Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas and the Saints

I know! I'm a horrible blogger. It has been several months since my last post. In my defense, working 6 days a week is making me lazy in what spare time I get. And now with Christmas approaching I'm starting to feel quite frazzled. But enough excuses... I will try to get back to posting once a week--if all else fails I'll have a nice 10 hours of travel down-time to get some writing done over the holidays.

The weather has been all over the place here for the last two weeks. Yesterday it reached 70 degrees then today we had to get the jackets out again. No snowflakes in sight, of course, but it is damp and chilly.

New Orleans is beautiful at Christmas time--people always go all out with the lights and decorations here. When we lived in Metairie I thought it was overkill but that's not the case in the city. I even think New Orleanians are more laid back about the Christmas Season--less cranky shoppers and stressed out families. Although that care-free attitude could also be the result of my next topic.

The New Orleans Saints, Ladies and Gentlemen! I can't even explain that craziness. People around here don't say "Hi" anymore, hey say "12-0!" It's like a religion--I honestly think that at this point if someone said something derogatory about the football team or Drew Brees they might get tarred and feathered. It's hard not to get excited though, New Orleans really needs this. I'm usually working at the store during the games but we always know exactly when the games end--everyone pours out of the bars on Decatur screaming and chanting. If they make it to the Superbowl this city will be partying for weeks.

It could happen!

Dinner time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama's First Visit to the Crescent City

Wow, two posts in one day. Very impressive on my part, however I'm getting a bit sleepy so this one will be brief.

So Obama came to visit today, for 3 hours and 45 minutes or something like that. I was ensconced in my office for all of that time but RJ tells me it was not fun stuff to drive in.

I will admit I did put myself in the lottery for the Town Hall Meeting--no idea how I would have explained that to my boss, but I thought it was a long shot anyway. RJ was the opposite: rather than crane his neck with everyone else he opted to skip school and avoid "the madness" at the University of New Orleans, his school, and the host of said Town Hall Meeting.

My boss turned up NPR so we could listen to his speech and then RJ and I watched it replayed on TV when I got home from work. I thought it was a great speech and very reassuring to New Orleans. I enjoyed several of the more amusing moments as well, like when the crowd booed Governor Bobby Jindal and Obama sort of had to save the awkward moment.

I know politicians have to act that confident about their plans but it was nice to hear some concrete ideas in areas of concern to the gulf south in terms of recovery, education, housing etc. As usual Obama had a great read on his audience and had just the right touch of down-home charm that a New Orlean's crowd likes.

That's pretty much all the writing I can do tonight but here's a link to the Times-Picayune's main feature article on the visit:

One Book One New Orleans: Dinner at Leah's

Alright. Finally an event to report on. For the month of October, the Youth Leadership Council has been organizing the 5th annual One Book One New Orleans, a sort of month-long literacy festival. Each year the council chooses a single book from a list of books nominated by the community, generally with a local theme or by a local author. The festival consists of about ten separate events, dinners and writer's workshops, during which the book is discussed in various ways.

This year's book is Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen, which I'm ashamed to say I can't tell you all that much about because I haven't read it yet. I know I know... I'm ashamed to call myself a bookworm, but in my defense the author of my favourite historical/adventure series published a new 800 page epic and between 50 hours of work a week and that monster of a hard-cover, I haven't even had time to shop for the festival book.

Still, last night's event, entitled: Chapter 3: Dinner at Leah's had me dying to get my hand on a copy of this culinary-themed homage to New Orleans. Dinner at Leah's was literally dinner at Leah's, referring to the aptly titled "Queen of Creole" cuisine, Leah Chase, owner of Dooky Chase
Restaurant and a veritable culinary institution in this city. I was such a thrill to get to be in the same room as her and finally get a chance to sit in her wonderful restaurant. The main dining
room is also home to Leah's famous collection of paintings by local artists, framed against the vivid red of the restaurant's walls. The food was tasty and definitely fed a crowd. To give you an idea of just how celebrated Leah Chase is in the city, President Obama's secret service staff picked up a to-go order from Dooky Chase just before his town hall meeting today at the University of New Orleans (See following post). She famously gave Obama a stern lecture on his last visit to the city, on putting hot sauce in true Louisiana Gumbo and for being too skinny. She quite a character at 85 years of age and it was so neat to be able to hear her speak about New Orleans and about her food.

