Object Lessons: Rantings of a Lone Pamphleteer
Back in the Southland AgainMay 15, 2001
The drive home is always the same -- down I-95 to the split of I-85 past Petersburg, VA, through a backwoods wasteland where my cell phone won't receive a signal, down through Durham and Greensboro to I-40 West, and ride that home to Winston-Salem. The family is the same, home overflowing with paperwork and Southern cooking. My sister's home hasn't changed, either -- an acre of land supporting a small though comfortable house on a cul-de-sac corner, brimming with children, only two of them hers.
Life is good and easy in the South, or so it seems. Of course, when I visit nowadays, I'm always on vacation, so perhaps that is just my perception.
I never "do" much down here -- run around from my mother's home to my sister's, from there to my Granny's assisted-living residence in Clemmons. I'm guilty of preferring to spend most of the time with my sister.
But I see other friends as well; college chums and buddies crop up on every trip, plus the children they're now raising. Though I always enjoy my trips home, what I notice most often is how out-of-place I now am/I was then.
'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis, 'tis true.
--the original Shak.
Notes on New Orleans
Friday, April 27
They are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing. -- Shakespeare
The Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport is memorably small and slightly confusing. Half-finished walls and pressed-board alleys guide you from the four terminal gates to the baggage claim and car rental area. In between, an impressive granite fountain squats in the small rotunda. The airport, formerly known as Harding Field, lies north of New Orleans, my destination for a long weekend of Jazz, food, and spirits.
My companion and I rented a car for the drive to New Orleans (nuorluns to the locals), stopping by Poor Boy Lloyd’s for a quick bite on the way. Though slightly distracted by the beauty and lushness of a brief and unintended detour to Louisiana State University, we did eventually get to the restaraunt. I had a Roast Beef Po Boy, the recommendation of the waitress (and owner's wife) who was pleased and surprised to find Lloyd's listed in Lonely Planet’s Guide to New Orleans. My friend Jon decided on the Catfish Po Boy. The sandwiches are spicy subs which we both had “dressed,” with tomato, lettuce, mustard or mayo. My only disappointment was to discover that the guide-recommended dumplings are only served on Thursdays. The rental-car drive from Baton Rouge to my cousin's home in New Orleans was probably wonderful, and reportedly included a trip across Lake Ponchartrain, though I napped through most of thisleg.
We arrived at cousin Pam's around 3:30, and settled in for conversation and meeting her three little girls -- Lady Lauren, Sweet Emma, and Margot The Spitfire. I must admit that this is the part I like best -- getting back together with family. We all spent the evening in, enjoying a New Orleans meal of Shrimp fettucine and Crawfish. The little suckers look like little lobsters, and you have to break off the tail, peel it and eat it. Only a native will "suck the head," a skill and taste demonstrated by my cousin-in-law Kevin.
Saturday, April 28
We were up early for a light meal of Strawberries in cream and scrambled eggs before packing a picnic blanket, a water bottle, and some cash for our daytripto Jazz Fest. The annual event draws a crowd every year, no matter what the weather, which this year cooperated nicely. The day was a cool 74 degrees with a crisp breeze, bright sun, and humidity at only 34%. Such weather is rare for New Orleans, so Jon and I considered ourselves very lucky indeed. Though we were there ostensibly to hear some real music, both Jon and I, gourmands at heart, were focused on the food. Both committed to trying Gator and other NO delicacies, we sampled the southern Fried Green Tomatoes, and Crawfish everything. The Crawfish Roumelade was fantastic and light, while the Fried Gator Po Boy was the last word in fried gator meat. In an attempt to avoid eating all fried foods, I also enjoyed a fresh fruit cup and the Mango Freeze (sorbet in my favorite flavor). Though my companion enjoyed it, it gave him an ice cream headache.
The music was fine, too, particularly the Zydeco at the Fais Do Do stage, though my personal favorite was Liittle Jimmy Scott, a former teen-singer from the boy-bands of the 40's and 50's, who has come into popularity again in his seventies. His torch song interpretations are strongly affecting and soulfull, his mezzo soprano trilling with emotion. Little Jimmy also gave an interview later in the Grandstand, which I was privileged to hear.
The Fest ended with a well-attended concert by the Wallflowers. They played hits from their new album with samplings from their first. Thanks to Kevin's binoculars, I was able to see young Mr. Dylan. Following the concert it was off to the buses for a ride back to the park where we, um, parked. Though the ride into Jazz Fest was on an upscale, air-conditioned bus replete with television sets and it's own toilet, you could have run me over with a big yellow school bus when I saw our outbound ride. I haven't been on one of those since High School, but I made the best of it, asking our little crew what the worst thing they ever did on a school bus was. Sadly, I didn't get any interesting answers.
After an hour waiting for a taxi that never showed ("It's Jazz Fest Honey"), my companion and I decided to brave the crazy New Orleans streets and drive ourselves to Bourbon Street for some evening sightseeing. My nervousness was unfounded – New Orleans, despite its international reputation, is a small town, after all. Downtown is practically a straight shot from Cousin Pam's.
Following a good but unremarkable (by N.O. standards) dinner, my friend suggested one of the guidebook's walks. We wandered the French Quarter, and I admit it was lovely, though I was half asleep by the time we reached Bourbon Street. The impression I have of the Quarter is akin to a soft sway, like a breeze through one of those old european towns that does not yet have a McDonald's. Everything in the Quarter seems to contribute to this sway -- the cobblestone walks, the narrow row houses cradling lush little courtyards, the wrought-iron balustrades and railings -- this easy tropical feeling of relaxation overlaying excitement. It's sensual. My friend and I reached Bourbon Street close to one am., and had just enough energy to note the number of bars before popping into a voodoo establishment for some gris-gris (red for love, green for money) bags before heading home for the night.
We were up early for a nice brunch at a downtown hotel -- possibly the best meal we had in N.O., but who can really tell? Wolfgang Puck might have a difficult time rating the various establishments whose food we enjoyed. After Brunch, it was time for a brief trip via Streetcar down to Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral for Sunday Mass, where two of my cousin's daughters were honored for their commitment to Catholicism, and their Girl Scout code of honor. Or somesuch. It's been a while since I went to church, and I never was a Girl Scout. The very term is more likely to make me think of Harper Lee than brown-suited girls in a para-military organization. Still, Mass was nice, the building offered both a spiritual and a physical retreat from the heat, sights, and sounds of New Orleans, and I was happy to spend time with half my family (Pam and the older girls being in the special section at the front of the church), specifically Cousin Pam's husband Kevin, and their youngest, Margot, both of whom caught a nap during the service.
Next stop was the Square, where performing artists mingle with plastic artists, tourists with locals, and almost everyone visits the Cafe du Monde, a 130-year-old cafe with a view of the Mississippi serving beignets and impromptu street jazz round-the-clock. Those square donuts look funny, but they definetly beat Krispy Kreme. Finally, it was back to Cousin Pam's for a relaxing evening, packing, playing with the little ones, and preparing for our early flight. All in all, an enjoyable trip. Cousin Pam and I have made tentative plans for next year, and before leaving I extracted a promise from Kevin to take us out on his sailboat.