When you visit a place you have never been for as short of a time as two and a half days, you rarely get a full-bodied feel for where you were. I went to New Orleans for that short amount of time and have never been so fulfilled by a brief experience in my entire life. WHAT an amazing city. I’m so happy that I got to have a taste and rather than being disappointed by what I missed, I am INSPIRED to go back for more.
Alright. Never fly Delta. They suck. We had a respectable flight time at noon on Friday. They changed it. To 7:35 A-Fucking-M. And we had to pick up my brother at UCLA. Which meant we had to be at his apartment by 5:30am. Which meant I had to wake up at 4AM. I can’t even talk about my feelings on this front. I, of course, couldn’t fall asleep the night before due to general mind-fuckery until 1:30am, possibly 2am. Then I woke up two hours later, stumbled into the car and sulked in the backseat all the way to the airport. Once at the airport, I succumbed to wolfing down a McSausageEggWhatever thingie while we waited to board. Amazingly, my family was in a pretty good mood. My stepmom and Dad are used to waking up early, what’s two less hours of sleep? My brother was pleased that he was on time and no one had to give him any shit. I glared at my dad for trying to take pictures of me with his camera phone. He chuckled. Now I know how everyone else feels when I bother them when they’re annoyed . . . I’ll still do it, but at least I know what it feels like.
I promise there is a reason why I’m telling you about the airport. Here it is. It’s pretty cheap. Hopefully funny.
So I’m sitting in my seat on the plane and I’m on the aisle, which normally I wouldn’t mind except I LOVE watching the plane land and take off and I really wanted to see what Louisiana looked like from above. Alas. Before the plane takes off, I look over across the aisle to say something to my brother and there is a man with his back to me who is reaching up to put away his luggage. His ass is hanging out of his pants. No. Really. Ass. Inches from my face. At least two and a half inches of crack. At 7:30am. And because I was delirious, I turned the other way and buried my face in my father’s shoulder and tried desperately to at least muffle my hysterical laughter. When my dad figured out why I was laughing, he exclaims, ruining my illusion of subtlety, “Oh my God! His ASS is hanging out!!” Big emphasis on “ass.” My stepmom, who was sitting in my coveted window seat, was very very upset.
The air in New Orleans is thick and hot. It wasn’t uncomfortable quite yet, just at the edge. We were staying in the middle of the French Quarter in the perfect location for walking everywhere. It was at a hotel called Monteleon (Mountain lion, I guess) and the hotel was just gorgeous. The most comfortable bed that I have slept in since I had to put my beloved queen in my dad’s garage. This bed cradled me as I slept. Delicious. Anyway. We checked in at around 2pm and since my grandparents and aunt weren’t arriving until 7pmish (they had missed their connecting flight in Atlanta and had to fly to Biloxi and then drive the rest of the way. . .and I thought the guy’s ass was bad), the Joshuas went on their first walk in New Orleans.
What a city! What a wonderful city! The town itself reminds me of the Old World, very East Coast. Most of the shops are owned by the people who live above them and every shop is different. New Orleans is a tourist town, no mistake, but every single shop is completely different. It’s not like one of those tourist towns where everywhere sells the same magnets and the same rugs and the same stupid pictures and idiot t-shirts that say “Don’t fuck with the cook!” with a crocodile with a Mardi Gras mask on it. There were some like that on Bourbon Street (I’ll get to that), but on Royal St., where our hotel was, it was just a walk of art shops, old Confederate artifacts, pottery, jewelry (I think I want my wedding ring from New Orleans) and really good restaurants. Here’s something amazing about New Orleans. You can drink in public. As long as it is in a plastic container, you’re free to drink your beer as you meander through the streets, occasionally wiping the beads of sweat from the bridge of your nose. At first I wanted to walk quickly, in order to create a cool breeze, but I soon learned to appreciate the Southern stroll, nevermind the sweat or the stickiness of the air, dotted by the occasional dragon fly and always pungent with smells of homecooking. A honky tonk piano player was seated on every corner, usually joined by some sort of brass, but sometimes not. I kept thinking that I was in a different country. The houses, all French architecture, with hints of Spanish depending on when it was built, were old and chipped and went back and forth between brightly painted and faded, antiquated pastels. Just beautiful. I had heard that it was supposed to rain all weekend and was both looking forward to it (boy do I love the rain), but also bummed because I knew no one would want to walk in it. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining. Yet. My dad had refused to scarf down McDonalds like the rest of us animals (snob) and so he started to get hungry. After walking around a large statue of Andrew Jackson, enjoying the street musicians and gazing at the museums filled with Louisiana history that seemed to grace every corner, we came to a corner cafe with a large alligator statue at the entrance. We went in. The cafe was an old apartment building that had been converted into a restaurant. That is another thing. Very few buildings in New Orleans are used for their original purpose (and when they are, they loudly advertise it). There are plaques on every building stating that this used to be a library and this used to be a stationary store and this was a barber shop, etc. It makes every room in every building oddly shaped for its current purpose. Whatever the business, it obviously has to work around the original intent of the architecture. It lends the city a very casual, “We’ll make it work” attitude.
