May 26, 2009
Last Tuesday, I returned from an exciting week of enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, and derogatory remarks of Louisiana. While we weren’t able to get to everything on the list I wrote on the plane ride down, we did get to a few of them, as well as several things that would have been on the list, had I been aware of their existence, like Drive-Thru Daiquiri Shops.
That is just one example of the foreign concepts this Northerner observed in his travels. What follows is based on what I was able to write in the intervals between those daiquiris, when my brain and hands were not too numb with flavor to write.
Spring Break 2K9 - Connor's Notes on Louisiana
Connor’s Louisiana “To Do Wish List”
1. Whatever Historical Museums There Are
2. Civil War Memorials/Sites
3. 9th Ward
4. Gator Tour
5. Bead Factory
6. Antique/Junk Stores
7. “Jazz” Music?
On Getting A Coffee
My brothers and I were getting up early every morning to make the most of our day, so coffee was consumed at regular intervals. One morning we went to Coffee Zone for breakfast. A nice little café with posters on the wall to help you beat that “Gambing” addiction. We walked in the door and before we even reached the counter, the young woman working there was on us with a smile asking, “Hey there! Y’all want coffee this morning?”
“Uhh, yeah. Coffee would be great!” I eagerly replied,
really enjoying the legitimate Southern Hospitality I was receiving
everywhere I went.
“Oh! Sorry, we actually don’t have any coffee,” she said.
“What?” I asked her`, “Why would you ask me that?”
“Sorry, the water broke last night. The guy’s coming to fix it. Sorry ‘bout that.”
On Getting An Iced Coffee
Despite the fact that most days in the summer reach 103 degrees with 100% humidity, the great state of Louisiana is yet to be widely infiltrated by the Northern Evils of Iced Coffee. While it’s a popular drink in New Orleans, no doubt, in Houma, an hour south, it got us strange looks.
out to dinner one night at a BBQ/po-boy place, my brother and I ordered
“iced coffee.” The waitress paused and said, “Wait, what was that?”
“Iced coffee? Do you not have that here?” I asked.
“Oh. No yeah, we have that,” she assured me.
After ordering, I went to the rest room. When I returned there were two large glasses of ice on the table, which were soon followed by two large mugs of piping hot coffee.
On Flea Markets
I always wanted to stop at any junk store, thrift shop, flea market, yard sale, or abandoned building we passed. I think it’s a great way to get to know a culture, and see the history that lives in the relics people sell and still use. It’s also a great way to pick up neat stuff that will have to be packed tightly into your carry-on baggage and probably destroyed in transit.
My brothers would roll their eyes and say “No Connor,” every time we drove by a saggy old wooden board garage literally just vomiting out dusty old Hardcovers, boxes full of LPs, and Civil War mortar shell doorstops. “No Connor,” as if I was some child. I’m two and a half years older than the closest one of them! Eventually they gave in, and we made the rounds to an open warehouse type flea market.
My body quaked as I inhaled deeply the musty aroma of basements, paper browned with age, cracking book-binding glue, linseed oil, and mothballs and let it fill my lungs; a most powerful narcotic for one like me who is addicted to history.
I do not understand how these women are able to keep shop in this place. Other than the fact that I would never want to sell any of my junk, I just don’t understand the economics. How do these women pay the rent for the space? I spent an hour in there and bought two books; a first edition 1943 YA novel, encouraging girls to help with the war effort on the home front, and a 1984 Ghostbusters picture book. The former cost me 50 cents, the latter was thrown in for free. It wasn’t exactly crowded either. I guess it was a weekday, but I’m just not sure.
Our second or third day, Devon and I went to get haircuts at his barbershop, which serves alcohol, is staffed entirely by attractive young women, and caters exclusively to men. At Just For Him Hair Salon, every haircut comes with a refreshing beverage of your choice, a shampoo, and hot towel face massage. All for just $18.00.
Now, this is just about the best thing since sliced bread started coming with a refreshing beverage of your choice, a shampoo, and hot towel face massage. The experience that had been described to me by Devon, and then built up to a legendary status in my mind included drinking a beer as I got my haircut. Devon brought me there at 11:30 AM. Devon ordered a water.
