Posts Tagged 'NOLA'

Passing batons

One comes to New Orleans for the trio of food, drinks and music; this is not usually the kind of vacation I take.  The food part of the trio is always there, the drinks less (I generally don’t do cocktails) and we rarely go out to listen to music back home or on vacation. But here I am getting into this wonderful combination of the three: we eat very well, we try out all sorts of interesting cocktails and we listen to all sorts of music.

There is music everywhere: on the streets, in restaurants, in historic settings and in clubs or dance halls. We have found our favorite place, Snug Harbor, which is indeed a snug little place with small chairs and tiny round tables and a small stage.

After a fabulous show earlier this week at Snug Harbor of Mahmoud Chouki, we returned to see one member of the Marsalis Family (Delfeayo) with his big band on the tiny stage. It was a most playful and enjoyable show of brass band artistry.

Compared with the soulless and uninspired performance at Preservation Hall (a tourist attraction), this was how music should be played – to the enjoyment of players and listener alike.

Towards the end of the show three high school students from Little Rock were invited onto the stage to join the band and show off their talents with their baritone sax, alto sax and trombone. You could see that this was a rather nerve-wracking experience for them – they could not yet be playful like the others.

Delfeayo  and the members of his band showed me how they were mentoring the next generation of great jazz musicians – talking to them with their eyes as jazz players do, and encouraging them to stand up and play their solos. I was very impressed, these kids are talented. I imagined them being big fish in their Little Rock high school pond, now swimming in the big pond with the real big fish – what stories they can tell on their return!

There was much joking about the boys’ hometown (‘country boys’) and the clothes they wore (sneakers, one with a hat and dreadlocks and T-shirts).  The band members all wore coats and most of them ties as well.  Still, you could tell there was also great respect. Later one of the players told us that this is now what he lives for – passing the baton and grooming the next generation of great jazz players.


New Orleans has lots of museums – some very small and all very specialized: voodoo, death, pharmacy (the medical arts), southern arts, Mardi Gras, etc. Even though it was museum weather, we limited ourselves to only a few.

We enjoyed the Ogden Museum of Southern Art  and the Pharmacy Museum. The latter included instruments and practices of midwifery arts and plant medicine, uses of toxic substances in the name of healing or simply progress. Between these practices, slavery and natural disasters it is a miracle that anyone survived at all. When people complain about how bad things are, a museum visit can do wonders to activate one’s sense of appreciation for the present.

Yesterday we visited a small museum that had devoted its ground floor to Katrina, the history of floods and other disasters and what will most likely happen next. A graphic demonstration of the consequences of the breaking of the various levees back in 2005 was very informative. It made me wonder why people go back to places that cannot be protected. Yet, if you didn’t know about Katrina, there is little that is visible in the areas we visited that reminds one of the disaster(s).

I asked a guide whether the Dutch are involved in planning for the future. Yes there were and are. There were a series of Dutch Dialogues – one water pumping place talking with another. I think Bangladesh is also part of the club.

Vacation routines

Steve and Tessa, our tour guide and operator, left yesterday for an early flight back to Boston. On their way into NOLA they had gotten here so much faster than we on their direct flight. We figured they’d be home before we had finished our brunch. Not so. They had an extra day in the city waiting for their plane’s malfunction to be fixed. They didn’t get home until after midnight.  On their outbound flight they had simply been lucky. We texted them that it was better to be on the ground wishing  that one was in the air than being in the air wishing one was on the ground. We are glad the malfunction got fixed and that they made it home safely.

Tessa had sometimes chided us for walking into a restaurant without checking things out on Yelp or Tripadvisor. This is a Millennial habit I am trying to learn. I don’t dare any longer to just walk into a place simply on the merits of its looks. She has trained me well.

While Tessa and Steve hang out with another couple from NH trying to get home, we enjoyed our very first glorious day in NOLA. It started ominously with rain and thunderstorms. I thought the weather in eastern MA was fickle but this is nothing less. One of our Lyft drivers said that you can get four seasons in a day. We have experienced bone chilling cold winds, rains like monsoons, dense fog, and finally blue skies and temperatures in the 70s.

We have developed a pleasant vacation rhythm: we sleep in, followed by half an hour on one machine or another in the hotel’s fancy fitness room. We shower and dress slowly, recovering at a leisurely pace from exercise, and then decide to walk or ride to a restaurant that Tessa has, or would have approved of. We order Bloody Marys, local fare that usually contains at least one of these ingredients: shrimp, biscuits and gravy, grits, eggs, sausage, which explains the necessity of daily exercise.  After brunch we visit a nearby coffee shop where we check on the weather, the fate of our taxes and other news on our cellphones. And yes, we have become one of those couples who are sitting across from each other looking at their phones.  We spent what is left of the afternoon walking to something we haven’t seen yet or plan the next meal, or both.


The day is completed with a music-enhanced dinner in another one of Tessa-approved places, and then a jazz club if we can. We tumble in bed after midnight; all this repeated daily!

Southern fare

It seemed so far away last July when I planned this trip to new Orleans with our compensation tickets from American Airlines – compensation for having given up our seats after a windstorm upset air traffic along the entire northeastern sea board. In exchange for a 500 dollar travel voucher each we agreed to take a later flight, requiring a four hour wait in a crowded gate area with lots of angry people. We simply put on our headphones, pulled up a nice book on our iPads and waited patiently. It was a small price to pay for a free trip to New Orleans with change to spare. To make for the perfect vacation where all money is spent on food, we got our friends’ unused timeshare exchange place for a week for around 100 dollars in fees and that was it.

And now we are on our way to join Tessa and Steve who are already there – having taken a much more direct route (a three and a half hour flight on Spirit Airlines versus our whole day adventure with stops); but we can’t be picky.

The first time I was in New Orleans was in 1973, with Peter – it was a different America then, and the south was particularly different, mostly segregated except for New Orleans if I remember. Was it because the white tourists came to listen to music that was played by Black Americans? I am sorry I can no longer remember which musicians we listened to. I did not know much about jazz.

Tessa thought NO felt very European, whatever that means – French maybe? And that may also be the reason why, on that grand tour of North American- at 5 dollars a day all these years ago, NO was one of our favorite cities. These also included San Francisco, Boston and Montreal.  On the other hand, Detroit, Denver, LA, Houston, Miami, DC and New York were so utterly new and alien, so very American in their expansiveness and bigness that we walked around in awe, though not always in admiration. The bigness related to houses, skyscrapers, parks, cars and people. Obesity was already visible then, the tip of the iceberg, though not openly recognized for what it was, ominous, by public health experts and the public at large. The companies that sold (and still sell) ingredients that produce obesity were having free reign. It took more than 40 years and we are not there yet, to rein them in.

April 2019
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