Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

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Wandering Through New Orleans

On Saturday morning, we woke up much later than we had all week. It was nice to sleep in and really enjoy the luxury of being in our own hotel room. As much as I love the community of the dorms, it's just nice to have some time and space with my husband. *laughs*

My step counts for the week:
Sunday -- 8733
Monday -- 17,971
Tuesday -- 11,043
Wednesday -- 9656
Thursday -- 13,851
Friday -- 15, 302
Saturday -- 23,122

Given that 10,000 steps are supposed to be 5 miles, we walked a lot on Saturday. My feet were pretty swollen already, but walking was different than just standing or climbing, so they felt all right, especially in my relatively new walking shoes. I had calluses on the outside of my big toes, but they weren't rubbing too hard against the shoes so it didn't hurt.

When we were ready to begin exploring the city, we called Bob, and found out that he had been up since 7 AM. He had been wandering the city and taking pictures all morning.

Three of us started out by trying to find breakfast. I really enjoy Beignet Cafe much more than I do Cafe du Monde, because Cafe du Monde uses baking powder rather than yeast for their beignet, and the lines there always much longer. My favorite location for the Beignet Cafe is the one on Royal Street, but when we got there the line was out the door. Since the two boys had gone to the Bourbon Street location the night before, we went there instead.

The walk there was surprisingly wonderful. Bob told us about watching the shopkeepers scrub the sidewalks and even the walls with brushes and soap. He'd even seen the trash trucks going by picking up dozens and dozens of bags at the curbside of each store and bar. It was only nine, going on ten in the morning, so Bourbon Street was practically empty and shiny clean. There were a few bars that were open, including one that sold All-day daiquiries, and amused me to think about buying one; however, I think a single drink would have lasted me all day.

I was very impressed by how clean the whole place was, as I was used to seeing it during the late hours of the night, covered with drunk people and the consequences thereby. In the cool morning light, the street and sidewalks were wet and clean and folks were still hosing some sections of it down.

The Bourbon Street Beignet Cafe was relatively uncrowded compared to the one on Royal Street. There were plenty of empty tables on the patio in the shade. Even though it was relatively early in the morning the sun was still hot. There was a stage set up on the patio as well, and the band member was scrambling around trying to get everything setup before their first performance of the day. I sat and an empty table while Bob and John got into line to order our food. I asked John to get me a chicory coffee, some beignets, and any breakfast he took a liking to, as I would eat half of anything he got. The wait was pleasant because Don was saving a table for Dede and Clay while they were getting his breakfast as well, so we were able to talk while we waited.

It was well worth the wait. Completely buried in a bank of powdered sugar, they were fluffy, chewy and lovely. John also got the Cajun potatoes breakfast, where the potatoes were cubed and fried with green peppers, onions, and spicy sausage, and were served with a crepe-style scrambled egg and a slice of baguette with butter.

The chicory coffee was smooth and nutty and good with plenty of cream, even on a very hot morning. The liquids were good, and after we were done, we headed toward the River. There was plenty to interest us on the way. The first thing was a small cooking school. It was completely stocked with all kinds of New Orleans spices, mixes, and cookbooks, and in the back was a room filled with people at a cooking class! There was a lady on one side trying to sell slots for the 5pm class, and I managed to pick up organic, salt-free mixes for etouffe and jambalaya along with the grocery store version of jambalay as well, which had plenty of salt in it. *laughs*

It was cool in the shadows that one side of the street still had, and we walked further along Royal and came across The Mask Factory, which was a tourist shop with a good number of the same kinds of masks I'd seen all over the city already, but they were having a Fedora sale. There were the usual dark ones, striped ones, and other types, but there also was a stack of black and white checked ones! Very unusual and mildly tacky, but they really stood out, and I found an XL that actually fit my huge head, and walked over to the cash register to get it. John handed me a few other things to buy, and when the East Indian cashier looked up from what he was doing he saw me, started, and blurted, "Well, look at you. That fits you well."

My New Hat
I smiled and paid my $17 and was very very happy indeed.

