Singing even unto Bourbon Street
Sat, Oct 11, 2008
This is our "free day" where we can do whatever we want. About half the people have decided they want to go home, which cuts way down on the number of people showing up for breakfast. Plus I get to sleep in because everybody else decided to.
I make a breakfast strata (bread, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and bacon layered in a baking dish and then covered with milk and eggs) because I can make it the night before and then cook it the next morning (meaning I have time to read the paper and drink coffee instead of cooking).
The recipe says it makes enough for eight. We actually still have nine people, but I decide to take a chance and hope that somebody has a smaller serving.
I don't know who these "eight" people are that the designers think are eating this recipe. Perhaps they are teenage boys who are linebackers, because when this strata comes out, there is clearly enough servings for about 27 people. And good, person-sized servings, not bite-sized servings.
I'm happy to note that during the night the menehunes have tackled the semi-amazing stack of pots and pans from last night's extravaganza and made them disappear. Since menehunes are capricious, I'm careful to be nice to anyone who might be a menehune.
Fortunately, it has occurred to me that this is a tropical-type area that is MUCH closer to the equator than Seattle. Also much sunnier. Which means Robert will do a lobster imitation if he doesn't use sunscreen. We're also lucky to be across the street from a Rite-Aid, so a quick trip over yields some cool spray-on sunscreen. It uses alcohol as the base, so you get kind of a contact high when you put it on. (The special New Orleans version, I'm sure.)
We're at the Gentilly Fest (www.gentillyfest.org). Gentilly is a neighborhood in New Orleans that is still hurting pretty bad (one of our project houses was in Gentilly). So they're having a festival to celebrate not being wiped off the map completely, which sounds pretty cool to us.
On the way in, the band was playing what sounded like beat poetry. No kidding, the sort of non-rhythmic bass and drums playing behind bad poetry delivered monotone. We were hep cats, though, so we knew to snap our fingers at the end and not clap. If you get old enough, everything comes back around.
There's maybe ten booths selling handmade crafts. Some of them are very reasonably priced (or underpriced), while others are not so reasonably priced. There's a pretty good selection of local food booths, but we're all still stuffed from the eight-person strata that we're not interested.
One of the bands is playing "It Takes a Village" and they got a bunch of people up on the stage dancing away to it--even some little kids. It's interesting to note that white people in New Orleans don't have any rhythm either.
One very un-New Orleanian thing I note is that there are no booths selling alcohol. I find out later there's a beer garden hidden behind the snowball booth (I got a spearmint snowball which was weird but good). But at the Harrison Market, there were five or six booths selling all flavors and intensities of booze.
Carl, our driver, wanted to stay and see the "New Orleans Helsinki Connection," because he saw something on the internet about them, so we're staying to watch them. They have a female Finnish trombone player (not something you see every day) and they turn out to be a pretty respectable jazz band.
In the movies, I've seen the New Orleans funeral where a brass band follows the hearse through the streets of the city and people follow the band and it's starts playing out playing sad and then gets happy.
In real life, this is called a "second line" and my crack research department tells me why.
[It really sucks to be traveling and doing trip logs without Laura. First off, we travel well together and she's always nice to be around. Also, she takes out the unfunny stuff (or the stuff where I'm trying too hard to be funny) and makes the trip logs better. The one upside is that I can text her with research requests and she gets right on it and sends me answers.]
The "first line" is relatives of the dead guy (or gal). They march in front. Then comes the band and then comes the "second line" which are people attracted by the music. They're supposed to stay behind the band (although in the last decade or two, that rule has relaxed). So a "second line" is a memorial procession featuring a brass band that anybody can join.
Anyway, I saw someplace that there was a second line for a photographer, Michael P. Smith, so I convinced the others that this would be a cool thing to do (which didn't take much convincing) and so Carl has taken all seven of us over to the Garden District to join the second line.
The band only played one sad song where we all walked very slowly and mournfully. Then the cops came over and said (essentially) "Look, you want to step up it, please? We're holding up traffic and we'd like to get finished before sundown."
So all the other tunes were happy tunes, which is also very Episcopalian. That's one of my favorite parts of the memorial liturgy: Even unto the grave we will sing our song, Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
I end up right behind the band (and completely by accident, don't offend any older people by getting in front of the band) and stay there most of the way. In front of the band are four guys in gray suits with feathers, which symbolizes something or the other, but it's hard to find out what, exactly. Probably because they've always done it that way (also very Episcopalian).
