Skip to content

A Steamy Weekend in New Orleans

NOLA 1

Things start off shaky in the French Quarter as the Ursuline Guest House we’re supposed to stay at is closed. Let me rephrase; it’s completely shut-down – locked up and empty. The confirmation number in hand,  befuddlement arises.

Turns out, the Ursuline got bought out by the Inn on St. Peter two weeks before our arrival. No notification, or ‘Hey, sorry but…’. Our reservation is moved to the Inn on St. Ann’s new location, the Marie Laveau. A bit confusing, but I’m more skeptical of our new spot’s namesake as Marie Laveau was a famous Voodoo Priestess, and the cottage/inn where we are staying – her former residence. Great.

Hotels are not my forte, and I won’t be applying at hotels.com anytime soon, as I can sleep anywhere –  long as the place adheres to three rules: 1. Stain/bug free sheets. 2. No stabbing in the face by murderous hoodlums. 3. No getting buried alive because of a voodoo death spell  like Bill Pullman in the film ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’. Aside from those three rules, I’m pretty laxed about hotels/motels/or wherever; it’s a place to sleep for a few hours, not critique the curtains.

World famous actor and part time exotic dancer, Bill Pullman

Holy Sweet Mother is it Hot!

You may have thought the ‘steamy’ part of the post title was some sexy Anne Rice vampire/Roam About tie-in. Nay. I usually don’t mention the weather in posts, nor double-strike the negativity chart to start,  but the heat is a character in this story playing the ‘hard to breath, mind-numbing, instant swamp-ass’ role.  I soak through my shirt just walking two minutes down Royal Street. It’s 97 degrees (F) at noon.  No ocean breeze. No “dry heat”. No sexy. It’s like trudging through satan’s intestines. The myth of vampires being allergic to the sun, debunked. Really, vampires are just hung-over, mid-western man-boys reflecting so much sun off their pasty skin, they combust.

Suck it, Twilight! *Explodes

Colorful Music. Musical Colors.

First impressions of the city are that of energy, color, and history. Walking around the Quarter you see ornate wrought iron balconies flowing with ferns and flowering hibiscus plants, gas lamps flickering in front of colorful Spanish/European influenced architecture, the St. Louis Cathedral, and farther north, folks milling about or fanning themselves on the porches of bright Creole cottages. The colors of the buildings get progressively louder, as though neighbors, and businesses alike are competing in some unspoken vibrancy contest.

New Orleans is the most musical city I’ve ever been. Busking blue grass bands, violinists, street corner brass bands, and bars conduct variants of Orleans jazz, pop, blues –  which swirls in harmonious conjunction throughout the Quarter grid.

Word

Bourbon Street

At night you hear Bourbon first, during the day, you smell it. ‘It’ being an incursion of stale beer, and sun-baked bodily fluids. Day or night, Bourbon street is a thorough mind f*ck. Turning the corner the first evening I get blasted in the face with a sensory cacophony of screaming, jazz, laughing, lights, house music, sex shops, hot dogs… two kids sprint by while the store owner chases them down yelling ‘Come the eff back here!!’; the kids have each stolen a pair of shoes. The crowd oozes like a lava-floe, swallowing up hand grenades, hurricanes, and other specialty drinks made of sugary swill and booze. A drag queen in Victorian garb with a powdered five o’clock shadow winks at me, while a broken-down stripper named ‘Mercedes’ tries to pull us into a mirrored foyer.

I hate it AND I love it. Did I mention it’s just a regular Saturday? Can’t imagine this place during Mardi Gras.

Drunken Narc at 12 o’clock! Drunken Photographer at Six!

After a wobbly saunter through Bourbon, we cab it over to Mid City for some Rock ‘n’ Bowl action. It’s an eclectic scene; confirmed by the reaction of the opening band, Sons and Fathers, who look out to a crowd of Jesuit high-school bowlers, hoola-hooping tweens, and Conventioneers. It’s a bit suburban, but  a cool enough looking “venue”, with Ping-Pong tables, decent beer, good tunes, and who doesn’t love bowling?