There were three other guest authors at the event who spoke about their own cooking and about Sara's book: Elsa Hahne, author of You Are Where You Eat:Stories and Recipes From the Neighborhoods of New Orleans; Poppy Tooker, author of The Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook (which I absolutely have to buy); and Times-Picayune food editor Judy Walker, co-author of Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found From the Times-Picayune of New Orleans (which I have on hold at work).

What an amazing event for anyone who likes to cook, and for anyone who likes to eat! To that end, there was also plenty of eating done as well. We had a Creole Gumbo to, start of course, then Jambalya, Creole Green Beans, and a wonderful Bread Pudding for dessert. The whole thing was just lovely and I'm so happy that I got to attend. I certainly won't be missing One Book One New Orleans next year!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Just a little water...

I know I haven't posted in a while. Between work and... other work, I've barely had two minutes to myself this month. Plus I haven't really been doing much with my weekends in terms of New Orleans stuff worth writing about.

So to wean myself back in, this is going to be a mini-post--a snippet if you will, of sub-tropical fun.

Tonight's adventure started when I went into the kitchen to heat up dinner (leftovers of my pseudo-Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner last night), only to discover that water was coming in at the top of the kitchen window and had, in fact, been leaking for a while all over my kitchen floor. It had previously only dimly registered in the back of my brain that it had been raining all day, not exactly an unusual event in New Orleans. In fact it was still raining at this point and had evolved into a rather strong storm.

Still, the house is newly rebuilt and we've never had so much as a drip before. We shrugged it off, called the landlord and sat down to dinner. We hadn't been eating more than five minutes when our neighbour knocked on the door to say that the water was getting rather high on the street and we should probably think about moving our car.

We looked outside and lo and behold there was water beginning to reach the bottom of the car doors. Crazy stuff. Everyone but a few unfortunate souls manage to move their cars to higher ground but there is a sad white sedan parked in front of a house just one down from ours who's owner is going to have a very unpleasant surprise.

You'd think you'd get used to this kind of stuff below sea level but I'm always really shocked at how fast the water rises. At this point anyone trying to drive in Mid-City has a really good chance of getting stuck and having to bail out.

My neighbours are all currently sitting on their porches right now having a good ol' time watching all the passing motorists floundering through the wading pond that has become our street. On the other hand, you gotta love the fact that most of them are also going door to door in a storm like this to make sure everyone on the block is warned.

There are some parts of Southern culture that I wouldn't change for the world. Hands down, there is no better neighbour than a New Orleans neighbour.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Katrina in the Courts

This Times-Picayune article caught my eye because I happened to catch the story on Democracy Now last week during their Katrina anniversary special edition:

Investigation into Memorial deaths during Katrina to be reopened by Orleans Parish district attorney

I still have mixed feeling about the whole thing. While several of the allegations are, at the very least, disturbing, I feel like they're a little too ready to prosecute people who were themselves victims of a really hideous situation that should never have happened in the first place. People in situations like that (no power, hundred degree heat, round the clock shifts for days) are apt to do irrational things, in my opinion, especially when rescue doesn't appear to be coming. Heck, three days without power in New Orleans in August makes everyone lose it--it's like sitting in a sauna you can't get out of, you can't think or move or breathe. Who knows how many people perished after the levees broke while George Bush hemmed and hawed up on that hill. Honest to god, it just burns me up sometimes that the people who were really the architects of this whole tragedy, will never be held accountable for it. I'm not saying there shouldn't be an investigation, just something about the whole thing seems wrong somehow. On the other hand, I'm sure the families of the patients who died wouldn't be won over by my above argument and they certainly deserve their day in court. A mixed opinion, I know, but I told you my feelings on the subject weren't exactly clear.

Also, on a side note, is it me or is the Times-Picayune using the absolute worst photo of Leon Cannizzaro. Is that actually how he looks? And is that actually the newspaper's stock photo? Wow. Just... Wow.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Katrina Remembered and Cultural Collision @ NOMA

So a couple of things I checked out this week, both events hosted by the New Orleans Museum of Art located in City Park.

On Saturday we went to catch the tail end of one of the many Katrina Memorials and we managed to see Part 3 of Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke which was great. I'd only seen bits and pieces of it on TMN and it was a really moving experience to watch it in a theater full of people who have lived through it. There was a lot of laughter (and some tears) over things that I think someone who hasn't lived here wouldn't quite get. Part 3 contained shots of Bush's speech from Jackson Square which got a lot of anger from this particular audience. According to the documentary they got the electricity working to that part of the city just for the president's sound bite before shutting it off again... seriously. Bush may still have some fans in Texas but I don't think he'll be setting foot in Louisiana any time soon.

