-packed French Quarter opened Friday and proceeds of the weekend would benefit the SPCA, and yet there were no lines. In L.A., a restaurant was always hottest in the first few weeks. Like movies, if they don’t open big, they’re gone in no time. Here, people have to find a place, tell friends. There were no banners, no ads, no paparazzi waiting across the street, just the trust that people will stumble over it, locals will tell each other and, eventually, the concierges will tell tourists. Unlike movies and L.A. hot spots, businesses here grow because what they sell is great, not because of a big campaign.
At Camellia Grill, our efficient server took our orders and chatted us up while he polished every piece of silverware before gently placing it, untouched by human hands, on our napkins. He took the same untoched-by-human-hands care in offering me a straw. The waiter at the other island sang to his customers and offered each fist-bumps as they exited. Here’s some video from inside:
The chili cheese omelet was great and the grits… heavenly. As we were finishing up, a 2 man band set up behind us and played Frazier-like tunes. With the pink walls, grill-heated pecan pie, and oddball music, it was like a southern-fried episode of Twin Peaks, wacky and wonderful.
The Saints won again and we locals are beginning to get the fever again. I Believe!
Here’s Angela Bell’s ode to our world champion Saints, recorded over 20 years ago. Picture yourself at a bar in the French Quarter, cold beer by your side, fun people all around dressed in Saints gear, and another win on the big screen TV. Then, press play.
Farewell Ernie K-Doe’s Mother in Law Lounge