I decided I wouldn’t let pride (or more accurately shame) prevent me from getting the most value out of those eighteen dollars. I ordered a Coors Lite, quietly mumbling something about being on vacation, as the girls exchanged skeptical looks. To be honest, from that point on, knowing that I was the only person drinking, it was a bit awkward. Have you ever tried to take furtive sips of something while getting your hair cut? I assure you, it is a fruitless endeavor. You can sneak no sips without the notice of the woman who is focused entirely on your head.
Misty ,my hair cutter, (Stylist? I don’t know.) Misty and I made small talk, but I was still clutching the beer tightly under the shower curtain-like apron I was wearing and felt self-conscious. The awkward silence was disrupted only occasionally by the laughter and lively gossip coming from Devon and his stylist, two chairs over.
My advice? Go sometime in the afternoon- preferably after 5 PM. Also, the face massage will put you to sleep.
On Culture and Tradition Vs. Bourbon Street
It was interesting to see Bourbon St. In the middle of this historical wonderland full of beautiful architecture and culture, there is place that because of a single law (on open containers), unique to that location, it has been turned into a veritable bacchanalia of booze and debauchery. A Disneyland with beer and strippers.
It is possible that Bourbon St. today does indeed reflect its historic origins. Surely even in its shipping hey-day, bars and whorehouses lined the wooden sidewalks, and vomit filled the dirt road. Today it is largely unchanged, except that it is mostly tourists and college kids getting hammered on their spring break.
The rest of the city is incredibly rich in its historic preservation of buildings, museums, and art, food, and cultural institutions. But when you’re done with all that, sometimes it’s nice to be able to go and get and one-dollar beer and walk around the streets, watching all the people who are drunker than you.
On Traditional Cuisine
Being from a place in Massachusetts where sea food is freshly caught and served locally, and living in New York City, where I have just about any kind of traditional cuisine at my fingertips, it is surprising that I was not accustomed to the food of Louisiana. But your really can’t do “Cajun Style.” You have to do just straight up Cajun.
I think Louisianians know their food is kind of gross and they take a perverse pleasure in making the rest of the world think they love it and making fun of anyone who comes to town and can’t handle sucking the innards from the thorax of disgusting little crustacean, while its legs tickle your upper lip.
They seem constantly amused by people from the North who aren’t used to such things. The crawdads tasted delicious, but I’m sorry, I’m not good at managing the process of eating them.
The muffelletas were good- but I don’t like olives so I didn’t want mine with olive paste, much to the tongue-clicking disappointment of our waitress who simply didn’t understand how I could have just ham and cheese without olive paste.
The Po-Boys and beignets were amazing. No changes required.
Louisiana is renowned for it’s unique, traditional cuisine. But what Zagat’s doesn’t tell you is what it does to your bowels. Your shit will be indistinguishable from that of a bull moose. Oh, the food is wonderful of course. It’s spicy without being overpowering. It’s vibrant, lively and lovely, and that’s what kept me coming back for more. But what the fuck man! I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that my shit has never looked like that before, and I've been to Vietnam.
On the Drive-Thru Daiq Shops
The Drive-Thru Daiquiri Shop, a Louisiana Tradition since 1837, actually predates driving. It started with the strawberry patches people would plant along the bayou because of the moist nutrient-rich soil. At the end of the season they would add fermented strawberry mash to the horses’ oats and grain for added nutrition. The horses would get so drunk, they would go flying off the path and into trees, canals, other horses, anything in the way. The wagon drivers made a game out of who could keep his horse on the road the longest.
With the advent of the automobile, they tried to keep the tradition
alive by filling their petrol tanks with the mash, but only with mixed
results. Finally, one day in October of 1911 an ingenuitive young man
named Thomas Lee Daiquiri, tried adding the mash to the glass of
straight rum he was drinking while driving along the Intra-coastal. He
found the concoction so delightful and intoxicating, he became excited
and drove his auto off the road and into a field, killing six horses
and two farm hands. Soon after his release from hospital, he opened the
first official Drive-Thru Daiquiri Shop.
On Swamp Tours
Please see separate posting...
On Cursing on the Radio
In New York, I really only listen to the radio when I’m in the kitchen having breakfast, and it is usually classical music. I do it partially to impress people, but more because I have trouble reading if I’m listening to songs with lyrics.
