New Orleans: More Odds Than Ends

December 19, 2009 We couldn't resist St. Louis Cathedral courtyard again and made a beeline to a front row, wrought iron bench. That day, a cuban man from Miami, wearing a toque and smoking a smushed cigarette sidled up, quizzed us about the food we liked, the music we listened to, where we've travelled, then blew smoke in my face and said, "Well, I gotta go." Just like that. Tourists wore beaded necklaces strung with beads as big as tennis balls and carried drinks by the litre in weird shaped drinking vessels. A wee girl admired her pink, balloon wings. Street urchins cradled beer cans in paper bags. Just another day...

Our wanderings took us to every bookstore in the French Quarter. Sometimes we risked life and limb as we squeezed through quaking towers of books literally stacked to the ceiling with no evidence of order.

We spent a few minutes sampling the life-size gingerbread house at the Ritz Carlton.

We sauntered aimlessly for a while. Here's a common feature. We've seen these fish gush rainwater by the gallons.

Some heritage buildings have tile placards denoting the historical name of a specific street.

Not all New Orleans balconies boast pristine facades with filigree wrought iron and pretty paint jobs:

The muddy Mississippi, a local paddle boat and the Crescent City Connection a.k.a. Greater New Orleans Bridge:

More familiar Crescent City sights: Street performers and a mule and carriage.

The End.


More New Orleans

December 18, 2009 If you ask a local where to go for authentic creole cuisine, they'll probably direct you to Gumbo Shop.

Lloyd tried the (vegetarian) green gumbo and the white bean and rice dish. I had the crawfish étouffée. We shared the fresh, warm loaf of bread and dipped it in praline vinaigrette.

Locals also told us that the better food and music has, more or less, moved to Frenchmen Street. We wandered Frenchmen Street during the day. Don't do that. It's downright doggy and offers little aside from what the locals call "The gay bookstore", half of which we perused. Anyway, find a gig and check out Frenchmen Street at night or you might be dissuaded altogether. And, for goodness sake, take a cab!

After Frenchmen we found ourselves back in St. Louis Cathedral (what I'll call) courtyard where we saw Santa and Mrs. Claus at the end of the psychic line (there must be a dozen psychics on a busy day) and enjoyed the fine-tuned voice of a long-haired duo in plaid.

The courtyard attracts all kinds of people. It's a primo people watching site. One afternoon we watched a man on a 3-wheeled bicycle that wiggled side to side vs. peddled, a young woman in a fuzzy grey cape with pointy canine teeth - an obvious patron of the Boutique du Vampyre on Royal Street (and living dead wannabe), a rather pale cyclist in a lacy, billowy blouse and knickers, "The Ghost of Christmas Past," said the lady seated next to me.

There is no shortage of entertainment in the French Quarter. You can find music every night of the week and special concerts for special occasions, like the Christmas concert/Procrastinors Pajama Party & Sweet Tooth Soirée:

We topped the evening off with the closing night production of "The Kingfish", a one-man, two-act play about Huey P. Long at the Intercontinental Hotel. Long, Governor for Lousiana 1928-1932, noted for radical populist policies and forceful traits, was a dramatic political figure who also inspired the film "All the Kings Men" starring Sean Penn. He was assassinated at the age of 42.


Obsessions in New Orleans

Our first stop in New Orleans in always The Faulkner House Bookstore. We stocked up on Borges, Irving, Capote, and Carver. After touring the local used bookstores we had to ship eight boxes of books back to Nova Scotia to make room for the new acquisitions. [caption id="attachment_4005" align="alignnone" width="334" caption="Another Great Bookstore"][/caption]

Around the corner from Faulkner House we stopped into the Absinthe Cafe and Bar. I was captivated by the presentation.

The Absinthe is trickled into a special glass and then a cube of sugar is light and later extinguished in the glass.

Water is then dribbled into the glass and the "green fairies" appear even when you are not intoxicated. We just had to have some for the bus.

If you visit we will light a sugar cube for you. -L

New Orleans Aquarium: Part 2

December 15, 2009 If you can still squeeze through a tire and don't mind looking a bit ... warped, you can be part of the exhibit and get an insider's look at life in a tank.

Okay, this is kind of neat, kind of gross:

Visitors can feed little fish and scraps to stingrays, which is a little gross to begin with. Grosser than that, the stingrays have really big, spongy mouths and they basically swallow and suck a whole fist to get the little morsel. Yick!

Yep, that entire slippery smile slurping your hand ... Bleck!

But better than a hand in an albino alligator...

... or a nurse shark. They suck too: they suck in dormant fish and other bottom feeders off the ocean floor. Nurse sharks are bottom dwellers found in tropical waters. Their days are spent huddled on the bottom in groups. At night they head out solo in hunt of prey. Here they presumably feel camouflaged amongst the oil rig pipes.

Above, the more active inhabitants circle and circle and circle.


New Orleans Aquarium: Part 1

December 15, 2009 Another curious penguin:

The penguin handlers hand-feed the penguins twice a day.

A few of the penguins become attached to their caretakers. The one below nuzzled his handler then just hopped into his lap to cuddle while the guy recorded the number of fish each penguin ate.

The wing bands provoke pity, certainly, but they do serve a function. Each penguin's name is embossed on their band so their statistics can be recorded.

The little guy on the right below is molting. When penguins molt they can't swim. Molting takes about a month so this wee one will waddle around, left out and embarrassed, 'til his feathers grow in again. All together now: "Aaaw...".

More cuteness:

Not cute and poisonous:

Hideous and also poisonous:

They're as thick as Arnie S's biceps, and the person the latter are attached to is, perhaps, also considered poisonous in a certain state...