So we’re in this restaurant and immediately notice that alligator is on the menu. Either fried or blackened. We have to get some, fried of course, reasoning that at least the fried part will taste good. I order a Corona and my father tries to make a big deal out of it to my brother (“Jasmine drinks beer now, do you see?”). When the alligator arrives, fried in little crisp balls with a reddish pink dipping sauce, we all look around at each other gleefully, but also hesitantly. Who will do it first? My brother does. He doesn’t keel over dead, so we all try it, my father the most gingerly (there is an infamous story about him going out with a girlfriend years ago, trying escargot without knowing what it was and, upon discovering it was snails, immediately vomiting all over the restaurant). It was DELICIOUS. Salty, meaty, not fishy like eel, but similar in look and texture. After some deliberation, I believe we came up with “a cross between chicken and calamari.” I loved it. I was so pleased that I impishly texted a few choice friends “I just ate alligator” and was met with “Ew!” “Weirdo!” and, my favorite, “. . . why?” I must have more alligator.
Then it started to rain. That’s inaccurate. It poured immediately. No thunder, no lightning, no warning. BAM. Everything drenched instantly. New Orleans natives, beers in hands, casually put up their umbrellas. Little old ladies with penny loafers and bags of groceries flicked their canes and umbrellas shot out. The huge windows that surrounded the restaurant were wide open and I climbed through one and ran out into the rain, abandoning my beer and the alligator and felt the cool water on my face. I love the rain. There is nothing that makes me feel more free than getting wet with the rain. I love it. But my dad and stepmom and brother were watching me with worried curiosity, so I came back inside not too long after. Mule-drawn carriages plocked through the cobble-stone streets. The pouring stopped, as quickly as it started. We walked further into the Quarter toward the Tomato Festival (apparently Louisiana doesn’t give a shit what the FDA says) and supposedly there was a zydeco festival. But the band playing was clearly not zydeco, but some pretty generic country, which was both confusing and mildly disappointing. So we left. We walked through an open market with more of the classic wallets/crosses/beads/jewelry shit that you expect, but it was cool to listen to people bartering in French, English and Haitian. Yeah, did I mention I felt like I was in another country?
We walked back to the hotel, me stopping only briefly to oogle inside a store that sold Civil War era weapons. I drooled over everything. . . sabers, blades, African axes, Indian spears, British guns and muskets, baronets, everything, I was in heaven. We went to our rooms to wait for my grandparents to arrive, but as soon as my head hit that welcoming pillow, I napped deeply and soundly until the phone rang. We met my grandparents and my crazy Aunt Myra in the lobby and immediately began drinking. Just to let you know, the sober part of my trip ends here.
In the hotel is a bar called The Carousel. It was a round room and the circular bar literally rotated. So you sat on a stool connected to the bar that slowly, slowly, slowly moved around while you drank. It sounds like a really bad idea, and it kind of was. But also interesting. I think I like the concept mostly because one of my fondest childhood memories of New York City is riding the carousel in Central Park with my mom. We rode that every day. Whenever I go to NY, I must ride that carousel. But I don’t drink beer while I do it. Which makes a difference. It was here that I had my first taste of Abita Beer. Louisiana local beer. My GOD is it good! Flavorful! Robust! Sweet! Bubbly! Everything good that a beer should be, this beer is. It’s an amber wheat beer and was mostly the only beer that I drank once I discovered it. It’s in every bar, every restaurant and it is incredible. I will be on the lookout from now on.