We listened to the radio a lot driving around and one day between songs, the DJ (a woman whose name I can’t remember) was giving the newsbriefs, one of which was about new words people are making up like “Chillaxing.” She was especially upset by one that combined “working” with “leisure” to form “weisure.” I absolutely agreed that it was an egregious abuse of the English language, but was still surprised when she said, “Come on! Weisure? I got a word for you--- Douchebag!” and resumed playing music.
Can you really say “douchebag” on the radio? I did not know that.
On Civil War Culture
I can’t speak for the entire Former Confederacy, but at least in New Orleans I felt the people take pride in their rebellious history. This is not to say that they are racists, or endorse slavery, though I imagine it is difficult for them to express their pride without coming off this way.
Regardless of whether you believe the Civil War was fought over the
rights of States to create laws that could supersede Federal
Regulations or simply because they wanted to keep their slaves, it
seemed like the modern-day pride stems more from their being part of a
culture that stood up for what they believed in, and lessfrom what it was they were standing up for.
We went to the Confederate Memorial Hall Civil War Museum, a
standing institution since 1891, and while the pride in their history
was palpable and unapologetic, I never felt it was conceived with any
bitterness or ill-will, nor did it seem to be a tribute to past racist
practices. The Confederate Flag, a modern-day symbol of racism, wasn't
even prominently displayed.
They did somehow have a lock of General Lee’s hair on display. I thought that was kind of weird.
On the Lower 9th Ward
After 5 days of browbeating, and finally finding an ally in my sister-in-law who came to town on Saturday for a Critical Care Nurses Convention, I was able to convince Devon to drive us into the 9th Ward to see what progress has been made, to see what has been left untouched, to see those who came back, really just to see.
I realize that there is something a little twisted about going to gawk at the destruction of this neighborhood that is still home to thousands, as if they were some kind of tourist attraction. Almost like a rubbernecker driving slowly by a car accident. And I did feel a bit guilty. But I felt it was an opportunity to view a part of history that was still there, largely untouched by the progress of time. Like going to Cuba before it’s opened up to the States again.
It was powerful to see the houses still marked by spray-painted Xes and the number of people/bodies that were found inside each house, some that are once again being lived in, some still boarded up. Street names were still spray-painted on telephone poles because all the signs had been blown away. Parks and play areas were empty or at least nearly so. In other neighborhoods, further from the levies, you could see the mark left by the water-line on the sides of buildings, maybe 7 or 8 feet high. Oddly, there were no water-line marks on these houses, so close to ground zero, as they were probably completely submerged.
On Signature Drinks
Besides the delicious daiquiris, the bars in New Orleans have a few specialty drinks that for some reason are all named after destructive weather patterns. Whether trying to tempt fate, go with a familiar mascot, or describe what will happen to your stomach, the names seem appropriate.
The Hurricane is available at most bars and was especially good at Patty O’s, a big piano bar in the French Quarter. It seemed to be a whole lot of rum along with grenadine and soda. It was delicious and indeed rocked me like the storm system for which it was named.
At Port of Call, an ancient and amazing burger joint uptown,
they served up the Monsoon. 8 shots of rum plus a drop of soda as a
mixer, all in a collectible plastic cup.
While I didn’t see any drinks called Smashed Levy, or Katrina’s Period, I’m sure they will be around soon enough.
On Police Interaction
Thankfully I didn’t have any police interaction while in Louisiana, but a friend of my brother told us about a conversation with a cop that took place when he was robbed last year. He was out of the house when it happened and they got his TV, phone, Video games, maybe $500 in cash.
The cop asked him, “You got a gun?”
“Yeah. Not here, but I have a shotgun at my parents place.”
Cop said, “Well, this ever happens again, you see a guy coming in your place? You just wait until he’s all the way in the window and you shoot him and make sure he doesn’t get up. If he’s getting up, you shoot him again.”
The moral is that dead men don’t sue, nor can they testify
against you in a court of law if their family sues. Also, don't break
into my brother's friend's house.
Louisiana is indeed a magical place that I would recommend as a vacation destination to anyone. A place, where somehow combining 8 shots of rum in a Monsoon, pairs nicely with sucking the meat out of a crawdad's body. No worries though. I'm sure I'll be able to find something gross to make Devon eat the next time he comes to visit me.
"Oh yeah, you can't come to New York and not have the Spicy Squid and peanut buter omelette. You gotta have it!"