And just funny:

It says, "Harold, where are we? Why can't you ever ask directions? No, you just have to let us drift and drift. Sometimes I think your brain is jelly."



New Orleans: Take Two (and Gumbo Too)

January 1, 2009 The requisite ingesting session at Café du Monde:


Above, a community art project adds more colour and character to the French Quarter with miniature trolley car artworks.

More of Vieux Carré, the oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans. En route to New Orleans I read Walker Percy's "The Moviegoer", set in the French Quarter, so our sauntering added extra life to the story.


Filigree wrought iron ornaments stairways, porches, doors and windows. Below, the common shutters and ceiling fans.


We always take advantage of the trolley.


Lloyd stands before Faulker House Bookstore in Pirate's Alley. It was the first time we missed it - timing.


A view from the Mississippi River side of Decatur Street, which used to be known as "Levee Street".


Below: Horse drawn carriages for hire by Jackson Square. A pedestrian mall, restaurants, and an iron fence surround the square. Artist peg their works on the fence, next to psychics and other vendors.


Below: My favourite pic of the bunch -  a rift in the fog for the busker and his alto sax.


The infamous Creole Queen paddle boat:


Our way out of New Orleans, that deceptively high train bridge (See! It's almost touching that cloud! Well, more or less...):


We leave you with some (adapted) New Orleans flavour:


There is an alternating viewpoint on whether file powder should be added if okra is used as a thickener. I like both, so I’ve included both. Always add file powder to gumbo after it’s cooked.

1/2 cup cooking oil (see note) 1/2 cup flour 2 onions, chopped 2 bell peppers, chopped 2 stalks celery, chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 2 qts vegetable stock, or chicken-flavored vegetable stock 1 lb fresh okra, chopped, or use frozen if fresh is not available 1 15 oz can tomatoes, chopped 3 bay leaves 2 teaspoons dried thyme 1 teaspoon black pepper
cayenne, to taste 1 lb. vegetarian kielbasa-style sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices, or tempeh, cubed salt, to taste Gumbo file powder
 (which, I learned, is just ground sassafras) Tabasco sauce Hot cooked rice

Make Roux: Combine oil and flour in heavy frying pan (preferably cast iron) or stock pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with wooden spoon or wire whisk, until it reaches a nut brown color. BE CAREFUL NOT TO LET IT BURN! If black flecks appear, the roux is burned, and you must start over. It should take about 20 to 25 minutes to achieve the desired color.

Just before roux is desired color, add chopped onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic, and continue stirring until vegetables have been coated with the roux and are beginning to soften. If using the same pot to make gumbo, add stock directly to the pan. Otherwise, let roux cool until it is safe to handle, and add to large stock pot with the stock. Add the okra, the tomatoes, the bay leaves, and the dried spices, except for the salt. Let simmer for 30 minutes, then add vegetarian sausage. Let simmer another 10 minutes, and add salt. Check seasonings and adjust if necessary. Remove from heat, and serve over hot rice. Sprinkle with file powder if desired and Tabasco sauce.

 NOTE: Peanut oil works best at high temperatures but other oils can be used. Lower the heat and extend the cooking time for the roux if using canola oil.


New Orleans and All That Jazz - First Night

December 21, 2008 Without knowing it at the time of reserving our train tickets, we had a scheduled one night stopover in New Orleans each way. That meant two nights on the train, one night in The Big Easy, and a 12 hour leg to Atlanta on the way and then the reverse for the return trip.

The First Stopover

One of several above ground cemeteries, also known as a City of the Dead. Tombs remain above the surface on account of the high water table. Just a few feet down the land gets soggy and, "You can't keep a good person down." they say. Ninety percent of New Orlean's cemeteries are above ground to avoid the departed from popping up when things get wet from time to time.


On approach to New Orleans, a bridge of another kind. Below is a view from our viewliner roomette (which had its own sink and toilet) as we crossed the Huey P. Long Bridge. At one point we were 41 metres above the Mississippi River. And I had notions of safe, straight, ground-bound tracks... and this was another case of concealed tracks. So. It was rather like gliding in air, very high and slooow.


We dined on the periphery of Lafayette Square - a wonderful meal (crab cakes and a super potent caesar salad with pecans!) and a local amber beer.  Desert awaited us across the square.

When in New Orleans ... consume beignets and cafe au laits at Cafe du Monde. The coffee is blended with chicory for a distinctive flavor, the beignets arrive piled high with powdered sugar, and there's usually free enetertainment by way of a street band. Beignet newbies inevitably inhale the sugar with their first bite, hack uncontrolably and quickly learn to time breathing and eating with each bite. Also inevitably, you cannot leave Cafe du Monde without a sweet souvenier - a sugar coating so to speak.


Sated, we ventured out on a shopping mission: hot sauce and filé spice for gumbo, vegetarian gumbo of course. All this time I though filé was a mix of spices. Ingredients: sassafras. Missions accomplished.


Sunday night in The Big Easy is not known for action, but even on a Sunday night jazz swooped through Bourbon Street. We ambled down the near empty lane in the blustery, cold night and sampled the sound with each passing pub and lounge until we settled on a bar lit a groovy red and orange and open to the street. I had the biggest manhattan I've ever seen - a little antifreeze for the walk back to the trolley stop. Turns out we caught the final few songs of the last set - just enough to satisfy us.


Off we went to the trolley where we saw something new: a police pod hoisted up and granted a view in all four directions over the intersection.


More on the second stopover in another post.