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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Muffaletta with a Side of Guilt

After my trip to PA, I was home for about 10 days before I took off on a quick 3-day jaunt to New Orleans. I have been there many, many times, but not since Katrina.

My relationship with New Orleans has always been somewhat complicated. My first visit there was for work. At the time, I was stage managing a touring show about Jackie Robinson. We went into schools in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, and we saw and experienced things that we couldn't imagine. In one school, they had run out of money for paper towels and toilet paper and it was only March. The custodian told me that the kids had to bring their own from home for the rest of the year. In another school, the show was delayed for a memorial service for a student who had been killed. The principal said that it was the 11th student shot during his tenure. At that same school, the backstage curtains were smeared with human waste. Each venue presented a eye-opening experience. During those 10 days, the cast and I were deeply troubled by the things we saw and heard and we were intensely affected. Still, at the end of each workday, we went back to our hotel, took a swim, went out to hear music and eat, and though we were paid very modestly, the things we saw made us feel very fortunate to have what we did.

Each time I go back to New Orleans, those memories come back. I enjoy the walks, the shopping, and the incredible dining, but I am very aware of the city that lies just outside the area where most tourists venture. The coverage from Katrina brought some of the city's issues to light, but I doubt that the average Bourbon Street reveler gives them much thought.

On this trip, we didn't go into the most damaged areas, but there were still visible scars. It appeared that many places now operate with fewer staff, so things were a bit slower. (Not true everywhere, but I did have that sense.) On a walk through the Marigny, houses still bore the markings from the search and rescue teams. One resident described her area as "the slivah by the rivah" because they didn't have flooding, but four blocks over, she noted, there was water and a house where they had pulled out bodies.

A lot of properties--especially around the Garden District and down Magazine--are being rehabbed and flipped. I didn't look into it carefully, but things must have been going cheap, and developers are taking the opportunity to make a few bucks. Too bad our government hasn't invested in fixing the levees that created the problem in the first place. They are patched, but they aren't fixed. (None of us really believed what Bush said in Jackson Square, did we?) The city is at risk now just as it was before.
On the lighter side, we did enjoy some fabulous eats: beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, oyster po' boys, dinners at NOLA and Upperline (the latter being my favorite restaurant in the city), and a new discovery, Cochon. I had what can only be described as a pulled pork crabcake. It was shredded pork formed into a patty, dipped in cornmeal and fried to form a crispy crust. Amazing. Highlights included the roast duck and sweet potato ice cream at NOLA, the oyster pan roast and ribs with pickled watermelon rind at Cochon, and the spicy oyster appetizer and fried green tomato with remoulade at Upperline. I have also discovered a new-found love of the Sazerac cocktail. Yum.

We squeezed in visits to The Quarter Stitch (more needlepoint than knitting, but definitely worth a trip), Bette Bornside in Marigny (an odd store arrangement, and somewhat off-putting given that there is only one ball of each type of yarn on display, but she was quite helpful in finding a pattern from an out-of-print magazine), and Garden District Needleworks. At QS, I did pick up some undyed Malabrigo as well as the last skein they had of their Mardi Gras colorway.

I think it is destined to be another bucket hat, but I have capped the Lady Detective Hat production at six and I will use a different pattern this time.

I am now in planning mode for Blue Moon's Sock Camp. I have begun working on my homework (like I EVER thought I would make a toilet paper roll cover) and fleshing out the details of our travel. (Once a tour manager, always a tour manager, I realized as I titled a document "Angela and Liz--Sock Camp Itinerary.") I cannot wait to take classes with Cat Bordhi, Cookie A and The Yarn Harlot.
I am reminded again of how very fortunate I am to have such amazing opportunities and options.

Friday, March 07, 2008

There's no place like home, there's no place...

Ahh, back "home" for 10 days. Alas, home isn't home anymore. I haven't lived in PA for 20+ years, so "going home" really isn't. It was good to see my family, but ten days without my boys (the tall, human one and the two four-footed ones) felt like a long time.
In addition to the fun-filled activities detailed in the last entry, there was a trip to the Kraemer Textile Mill in Nazareth, PA. Unfortunately, I wasn't there on tour day (Wednesdays, I am told), but I did learn some very interesting things about their products and some of the dyers they supply. I bought bunches and bunches of undyed yarn to experiment with and I also loaded up on some of the silk and sterling yarn that I have been using to make the Tuscany shawl.
The shop at Kraemer carries mostly their yarns, the products of a few of the dyers they supply to, and some random dribs and drabs. Aside from the sterling yarn, I wasn't familiar with their lines, but there are a few that are now on my radar. (There is a wool/acrylic blend that could be really good for babies and kids. Not being a huge acrylic fan, I wouldn't necessarily use it for myself, but it truly wasn't bad.)

I resisted the urge to go hunting for Martin Guitars and the Andrettis (also located in Nazareth), and headed off to the Allentown Farmers' Market. Ever since they built 78, which goes from Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton right up to NYC, there has been an influx of new people to the area. The market is now an interesting melting pot of locals and transplants, with the parking lot filled with old pick-up trucks and ancient Ford wagons, shiny, new Mercedes and SUVs. Quite an interesting conglomeration.

After loading up the car with the ingredients for my grandmother's birthday dinner, I headed back to the highway via a street full of beautiful houses that were built during Allentown's heyday, back when the execs from Bethlehem Steel and Mack Trucks made their homes there. They are gorgeous properties, almost quaint by today's McMansion standards. Many of the transplants live in new construction developments of huge houses that sit on land that used to be farms and open land. When I was a kid, Allentown was a bustling little city, with a fancy department store and restaurants that are long gone. From what I can tell, downtown hasn't seemed to benefit a great deal from the influx of money and people, although there is a new minor league baseball team in town, the Iron Pigs. (Just 'cause I know you're wondering, the Billy Joel song is not really about Allentown. He just used the name.)

The rest of the trip included a quick trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show, visits with friends and family, Grandma's birthday dinner, and a spa day with Grandma, my mom, my aunt, and me. She kept saying it was a "once in a lifetime" experience. Very sweet.