We also saw the museum's newest photography exhibit entitled Caring
that was quite lovely--shots of people, families, emotions--I really enjoyed the whole thing. The section of the exhibit dedicated to 'Disaster' contained many shots by local artists taken during and after the storm.

I'm not sure if there is anything I can say about Katrina that hasn't been said before and by people who have lived through it and been affected deeply by it. I just hope no one forgets about us down in New Orleans because nobody around here is able to forget. A lot of times it feels like everyone here has been through a war and is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder--people pick up the pieces but if you ask a resident if New Orleans has changed they'll always say yes in a sad sort of way.

Yesterday we were back at the museum to check out an event called Cultural Collision, sponsored by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. I wasn't sure what to expect but it turned out to be a really great time. Every theatre, museum, musical group and art gallery had a booth set up where they were handing out their season programs, coupons and freebies--this might not sound too exciting to you but I've found it practically impossible to find out about preforming arts going on in New Orleans since it's still a city that relies a lot upon word of mouth for its events.

I was shocked at the number of theatre and musical companies in the city that I had never even heard of before. It's so exciting to realize that there is a lot more going on than I had thought. RJ and I have already got our eye on tickets to The Producers, Wicked, November and Avenue Q (the total number of shows he's willing to see) and I am just dying to check out Grey Gardens, The Color Purple, Aida, I am My Own Wife, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee, just to name a few. My year is totally looking up!... and my wallet is feeling a little on the light side :)

The festival was also a great chance to scope out some of the smaller museums in New Orleans and the French Quarter now that I'm considering archival work. There are some very interesting historical collections in town that I wouldn't mind exploring a little more.

Tomorrow I'm heading over to the Times-Picayune to fill out a job application--wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dirty Linen Night

Saturday evening was the annual Dirty Linen Night, the French Quarter's version of a follow up festival to White Linen Night. I've been informed that the name of the festival comes from the idea that one could wear the same soiled white outfit from the previous weekend and fit in just fine with the crowd on Royal Street.

I must say, I really liked Dirty Linen much better in terms of vibe and art. White Linen Night was interesting to attend but it was crowded, and the art was mundane and housed in very generic white-walled spaces. The whole event just screamed hoity-toity--people were there to be seen, not necessarily to see any art.

Dirty Linen Night was a whole different kind of event from the get-go. We tried to get there a little bit earlier so we could see as many galleries as possible but we still didn't make it into every one. I was really blown away by the sheer number of galleries along that strip of Royal St. Each space was completely unique; many of them were converted houses with narrow rooms painted brightly and dangerously crowded with artwork. Each gallery had its own drinks and finger food--all free to browsers in keeping with the spirit of the event. Many of the artist were directly on hand at the galleries, which I felt really kept the focus where it belonged.

There were many great places that we visited that night but the ones that stuck out the most to me were Amzie Adams' Gallery and Craig Tracy's Bodypainting Gallery. Amzie Adams has bit of a campaign for mayor going on but I can't tell if the whole thing is a joke or not. I actually support several of his platform points, namely that city-wide recycling would become mandatory (a pipe-dream right now) and that Chris Rose (my favourite columnist with the Times-Picayune) would be named Chief of Staff. Adams is one of those artists who's paintings really feel like New Orleans, in a way that is hard to put a finger on. Plus he's quite a character. (If you check out the picture of the paint-covered woman in the street above, Amzie is the man in the felt hat directly to the right of the artist.)

Craig Tracy is another well known artist in the city. He uses the human body as a canvas but also take photographs of the body art in ways that sort of manipulate the eye. He has a great website so click the link above to see what I mean. I've seen some of his painted people at a few city festival (hard not to notice the otherwise naked person if you're standing right next to them) and his work is so detailed. When we visited the gallery he was painting a woman in black and white stripes to the delight of an avid audience--his studio was one of the busiest we encountered on Saturday.

The whole thing was a lot of fun and I noticed a lot of "sold" signs on artwork so I can only hope that it was a fruitful night for the businesses along Royal. I couldn't take any photos in the galleries themselves so I tried to take some street shots that would do the festival justice.