We wandered along taking pictures of the French architecture, and ended up by Franklin Square. One of the venues for the French Quarter Jazz Festival was in the middle of the square, and people were waiting for the wrought iron gates to open. The square itself was filled with art. Paintings were hung from every available inch of space on the fencing all around the square, and the artists were hawking their wares in all kinds of ways. Various shops lined the square as well, targeted to the tourists that frequented this part of town. John saw a group of men greeting each other, and they all were wearing the same New Orleans shirt.

John walked up to the nearest, tapped him on the shoulder, and asked, "Where did you get those shirts?" And all three of them pointed to a shop two doors down, saying, "There, just go in that door." The shops right on the square have doors that look a lot like the windows, so John walked right past the door and I had to call him back to it. It was a wonderful place, filled with hats and all kinds of tropical button up shirts. They had a very large collection of High Seas Trading Company shirts of all types and designs, that's the place that John gets most of his shirts for everyday wear. The shop had a tremendous number of all-cotton button up shirts. They also specialized in high quality hats of all types shapes, and John ended up with the beautiful cream hat with a mesh crown that kept him cool while he was wearing it in the sun. We also ended up with three button-down shirts, two for John and one for me, as they only had the New Orleans design in a medium. That fit me, but was way too small for John.

Our work hats were pretty trashed from all the sweat, dirt, and stuff they can't while we were working. So was very nice to have fresh hats to keep the sun off of us during the festival. We got to the river, we could choose to go right, into the festival, or go left through the old Farmer's market. I decided that I wanted to put my feet into the Mississippi River, first. Bob and John stood at the top of the stairs, talking, while I took off my shoes and socks and carefully stepped down on the algae slick steps into the water.

The water felt wonderful on swollen feet. It was extremely cold, and I had been standing on my feet and legs all week, so they were very puffy and unhappy, so the near ice bath eased the pain in many ways. I just stood there, and homeless man crouched near the bottom of the stairs started laughing.

"Hundreds of people just walk by all the time," he said in scorn. "And none of them get their feet wet. Feels good doesn't it?"

I grinned at him, and said, "Yes, it feels wonderful, and I'm really glad I came all the way down here."

After a companionable silence, I asked him if I could take his picture and he nodded his consent.

From there we headed through the festival back towards the hotel. All five stages were occupied and busy. Since the festival is entirely funded by the sales of the items on the grounds during the festival, including the food, we decided that we would eat our lunch from the various booths. I saw one booth labeled: Love at First Bite, and I was very curious what I saw that they served something called a "Cuchon de Lait Poboy". I had no idea what that was, so I have to get it.

I think that is how I usually approach food. I don't know what it is I want to eat it, which is not exactly how most people approach most cuisines that they do not understand. I got really lucky in this case, as it turned out to be a pulled pork sandwich. Slow-cooked and smoky with flavor, and I had that for my lunch while John got a muffaletta sausage, that had the olive salad right in the meat.

After lunch, I'd been planning on going back to the hotel and taking a nap, but when we got there, I realized that I could keep going, and Bob decided he could too, so the three of us went back out to the River and instead of heading to the right, we went left, toward the old Mint. We went through the crowded, huge Farmer's market, past Cafe du Monde, and to the Malibu Rum Latin/World Stage. The beats there were very tropical. We got beer and water and settled on the grass to listen for a while. One of the food vendors selling crawfish, spiced and boiled with a side of potatoes and butter. A lady sat down next to John with a clamshell filled with the red mud bugs, and when she noticed us looking at them she offered them to us.

Then she told John that she had moved out of the area after Katrina, but she liked to come back and visit when she could. She usually came back for the International Jazz Festival, and this was the first time that she had done the French Quarter Festival and found that she enjoyed it much more because it was more integrated with the city. It was wonderful to just wander through the streets and hear music everywhere. We agreed.

Sucking Head
it was really nice to just sit and listen for a long time, study the crowd, and see all the people in the houses around the stage just enjoying what they were given. Eventually we got up again and headed back to the hotel, mostly along Royal Street. There was a zydeco band with jug and washboard as well as fiddle and singer, and the street was filled with people enjoying their music. The French Quarter Festival tries to find all the local talent can get for the Fess, unlike the International Jazz Festival, which invites all sorts of big-name headliners as well as smaller bands.