As it goes along, people join in and drop off (I was the only one of our group of seven to go the distance, which totaled about two and a half mniles) and it's pretty cool. Although not literally cool, because the sun is out and it's hot sweaty work following the band.
The entire procession stops and we all go upstairs to a club and get beers and drinks (some people get water, but I'm pretty sure these are tourists). There's probably 200 people at this point.
Then we all go downstairs and start marching again. The band is the "Treme Brass Band" and it features the oldest bass drum player in New Orleans. Also the skinniest. And possibly the shortest. But he's whapping away on that bass drum like it's nobody's business.
Another break. This time it's in front of a house (which seems to belong to a friend of Michael's) and we get free ice-cold beers. Yay, Michael!
Now we all march into a bar called "Tipitinas" which serves booze (surprise!) and is also a music club where people like Dr. John and John Lee Hooker have played. The tributes start--some are sung and some are spoken.
A Mardi Gras krewe gets up on stage and does a chant type thing that I've never heard before, but seems to be pretty familiar to the audience (some of them sing/chant along). Various other blues and jazz performers get up and play and in-between friends of his talk about him.
This goes on until I get hungry and decide to leave.
I have no idea where in the hell I am, so I call a cab to get to the French Quarter (where the other folks have gone). It shows up pretty quickly and we start off through the back streets of New Orleans.
I have found that people here are happiest just to know that the rest of the country hasn't forgotten them, so I tell this to the cab driver.
"Well, that's sure good to hear," says the cab driver (whose name is Charles Williams, but that has no relevance to the story), "Because sometimes it seems like the government has."
That might not be a bad thing, I tell him, considering what happens when the government gets involved. And of course, the cab driver shares his Katrina story (his house was spared, but he only brought one change of clothes for his month of exile).
I'm at the Palace Cafe, which is right on the edge of the FrenchQuarter and comes recommended by the cab driver. It's at the intersection of Canal, Camp, and Chartres streets and is only a block from the end of Bourbon street. So there's a lot of people wandering down the block.
I order a Rum & Coke (which in New Orleans is a glass of rum with a splash of Coke) and peruse the menu. I settle on the "Crabmeat Cheesecake" (baked in a pecan crust with wild mushroom saute and a Creole muniere) and the "Honey Glazed Duck."
The Crabmeat Cheesecake is so good that my taste buds have a foodgasm. I tell the waiter that if this weren't a fancy restaurant, I'd be licking my plate, and it's true. Yum, yum, yum!
The Honey Glazed Duck (with Creole sweet potato salad) is also pretty good, but not quite the pure cries of pleasure my taste buds gave with the Crabmeat Cheesecake. They think they died and gone to heaven.
I have acquired a map from a local store, so I know where in the hell I am. Thanks to the magic of cell phones, I can link up with some of the others in our group.
On my way to meet Mary Lou and Beth, I run into everybody else in our group (the French Quarter isn't that big), so it's not essential technology. Mary Lou has never seen Bourbon street before (and is a little nervous about it, given it's reputation).
I explain that it's not THAT bad and is actually fairly surreal. The first place we stand in front of has an excellent jazz band playing. The next store is selling frozen daiquiris out of a bank of repurposed Slurpee machines (there's about 12 machines, each filled with a different flavor). The next store sells cheesy touristy things. Then there's a naked lady club. A bar selling "Big Ass Beers" and then a four-start French restaurant.
And it continues that way for about 12 blocks. That's Bourbon street. It's fairly tame (at least up to 9:00 pm, when we wandered off), it's weird, and it's interesting, although probably not a great place for an AA meeting. The entire street is closed to vehicles so you can walk down the center of the street if you want.
Just another typical Episcopal Mission Trip: walking down Bourbon Street at night with frozen daiquiris! You know, if we'd just put that on a recruiting poster, I bet we could get lots of Lutherans to join...
That's it for today. Tomorrow is church at St. Paul's, which we've been sleeping next to, and then two air flights home where I get to sleep in my very own bed! Yay! No offense, St. Paul's, but these foam beds on bed springs make you feel like a hot dog in a bun. One more closing trip log (so you know the plane didn't crash or anything).