This will be my last post before leaving for Canada on Thursday. I'm hoping to maybe write something during the next two weeks but my schedule is already looking crazy. Come September I shall be officially unemployed so I will have nothing but time to blog!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

White Linen Night on Julia St.

Yesterday Denise and I attended White Linen Night in the art district--which required a pre-event trip to my favourite vintage store for costuming purposes.

When we lived in uptown it was an easy walk to Buffalo Exchange but since we moved I haven't had much of a chance to shop there and man do I miss it. It's your basic used/discount/vintage clothing chain--apparently there is a location in most major cities in the states--but the clothing selection is great, the prices are ridiculously low, and the store does a lot of fundraising for local and environmental causes. Yesterday they were having an all day event for the New Orleans Animal Rescue so there was a DJ playing music, free lemon gelato from La Divina Gelateria down the street and a pen full of squirming puppies. I wish all shopping could be like that.

So I managed to restrain myself and only bought a white blouse for White Linen Night that could also be used in a job interview (she says defensively) and that went very nicely with my khaki work shorts. After that we wandered around Magazine some more, but really, aside from Buffalo Exchange, most of the stores in Uptown are fantastically outside of my price range. I did stop at Petcetera, the little pet boutique, to buy some of the furry ball-things they make there that my cat can't get enough of--I can't seem to find them at any of the less expensive chains but he never likes any other toys I get him so fuzzy/pricey balls it is.

We finally ended up on the patio at the Bulldog which really made it feel just like old times--I honestly hadn't realized just how long it had been since I'd visited that part of town and I sort of miss it. I'm not a huge fan of the Uptown vibe in general but Magazine St. almost made it worth living there, with so many restaurants and colourful boutiques. The Bulldog has always been one of the more pleasing hole-in-the-walls that tend to characterize New Orleans bars, and they have an amazing selection of international and domestic beer on tap; however, I've always been disappointed that their menu only has one Canadian beer on it and it's one I've never heard of. Still, that's one more than I've found anywhere else.

They have food at the bar (a bit of a rare perk in N.O) and it's decent but the last two times we've sat inside there have been ceiling cockroaches, *shudder*. I know they are of the outdoor variety and that every joint in town has them, not much they can do about it, but I still can't bring myself to eat a burger while looking at them so we stick to the patio nowadays. Yesterday we hung around there for a half-an-hour before the ride (RJ) showed up.

Went home to primp for an hour and then we headed to Julia St. for the festival. New Orleans has kind of a strange seasonal calender compared to most North American cities because it's high season begins when most places are still experiencing the post-Christmas slump. In N.O., after Christmas we just tuck and roll into Mardi Gras season which is then stretched into French Quarter Fest and Jazzfest so that by the time the big parties are done it's late spring. The low season here generally begins with the start of hurricane season when it becomes too damn hot for the tourists and even the locals will take a holiday outside of the city of they can afford it in July or August. Still, New Orleans can't have a whole week pass without some sort of celebration so the summer months in the city are filled with many smaller, local festivals and events in various neighbourhoods. I really enjoy them; they're generally cheap, or free, and the crowds are generally much smaller, although last night the crowds were quite large.

White Linen Night is basically an annual event where people (mainly the well-to-do, it seems) dress all in white and head to the art district of New Orleans, which stretches between the 300 and 800 blocks of Julia St. in the Central Business District (downtown). For those of you that might not know, New Orleans is not just a mecca of Jazz but also of visual art, the city is crawling with artists and galleries, many of them in this one section of town. For the festival all the galleries were free and open to the public and various local restaurants provided food and liquor. A lot more people turned up this year than last year, or so I heard from a woman in the crowd; there were long lines everywhere and it even took a while to make your way into each gallery--we saw maybe five or six of the smaller ones and we took a tour around the Louisiana Children's Museum which was fun. I grabbed some Saag Paneer and Basmati Rice from a local Indian restaurant tent and it was very very yummy--I'll have to remember to order it if I ever eat there. There was some good live music going on at either end of the street and random weirdness like the street pillow fight that left hundreds of white feathers swirling around like it was snowing--very sneezy.

The one negative part of the night was that they ran out of liquor before the festival ended at 9:00. Nothing angers a New Orleans crowd faster than sobriety and the crowd was getting a little ugly before we left. I think the festival organizers underestimated the turnout based on last years numbers.