New Orleans staple – trumpeter and crooner – Kermitt Ruffins rounds out the night , and I’m impressed with bassist Trey B (who you can see playing in the upper right quadrant above). We get an opportunity to chat with him for a bit – turns out Trey’s a classically trained bassist/ English major (friends!), who is first timing with Mr. Ruffins. Trey’s an overall great dude, and he graciously suggests we head to Frenchmen Street the next day, inviting us to his gig with local musician, Brad Walker, at Maison.

The next morning (early afternoonish, after a jump from some seriously strong coffee) starts with a circumvention around the French Quarter. The bottom of the Quarter is a delta of tourists and trinket shops, but there are hidden gems like the famous Peaches Records, and a few staples in the open-air French Market. A few blocks north and you find some intriguing art spaces, and boutiques. Over by Canal, which looks exactly like a Los Angeles strip but with street cars, over to the in-transition Arts/Warehouse district from decrepit old brick storage facilities, and factories to restaurants, art galleries, and lofts.

Millions of Peaches

people

Sex and Skulls Photo by Marti Babcock

A Streetcar Named Perspire.

Book Nerd Alert!

After walking through the Warehouse/Arts district for a bit the next part of the day we search for work by writer, Harry Crews, who I discovered while watching the dark, yet enlightening movie about life in the American South ‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’. Mr. Crews sadly died a few months back, and I’ve had a hell of a time finding his out-of-print works in Ohio, as everyone is eating it up.

We visit five different book shops within the Quarter, to no avail. The last stop is Dauphine Books, owned by a gentleman named Steve. There are piles of books everywhere – and Marti sort of rolls her eyes knowing I could snootily frolic among the towers of literary delight for hours like some skinny Ignatius Reilly, but I cut the book romp short; Dauphine has three Crews novels, including the gruesome and twisted ‘Feast of Snakes’. I buy the lot, promising the good folks who run the place I’d include them in this post. So, hello, Dauphine Books and thank you.

A heat-stroke induced siesta, then we stroll to Frenchmen Street – a colorful little nook east of the Quarter stocked with restaurants bars, galleries…and, once again, music. You walk in to a restaurant, there’s a band playing, step outside, band on two separate corners, into another bar, more music. It’s an incredible, spirit-lifting phenomenon. I wish my every day was soundtracked like this. Though, I presume having a trumpet in my ear while brushing my teeth might get a bit annoying.

After a great meal at Three Muses (review below) we finish the night at Maison, a great loungy/bar, listening to Trey run some bass for saxist Brad Walker. Then, things get happily blurry.

HOW TO GET FAT IN N’AWLINS

I was intent (content) on eating as much as humanly possible in New Orleans. Gumbo, Jambalaya, Oysters, Crawfish, you name it – right down my food alley. Initially, Marti and I fall for some so-so places that shove tourists in by the droves, pouring mediocrity down fanny pack wearing gullets.  If you do go to N.O., and please do, here are a few absolute culinary ‘musts’ exceeding the ‘wow factor’ to ‘holy sh*t’ is this good:

Green Goddess  – Exchange Alley – The GG is down a pedestrian alley perpendicular to the Supreme Court building. Probably the healthiest meal I would eat the entire trip, although I washed the Shrimp/Crawfish Remoulade avocado/Bacon Salad and a side of biscuits with pepper jelly down with a yellow Tomato Bloody Mary spiked with moonshine, yes, moonshine. And I fall in love with said Bloody Mary. Damn you, Green Goddess. How can you be so good ?

Butcher – The lunchtime offshoot of Cochen, Butcher rivals any of the snout-to-tail meat genre shops across the US. I finally get my hands on a Muffaletta (pervy sounding, and delicious); a traditional local sandwich of cured house meats with olive salad served with homemade potato chips. I get a side of coleslaw and a Mexi-coke. Delicious.

Verti Marte – Royal Street – This walk-up deli style stop is a local favorite, probably because they are open 24 hours/deliver, and Oh yeah, the food is freaking amazing. We grabbed some grub after the gig at Maison, and found a stoop down the street to park and eat. It was so good, we went again for lunch the last meal before our flight. BBQ chicken, jambalaya, mac and cheese, lima beans…heaven.

Three Muses – Frenchman Street - Perhaps there’s something to all this Mythology-in-naming-restaurant stuff. Going on recommendation from Trey B., Three Muses serves up creole-influenced tapas. Musicians, like the amazing blank play in the corner stage while you mow down death row, final-meal type bites – Crawfish beignets, Lamb Sliders, or my favorite, Tuna Tartar Tacos. What?!