This time, when we got to the hotel, we all took a nap. I set the alarm so that I would have a half an hour before we all were supposed to meet in the lobby to walk to Mulates together at five. I basically passed out as soon as I hit the bed, I guess I was tired still from all the work during the week, and the heat of the day still got to me. John got up a little earlier than I did so he could get his shower in, then we all met down in the lobby before doing our customary walk out to the restaurant.

Mulates has become something of a tradition for our workgroup, we've gone there every year, other than last year when we couldn't actually get into the doors with our large group because we showed up too late. This time we planned in advance, and they said that we could get a group reservation, but when we called them to make the reservations they had already given away all the space that they usually kept for large groups. So we just went early. The walk was nice in the twilight, and most of the group knew every turn and landmark.

We got there early enough to be seated quickly, and the waitress was very good about taking our orders.

Double Crawfish
I got the half-and-half crawfish platter, which was half deep-fried crawfish and half crawfish étouffée with rice. The vegetable side dish was lovely, grilled with butter. The waitress was really good and asked if I wanted to have soup or salad, even though they weren't included with the dish, and thinking, by rephrasing, that they were included, I ordered the crab bisque. I didn't really regret the mistake, as the soup was very very good. The dinner was also good, and the platter of desserts was even better. I ended up with a slab of key lime pie with whipped cream on top, while John got blackened shrimp for dinner and a wedge of bourbon pecan pie for his dessert.

Mulates is good enough with big groups that we all got our food happy much the same time, and everything went very smoothly. The music didn't start until we were nearly done, but we were half expecting that anyway.

Once we were all done, Bob, John, and I followed Don and Dede to the Offbeat Cajun/Zydeco Showcase At the Aquarium Plaza, where Amanda Shaw was playing with her Cute Boys. Again, when we got within 100 yards of the stage, it was easy to tell that it was her playing. The voice of her violin is distinct, and we enjoyed her performance for the next hour and a half. She did several songs off of the CD that we have of hers, and mixed in some covers of songs that were particularly appropriate for her fiddle, including Charlie Daniels "Devil Went Down To Georgia" and the Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" I was pretty impressed by the translation.

Amanda Shaw and her Cute Boys
She's a tiny redhead woman, but her energy on the stage was boundless. I do have to say listening to her live was an intensely different experience than listening to the recordings. The emotional impact was huge in comparison, especially when she took what was probably a traditional Cajun fiddle solo and gradually spent the entire refrain up. Her body gradually grew more and more still has her hands and arms and the fiddle flew faster and faster. It was impressive display of capability, but the entire crowd wound up as well as she went faster and faster. There's a certain magic in personal performance that doesn't exist in studio recordings, the cleanliness of well practiced music seems to trade off power of impact. I really like her live far better than I like her on her CDs.

Bob went back to the hotel during the performance, and I went back after it was done. Hearing an entire performance through satisfied my need for music, and I was able to go to sleep while John went off to explore some more with other members of our group.

We set up breakfast with Bob in the morning for a quarter till seven, because Mother's opened at 7 AM, and the place is usually pretty crowded by midmorning. The whole group stayed out until about 2 AM, going to some of the jazz bars that weren't on Bourbon Street. But I was pretty content to stay in my bed.

One of the things that I thought about had to do with putting my feet in the Mississippi River. There is something about making physical contact to water that connects me to a place. Christina and some of the other ladies walked to the Gulf while the rest of us were working on the house. Christina had a lot of childhood connections to the Gulf, so she really needed to put her feet into the warm waters. She found, however, that the experience was nothing like the one she had in Florida. There was no seafoam, the sand felt like Cream of Wheat, and there were no sea shells. The Biloxi sand was shipped in from other places, and the only debris that she found in the surf was the old wreckage of houses.

I think experiencing that would've haunted me too much. Just putting my feet into the brown waters of the Mississippi was far less fraught with ghosts, and it felt really good on my feet. And I went to sleep thinking that I should do it again tomorrow.

[This is being written on my machine at home, because after getting home my arms started acting up, and the whole overuse problem I've had with my entire upper body has come back with a vengeance. I finally broke down and bought Dragon NaturallySpeaking, so I am now able to dictate these entries for the last few days of the trip. I know that dictation software says that it is faster than typing, but sometimes I find it more difficult to compose sentences in my head than it is to do it with my hands.

Thank you for your patience, and I shall endeavor to have Sunday written soon. – Liralen]
Tags: travel

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