I drank red wine the whole night, a daring feat in my white clothes, and it made people around me very nervous whenever I came in their direction. I didn't spill a drop the whole night until we were walking over to St. Charles to meet RJ and I tripped over a curb. *sigh*. I think it will come out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The joy of my Sunday nights

Only two months into this blog thing and I've already become the stop-and-start kind of writer. I don't really have that much of an excuse other than that since we got back from vacation I have felt sooooo lazy and unwilling to go back to anything routine.

The other reason for my blog hiatus is also the topic of my blog post today, two words: TRUE BLOOD. Seriously, I haven't been this hooked on a television show in years. I figure the show is legitimately connected to all things New Orleans because the story is set in a fictional town in Louisiana called Bon Temps (I swear I started the blog before I had watched the show). The show is bizarre, as many good shows are, and the first time I caught an episode by accident I really wasn't sure what to make of it - next thing I know I'm up at 3 am and I can't sleep until I watch every single one.

The show is based on a book series called The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris which are just as good (if not better, still debating) as the show, though I won't get into them now since I discuss them in length in my book blog, A Sequestered Nook. For a more detailed review of the plot and such you can go check out my review of the series.

The director is Alan Ball, who wrote and directed Six Feet Under for HBO and also wrote the screenplay for the movie American Beauty. The show follows the same general plot line of the books (with one book taking a whole season of the show) but instead of just the one perspective of the main character, the show follows several characters and creates all sorts of new side plots.

Definitely a hard show to summarize in a few sentences but the basic premise is that two years before the start of the story, vampires have come out the coffin so to speak, with the invention of a synthetic kind of blood that can sustain them without having to feed on humans. The vampires would like to be given the same rights as humans and to be integrated into society. The metaphors are probably pretty obvious (human intolerance, segregation), especially set against the backdrop of the deep south. The main plot follows a young woman named Sookie Stackhouse (I'm not kidding) who is a waitress at the one and only bar in Bon Temp and who also happens to be telepathic. The trouble begins when the small town gains a new resident: its first and only vampire, Bill, who has inherited his previous family home now that vampires are out in the open. As she gets to know Bill, Sookie begins to be drawn into the rather creepy world of supernaturals, all of whom would like to take advantage of her mental gifts.

The show definitely earns its R rating: the show blends sex and violence in a really twisted sort of way, a reflection of the whole atmosphere of the show, I think. The main credits alone will make you feel creepy and I really think that if there were an award for best credits on television, True Blood would win hands down.

They include a lot of details that are pure Louisiana (you always see the characters brewing Community Coffee or pulling a pack of Abita out of the fridge) but one of the part of the show that I'm sure would drive locals out of their minds is that the accents are not even close. RJ says they sounds like maybe they could pass for Mississippi accents if you were feeling generous. They at least try to have the whole cast be consistent with each other. As a northerner I can understand that most of HBO's demographic doesn't live in the South and just has a general idea of what a southern accent should sound like: basically, Blanche DuBois in Streetcar named desire ("Ah have ahlways rahlied on the kindness of strangers" - that sort of thing). I don't think it's something that would bother the average viewer.

What more can I say? This show is amazing and so worth checking out: watch watch watch!

Bill: "I don't think about it. It's just sustenance, that's all."
Eric: (Laughs) "If you're their poster boy, then the mainstreaming movement is in deep trouble. 'True Blood: It will keep you alive but it'll bore you to death.'"

Little Boy: "Mama, he's so white!"
Arlene: "No darlin'. We're white, he's dead."

Arlene: "Oh my Lord! Suppose she gets pregnant? How in the world can she nurse a baby with fangs?"

Tara : "School is just for white people looking for other white people to read to them. I figure I'll save my money and read to myself."

Eric: "The vampires here, they're like cowboys. If they don't get Godric back they'll want justice. They'll start attacking people."
Bill: "Open aggression against humans? That's insane."
Eric: "Well, it's Texas."

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Can you ever have too many friends?

I made a great new friend today, a Parisian who has a house in Louisiana and shops at my store (I work in the French Quarter on Sundays). When I told him I was taking a trip to France in ten days he immediately offered to make me a list of places I absolutely MUST visit while I'm in Paris. He even gave me the name of a restaurant run by a friend and gave me a little note to give him instructing him to "take care of his friends from New Orleans". I love the people I meet at this job. I've never worked in a store in such a prime spot, we get people from EVERYWHERE! It's so much fun to hear their stories and find out how they like the city.

