Saturday, July 26, 2008

cajun air conditioning, streetcars, and snow in july

After our jazz brunch, Heidi, Brie and I decided to ride the St. Charles streetcar through the Garden District. The St. Charles streetcars began operating in 1835 (pulled by mules,) making them the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world. When the streetcars were replaced by buses in the 19040s, the St. Charles line was saved by being designated a national historic landmark.

We got off in Carrollton and walked to a little stand in the middle of a neighborhood, and got snowballs, which are basically really soft snowcones available in a hundred flavors and dished out in Chinese takeout containers. I LOVED mine. I was so happy. I don't think Brie and Heidi were quite as excited about theirs as I was about mine. (I'll spare you the shot of my strawberry/raspberry-stained tongue.)

We walked around in Carrollton, which was kind of exhausting because of the heat. Heidi said she knows now why things are slow in the south... it's just too hot to do anything quickly. We looked around in a boutique in the Riverbend district, which used to be an open air market, and walked back to the streetcar, which we took back to the Quarter.

The Carrollton stop:


What happened back at the apartment:

We did rally later, and attempted to go to two restaurants (Port of Call = 90 minute wait, Napoleon House = closed) before settling on a restaurant in the Quarter with some generic name like "Quarter Restaurant," where Brie was tricked into ordering fried duck quesadillas. Everything here is fried.

"The Louisiana diet will kill a man as surely as the sword." ~King of the Hill

We also went to Cafe du Monde and got beignets and hot chocolate. And discussed politics. Just how we roll.

The next day we drove to Slidell (which took longer than it should have because I hadn't yet replaced the spare tire, but fortunately Brie's dad entertained us by singing Ol' Man River on speakerphone as we drove over the bridge) and went on a flatboat tour of Honey Island Swamp, which was about an hour longer than my attention span could handle, but still kind of fun.

An alligator named Yellow Jaw:

A dragonfly named Vilhelm:

A swamp resident whose name I didn't catch:

And cajun air conditioning:

On the way back, we stopped near Bayou St. John to get po' boys at Parkway Bakery, though I couldn't get either Brie or Heidi to get the fried shrimp one, as Heidi does not like shrimp and Brie does not like fried. Then we drove around that area a little to see the bayou and then on to Lake Pontchartrain.

New Orleans is on the river, but all connection to the river is as a port. For recreation, people go to the lake. We saw a lot of people with picnics and frisbees. Further along, cement steps go right down into the water. We drove through the Lakeview area, which was badly flooded during Katrina when the 17th Street levee was breeched, and onto Bucktown, a commercial fishing village that was destroyed. The high water marks here were near or on the roofs of the houses, and many, many of them were still boarded up or were obviously empty inside.

Then we went back to the Quarter, and drove around until we found 521 Governor Nicholls, New Orleans home of the prettiest couple in the world. Why did we do this in New Orleans when we wouldn't do this in Los Angeles? I don't know. It's a mystery.

In case you missed that issue of Star, this is the house, only a few blocks from my place:

After that went home and washed the swamp/lake off, and headed out to the Columns Hotel, where people actually sit on the veranda and sip mint juleps. Besides the mosquitoes, which were out with a vengeance, it was awesome. Oh, Mint Julep, where have you been all my life? The Columns is on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District amidst a bunch of big old houses, so it was really quiet and peaceful. Every once in a while a streetcar would go by, the handful of people inside lit up like they were on a moving stage. In this picture you can see the blurred image of a streetcar, as well as the drunk white-haired gentleman who introduced his friend Nadine to us about six times:

After that, we went back to Port of Call, where Heidi and I split a hamburger and Brie and I tried their famous Monsoons. They like to name drinks after disastrous weather conditions here. We were trying to get to Preservation Hall by 11 in time to catch the last jazz set, and we did get there by 11, just in time to catch it closing. I could write an entire blog entry about the things here that are supposed to be open at various times and are not. I won't. But I could.

Since we couldn't hear jazz, we had to content ourselves with just walking around looking really, really hot. Like this:

And we may have eaten more beignets. Can't be sure.
Dere's an ol' man called de Mississippi
Dat's de ol' man dat I'd like to be!
What does he care if de world's got troubles?
What does he care if de land ain't free?

Ol' man river,
Dat ol' man river
He mus' know sumpin'
But don't say nuthin',
He jes' keeps rollin'
He keeps on rollin' along.

~ "Ol' Man River"
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the last time i saw jesus, i was drinking bloody marys in the south

Seeing as I'm 19 days behind on the New Orleans part of the trip, and taking advantage of the rain from Dolly, I thought it would be a good morning to stay indoors and blog a little, and maybe catch up to only 12 days behind.

