Well, I’m back from New Orleans…And it was quite a trip. Last time, I wrote about what I intended to do down there. So, I’m going to break this back down…In fact, the best approach here is to do just one night—one night!—in New Orleans. So, that’s what I’m going to do: the story of one late afternoon and night in New Orleans.
Theater—‘On and On Down Burgundy’
I always wanted to cruise down Burgundy just like in that Tom Waits song (see below). And this time, I kinda did. At least, I saw a play down on Burgundy by a local troupe during the afternoon. It was called “Pirates, Prostitutes and Cockroaches!” by the La Fete Theatre Company and was a loving satire on the history of New Orleans with different actors popping up in all three roles. It was cool to get out of the French Quarter, off the tourist track and see some of the entertainment made and consumed by NOLA locals.
Food—A Shrimp Bisque to Die For
Like I said before coffee, food and music are the cornerstones of civilization. New Orleans has plenty of quality helpings of all three. And here’s the thing, I was trying to figure out this time: What is Creole food? And what is Cajun food?
I can’t say I figured it all out, but I got closer.
I guess where I started figuring it out was at Arnaud’s, which is supposed to be “quality Creole cuisine.” So, it’s Creole or a sort of mixed cuisine (coming from Creole culture), but with a distinct French influence. As opposed to Cajun which is supposed to be more gamey, robust, country food. So, I ordered some shrimp bisque with sherry and trout meuniere with a sauce. My thought there: Creole is French and French food is about butter and sauces. So, gotta order something with sauces…right?
Fine. The shrimp bisque comes and it’s amazing. Perhaps the best soup I’ve ever had—no joke. And yet very simple. But then I notice my friend Matthew, across from me, has alligator sausage. So, I basically beg him for a taste and it’s fantastically good. But why is a Creole place serving a Cajun ingredient (gator)? But in the process, making it Creole?
So, later I make it to a well-known Cajun place, K-Paul’s Kitchen. And I read the menu outside which has beef tenders with a “rich debris gravy” slowly cooked over two days. So, here’s a Cajun place using a “sauce,” one that is rustic and gamey, but it’s still a French-style sauce…And at the Creole place up the street, they’re serving gator!
And then it hit me…There is no pure Creole cuisine, there is no pure Cajun food.
There’s only a continuum. Creole has been taking and mixing and matching Cajun ingredients and using French techniques for years. And Cajun has been borrowing sauces, techniques and ideas from Creole. And inside both of them you can read the history of the peoples and places of Louisiana from colonial times to the present. So, let it be.
Music—A Stroll down Frenchman
So, here’s how this works. You listen to locals, ask them questions and you find a place to go. You walk down there and check the street out. And listen, just listen, as you pass club after club, its music spilling out onto the darkened sidewalks. You walk down the street from end to the other, taking little mental notes the whole while.
Here’s blues…Here’s jazz…Here’s R&B…Here’s rock…Here’s…wait a minute…Something totally different. Hmmm.
You pay your money and you walk in, buy a drink.
And that’s what we did. That particular night we found this band: Bon Bon Vivant. And they blew us away. In fact, we all bought their CD.
And so it went, well and late. And finally we walked out, but there was one last surprise from this old town. The youngest (and perhaps most enthusiastic) crowd of the night was just out on the street listening to a band. And that band was just a bunch of guys and gals without a club to play in and just a bucket out front to put donations in. It was some sort of electronica fusion with a great beat behind it. And you know what? It didn’t sound like anything else on that street. But it was great and the kids, they couldn’t get enough of it. And one day, that band and those kids will be booking the top club on that block and an agent or A&R man will walk in and sign them to a big record deal. And new kids—with a wholly new and strange sound that turns off the grown-ups—will take their place out on the street with nothing but a bucket for tips and some big dreams.
So it goes. And, hopefully, so shall it remain…
Of course, there was more to New Orleans, there always is. I got to watch the Halloween parade put on by the Boo Krewe, so I finally got to see a real New Orleans parade. The winners were “The Dead Elvises” a group of very pale and dead Elvises on scooters wearing jumpsuits. Oddly, the whole parade had a sort of neighborhood and community-oriented feel, which I wasn’t exactly expecting. Weird. I also made it to Faulkner House Bookstore and perused the books. They had a a good selection with lots of Latin American stuff which was nice to see. And I rode an actual street car every day from the Quarter to MidCity where we stayed.
I also recall tourists in a French Quarter café with a poor, spooked bulldog with its legs tucked between its legs. It was so freaked out that it ran away which they said it had “never done before.” I’m not saying I believe in ghosts, but that poor dog sat through the whole breakfast, its tail straight down between its legs.
I could go on and on here…but I’ll leave that to Tom Waits who wrote a song about New Orleans. Have you heard it? It’s goes something like this. And 1…and 2…and 3…
On and on down Burgundy
A bottle and my friends and me…