So we are getting ready for our upcoming trip, trying to decide how much we need to cram into the carry on in case of lost luggage (we have two separate connections, I worry!). I'm hoping to photo document the whole trip and post it here along with any fun stories we have by that point but who knows if I'll actually manage it. Sometimes I get so excited about seeing something that the thought of whipping out my camera and snapping a photo is light years from my mind. Still, I'll do my best.

A couple New Orleans blogs I've discovered that are worth checking out:

New Orleans Murder Blog - this is a just a straightforward case by case account of incidents of violence in New Orleans each day. It's pretty shocking when you see it laid out like that.

Overheard in New Orleans
- Hi-LAR-ious. The tag line of this blog is "The beauty, humor and stupidity that are classically New Orleans, posted for everyone to see". They let anyone post to the blog with overheard snippets of strange and humorous conversations. A lot of redneck humour for those of you who enjoy a little of that :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A little rant on a slow Thursday

Just a short post in honour of the big news: New Orleans is going to host the 2013 Superbowl! I actually can't stand football in any shape or form but anything to get people visiting the city while it rebuilds.

RJ, while a football fan generally, is upset that it stole the cover on the newspaper from the discovery of the missing link fossil-- personally I think he's too hard on the on our only major paper, the Times-Picayune. What is a 'picayune' you ask? I have no idea and no one will tell me. When I first moved down here I kind of freaked out whenever I read the paper because it was so damn CONSERVATIVE, but a year or so later and it's begun to grow on me. Granted, there was a bit of a left-ward adjustment to the content and tone of the paper once it became obvious who would be elected president, but so many of the letters-to-the-editor and editorial still get me riled up... and I think I kind of like it. I've never been driven to write so many letters to a newspaper as I have to the Times-Picayune; there is nothing like pure, unadulterated outrage for getting the creative juices flowing. My favourite items of note this month: (1) Big debate about whether the law should be changed to allow students to carry concealed weapons on school campuses for their protection against other students possibly carrying concealed weapons on campuses, and (2) whether the French Quarter will continue to have it's trash collected three times a day with nary a city recycling program in sight...


So obviously this blog will be a fine balance between selling the city as a travel destination and banging my head against a wall in my attempt to figure out how to live here.

Stick with me!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One lazy Saturday

The first big news of the day: Both my Social Security card and my Green Card came in the mail yesterday so I can officially leave the country whenever I want to. I can't wait for a visit home... I feel like it's been forever since I was on Canadian soil.

Anyway, not much has been going on with us this week but we did take some pics around town last Saturday and I thought I might as well post them. It was a pretty typical weekend for us in New Orleans, as in it was very hot and very humid, but we managed to spend a large portion of it just hanging out in City Park, one of my favourite places in the city.

The park has over 1,300 acres just above Mid-City, about a mile from where we live. Its grounds are home to a botanical garden, golf course, amusement park, stables and a sculpture garden, as well as the New Orleans Museum of Art and a very good restaurant called Ralph's On the Park.

RJ and I mainly go to the park to play tennis at their big outdoor complex, or, like we did this past Saturday, we go with dog and just wander the many paths and fields that make up the main part of the park. One thing that amazes me whenever we go is that the park, especially the walking paths, are never very crowded. Not many people in the city seem to go to City Park when you compare it to other urban parks in major cities. It's too bad, it really is a highlight in my slice of the city.

We're in the middle of stinging caterpillar season and the park was full of them that day so we had to watch where we stepped. They have small stingers all over and they leave them embedded in your skin if you touch them at all. It's actually quite hard to avoid them as they are literally EVERYWHERE in April in May and they like to climb up trees and then fall on you from above. It hurts like anything.

After we had dropped the dog off at home, we decided to take a drive down through the Marigny and then over to the French Quarter. The Marigny is a trendy, young neighbourhood - sort of like the Quarter before the tourists got to it, and populated with many artists, writers and musicians. The nightlife in the Marigny happens mainly on four blocks on Frenchman St., with plenty of bars and tons of live music venues. I've also heard that during Mardi Gras, this is where the locals have their own party, away from the obnoxious frat-boy types. The area is mainly residential with rows of tightly packed shotgun houses and creole cottages in painted in an array of very bright colours.