Brie's first week here was nice and lowkey. We mostly worked during the day, sometimes at home and sometimes at coffeeshops. Working here has been a big improvement over trying to work in Rome last year, where I didn't have easy access to the internet and all the coffeeshops were full of loud tourists. I'm not necessarily working that much better, though.

Brie picked up a handy little skill while she was out here. Infused by the jazz soul of New Orleans, and finding that this little piano in Pat O'Brien's Pub is stuffed full of garbage bags so that people won't play it, she learned how to play guitar. In case she's planning on whipping it out at a party soon, I won't ruin the surprise by telling you that she can now play "Poughkeepsie," "Long Lost Brother," and a song with a refrain that includes a phrase that sounds like "free, free of the danger." This is Brie rocking out:

I'm a little jealous of her rocking-out hair.

The other thing we managed to find time to do was eat and drink, necessary activities raised to the level of art in New Orleans. Although, just as a warning for the future, the combination of seafood gumbo and hurricanes is a bad idea. Bad. Idea. So what if Brie learned how to play a new musical instrument? I learned a little something in New Orleans, too.

A much better combination of food and drink is beignets (ben-yays) and hot chocolate at Cafe Du Monde on Jackson Square. When I was 16, Adam Curry and I drove to New Orleans from Mississippi for one day, and this is what I remember. Beignets. Powdered-sugar-covered pieces of heaven. There are a mass of outdoor tables, and the floor is white with sugar, and you can get a plate of beignets and two hot chocolates for six bucks.

Brie's beignets:

When Heidi Spencer (née Hazen) arrived the following Friday, it was a nice excuse to completely stop working for a few days (read: stop attempting to pretend to work) and just see the city. We got dinner at Bywater Barbecue (where the street "Desire" is, as in "A Streetcar Named" though now the only public transportation that runs to Desire is a bus) and then decided to show Heidi the beautiful courtyard with the flaming fountain (and the hurricanes, I suppose... I did NOT have one) at Pat O'Brien's. When we walked in, it was ten times more crowded than it had been the weekend before when Brie and I went. We had to push through people to get through the courtyard. The other thing that was rather remarkable was that the crowd was almost entirely silent. Everyone was signing to one another. Apparently the National Association of the Deaf had a convention in town. It was kind of amazing. Fueled by hurricanes, we returned home to make a Happy Birthday video for Yvette 3.0, the missing member of our little traveling quartet.

Saturday morning we somehow managed to get up early (before 8!) to visit the Crescent City Farmer's Market in the warehouse district before breakfast. Because Heidi likes farmer's markets. This one wasn't too impressive, though. Maybe we're spoiled.

We finished with the farmer's market earlier than we thought we would, so we drove across town via Magazine Street and saw Audubon Park and the outside of the zoo. We also stopped at Whole Foods, because we needed water and cash, and because Heidi can't resist the mother ship. Then we came back to the apartment and got ready to go to jazz brunch at Commander's Palace, one of the nicest restaurant in New Orleans, serving tourists and riverboat captains since 1880. It was Yvette's birthday breakfast so we thought we should make it good. Brie had steak and eggs, I think, which she liked, and Heidi and I both had the "Louisiana Sportsman's Brunch." Because it was brunch, and we're sportsmen. It was, like... pecan pancakes with peaches and "duck debris." It sounds completely weird but it was actually pretty great. For dessert I had a cloud-like souffle. The spirit of Yvette had three Bloody Marys. Our toast:

I tried to drink mine for her sake but it was just too much for me at 11:30 in the morning. A trio of jazz musicians played for the room and serenaded each table, which was fun. The trumpet player sounded like Louis Armstrong. The guitar player had halitosis, according to Heidi, who was sitting across from him when he was singing.

The last time I saw Jesus
I was drinking bloody marys in the South
In a barroom in New Orleans
Rinsin' out the bad taste in my mouth

She wore a dark and faded blazer
With a little of the lining hanging out
When the jukebox played Miss Dorothy Moore
I knew that it was him without a doubt

I said the road is my redeemer
I never know just what on earth I'll find
In the faces of a stranger
In the dark and weary corners of a mind

She said, The last highway is only
As far away as you are from yourself
And no matter just how bad it gets
It does no good to blame somebody else

Ain't it crazy
What's revealed when you're not looking all that close
Ain't it crazy
How we put to death the ones we need the most

I know I'm not a martyr
I've never died for anyone but me
The last frontier is only
The stranger in the mirror that I see

But when I least expect it
Here and there I see my Savior's face
He's still my favorite loser
Falling for the entire human race

~"Jesus in New Orleans"
Lyrics by Karin Bergquist & Linford Detweiler

Thursday, July 17, 2008

i'll meet you here tomorrow, independence day

I realize that so far I've only written about the negative aspects of New Orleans... the missing cars... the adamantly not-missing vermin. I haven't written about the bright colors of the buildings, the oaks that lean over the streets dripping with spanish moss and strings of beads, the brief, furious thunderstorms, the amazing seafood, the Southern-Brooklyn accents, the sensation of walking through a world perched precariously between cultures and times.

