I’ve had friends here for a week, a couple from L.A. in town for the librarian’s convention. Readers of this blog and web-surfers, they had a pretty long list of things they wanted to do and as a week came to close, I’d have to say they did pretty well crossing things off. We started with a walk through the French Quarter past Jackson Square and down to the river bank. The water has gone down a bit exposing slick algea-covered steps but the Mississippi continues to flow high. We moseyed past Cafe du Monde (which they visited later for some beignets and chicory coffee) and down to the French Market.
Danica had her first praline. She thought she’d had many but it turns out she’d been thinking praline candied pecans were pralines. If you haven’t had the buttery confection, put it on your list. Loretta’s in the French Market has consistently fabulous pralines and are generous with samples.
Moments later, Danica taste-tested a hot sauce on a large display of dozens of bottles with flames, skulls and telling words like “Hot.” But she put it on her tongue anyway. Luckily, she wasn’t the first to have made the mistake and the man at the next booth had bread at the ready. We topped the excursion with crawfish boil with celery and garlic then wandered to Coop’s for dinner. My Pasta Rosa was a big hit at the table.
We did a walking tour of the Garden District, taking in celebrity owned mansions, majestic manor homes and quirky, beautifully constructed houses of all ilk. We cruised Lafayette Cemetery #1 where the groundskeeper regaled us with morbid jokes, then to SnoWizard for the gang’s first ever sno-balls.
We sent them to the Irvin Mayfield Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street. I’ve never been to the jazz club but Shamarr Allen was easy to recommend. Danica and Kevin said he put on a heck of a show, especially the second set. The band invited some kids from Positive Vibrations to join them onstage at some point and my friends got to see firsthand how we pass our traditions along.
Next up was a trip to the North Shore to visit my 85 year old firecracker aunt, Norma. Having heard so many stories about Norma over the course of our decade long friendship, it was the one thing Danica insisted upon doing on this trip. It was a Sunday, so Norma was hosting her post-church gathering of fried food eaters/Bridge playing buddies. We brought our gumbo and salad lunches and a super moist chocolate cake with cheesecake icing from a nearby Rouses and joined the ladies for funny stories and family history. I continue to discover more of my own story, my family’s story, the longer I live here.
On the way back, Danica asked if she could see the Katrina damage to understand what she’d seen on the TV 6 years ago. We started where the levee breached in Lakeview. An upper middle class area, many of the residents fared well enough to rebuild but many empty lots and shells of houses remain. Then we took in parts of the 7th and 9th Wards. So much continues to be undone and I’d dreaded visiting the area since the Storm. Though the area is still a graveyard to many people and their dreams, I was surprised by my reaction to the Brad Pitt Make It Right houses. Yes, they’re odd and don’t fit the local architecture, but there were so many of them. Maybe the residents hate what’s happened to the look of their neighborhood but as we drove past people sitting on their porches then through a group of boys playing ball in the street, I thought, “This is good. Life goes on.”
Our guests had chosen James Beard Award winning chef Donald Link’s Herbsaint for a more upscale meal. Though it’s not on the regular menu, I’d love to have the delicious fig and cheese appetizer again. Then it was off to Frenchmen Street for Glen David Andrews at d.b.a. He owned the stage and took the crowd on a journey through classics like the Meters’ Hey Pocky Way and Professor Longhair’s Tipitina’s and new hits like John Boutte’s Treme Song and Trombone Shorty’s One Night Only, always giving credit to the originators. He also announced to the crowd that Big Chief Bo Dollis will receive the nation’s highest honor for folk and traditional arts, the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. I was so happy my friends were able to see a performance tailored more to locals. Andrews walked through the crowd singing, drawing us nearer, and he led us in cheers, chants and Who Dats!
Of course, I had to join my friends for lunch at Muriel’s on Jackson Square. I was enjoying my favorite Shrimp and Jumbo Lump Crab Salad with amazing bread pudding for dessert when Louis Sahuc of Photo Works stopped by the table. We joined him at his treasure-filled local gallery then for a tour of his super-spacious historic home overlooking the Square. He even took a photo of us on the balcony using Danica’s one-step camera.
Afterward, we began trying to track Fred Pierce, a Los Angeles friend of Danica’s who’d passed away but used to design masks annually for Mardi Gras. She’d hoped to see one of his masks or find someone who’d known him. We started at Maskarade, a shop stocked nearly floor to ceiling with unique and magical masks. But the owner was at their sister shop, Bourbon French Parfums, a perfume store established over 160 years ago. Though the owner thought she recognized the name, she confessed the trail to Danica’s friend may have washed away with Katrina. We visited a few other shops and always the same conclusion – it would be hard to track him after having lost so many stores and artisans to the Storm. In a way, I was glad she had a personal experience of the city’s losses and a tiny window into how many connections frayed in the fabric of this community.
We hit James H Cohen & Sons, a collector’s shop specializing in currency and Civil War relics. Guys always seem to love looking at the antique guns and I like seeing so much money with women pictured. We also visited local Who Dat shop, Fleurty Girl, and Voluptuous Vixen, a dress shop for curvier women. I brought them by Meltdown Gourmet Popsicles to show off the locally grown fresh ingredient filled frozen treats and tried the zingy Strawberry Lemon Zest. We started toward Fi Fi Mahoney’s wig shop but decided to save some things for their next trip to the Big Easy.
What a joy to share NOLA with my friends from L.A. and how nice to have some of what I loved about L.A. here for a time.