My first New Orleans meal, eaten shortly after I swung in Tuesday night, was a fried catfish sandwich at The Foubourg Bistro. I was originally going to have the famous Muffuletta sandwich at The Central Grocery (a sandwich with meat and legendary olive salad that, with the way they slather on the olives, is better referred to as an olive sandwich with meat) but unfortunately Central Grocery was closed by the time I arrived. A Siri request for “good cheap eats” guided me to the Foubourg. My foodie friends would never have forgiven me had I made my first NOLA meal a hamburger, so catfish it was.
I complimented the cook, Zach, and took his picture. I gave him the business card I give everyone I blog about—it has my website address and email—and told him that I would immortalize him. Now he is immortalized.
If he is reading this, I once again state that it was a darn good catfish sandwich. I did, however, sample a Muffuletta the following day.
Now it’s beignets at The Cafe Dumonde. A beignet is basically a French donut, served hot with mounds of powdered sugar. At the present, my Bluetooth keyboard is covered in powdered sugar as I write this. Due to my tendedncy to set up my portable writing kit (iPhone with Scrivener app, iPhone stand, Bluetooth keyboard) just about anywhere (including at meal tables, much to the consternation of people with far better manners), it has the faint remnants of dozens of meals, much the way a world traveller’s passport is covered with stamps.
I passed a number of bars on the way here. They were all open. When I had an earlier breakfast at eight o’clock yesterday morning, the bars were also open. There were people inside.
I did the touristy thing yesterday and went on a bus tour. The guide, Kris, took us through all the neighborhoods, including the notorious Ninth Ward, which the authorities pretty much ignored after Katrina. Many of the houses were still boarded up, with the grim code spray painted on them documenting the number of bodies—human and pets—that the authorities found inside. Then we stopped at City Park, which features the other beignet destination, Morning Call.
While there, I struck up a conversation with Kris, who gave me one of his beignets told me about Katrina.
“So much stuff the news didn’t tell you about,” he said. “Alligators eating people. Bodies lined up outside the convention center. I’ll never forget it. Never.”
We stopped at a cemetery, where Kris told us that they inter the bodies above ground because, with New Orleans being mostly below sea level, the bodies tended to float out of the graves after a storm. Over a hundred souls can fit into a tomb, because they inter the body for a year and a day, letting the heat—which turns the tomb into an oven—do its work. They then open up the crypt, remove what are by now just a set of bones from the coffin, dispose the coffin, place the bones in a bag, and push the bag into a crevasse at the back of the tomb.
“Sometimes people were buried alive,” Kris said, “so they would wrap bells around their wrists. At night, ladies would patrol the graves, listening for the bells. It’s where the expressions ‘graveyard shift’ and ‘saved by the bell’ come from. Also, when the grave workers would push those bones to the back of the crypt, they’d use, you guessed it, a ten foot pole; so now you know where that expression comes from, too.”
I sat down on a supposedly haunted bench. I will be visited by spirits, apparently. Kris, however, gave me his voodoo stick, so I’m supposedly fine.
I spent the late afternoon and evening on Bourbon Street. At night, even on the weeknights, it seems as if everyone walks down Bourbon Street. When standing on the sidewalk, the neon lights from the rows of bars line up, so that you can read the signs, one after another, from the top down; as I said on Facebook, I could see why The Vampire Lestat likes the place.
There are no open container laws here; people walk down the street with their drinks in plastic cups (no glass or metal allowed). Some of the bars have pets as mascots, and they rest on the bar itself; the mascot at Johnny White’s is named Janet, and I had to pop in to get her picture.
I fell off the wagon smoking wise, and am now back on the patch. New Orleans practically forces you to smoke. I probably smoked, at most, five cigarettes from the pack; everyone bums smokes here.
A lovely prognosticator named Ren told me my fortune. She told me that I’m currently going through some tough times (true), but that I have a strong and loving force in my life (true) that will result in my overcoming all of this (nice). She also told me that this hardship will be fuel for my writing, and that I will be wildly successful.
I tipped her generously.
Then it was over to Preservation Hall for some jazz, at which point I called it a night, leaving behind many who would no doubt call it a night when the sun came up. Sorry, no pictures; you’re not allowed to take photographs inside Preservation Hall.
Okay, full confession: I took one before I read the admonition to not take photographs. Here it is, and to the proprietors of Preservation Hall: I’m really sorry.
So I sign off, having spent about 40 hours here that felt more like a week. Now it’s back to Pensacola, where I shall pick Yvonne up at the airport.