I was here a few days alone before Brie arrived on the fourth of July. That day I hung out with a guy named Paul Andre, whose family has lived in New Orleans since his ancestors fled the Haitian slave revolts in the late 18th century. We ate shrimp po' boys at Parkway Brewery near St. John's Bayou and drove through the city. He showed me the shotgun houses Uptown, built with no hallways, one room after the other, the big houses in the Garden District, built by Americans to show up the French in the Quarter, and the high water marks on the sides of the creole cottages in the Bywater.

We stopped at a potter's field Uptown. Paul thought that slaves were buried there, but we got out and walked around and couldn't find any markers that old. The flooding and unevenness of even fairly new tombstones show why most of the graves in New Orleans are built above ground.

Later that evening I set off to pick up Brie from the airport. This about sums up that little drive:

I didn't get out of the car much, so I don't have a picture of me waiting for roadside assistance again. Although I do have the Roadside Assistance Guy:

I'm beginning to think Isaac is mad at me. Did she not want to go on this road trip? I mean, she could have said something two months ago, instead of just being passive-aggressive about it.

I also managed to break the strap on my flip flop while I was talking to the R.A.G. Though I can't really blame that on Isaac, so maybe it's someone else who didn't want me to go on this road trip and is trying to tell me something.

Isaac and I pulled up about 45 minutes late to pick Brie up from the airport. I still really wanted to try to make it to the fireworks on the river, so even though it was now past 8, I drove a fast 50 mph on the spare tire back to the Quarter, hunted around for a while for parking, found parking, borrowed shoes from Brie because of the flip flop debacle, walked to the apartment, sprayed on poisonous amounts of OFF, grabbed a tripod, and we set off down to the river to see the fireworks. The fireworks started when we were only a couple of blocks from the apartment and stopped when we were a block from the river. So, this is what they looked like to us:

(Thanks to Ry for help with the photos and to Steph for the generous lending of the tripod.)

We decided to go ahead and walk down and pretend we were watching fireworks. People were still sitting on the riverbank, drinking (you can drink outside here,) talking, and "cooking broccoli," as our pastor's daughter Mei Li says.

Me and Brie, doing none of the above:

After that we got dinner at Crescent City Brewery, where the bill came out to:

God bless America.

Everybody knows
You only live a day
But it's brilliant anyway

I saw you in a perfect place
It's gonna happen soon but not today
So go to sleep and make the change
I'll meet you here tomorrow

Independence Day

~"Independence Day"
Lyrics by Elliott Smith

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

the tale of despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a girl, some life cereal, and a netflix envelope

Come closer, Dear Readers, and I will tell you The Tale of Despereaux.

Despereaux was a little mouse who lived Behind The Fridge in the kitchen of a girl named Michelle. Despereaux liked to crawl out on the counter while she was trying to work and freak her completely out. To tell you the truth, which I always do, he was terribly in love with her. He had been reading too many books on the subject.

But Michelle was wily and she had soon constructed a humane trap out of a paper towel, peanuts, and a waste basket. It looked something like this:

When she returned from getting her car back from the impound lot, she found that the trap had worked. Sort of. It looked like this:

But Despereaux was not there.

So Michelle tried another kind of trap, this time with LIFE cereal.

But Despereaux, known as the Houdini of Behind the Fridge, escaped again.

So Michelle tried a third time, this time with a Netflix envelope containing the last disc of the third season of a popular but now canceled television show, and woke the next morning to a THWUMP sound and a tiny mouse shriek. She leaned over the trap to see the mouse and perhaps take a victory photograph, but Despereaux was so overcome by her beauty and his great love for her that he LEAPT in the air with joy, nearly coming out of the basket! (Despereaux is also known as Air Despereaux in Behind the Fridge.) Thinking quickly, as she is wont to do, Michelle grabbed the closest thing at hand, which was, ironically, the final shooting script for The Tale of Despereaux! This story is so self-referential and hip!

Michelle decided Despereaux would enjoy a new home in The Dumpster On The Sidewalk, and left him there, with many tears and affectionate glances.

For a while, Despereaux really enjoyed living in The Dumpster On The Sidewalk. Friendly people threw him scraps of food to eat. But after a couple of days, Despereaux realized that what he really wanted was to be near Michelle, and he somehow found his frigging way out of The Dumpster On The Sidewalk and journeyed back to Behind The Fridge.