The picture to the right here I just had to take. We came across this family touring the Marigny via people movers - is that what you call them? Anyway, you can only see three of them in this picture but there was about six of them just zooming around. Hilarious.It was getting too late in the day to be able to drive easily around the French Quarter and we were getting hungry, so we stopped at the edge of the Quarter to wait in line for seats at our favourite burger place, Port of Call. This was the first place I ever ate at in New Orleans, on my first trip down here and it blew my mind even back then. I remember that at first glance inside I was completely weirded out by the whole place which is decorated in a nautical theme with every corny prop imaginable, complete with a rope net covering the entire restaurant ceiling. The fact that we had to wait for half an hour before getting a seat at a very minimal wooden picnic table had me thinking that RJ was crazy for bringing me there. Then the food arrived and I was completely converted. At Port of Call they really only cook up steaks, potatoes and burgers, and the burgers are what everyone goes nuts for. I would crawl over broken glass for one of these - seriously, that good. It has spoiled me for any other burger. A very satisfying end to a great day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A tipsy town

Louisiana has some of the most permissive alcohol laws in the country - a big adjustment for a girl from Ontario, where alcohol is somewhat-strictly controlled by the government. In New Orleans, it's true, the party never ends and many bars (especially in the Quarter) are open 24 hours a day.

Alcohol of any strength can be sold in drugstores, convenience stores, gas stations and supermarkets without restriction which forces a competition in prices that I admit to occasionally enjoying. Nothing like buying three bottles of wine for ten dollars from the grocery bargain bin of odds and ends.

My biggest shock came when I discovered that many of the local daiquiri shops offered drive up windows for the convenience of their customers. The official rule is that the driver is supposed to wait until they get to where they are going to put the straw in the drink but this isn't a common practice from what I can tell.

One things I will definitely miss when I leave New Orleans is the good old to-go cup. Every bar in this city has a stack of plastic cups by the door that you can pour your drink into should you like to try a different bar down the way or if you just want to hang out on the street - which is where the real party is at on Bourbon. This to-go rule is the same for every place, from the dive to the fine dining establishment. If you so choose, at the fanciest joints in town you can drink a sip from your bottle of the best and then take the rest with you to enjoy in the surroundings of your choice.

Now I should say at this point, that while I, like anybody, enjoy the perks of these kind of alcohol laws, they definitely have their consequences. You can't jam that many people into an area as small as Bourbon street and give them unrestricted access to a continuous stream of alcohol without things imploding somewhat. New Orleans is now officially the crime capital of America: a population of 250,000 with 209 murders last year, and I personally believe that alcohol is a factor in many problems in the city. Addiction is a common theme in almost every story I hear down here and alcoholism is a disease that's awfully hard to recover from in a place like the Big Easy, where any occasion is celebrated with a clinking of glasses.

I don't want to end this post on a negative note. New Orleans is a fun and vibrant place and its leniency towards the booze is just another thing that makes it like no place on earth. RJ would like to add here that he's not sure if he can live in a place where it's not socially acceptable to drink by the roadside at 9 am. Ah... good times.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mardi Gras in all it's glory

So my timing of this blog wasn't the greatest as we are already weeks past that beloved New Orleans tradition, Mardi Gras. So I thought I'd back up a bit and explain the festival season. Just a warning, I forsee that this will be a long post, so if Mardi Gras isn't something you're interested in, skip to the next one.

For those who have never attended Carnival season in New Orleans, the celebration officially begins twelve days before Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) with festivities reaching a frenzied peak the weekend before the main event.

The main focus of Mardi Gras isn't the French Quarter (although each evening the party does continue on Bourbon St.) but the parades that roll along St. Charles Ave. or Canal St. Each parade is organized by a Krewe, a club or society, some of which are still very exclusive, and many of which have existed pretty much since Mardi Gras began.

Thousands of people gather to see the parades and to catch "throws", which for some (including my husband) is pretty much the point. Typical throws are beads (of course), cups, coins etc. but every spectator is hoping to catch a rarer throw - could be anything, ANYTHING, and each Krewe has their own special throws. For example, this past Mardi Gras, the Krewe of Muses (the all-woman parade) made shoes their theme, in honour of good old Bush almost getting beaned by one, and threw an assortment of shoe-themed objects: bracelets, bottle openers, dolls, and even a real pair of gold shoes. Throws are marked with the crest of the Krewe and many people I know keep their really good throws long after the beads have been disposed of.

