|Since Bripi has to be at work by eleven, our day begins earlier. We're out the door by ten and, shortly thereafter, on a highway heading downtown. At the far side, we park, walk through through the New Orleans Jazz National historic Park, and onwards…|
…into the French Quarter.
At the far side of which, we arrive at the Cafe du Monde. I'm sure the cafe sells all kinds of good things, but I'd suspect (and it's certainly true in my case) that most people only know it for its beignets: little, deep-fried pastries doused in powdered sugar. The cafe's crowded and waitresses are flitting from table to table like so many bees in a field. It's only a matter of moments until our waitress (Jasmine) has brought us six piping-hot beignets.
They're all wearing hair nets, but in a pretty ineffective manner: many have punched holes in the hats to poke ponytails through.
Bripi leaves early to run off to work while Steca and I stick around for a few minutes longer to take it all in. But that doesn't last long: a man wearing a leaf blower on his back starts his engine up and begins pushing dirt and leaves down the side walk near our table. We speculate that perhaps he was hired by the cafe to move people like us along.
(Waitresses lining up to get food for customers, cafeteria style)
Out on the street, we take in the bustle before heading to “Grandad's General Store” to buy some beignet mix. At $3.60, it seems like a steal. While we're there, we stop a couple of girls in the shop to sort out an important question: crocodiles or alligators? The one answers in a southern drawl that it's definitely alligators, and that they taste pretty good. Then the other (Amy) answers in accented-British that, having come from Australia, she's only ever tried crocodile. The first was a foreign exchange student, and now her host is working in NYC and visiting NOLA.
After leaving, Steca and I walk down the street and immediately find beignet mix in another shop, and another, and another. All priced at $3.99: we've inadvertently found a good deal.
Places of note include the used book store by St. John's square and a cigar factory where we watch silent, hunched figures roll, chop, and wrap while a lit cigar smoulders like incense on the counter. They're very efficient, and you worry about RSI.
A few streets over, we find an antique weapons shop. When I ask, the staff are only too happy to hand me a French calvary saber, telling me that they can mail it anywhere in the States. I decline, and ask them to pass me the epee on the wall. Which is how I come to hold a $1500 sword. It's about three feet long (shorter then I'm used to) with almost now hand guard to speak of. But it's the balance of it that's striking. The point is somewhere within the handle, making the blade weightless and its movements completely unencumbered by inertia. It's a beautiful moment.
We pass by the restaurant where I tried alligator with TJ the last time I visited, and, later, walk into a lantern museum where a coppersmith is at work shaping copper into light. A hallway in the back has lantern after lantern after lantern until you think there can be no more variations in size or shape.
Leaving the French Quarter, we drive over past the Lower Ninth Ward for lunch at the Waffle House in Arabi. Steca has a chocolate-chip and a strawberry waffle. I have a plain waffle and hashbrowns (covered, smothered, and capped, as they say). On the way out, I pick up an application and discover that Waffle House offers its employees health, dental, and life insurance, as well as two weeks of paid vacation a year. Who knew?!
We drive to the bayou overlook and I see that not too much has changed in a couple of years.
But the Make It Right foundation has been at work. There are many more of these oddly-shaped, colourful, stilted homes than the last time I was here. Some of them are pretty while many are just… odd. Certainly they look out of place when juxtaposed with other homes in the neighbourhood. They provide housing, but perhaps at the expense of community. The MIR foundation intends to build 150 of them in total, which won't really replace the ~4,000 homes that were destroyed here. Critiques of the MIR houses can be found here, here, and here.
Our next stop is a public library on St. Charles street. On the way, we make a detour over a high bridge. I crawl along the outside lane at 40MPH so we have time to soak in the view. On the other side, we sing by the old navy base before crawling back across. The road lets out into an industrialized section of town by the river, where I discover Richard Street.
At the library, we're impressed by chandeliers, hanging tapestries on the walls, hard wood floors, and two giant gerbils, as well as by how few books the large house actually holds.
From there, we continue on towards the “Holyhead” market. But I make a wrong turn and inadvertantly head the opposite direction. Steca and I simultaneously see the woman we want to ask directions of: she's wearing a straw hat, carrying a basket, and wearing a light gray sundress. And, sure enough, she knows where the market is. “Do you mean the Holygrove market? Go back that way, take a left onto Carrollton, and continue straight. It's on Olive… if you reach the post office, you've gone too far!
Holygrove! Of course! I've mixed its name up with Holyhead, the ferry port on the Isle of Angelsey where I spent a night in January.
At Holygrove, the street is crowded on both sides for a baseball game. Inside, the market is sparse and the vegetables both beautiful and expensive. They've moved the milk fridge, but the chocolate milk's still there. I tell the employees at the counter about my epic thousand-mile, two-year journey to be back here buying this milk. They both nod and admit to having each had one already today.
After leaving Holygrove, we head backtowards the crescent along Carrollton, park the car not far from the Zotz coffee house and just walk around the shaded neighbourhood looking at houses.
On the way back to the car, I see a large parrot cage afixed to the outside of the house. As Steca and I are inanely trying to make conversation with the parrot, an old man with long gray hair holding two pure white parrots comes out of the house and down to the gate. He then opens the gate as he tells us that we should see the backyard, where he has a cage the width and height of the whole house where his other seven or so parrots fly around in freedom.
And then he closes the gate and walks to his car, putting the parrots inside. The birds immediately begin to wander around. He looks back at us, “The National Enquirer did an article about me, and you can find me on Facebook.” Steca and I look at each other with the same thought, “He wasn't inviting us to see his backyard?”
A few minutes later, Bripi calls. We repair to her house and make supper before packing up our instruments and driving to the City Park and the Art Museum. When we arrive, everything is dark and quiet, save for a light breeze and the distant spray of fountains in lake. We set up shop on the steps, and I open up my laptop, bringing up the anthology of good music I've been compiling.
We've been jamming for not so long, when a sopping-wet girl walks up and sits down near us, explaining that she fell into a pond and asking if she can sit and listen. Her boyfriend drives up a few minutes later and comes joins the party. Off to the side of the steps, a group of younger kids listens for a while before wandering off.
A recurring theme in my attempts to jam with professional or near-professional musicians is that, for reasons I'm not entirely sure of—perhaps years of training in minutiae, having conductors to keep them focused, a rehearsal-based mentality—they never seem as though they want to buckle down and play. In contrast, most of the non-professional, jam, or regularly-performing groups I've played with can be down-right hostile towards interruptions. Oh well.
Later on, we swap instruments, and I spend a good half-hour practising playing Blarney Pilgrim with double-stops while Bripi works the harp under Steca's watchful eye.