CONGO SQUARE

A half block north of our voodoo abode sits Louis Armstrong Park, separating the French Quarter from the Treme – a predominately African-American neighborhood situated on what once was plantation lands.

He didn’t want his name used, but I shall call him Ollie.

Mr. Satchmo

Walking off some of the food around Congo Square, before our flight, an interesting fellow on a bike rides up, and decides to give Marti and I a complete history of the area. He tells us that before the American civil war, Congo Square served as a Sunday meeting spot for slaves to tell stories, dance, and play music under the shade of a giant oak tree (pictured below). Today, local Jazz musicians the likes of Herbie Hancock, and Allen Toussaint play free concerts in the same spot. Our kooky, impromptu historian is the groundskeeper for the park, though we never find out if he’s on the payroll, like a Groundskeeper Willy from The Simpsons, or if the services are voluntary.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND KATRINA

Within Louis Armstrong Park sits the Morris F.X. Jeff Municipal Auditorium, damaged seven years ago during Katrina, neglected since. When Katrina assailed New Orleans in 2005, the US government dropped the ball directly the people of New Orleans. I’ll try not to get too preachy,  but know this: The after-effects of Katrina, the stained water levels on broken houses, on beautiful yet abandoned musical centers; the logistics of masses of locals being cut-off by insurance carriers after thirty years of patronage because of the area’s most famous mononym, still exist.

An outsider’s geographical look at the sub-to-just-above sea level of New Orleans, and it’s easy to say ‘well, it’s their fault for building a city in a fish bowl…’ But the same as people living in seismic zones of the Pacific Ring like Tokyo, San Francisco, or near active volcanos like Wyoming, or Indonesia, to the locals, it’s not just a place – it’s home.

New Orleaners have been through hell, and instead of being bitter, or carrying a grudge against sloth-like government action, they are by far some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met in my travels.  Always open to say hello, or offer help/suggestions, or just start a friendly chat. It’s hard to accept at first – this openness – but I came to really enjoy it each place I went. Meeting people like Trey, the kind folks at our hotel, at restaurants, at bars; the random people who just wanted to chat with us in the street, it’s easy to see the pride of their home- to understand the resiliency and the ability to withstand tragedy. It’s why New Orleans is a top global destination – it’s a hell of town – and I sincerely cannot wait to go back. – Mike

32 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve always wanted to go and this post just reinforces it! I just need to find a way to cope with the heat…

    June 4, 2012
    • Walking in the shadows with a cold beer helps a little, until your hand heats up the cup/can, and goes flat. It was apparently a fluke thing – though it gets super hot in August, it was just a mini-heat wave to help us sweat out the toxins.

      June 4, 2012
  2. Your pictures are great, Mike.

    June 4, 2012
  3. Nathaniel Hahn #

    A street car named perspire, that one got an honest LOL! Great post dude…I almost feel the humidity as you describe each and every stop! And being suuuper hungry right now the food pictures made my stomach gurgle! Looking forward to the next post!

    June 4, 2012
    • Thanks, Man. Marti disproved of that joke as the title to the post. Oh well, glad you liked it, and yeah, I’m craving a bloody mary and some oysters as well.

      June 4, 2012
  4. I lived in New Orleans for four years, and although I’m pretty sure I never want to live there again, I wish I could visit more often. It is truly a place like no other. We had moved already when Katrina hit, but many of our friends lost everything, and still haven’t fully recovered, and they are still there. People from NOLA love their city and will stand by her forever…even if they are living in a fishbowl. One last thing, I am really impressed that you found Rock ‘n’ Bowl, but not surprised that you had a wonderful time there. Ah, Memories!!!

    June 4, 2012
    • I hope I did it some justice… I really love new orleans – the people were incredible, and I wish I had a couple more days to explore.
      Thanks!
      Rock n bowl was quite interesting. I had this beer, maybe you know it, called 31? or LA 31 Pale Ale. Soooo good.

