November 30, 2009

From the Bayou to the Stars

We found this on the side of the road...

Well, sort of. After emerging from the swamp, safe and sound, we boarded our bus for the return trip home. On the way, our driver took a slight detour, stopping by NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility, which had a giant rocket in front of it, specifically, the first stage of this one.

We read a plaque about the Saturn V, LSB took photos of me standing in front of it while I imagined myself as an astronaut, and then we boarded our bus and headed back to NOLA to continue the culinary onslaught.

November 22, 2009


It wasn't like this. It was actually a pretty serene daytrip out of New Orleans to the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, otherwise known as the Honey Island Swamp. We picked up some cafe au lait (LSB) and coffee with chicory (me), and boarded the tour bus in front of our hotel. The bus drove through the still devastated 9th Ward and over Lake Ponchartrain, rows of shotgun houses in various states of disrepair eventually giving way to an immense expanse of fresh and brackish water on either side.

Our bus driver showed us where flooding from Hurricane Katrina had washed a boat into the brush. The boat was never reclaimed by its owner, but it was quickly being reclaimed by nature--becoming less visable with the passing of time. Things grow quickly down here.

A few miles from the Mississippi border, we were dropped off near the riverbank. We boarded a flat-bottomed boat with about 15 people and set off down the river and into the swamp.

There a river under all of that green

Though it was sunny and well over 70 degrees, it was winter in Southern Louisiana, and Captain Mike told us that most of the larger alligators were hibernating (LSB sighed longingly at the thought of hibernating through the winter months), while the smaller ones tended tough out the cold. He also told us we were Yankees and considered it some kind of punishment to have Yankees on his boat. He warmed up to us once he discovered we had only been in town for a couple of days and had already eaten nearly ever Louisiana delicacy imaginable--more than everyone else on the boat combined.

One of the tough little critters

We spent close to two-hours in the peaceful swamp, motoring through cypress trees draped with spanish moss and slowly passing egrets, herons, turtles of various shapes and sizes, and alligators relaxing on logs. Captain Mike pointed out where Katrina had changed the geography of the river and swept a poorly built fishing camp way down stream, while the well-built one next door held fast. Much to LSB's dismay, we did not see any nutria.

Did you hear something? Could it be...

We were deep in the swamp, when a dark shape emerged from the cypress trees. For a split second, he/it looked at me with terrifying bloodshot eyes. LSB screamed and he disappeared into the dark green nothingness...

November 17, 2009

A Streetcar To The Underworld

The Underworld is apparently closed on Sundays

We decided to get out of the French Quarter for a few hours and walk the streets of the Garden District. For all of the romance and nostalgia associated with the St. Charles Streetcar, it was slow, crowded, rickety, and loud. Then again, it was game day for the undefeated New Orleans Saints and the black and gold, fleur de lis-clad masses had to get to the Superdome somehow.

We started at the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1—the setting for many of Anne Rice’s vampire classics and featured in the film Interview With A Vampire. Strangely enough for a cemetery, it was closed on Sunday. After circling the high cement walls looking for a way in, we gave up and wandered through the streets--all historic mansions, magnolia trees, and wrought iron gates.

Ghosts of Mardi Gras Past

We had forgotten to write down the address for Anne Rice’s house, but passed a couple with a digital camera and guide book and figured they were probably looking for the same thing. It turns out that they had already been there and gave us the street number. We continued down the residential streets and stopped in front of her enormous mansion to take pictures. It was impressive, ornate, and, well, come to find out, not actually Anne Rice’s.

Anne doesn't live here (though I kind of wished she did)

After double-checking the house numbers, we realized that Anne’s house was on the other corner—smaller, more modest, and surrounded by a tangle of slightly overgrown trees and brush. Still, you could imagine Ms. Rice looking down from her glass and wrought iron balcony and imagining blood-thirsty vampires roaming around the neighborhood after dark. Either that or her bloodlust was fueled by envy of her neighbor's more impressive house.

She lives here, I think

November 13, 2009

The Ghost of Ignatius

Clap your hands for Dixieland!

We slipped on down to the Big Easy for a long weekend full of jazz, obscenely giant oysters, Sazeracs, cemeteries, etouffee, and the swamp. Keeping with my admittedly contrived habit of trying to read on theme, I, of course, brought a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces with me on the plane. This happened to be the same copy I purchased for LSB several years ago--probably declaring it "one of the best books ever!"--which still had her bookmark in it on page one-hundred-and-something. For those of you who haven't read it, it's really good. Don't listen to LSB.

"When my brain begins to reel from my literary
labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
- Ignatius J. Reilly
(John Kennedy Toole)

I'll get to the reptiles and dead people (and maybe a rocket, too), in a later post but for now, I'll touch upon my quest for the perfect Sazerac and a few other minor details, including the consumption of a massive amount of regional food. First, though, a confession. In spite of the fact that I developed a minor obsession with this drink over the past year or so, I don't think I had ever had a true Sazerac coctail prior to the trip. Upon arriving at the hotel, I headed to the rooftop bar and made up for lost time while waiting for LSB. My first authentic New Orleans Sazerac experience came in a small plastic cup that a gust of wind almost blew off the bar. My subsequent experiences here, here, and here, were better. How can you go wrong ordering a Sazerac at Sazerac Bar? You can't. I didn't.

The view after my Sazerac rooftop experience
nearly ended badly

And the food? Lawdy, what didn't we eat? We had alligator sausage (LSB had it fried, too), oysters on the half-shell, fried oysters, an oyster po-boy, gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, crawfish etouffee, Crawfish O'Conner, a Ferdi Special, a muffaletta, and delicious powdery beignets.

A dozen and a half freshly-shucked oysters later...

Seems like we washed quite a bit of it down with Abita Turbodogs. Gosh, these people know how to eat. The one light, healthy thing we ordered--room-service oatmeal one morning--never made it our room for some reason. We blamed the loud, drunk people in the hotel room next to us.

Home of the Famous Ferdi Special

We heard some Dixieland at Fritzel's--down Bourbon Street a bit, past the strip clubs and loud 3-for-1 bars--and a mix of everything else wandering down Frenchmen Street in The Marigny, before settling in at the Spotted Cat to watch a band whose music was inspired by two of my favorite directions, the South and the East.