My parents met as students at LSU before my father’s job took them to Maryland. My mother returned later in life but my father continued to build his life in the D.C. area. Last year, he and my brother and I attended a family reunion in Baton Rouge and I got to meet many members of my family for the first time. This year, my dad and brother returned for the 25th annual crawfish boil reunion, this time accompanied by my stepmother who’d never seen New Orleans.
We started the visit with a trip down to the river’s edge to see the oh-so-high water then walked around the French Quarter. I delighted in sharing some of my favorite shops and galleries including Luis Sahuc’s Photoworks, with its stunning and evocative photos as well as Joe Dunn Gallery, chock full of beautiful paintings and photos of local wonders. The gallery owners were all as interesting and welcoming as their artwork.
Then it was supper at Muriel’s on Jackson Square. We were all so stuffed on seafood and other culinary delights, we barely had room for their incredible bread pudding. My stepmother had enjoyed seeing the chandelier shops and estate jewelry on Royal Street but when we got to the corner of Bourbon Street, she realized we were entering a whole new world. She got the full experience from our scantily clad human traffic light to the “Big Ass Beers” sign waving in the air, beads being thrown from balconies and music pouring out of bar after bar.
The next day, we had a wonderful lunch at Susan Spicer’s Bayona. Her Saturday lunch is an unusual take on light fare. A reasonably priced prix fixe menu, it features 3 sections but you are free to choose any 3 items from any section, even 3 desserts if you want. My world-traveled and avid foodie father said his Caesar Style Salad with Lemon Pickle & Fried Capers was the best salad he’d ever eaten. As usual, the flavors were pure and artfully layered but my favorite bites were the Lemon Basil Tart. I had a sniffly nose and hated to lose any part of my palate, but the sophisticated combination of lemon and basil cut right through my congestion and socked me in the mouth with flavor. I’m so glad chefs like Ms. Spicer hung in there after Katrina. I would hate it if Bayona were on the list of things that “ain’t der no mo’.”
Walking back through the Quarter, my brother and I crossed paths with the Free Agents Brass Band. We followed them to their destination, a 40th birthday party for someone named Michelle. After having walked past so many live bands on Bourbon who play mainly covers of 80’s music the night before, I was so glad my brother got to see a real modern day funky brass band. Later in the day, a jazz funeral passed and I was sorry he’d left for Baton Rouge before getting to see how we put the fun in funeral.
The weather remained absolutely perfect for the reunion. We donned name-tags and wandered the semi-familiar faces, hugging and reconnecting with the “relative” strangers. I consider this my bonus family. I moved here, in part, to be closer to family (my mother’s) but I never considered that I would be afforded the opportunity to expand my family to include a whole new set of generations. True, some of them knew me as a child, but my memories are hazy at best. I’m loving falling into the warm embrace of people I belong to, getting to know more of myself through others. I was delighted to find the aunt for whom I was named was there along with my uncle. Though they are immediate family and I know them well, I hardly ever get to visit with them.
Crawfish is the perfect way to spend a day getting to know people. The critters take a long time to eat and though your hands are always busy, your mouth rarely has more than a bite in it. We ended the meal with a long line for homemade ice cream, both vanilla and strawberry/banana, made from the freshest ingredients. Yum.
On the last day of their visit, my family and I walked the Garden District and took in the beauty of the architecture and manicured botanicals. After a stroll down Coliseum past mansions and movie star homes, we crossed through Lafayette Cemetery #1 and took in the memorials to those who’ve gone before us. I showed them the tiny toys and trinkets left at the destitute orphan boys’ tomb, the markers indicating entire families dying within hours of each other during the Yellow Fever outbreak and the many mausoleums that have weathered the life and death of this city since 1833.
I’m grateful for family, for opportunities to gather together, and I’m grateful to have such a beautiful city to share with people I love. May the mighty Mississippi spare us and go easy on those who built in the spillway, including, as it turns out, members of my own family.
After they left, we watched HBO’s Treme and delighted in the unending Who Dat’s shouted by the New Orleanians watching the playoffs in a Manhattan bar. The show was a welcome break from the darkness of last week’s episode. It was terrible to see schools trying to teach music without instruments and the frustration of a man trying to receive Road Home money he’s clearly entitled to in the face of 90,000 applicants and only 82 applications processed, but I know the happyish ending. I know that the city will bounce back. There’s still so much to restore and renew but I’m proud to share my city with those who’ve visited me recently and I hope it inspires them to return.