Once the family was sufficiently tipsy, we began looking for a place to eat. This was difficult because no one would make a decision. After stumbling upon the wrong part Bourbon Street, meaning the part where every single shop has a “All Nude!” “Barely Legal!” “Prettiest Girls in the South!” (oh man, so many jokes) sign on it, we decided that we should go back to the Jackson Statue area and eat something respectable so that my grandfather would stop making crude jokes and my aunt wasn’t tempted to walk in, either for employment or entertainment (did I mention she was crazy?) We decided on an Italian place that Dad and I had seen earlier during our jaunt, but had gotten a little turned around and couldn’t relocate it; I, for one, couldn’t get the image of two prosthetic, fish-net-stockinged legs in platform heels swinging through a window on a mechanical swing. I asked these two Southern ladies who were lounging outside their apartment having a casual cigarette where this Italian place was. As I was babbling to explain where I thought it was, one of the women lets out a long puff of smoke, her lip curling lazily to the side and drawls, “What you need, baby?” A beautiful Southern lilt. Concerned and sweet. I loved it. Everyone called me baby, but not in that disgusting, sleazy, I want you in bed baby. But as if I were actually this woman’s child. Her baby. That needed directions to the Italian place two blocks down and one block over.
The restaurant was called Irene’s. The best Italian food I have ever had in my life. And this is coming from someone in a New York Italian family. The. Best. Amazing shrimp, amazing marinara sauce and I had this pecan praline (apparently praline is to New Orleans what taffy is to San Francisco) bread pudding that blew my mind. Well, it blew my nose and then it blew my mind (badum tss). Seriously. Amazing food.
After a delicious meal and an even more delicious dessert (it had bananas and icecream and whipped cream, too, oh, so so good), we stumbled, full and drunk back to the hotel. The real family reunion would begin in the morning.
I slept like an angel.
AHHH!!! I wish I were a better writer! I wish I could take you there with me right now with my prose and my tone and diction and all those other writery things that I theoretically should have because my BA says I should! AAAHHH!! I’ll do my damndest.
The morning came too early (as usual for me), but, hungry for more (in all senses), I pulled myself out of bed and immediately devoured the delicious New Orleans doughnuts that my dad had bought for me and my brother. Also, some really wonderful fresh squeezed orange juice. These doughnuts are really good, they’re called something French and they’re famous in New Orleans. Begnots. Or Beignets. Something like that. Basically funnel cake with powdered sugar. Mmm. Then I went downstairs to the lobby and met the rest of my family, consisting of my grandmother’s sister’s husband, their children and their kids. My grandmother’s sister, my Great Aunt Roberta, recently died. I met her a few times and, basically, this woman was a pisser. My God. She was a rough and tumble broad with a mouth and a good solid punch. And the range of personalities of her five kids are pretty much what you would expect from having such a mother. All charming, all friendly, all loud and gregarious, and pretty much HILARIOUS. Just great! I loved them all!
We had lunch at this place called The Gumbo Shop, which I wouldn’t recommend only because it’s the safe tourist cafe that every city has. It was alright. I was so stuffed from the day before’s debauchery that I only had a salad. And Abita beer.
Then we went on a steam boat ride up the Mississippi. Oh! It was great! We saw all these old plantations sitting haughtily on the banks, still with white pillars and brightly painted shutters. It was odd, because while I admired the homes and fantasized Gone with the Wind, I couldn’t help but think about the slaves. How that house meant pain, terror, whips. Massa. It was a little icky. Beautiful houses, but just icky. Of course you couldn’t see the slave huts from the river. Nono. Put those in back. The houses all sat on these hills and I imagined women in hoop skirts picnicking on the lawns while the men fished and ordered Uncle Tom and Mamie to get more sweet iced tea. It was strange. I don’t know. I would have liked to get off the boat and prowl around to take a closer look. I don’t know if families still live there, or whether they’re just historical sites. We passed quite a few Civil War battle sites (ooooooo, I wanna go on a Civil War tour of the Soooouuuuuth!! Eeeee!), but mostly, unfortunately, there were big, ugly industrial rigs and huge tankers and destroyed docks. It was fun to be on the boat, though. It was one of those old classic ones with the big paddle wheel and a loud whistle and a pipe organ with some lunatic old woman who probably pre-exists electricity playing dopey songs while we boarded. And, of course, an open bar. More beer. More laughter. More getting to know my family and finding how similar we all are and how differently we’ve handled our familial vices. I loved it. It reminds me why I want family and why I want to stay near my parents to do it, even if it means living in California and raising Californians (God. . . would I even know how?)
