Thursday, May 10, 2007

Loon Over Bourbon Street

The one good thing about having friends move away is that they give you an opportunity to visit them and take advantage of their hospitality. Which is what The Lovely Becky and I did these past few days when we visited our friends Paula and Tom, friends from the Writer’s Workshop who had left The IC for the Big Easy of New Orleans.

Paula is a native New Zealander who combines a passion for pop and high culture like no one else I have ever met. She can go from Brönte to Britney at the drop of a hat. She has an infectious accent, which she often used this week to say to me, “Brando, don’t be so naughty,” because just like my blog, I am a waterfall of inappropriate comments. I in turn corrected her pronunciation of words such as garage. “In this country, we say gah-RAJ,” I said with my best Chicago accent. “Gah-RAJ.” Yes, I know how to endear myself to my hosts.

Tom offers the kind of entertaining ranting forged from living in New York for two decades. He was my partner in Scotch in Iowa City, joining me for nips of single malt and gallons of raving, usually about the idiocy of our Chimp-in-Chief. TLB and Paula always made jokes about us being boyfriends, standing in the corner of a party sputtering our whiskey diatribes, which would then set off a river of ranting from us about the disrespect we got from our wives. In fact, the greatest thing Tom and I have in common is that we married people who fit us like the final pieces of a puzzle.

The trip, as most New Orleans trips do, involved much eating and drinking, and we wasted no time by downing some cocktails during our arrival lunch. I tried my first Pimm’s Cup, a refreshing British cocktail that instantly made the humid afternoon air more enjoyable. Tom and Paula talked with great earnest about how the city was fighting to get back on its feet. They love their adopted city, and after lunch, we drove through some of the now-deserted neighborhoods where houses sat dilapidated and empty nearly two years after Katrina. Most doors still bore the spray-painted notation from the house-to-house searches conducted after the hurricane, including the number of bodies found inside. But as sobering as that was, we were heartened to see how hard people were trying to put the city back together, to return New Orleans to its place as the most unique city in America.

We had dinner at home our first night because Paula could not miss the finale of The Amazing Race. As I mentioned, Paula is extremely pop culture savvy, and she is a true reality TV gourmand, sampling the many wares of worldwide races/team jungle survival/wife swapping/beauty salon drama. She has attempted to proselytize the reality TV gospel to me on past occasions. She did successfully stir my soul with Rachel Hunter’s “dancing” on Dancing With the Stars, but ultimately scorched my soul with the Satanic fire that is The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency. Thankfully, Tom supplied plenty of his own restaurant-quality Pimm’s Cups and Argentinean Malbec wine, which made The Amazing Race amazing even to me.

Paula unfortunately was burdened by grading the portfolios of her students, which she had to finish while we visited. I offered her some sample comments that I thought would help speed her grading along, such as “After reading your work, I wish that I had killed my father and slept with my mother so that I would have gouged my eyes out beforehand.”

She declined my assistance.

So Becky and I left her for an afternoon in peace and made an inevitable trip to Harrah’s casino. “We’ll win enough to pay for dinner tonight,” I promised Paula. Instead, the felt-tabled abuses I suffered—including the final hand where the dealer hit Ace-Ace-Queen-Nine to make 21—left me swearing to file a war crimes claim with the Hague. But the French Quarter at least served as a great consolation prize, with TLB and I checking out the myriad of shops, galleries, and eateries. Later, we met our hosts for an excellent dinner at Dickey Brennan’s, which had a 24-ounce bone-in ribeye on special. The waiter described the cut in mouthwatering detail, but the size had me concerned. “Well, four ounces of that is from the bone,” he explained, which lowered the steak from I’ll have a heart attack to I’ll have that. Long story short, it cost me two years off my life, but those two years are probably going to suck, so it was worth it.

Our next day, while Tom was at work, we went to the Quarter again in the afternoon. Paula and TLB decided to have Tarot readings, with Paula’s reader telling her she was working too hard and pulling herself in too many directions. “You could have given me money to tell you that,” Tom said when we met him later. We had another delicious, gut-busting dinner (at least had fish this time) and an infusion of alcohol before returning home for our final night.

Our last day, we had enough time to grab breakfast at The ‘Karma’ Camellia grill, a nice diner that whipped up some mean waffles for us. I scream, you scream, we all scream for caffine, said our server as he brought us our coffee, which I needed greatly to flush the alcoholic and metabolic sluggishness from my system.

We then said goodbye, remebering that the worst part of having friends move away is that we don't get to enjoy their excellent company every day. But whenever I see teams of obnoxious people attempting to race around the world for $1 million, I’ll always remember this trip.


Churlita said...

It sounds like a great trip. I've never been to New Orleans. All that eating and drinking sounds wonderful.

It's weird that Paula didn't want to use your comments. Hmmm.

Chuckles said...

That does sound cool.

Some buddies and I went to New Orleans in March of 2002 for an afternoon and we had some local brews, alligator gumbo, oysters rockefeller and chicken gumbo. We saw a 2002 Ferrarri on the street and some jugglers. At five pm, drunk tourists appeared from around every corner like the living dead. It was pretty awesome.

Grendel said...

Nice travelogue! It made me nostalgic for just about everything, as you can imagine. But she definitely should have used your helpful comments for her students. I just realized it's been more than 20 years since I've been to New Orleans. I was there in 1985 with some college friends, and we were the living dead except when there were Hurricanes and crawfish etouffe in front of us. Some things never change.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great time, Brando.

You touched on it a little bit, but is it still a total, horrible mess down there? You wrote they're really trying to get it back together. Just curious to know how devastated it truly is...

I've never been to New Orleans. Want to go there one day.

Brando said...

It was in much better shape than I expected. Almost everywhere we went, there was at least some construction -- people repairing houses and businesses.

But there are some areas like the Ninth Ward that have block after block of abandoned houses that may never get rebuilt. That was extremely sad to see. There are also quite a few closed businesses that do not appear to be coming back or replaced anytime soon.

So it's still a struggle there to be sure. But much of the city has come back and is still the fun place it always was.

I lived there for a year when I was 10 (my dad was stationed there), and this was only my second trip since I left in 1981, with my previous one in 2001.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. That's interesting. To read some blogs in the Leftistsphere, you'd think the whole city was still under water.

You don't hear a word about NO on the news anymore. Guess they've (we've) moved on, huh? Too bad. I'd like to see a special or something about the progress so far.

Brando said...

The city is still pretty messed up. Areas like the Lower Ninth are just disasters, with blocks of abandonned houses. There are also a lot of abandonned businesses throughout the city. They definitely still have a lot of hurdles to clear. But it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be, and a number of areas seem to be making a strong recovery.