      June 4, 2012
      • I haven’t tried 31, but will make sure I do next time I’m down there. You painted a perfect picture of the city! The people are amazing, food spectacular, and the city has a vibe you won’t find anywhere else. There are so many great little haunts, just little holes in the wall, that usually get overlooked. You hit quite a few of them! Well done! ;) Plus, your commentary on the heat cracked me up. It’s so true. I’ve never lived in such a hot, sticky place before…and I currently live in Georgia. We used to joke that we’d open up the door to our apartment and have to swim through the air to our cars. Everyone would show up for work looking done for the day already.

        June 4, 2012
      • Thanks, Christine! Tried to hit up as many as possible, just didn’t have enough time.
        Hilarious! We were talking to some locals about the 105 – 107 days of August. They said there’s no use showering, and you swim around town, just like you said.

        June 4, 2012
  5. “Trudging through satan’s intestines” Possibly the best description of “New Orleann hot” I have ever seen. I was there 2 days after Katrina hit,and I spent a month in that heat…good to see the city bouncing back.

    June 4, 2012
    • Thanks, Rob. I can’t even imagine what it was like down there after Katrina. Were you a part of the emergency response?

      June 4, 2012
      • Kinda…I was hired by a company to go sit on a HUGE sum of cash that they couldn’t transport out before the storm hit. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience…thanks for the post, it got my fingers typing this morning!

        June 4, 2012
      • Gotcha. Sorry to hear it.

        As always, thanks for your reading/response, Rob. I really appreciate it.

        June 4, 2012
  6. Enjoyed the little tour, Mike! NO is definitely on my list of places to see. Also, having survived your stay in a former voodoo place… thought you might be interested in a little info about it (voodoo). I was in Haiti last fall — a big connection w/New Orleans, as after the slave revolt many of the refugees settled there — and actually attended a ceremony. You can read about it here if you’re interested. http://liveclay.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/all-souls-day-haiti/ Also, Isabelle Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea is a fantastic historical novel starting in Haiti, ending in N.O., for even more of the rich history.

    June 4, 2012
    • Amazing, Laura! Such a great piece, and awesome pics. Will have to check out the novel (after I finish my Crews books of course).

      June 4, 2012
  7. On my travel bucket list for sure! Thanks for the great photos (and laughs!).

    June 4, 2012
    • You have to go. It was on my #4 US cities list, and I was a bit skeptical at first, but am so glad we went. Wish I had another two-three days to explore outside the city, but I’ll be heading back.

      June 4, 2012
      • If only for the food!

        June 4, 2012
      • Yeah, about that…I’m on a veggie diet for the next couple of days. Somehow I manage to bring some NO home with me, in or around my belly area.

        June 4, 2012
  8. Fish Out of Water #

    Dude, you never disappoint.

    June 4, 2012
    • I wish my girlfriend said that. Hiyo! Just kidding. Thanks so much.

      June 4, 2012
  9. free penny press #

    I go to Nola alot, actually heading there in 2 weeks.. and am moving there in the very near future..
    Nola is well, magical :-)
    great post!

    June 4, 2012
    • I wish you luck down there – it’s a very special place. Magical is the perfect word for it.

      June 4, 2012
      • free penny press #

        If you ever get back, get over to the lower ninth ward & look at how an organization (lowernine.org) is revamping that part of NOLA. will make your heart swell !! :-)

        June 5, 2012
      • Very cool. Can’t believe it was almost seven years ago…

        June 5, 2012
  10. Lisa Mercer #

    Bravo! Loved reading this. We have always wanted to go during Mardi Gras, but it sounds like a normal Saturday night would be enough for the senses!

    June 5, 2012
    • Thanks, Lisa! You and Mike would definitely love it. Non-stop party scene, and handgrenades. Which can be your new Jagerbomb. :)

      June 5, 2012
  11. by the way, you’re in New Orleans. In June. And it’s hot? Didn’t see that coming. The one and only time I’ve ever been to New Orleans I distinctly remember thinking ‘this is just like trudging through Satan’s intestines’. I’m guessing that very thought passes through every visitor-to-New-Orleans-in-June’s overbaked mind.
    yesterday it was horribly muggy here in southwestern Colorado. It hit 15% humidity and we were all wilting. ;) stop distracting me at work with your writing.

    June 5, 2012
  12. weather aside, the city of New Orleans is a worth a visit by anyone who loves to go places that are not quite like anything else in the world. it has a truly unique rhythm and flavor.

    June 5, 2012

Talk To Me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,499 other followers

%d bloggers like this: