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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Leg One: New Orleans

We flew into MSY on Sunday morning, October 12. After a quick lunch at Mother's, dessert at Cafe du Monde, and a brief walk, the husband was off to work and I was left to my own devices in New Orleans. I spent a lot of time on my feet. I traversed much of the French Quarter, although I only walked down one block of Bourbon 'cause I'm 42 and over it. As I always do, I visited the amazing collection of Newcomb Pottery at The Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal. (I harbor a dim hope that someday I will find a piece of Newcomb at a yard sale and it will come home to live with me. Fat chance of that, but I can dream.) I slipped into the Marigny. I took the streetcar way uptown and walked down a long strip of Magazine (I had the blisters to prove it), and back through the Garden District. (Some Creole Cream Cheese gelato helped to ease the pain.) I procured some pre-1955 Czech Mardi Gras beads and doubloons. (Prior to 1955, glass throws were made in Czechoslovakia. They were stockpiled and used after then, but they were no longer being imported.) I enjoyed some of my walks with portable Bloody Marys in hand. (I love sipping a fine adult beverage out-of-doors, don't you?)

We have stayed in many different places on our many trips, and this time I got a great deal at Le Pavillon. It is a gorgeous, fairly formal hotel that is about four blocks from the Quarter. It has excellent access to the St. Charles streetcar, and free WiFi. I usually don't do room service, but I exhausted myself walking the first day, so I ordered a cheeseburger and a Sazerac and tucked in for some quality time with MSNBC. I am not kidding when I say that it was the most magnificent, juicy, delicious burger I have ever eaten. (I think the bun was spread with a stick of butter before toasting.) The staff at the hotel was very friendly and responsive and I would recommend it highly.

We had dinners at Luke, a John Besh restaurant that was merely okay but not fantastic despite the hype, and Cochon, which rated a return visit after my trip down in March. If you go to Cochon, keep in mind that everything on the main menu is quite delish (they even have a Moonshine menu--try the Catdaddy), but dessert is just average. Either save the calories or go somewhere else for dessert...another order of beignets at Cafe du Monde, perhaps? Upperline never, ever disappoints, and JoAnne, the owner, was there and so excited because they had just installed new paintings on the facade that very day.
The ones there previously had been ripped away by Katrina and JoAnne had spent the past three years deciding what to do about replacing them. They are very different than their predecessors, but they compliment the restaurant well. I cannot recommend Upperline highly enough; it has become a must-go on each visit to NOLA. I adore the eclectic collection of art, the attentive service, and I always have the same thing: Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade, the Roast Duck with Ginger-Peach Sauce and Sweet Potatoes, and Bread Pudding. To. Die. For.
The husband had Wednesday off, so we did the museums at The Presbytere and The Cabildo as well as the Museum of Art in City Park. We quite enjoyed (though probably not for the reasons intended) the tribute to Louisiana collector H. Speed Lamkin. The piece de resistance....a portrait of Speed and his sister that he ripped in half because he thought the artist should have included framing in the price. The painting was eventually hung over the fireplace in the family manse without even the slightest attempt to conceal the gap; in fact, there was a 1/2" tear separating the siblings. It was one of the greatest monuments to The Hissy Fit ever. I just find it hysterical that someone in the house hiked up their big girl panties and hung that thing on the wall as is.

I didn't get to the Garden District yarn shop on this visit. They, like many businesses, have shortened hours since Katrina and are only open the second half of the week. I did stop at Quarter Stitch and had a lovely chat with the owner. (My Obama-wear invited many excellent conversations on this trip.) It turns out that they have a knit night around the corner at a gelateria on Sunday nights, but I didn't find out about it until it was too late. They have no Internet presence (not even on Ravelry), so info about this little shop can be hard to come by.

The husband flew home Thursday morning and I wasn't leaving for Birmingham until Thursday night, so I went to the Ogden Museum, had another artery-clogging lunch at Mother's, and went to see a documentary about Katrina called Trouble the Water. It was there as part of the New Orleans Film Festival and I recommend it highly. I had been obsessed with the events and coverage of Katrina. I watched CNN compulsively, and I have continued to follow the progress (or lack thereof) in the years since. This documentary shows a perspective of the disaster that I had never seen before. It follows one couple from the Lower Ninth who started video taping before the first drop of rain fell. They continued to tape as the water rose and they were forced to take refuge in the attic and, later, as they were helped out of the flooded house by a relative who used a punching bag as a flotation device. It documents their attempts to restart their lives in another state, and their eventual return home. It was incredibly powerful to watch this film just yards from the Convention Center where so many people suffered for so many days. It is an interesting and worthwhile piece of historical documentation.

The cabdriver who took me to the airport, Betty, is a 64-year-old raising two of her grandchildren in the Lower Ninth. She told me tales about neighbors who took their compensation from Katrina and who have spent it recklessly and those who have used the funds to pay off mortgages and get their lives back on track. I knew an awful lot about Betty, her family, and her neighbors by the time we got to MSY. What a character. It was a fascinating end to a marvelous trip to a place I enjoy so much.
Next stop: Northport, AL

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