Although the season officially starts two weeks before Mardi Gras, the pre-season begins three weeks before with the Krewe du Vieux parade, so-named because it is the only float parade to be allowed to pass through the French Quarter (the Vieux Carre). In the old days, all parades traveled through the Quarter's narrow streets while people watched from their balconies. Most of the other pre-season parades are smaller neighbourhood events, but I definitely need to make mention of one of my favourite lesser-known walking parades, the Krewe of Barkus - the all dog parade! It's hilarious and attended by a crowd of animal-lovers who all bring their pets in carnival costume.

Nowadays the crowds and floats have grown exponentially and the parades have all been moved to wider streets as the city has grown. The two main routes wind through Uptown, along St. Charles Avenue (and pass one block from our old apartment) and from Downtown to Mid-city, along Canal Street (and pass one block from our new apartment!).

The final weekend leading up to Mardi Gras sees the big-hitters and the so-called 'super-krewes': Hermes, Krewe d'Etat (satirical), Muses (all-women) etc. Saturday night is home to the King of Parades, Endymion, with 2000 riders on over 30 colossal floats. Endymion attracts by far the largest crowds and always has celebrity riders.

Lundi Gras (Monday) has several large parades and culminates with Orpheus, a parade started by Harry Connick Jr. several years ago. He rides in it every year and invites a few friends along.

The big day itself starts early with Zulu, a parade that definitely stands out in look and feel. This Krewe is traditionally African-American and their rare throw, a Zulu hand-painted coconut, is probably the most sought after prize of the whole season. New Orleans even presented President Obama with a personalized Zulu coconut as a gift.

Zulu is followed immediately by Rex, the last of the float parades and a biggie - the whole city always seems to be at Rex. It finishes around noon and from then on the only thing to see is un-ending truck parades: basically, people go-go dancing on barely-decorated flat bed trucks - great for throws but boring as hell.

Around this time many people start heading down to Bourbon Street for one last hurrah before the spell ends at midnight. And it literally does end at midnight. On Mardi Gras Day all fun stops at 12:00am and most everyone goes home. It sometimes feels like a bit of an abrupt ending to out-of-towners, that everyone suddenly packs it in early on that final day. It may seem a contradiction, but New Orleans, debauched as it can get, is at it's heart a deeply Catholic city and Mardi Gras is rooted in the idea of a festival of excess before the season of Lent which highlights self-denial. So this midnight rule of ending Fat Tuesday at midnight is taken quite seriously by all.

There are other activities besides parades of course. Mardi Gras is also a season of balls for members of high society (which thrives in the rather old-fashioned south). Each Krewe chooses a King or Queen, generally amongst that season's debutantes, who are presented at these balls and then lead the Krewe's parade. Those attending the balls are always required to dress in costume.

Bourbon is still the place to be after the parades have ended each evening. We were lucky enough to be included in a private party at a hotel overlooking Bourbon this year and I discovered that throwing the beads to the drunken revelers was much more fun for me than being crushed down below. It's amazing what people will do for a string of cheap plastic beads.

So, there you have it. As succinctly as I can put it (and it's a damn long blog post). Mardi Gras is a fascinating festival in this city and definitely one that I feel everyone should see at least once in their life time (preferably while young enough to do stupid things without much guilt). So start saving for next year!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Our humble abode

This blog is something that only occurred to me after we moved to the new house in the new neighbourhood and I suddenly felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Something about the old place, could be the frequent gunshots, the bars on every window or the unbelievably hearty cockroaches, but something about the old place just didn't vibe with me.

The new place is too nice for us. There, I said it.

RJ and I are definitely hibernators of the first degree. We don't live in a house, we burrow in it with our belongings in piles all around us. No one from the outside will ever see inside our house which is a shame because this is the first time in my adult life I'm living in a place that I could actually host a dinner at, or a cocktail party or something. Oh well, I suppose such domestic glories are destined not to take place until my mid-30s.

The new house has never been lived in before - the holy grail of the rental market. Well, it was lived in once upon a time, then a hurricane I need not name turned it to rubble and it stayed that way until the Road Home program started working on the Mid-City nieghbourhood.

When we lived in Uptown it was harder to feel the impact of Katrina because it was the one part of the city that barely flooded - but now in Mid-City the rebuilding is obvious everywhere. Most of our immediate block has been rebuilt within the last six months and looks totally different. Apparently New Orleans has had an ironic sort of luck over other major cities in that there are more jobs here than ever with more and more businesses opening up as the city (oh so slowly) recovers.

I'm gonna cut this post off here and go water my plants (la la).