The only thing that was sad about the boat ride (well, most of the trip, really) was that my grandmother kept saying “I wish my sister were here. I feel like life shouldn’t be able to go on now that she’s gone.” She was really close with Aunt Roberta. My grandmother is not usually a sentimental woman. She has a lot of fun and loves to laugh and party, but not really sentimental. She even said, “I mean, you’re not sad when your parents die, you expect that to happen. . . but not your siblings.” (Jesus.) Her sister’s death took something away from her. It was sad to keep hearing her say that, always with a brave smile on her face and always after something wonderful had just happened. Enjoying life just made her miss her sister all the more. It was sad.
After the boat ride, we meandered, having already mastered it, back to the hotel. More street music and shops. I saw this picture which I MUST MUST own someday. I think it’s incredible.
Isn’t that haunting? I love it. But when I went back later to see how much it was, it was gone and I didn’t remember which shop it came from. I kept searching all the windows. Alas. At least I found it on the internet so I can find it later. Man, though. The artist drew that when he was 18. Isn’t that amazing? I love it.
After we napped again, we went out to eat and drink. . . again. The cousin from the area had reservations at this REALLY beautiful restaurant on Bourbon Street (the less-sex part). Oh, that was another thing, the streets of the French Quarter are lit at night by actual lamps with actual fire. Oh! So beautiful. The restaurant was similarly lit. We walked in, all dressed and coiffed and pretty, and went upstairs to these two adjoining entertaining rooms. There was a balcony attached to it that overlooked Bourbon Street. It also had its own bar. I had a decent Chardonay and a KILLER Cabernet Sauvignon that I savored and enjoyed extremely deeply, especially after all the beer I had consumed. Appetizers floated around on trays held by plump, polite servers. I liked how classy it was, except that I felt inhibited to dip my chicken in the really good sauce because I couldn’t covertly double-dip in front of the server. Damn. Regardless. The meal itself was delectable (God, my family picks good food). I had this fish that was cooked in puff pastry with some white sauce (I’m sure that there are real names for this fine cuisine, but, hey, I tell it as I see it) and I inhaled it. I was at a table with my dad, my brother, my grandparents and one of my dad’s cousins. The PERFECT table. All of us choked on our food at one point due to laughing so hard. One of my favorite jokes was at my great uncle’s expense (my grandparents didn’t find it funny) because apparently Great Uncle Ed wants to take sailing lessons in Maine. This is odd because the man clearly knows how to sail; he, in fact, builds sailboats for fun. But anyway. My grandmother says to a cousin, “So your father is going to take sailing lessons?” And the guy chuckles and says, “Yeah, it’s called ‘burial at sea.'” My dad, my brother and I ROARED. Maybe it was alcohol. But man. Nothing like a death joke in front of old people. We felt kinda bad because, again, my grandparents didn’t laugh, but we kept catching each other’s eyes like naughty children who know a curse word and giggling the rest of the night.
After dinner and more drinking, we all crowded onto the balcony and brought out a huge plastic bin full of Mardi Gras beads. And we began throwing them at people below us. My grandfather, smirking, dangling fake pearls below at drunk women and saying, “Peasants! Yoohoo! Up here, peasants!” Great Uncle Ed, a man of few words, targeted the little kids walking with their parents. Jacob, the baby, just chucked them over the rail, laughing hysterically. My dad tried to drop them over people’s heads without them knowing it. It was actually a lot of fun, although you realize that these are tourists who are walking around Bourbon Street thinking that they’re getting authentic beads from authentic New Orleaners when really we’re just idiot tourists getting a kick out of throwing beads at other idiot tourists. But no one cared. New Orleans is one big block party after 7pm. Everyone wants to have a good time and there is no one EVER who would want to impeded on anyone else’s good time. It’s one big house party where everyone is very polite not to knock over anything and not to pee in the punch bowl. I love it. Fuck Vegas, why anyone could go there when New Orleans is to be had, I couldn’t tell you.
Then we went bar hopping. They got a babysitter for Jacob and everyone, young and old, went bar hopping on Bourbon Street. And we were already sauced. Because there were still two of the group under 21, we had to be a little more selective in where we went. . . meaning that we had to pick the places that were completely UNselective about who came in. Which turned out great, honestly. They were seedy and crowded with people and filled with music from live classic rock cover bands (I swear to God, though, if I hear “The Joker” one more time, I might kill). I went upstairs in one of the bars to go stand on the balcony. I came across a group of decently attractive men who were being accosted by my INCREDIBLY drunk relative who was INSISTING that they throw beads, though they had none. I rescued them from her and informed them of the custom of women baring their breasts for beads. I demonstrated (haha, not what you think, jerk) by dangling fake pearls over the edge. Eventually tits were shown. These men, mostly from Britain, although one from Iceland, looked at me with newfound respect and gratitude. They were thrilled at this secret. I talked to the Iceland guy for awhile. He was fun to talk to because I could tell he didn’t expect me to be intelligent, but rather than making a big deal out of the fact that I am, he just smiled and went with it. It was kinda odd flirting with several European men in front of my family (my dad in particular), but, again, having maintained a buzz since noon, I didn’t care. He told me his name, claiming that I would never remember it. I told him that since he said that, I would remember it always. And I think I actually will. Borkur is his name. Kinda like Porker, but Borkur. He offered me a beer that he had extra, but I had an Abita coming and he had a Bud Lite, so I declined (plus the paranoid part of me wondered if he had done anything to it. . .probably not. He handed it to some other girl). He was charming, I enjoyed his company.
