Sunday, May 13, 2007

New Orleans: Le Vieux Carré

The entire trip to New Orleans was a rousing success, I think. Jazz Fest was really cool, but I think the part I needed most was just some time away from everything.

Everyone made it into town all right. Kyle, Patrick, and I made good time driving from Houston, and the weather was great. There were storms ahead of us. They passed through Houston the night before, and sprinkled on us a bit on the road, but they poured on the Friday Jazz Fest visitors, apparently.

We got to New Orleans around 5pm, after the rains had all moved through. I remembered the right exits for Downtown and got off of I-10 onto Poydras Street. Then tried to find a way up to Canal and Royal, for our hotel.

Well, apparently you can’t take any left turns on Canal. So we went across to find a way through the one-way streets of the French Quarter. That actually took a while. We got onto Royal all right, and then found it blocked off at the block right behind the cathedral. So we wandered down a few more streets, following a line of cars that all seemed to be trying to get to Canal up Royal like us. That worked.

We ate dinner at Fiorella’s (BEST fried chicken) and got Erik at the airport, which was an adventure in itself with the no left turn thing, but now at least I know my way off of and onto I-10.

After breakfast the next day Patrick and Kyle headed to Jazz Fest, and I split off from everyone. I spent most of that day wandering around the French Quarter by myself. I wandered through the French Market and was drawn into some candy shops by the delicious smells. I bought a maple praline and a white chocolate and pecan cluster at the first one.

At the second one, the smells were even sweeter. I went in and a guy behind the counter was speaking what sounded to me to be excellent and fluent Spanish to a customer. He asked the man as he was leaving where he was from, and the man said Honduras. The man asked him where he was from, and he replied, “Dallas, Texas.” I was impressed.

I came up to the counter and looked at all the candies to decide what to try. I’d say I was like a kid in a candy store, but, well, you know. :-P

So I got a free sample of praline from the guy. It was very good. But I ended up buying a dark chocolate tortue (turtle). Dark chocolate, caramel, and pecans. Mmmmm.

“Only one?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” I smiled.
“Well, for you, okay.”

I paid him and he said, “Merci beaucoup, Mademoiselle.”
“De rien!”
“Ahhh, Mademoiselle, vouz parlez francais!”
“Je parle un peu de francais.”
“What part of Texas are you from?”
“Born in Bryan, lived near San Antonio, currently Houston.”
“Bryan, that’s by College Station.”
“Yup, my father was an Aggie.”
“Ah, I have a brother at A&M.”
“My little sister goes there. I went to Rice.”

He was very impressed. I thanked him again and headed back out of the shop. It wasn’t for a few minutes that I realized I’d never mentioned being from Texas before he asked what part I was from. Do I look and sound that Texan?!

You know, thinking back, he was actually pretty good looking. I should go back there next time I’m in town. :-P

I went into a voodoo shop. I expected it to be touristy and kitschy, but it wasn’t. There were icons (I don’t know the right word; I don’t want to call them dolls) representing different spirits, there was incense, there was music and a man doing readings. I can’t begin to describe the sounds and smells and colors. I had thought of buying something, if it was kitschy, but this was too real, to meaningful, and the meaning wasn’t for me. I don’t know enough to find it. I am a Christian, and a Catholic, but I don’t believe that these are the only truths. It was interesting, and someday I’ll go back and read all the cards and learn more.

Back out in the sun and the heat, I walked slowly down Royal Street, loitering at the shop windows looking at the paintings and photographs in the galleries, lingering past doorways with the cool air rushing out. Reading signs, peering into dark passages behind wrought-iron scrollwork to see green courtyards behind the buildings.

People must have flowed around me on the sidewalks, laughing, talking, but I don’t remember them. I just remember the sunlight, the heat, the flower-trimmed balconies and colorful facades.

Back at the hotel, I caught up with Erik, and after I made a call to book a spot on a ghosts and spirits tour, and we went to the aquarium down by the river. There was a tank with a glass tunnel through it, and the fish swam around and over us. There was an otter. There were jellyfish that glowed pink and orange and rainbow along the edges. There were sea horses and leafy sea dragons. In the Amazon atrium there was a green anaconda and piranhas and round black rays over a foot across with white spots the size of quarters, bright birds with flashes of yellow on their wings, or heads shining blue like turquoises. In the Mississippi river room there were spoonbill catfish that swam with gaping mouths and the light shining through their gills into their throats, there were alligator gars and a huge white alligator. There was a Gulf of Mexico tank with huge nurse sharks, massive rays, and a magnificent sea turtle. It was so cool!

I grabbed dinner and headed out for my tour. The guide walked us around the French Quarter, and told us stories from the mid-1700s to 2006, with generals, pirates, vampires, bankrupt gamblers, and storm-torn lovers, as the sun dropped and the light faded from the sky, leaving the Vieux Carré lamp-lit and heavy with the humid dusk.

When the tour ended by the cathedral, I called the guys to find out where they were. I met up with them at the far end of the French Market at the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. Bread pudding was on the menu, without raisins, even! One of my goals for the trip was to have bread pudding in New Orleans, since they’re known for their bread pudding. It was really yummy, though it had some sort of apple cinnamon syrup over it which I could have done without. Still, the texture was perfect, and I think they used sourdough. Mmmm. :-)

We walked down Bourbon Street on our way back. Pretty much not my scene, even when it isn’t Mardi Gras! Back at the hotel we watched Pixar’s Cars on cable TV and called it a night.

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