Saturday, February 7, 2009

LA 2/7/09 NOLA

Of course, my brain doesn’t know I’m on vacation… At least not when I woke up at 5:30am! Good grief! Anyway, I laid until 6am, realized that was a useless idea, and got up. T said the night before, “Breakfast is in the kitchen, the coffee stuff is laid, out, help yourself.” So I did! I’m not shy when it comes to cooking for myself, not with my diet the way it has to be. Skipping breakfast ain’t an option, and waiting on the rest of the world to wake up doesn’t get my sugar off to a good start. So I fixed up an egg & toast, got the coffee running through my veins, and slowly T woke up to join me. We mapped out the day and headed for the door.

First stop, New Orleans Museum of Art. Impressive art work. Very impressive. I saw pieces in person that I studied in Humanities at Geneva College. Pretty neat to see the stuff in person. I was stunned that there was no sign of Katrina damage. We were hoping to see the Faberge egg collection, but were disappointed to hear the collection owner had moved to Nashville, TN, and taken the eggs with them. Another family had donated other Faberge pieces, and they were on display. Interesting anyways. (This was one of those "don't use your camera rooms." That's all I got to say 'bout that... *snicker giggle*)

(Here's one of my favorite pieces at the museum - geez, wonder why...)
On the way into downtown, I was suddenly humbled. In most streets, you couldn’t even tell there had been a massive hurricane here a few years ago. Then, among a line of well painted, normal homes, I saw a house with plywood where the windows should be, and the symbol spray painted on the front. It was that spray paint pattern I’m sure everyone saw on the news – the one rescue crews used to identify they’d been in the house, found X number of dead animals, X number of dead people. I spent a while after that in quiet reflection, pretty darn grateful for all I have. Seeing that spray paint shaped the rest of my day, for sure.

Here's just one photo of many I snagged that captures some of the damage that hasn't been fully repaired. Check out the rear-view mirror in the car (COOL!) and the cinema sign...
The city was beautiful. We started out walking near the river, and I got to stand on one of the levees. It’s a big dirt wall, mostly, and I guess not a big concrete fort like I’d expected. There were barges and one cruise ship on the water, reminding me of the Steel City I grew up in.
Our walking tour of NOLA took us to Jackson Square, filled with local artists. Amazing artwork, and colorful people. There were a few musicians in the street, and a handful of palm-readers and fortune tellers. I skipped getting my fortune told, afraid of what they might say. Sure I would’ve loved good news, but I was afraid of bad news spoiling my fun. From the square, we went to Café DuMonde, where I experienced their coffee & beignets. Laughing, I said to T, “This is better than Oh-My-God from lunch yesterday. Am I dead? Did I die and go to heaven? Did I?” Soo yummie…. Covered in powdered sugar rushing through my blood, we continued our journey.

We went to the French Market, another street filled with vendors. There were Mardi Gras beads for sale everywhere, along with masks, and other assortments. I found a coffee cup there with all the common NOLA street names on it, adding another cup to my city collection.
After the French Market, my tour landed on Royal Street. It was filled with local artists shops, one after the other. I felt as if I was in another country, as I’d never been on a street filled with local art shops before. There were tours of mule-drawn carriages all through the town – a pretty cool sight. The mules looked mostly well cared for, body clipped, decent hooves (though needing trimmed IMHO), and good weight. I was happy to see them at good weights, and being worked in nice bits. Nothing looked harsh, and their drivers looked smart enough at the task.

Royal street, and a few more turns, and we were on Bourbon street. What an experience, even in daylight. Live music in nearly every bar, which was incredible. My ears experienced nearly every genre of music as we walked down the street. There were a few street performers standing on the corners, and when someone would put money in their basket or box, they’d perform a while, and then stop again. Pretty neat. We stopped in a bar called Fat Catz, and listened to the band a while. I was impressed that, knowing what the musicians had probably experienced in Katrina (and the cleanup), they still sang happy, played with great skill, and really looked like they enjoyed life.
T and I met up with P and another friend K and wife R. We all gathered at a seafood restaurant (Drago’s), and enjoyed a wonderful meal. The guys ordered charbroiled oysters, and I tried again. These were MUCH better than the oysters from Friday’s lunch, very very good. I ordered grilled redfish and veggies for my meal, and I was very impressed with the good quality. The fish was very light, and cooked wonderfully. Our waitress was wonderful, constantly checking on us (perhaps more than normal after the guys told her I was in on vacation). We enjoyed good food and great conversation. I’ve talked to these guys for years over the phone for work, and it was great to talk about anything but work in person, gathered at the table.

Then the decision was made to head back to Bourbon street after dark, and really let me experience the city after hours. It was completely different, much more lively, a bit of an organized chaos, well, not really organized. There were more street performers, one dance group that was pretty cool – all the dancing done with nothing more than willpower and a sheet of linoleum across the road. (As they described, they were a group on “America’s Got Talent”, but got beat out “by some gay cowboys”. Funny, but I wasn’t sure, since I hadn’t seen the show.) It was cool!! They had some microphones and speakers, and talked a lot during their performance. Right before they asked for donations, I was tickled. The guy said, “Ok, now, if you don’t pay us, we’re going to go back to robbing your houses, just like we did before we learned how to dance. So pay up. We accept 5s, and 10s, and for you white folks, 20s are great!” One gentlemen walked over to where we were standing, holding the basket, and said, “There, now, don’t you feel guilty? Payup!!” J Very funny for sure.

We ended the evening at a bar called Pat O’Briens, where the guys treated me to a Hurricane. Good stuff! “Sip it,” they said, and I took their advice. It was strong, but very very good. More great conversation, a lot of laughter, and a very relaxing time. We left there with me holding two hurricane glasses with their emblem on the side – cool souvenirs! Very cool!

As we walked back to the car, I was amazed at all of the people, but well protected by my tour guides. They felt more like escorts at this point, looking back every so often and making sure I hadn’t been lost in the crowd. I felt pretty safe, with all of them watching out for me.

Our night ended with me sound asleep by about 11:15, well cultured, and having felt like I spent the day in another country.

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