But Michelle knew in her heart that their love could never be, and she needed to take drastic measures.

Soon after this, Michelle heard the THWAP of the trap being sprung. She thought at first it was her heart, but then ran to the counter next to Behind the Fridge and found Despereaux there once again, staring at her dolefully through green plastic.

Despereaux, Michelle, and Michelle's friend Brie, newly arrived from Los Angeles, took a ride together. Despereaux, inside a bag from a rather over-priced clothing store, tried reciting a love poem he had written for Michelle, but messed up on the second stanza and fell silent.

They soon came to Despereaux's new home By The River In City Park. Michelle bid Despereaux a fond adieu, and Brie opened the door and cried, "Run, run, little mouse!" After a moment of cowering in the corner, Despereaux ran for the river, turning only briefly to send Michelle a look she would remember for the rest of her life. A look that said, "I honor you!" And also, "I crapped in your Anthropologie bag, so don't use it for clothes or anything."

The End.

Thank you for listening to my story, Dear Readers. Please come back next week for The Tale of Giacomo the Giant Roach.

(Just kidding, Heidi.)

(Not really.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

pound puppy

Tuesday morning (OK, OK, afternoon) I left Jessica’s and hit the open road again. Unfortunately I was tired of driving and I kept making up reasons to stop (“oh, look, there’s a Wal-Mart, I need a dry erase board” or “I wonder if Jack-in-the-Box serves 'cupcake in a shake'?”) and it took me forever to get to New Orleans.

I arrived at around 11. I was intimidated about finding it at night, and about parking, which I knew was going to be difficult. But I found parking right in front of where it was supposed to be, and then couldn’t find the number or really figure out if I was even picking the right gate, but I guessed, and tried my key, and it worked. (My gate is the one under the flag.) So I opened it and there was this long narrow alley leading to the back, where my apartment door was. I didn’t figure out until later that there was a switch you could hit at the one end that would turn a light on over my door. This picture of the apartment and the alley looks much more cheerful at night. At the time, I was kind of spooked, and had to tell myself to just walk, to just keep moving forward and everything would be okay. I got to a doorway in the back of the building and tried another key, and that worked too, which was a relief. I'll post some pictures of the inside later.

The next morning I got up and mostly just worked on doing laundry and settling in. The grocery stores near me are little markets so I actually drove six miles to Metarie, a big suburb of New Orleans, so I could go to a Winn-Dixie with a lot of options and a big parking lot. That's right, I went out of my way to go to a chain. That's what I do. Later for dinner I went to a diner called "Clover Grill" where I worked on arbitration stuff and had a big hamburger that I watched being fried under a hubcap. To keep in the juices. I was later informed that this diner is a big drag queen hangout, but there weren't any there when I was there.

The parking in front of my building is two hours only from 7 to 7. The owner of the apartment told me this could be pushed a bit, so I decided to move my car every three hours, at 10, 1, and 4. This worked fine on Wednesday. But you may have noticed, in the complicated sign shown at left, a tiny little marker indicating street cleaning hours. If you did notice that, then good for you, because you probably wouldn't have come out at 10 am on Thursday and found your parking spot looking like this:

In New Orleans the nice areas are right next to the terrible areas. I'm living in the historic French Quarter, which is pretty nice and fairly safe. But two blocks up from the river from me is Rampart Street, and the Faubourg Treme, where if you walked outside and found your car missing it wouldn't be because it was towed. The owner of this apartment left a note telling me not to be tempted by the St. Louis Cemetries located in Treme, even though they're cool looking, because you will get killed in there. So I was pretty excited to see that the Claiborne Auto Pound, where the mean people took poor little Isaac, was on the other side of Treme, and that Google Maps thought it seemed like a good idea to take the path through the cemeteries to get there.

I decided just to walk down Bourbon St. all the way to Canal and then up to Claiborne and walk over. I was a little nervous about the Claiborne leg of the trip but I felt like if it looked really scary I could just stop and get a cab.

So I didn't carry a bag, and dressed scrappy looking, and set off. I took a picture of Canal Street with my phone and sent it to my mom so she wouldn't worry. But then when I got to Claiborne, it looked a little shady. The sidewalk bordered the walled cemetery on one side, which reminded me of going to visit Vicenzo on the east side of Termini Station last year. A old white guy rolled down his window and asked me where I was going in a disbelieving voice. But I just put on my best Napoli face and kept going, and found Isaac looking scared and alone (you can see the tops of the mausoleums behind her,) and bailed her out with $125. There was an option to rent a parking space for $200 with the apartment which I had turned down... so this went a long way towards not saving me any money on that decision. Now if I can just remember to move next Thursday.