My older relatives decided to go home. Us young’uns stayed out, but I was informed that we were leaving that bar (called Bourbon Street Blues Factory, I think) and so I had to leave my Iceland man on the balcony. We didn’t actually leave the bar, annoyingly, because a relative was distracted by the cover band playing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” They also played “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “We Got the Beat,” “I Love Rock’n’Roll,” “Hurts So Good,” etc. You get the idea. I’m mildly wishing I could still be flirting with the Europeans, but am distracted by one of the cousins. I guess this was his first night out with his wife to party since the kid was born and he wasted no time. I knew I liked him earlier when we had a non-snobby, but actually interesting conversation about Shakespeare on the boat and when he started making fun of the band’s set list with me and my brother. But what topped the evening was when, totally drunk, covered in beads, holding a glass of beer, he decided that he was going to stand at the door and start checking IDs (obviously there was no one official there). At random, he would just check pretty girls’ IDs. It was hilarious. The fun stopped when a boyfriend of one of the girls got mad and forcibly steered her away.
Oh, something quick. So because you’re allowed to drink in public, all the bars have stacks of plastic cups by the doors, so that if you want to leave, but are drinking from a bottle, you can easily transfer the alcohol and then begin your journey. Genius.
Then the Brits and the Iceland guy passed us as they were leaving the bar. Borkur noticed me and came over, whispering in my ear (not knowing my father was literally standing right next to me) “You didn’t get far, did you?” I laughed and slitted my eyes and said that my family had been distracted by the band. He whispered my name into my other ear and then, gently placing a hand on my cheek, kissed my mouth. It was a sweet kiss, closed mouth, classy. A gentleman’s kiss. I liked it. It was weird, though, because my dad, like I said, was two feet away. Then Borkur was gone. Pleased with myself, I glanced at my dad, who was actually (this is even MORE odd) kind of smiling proudly. Yeah! My girl can pick up strangers in a bar! That’s my baby! Then he patted me and said, “You’re a good girl, Mina. There will be plenty of guys like that at Oxford.” Strange.
Another example of New Orleans culture. The streets were blocked off so that no cars went through. Everywhere was teeming with people. At one point, there was a guy who had obviously had too much to drink and laid down on the sidewalk. Immediately he was surrounded by other concerned drunks who were cheerfully trying to revive him. Some took pictures with him (which I thought was kinda inappropriate, considering the good-Samaritan tone of the rescue). Finally, some stranger, some Bourbon Street veteran, came by with Epsom salts and waved it under the guy’s nose. He sat up, was on his feet and, to applause and cheers, was on his way again. Seriously. Epsom salts. Who does that?
We were out until 1:30am and then stumbled back to the hotel, once again, so we could sleep it off. The bed cradled me, warmed me, embraced me. It was beautiful. Admittedly, I wished I had someone to cuddle with. I think that would have been the only thing missing from that night’s sleep. Otherwise, it was perfect.
Day 3 (or, really, 2.5)
Everyone was very sheepish the next morning. But also proud and smug. Most everyone had to leave early, so I said goodbyes to everyone and really felt sorry that the weekend wasn’t longer and I hoped that we didn’t wait another 10 years before the next family reunion. Someone said, “Well, the next reunion will either be a wedding or a funeral, probably.” The adults laughed. I found that frightening. The rest of the day was uneventful, just eating a delicious buffet breakfast and wishing the appropriate parties a happy Father’s Day. Then it was a grueling plane ride back and I arrived again in California, wishing that this state had a more interesting culture.
I play a gig on Tuesday, this Friday and the following Monday (thank God). I got a few emails back from jobs. I need job and a new place to live. Which is okay. Doable.
Life continues. But my God. I must go back to New Orleans. She calls. She calls. She calls.