We’ve got some time and distance between us and our month in New Orleans, but our credit card statement just arrived and brought us right back. So I did some data collection from that statement, the Health app on my phone, and some foggy recollection.
Health and Wellness
Distance walked: 133.0 miles
Distance biked: also a lot of miles
Calories consumed: 1 goddamn zillion
Restaurants eaten at:
Number of restaurants eaten at: 38-ish?
Best restaurant in New Orleans: impossible question. Never answer a question this stupid. If you see the Buddha in the road, kill it!
Total cost of restaurant meals: decline to state
Calories consumed: 1 goddamn zillion
Restaurants we ate at in New Orleans:
Bywater Bakery (x a bunch)
Willie Mae’s Scotch House (x2)
Pizza Delicious (x a bunch)
Paladar 511 (x2)
Markey’s Bar (x several)
Spotted Cat Food & Spirits
St. Roch Market
Dat Dog (x3)
Port of Call
Cafe du Monde (x a bunch)
*Note: This is the restaurant with the greatest gap between quality of name (which is terrible) and food/experience (which is incredible).
**Note: This is the restaurant with the greatest gap between location on the list (near the bottom) and quality of food/experience (near the top).
Other Hip Place Names
Jack and Coke
Jack and Soda
Probably a bunch of others. What, do you think we were keeping a notebook? We were drinking, not conducting anthropological research.
***Note: do you want the best cocktail in America? Sit at the bar at French 75 and ask Chris H. to make you a Creole.
We joined this gator on the beach to watch the sunset—our last sunset in Louisiana…
Hey alligator brother from our cosmic mother… thank you! And thank you Louisiana for your beauty and hospitality. You’ve entertained me and welcomed me and embraced me. You’ve confused me and encouraged me and inspired me. You’re beautifully warm, wonderfully weird, and naturally engaging. We will be back no doubt, maybe even to lay down some roots. But for now I’ll just take these stickers. And my gumbo gut.
Lafayette (Laugh-EE-ET) Louisiana is in the heart of Cajun country, and our visit there helped to solidify our love for Louisiana. A town of not much size, but jam packed with huge helpings of friendly people and shrimp. Shrimp: I’ve eaten three times my weight in them, three times.
Upon first arrival in Lafayette, I was greeted in French by a lovely woman at the threshold of the Mouton House Inn, and quickly handed a drink made from tea-infused bitters and Bourbon (Burr-Bonne). And so yeah, that hooked me.
And then there were the Po-Boys (shrimp) at Pop’s Po-Boys, and the kind boy that told us what to order, and where to go.
ROAD WISDOM: Ask a local their favorite places to go, and then go there immediately. We’ve found the greatest gems through this method.
Allen, our swamp guide, made sure to take us to his favorite spot in the swamp to meet his lady friend named Stella. Stella is an alligator that is big. Also, she has 17 babies that are small. And oddly cute.
SWAMP WISDOM: A swamp is a flooded forest. A bayou is a slow-moving body of water.
Cajun culture is rich and fascinating and lovely. A trip to recreated Vermillionville (the original name of Lafayette) took us back to 1755 when the Acadians in exile moved there after being kicked out of Canada (Acadia/Nova Scotia) by the punk-ass British of the time who saw the Acadians as a threat, especially because they refused to swear allegiance to the British Government.
French is still spoken here, and the Cajuns continue to celebrate life through food and music and dance… despite the long history of attempts to suppress and erase their culture by the Americans.
A cajun bartender taught us a word: fache (fah-shay) which means annoyed or pissed off.
EX: People that try to suppress others, especially because they are afraid or feel threatened by people that are different, really makes me fache.
One thing I’ve realized about the purpose of our trip: part of the plan is to spend less time on the computer and/or phone (aka small computer).
But Ted, aren’t you using the computer right now? You bet I am, and ask me what I’m going to spend the rest of the day today doing: that’s right, using a computer. I am no saint. Please, never mistake me for a saint.
OK, irony aside, stepping away from the computer was not an explicit decision but more of an implicit one. We wanted to break up our routine and thus make our lives feel longer, get richer. Well, one helluva way to break up your routine is to get the hell away from your partner, the (space age gray and rose gold) box.
New Orleans might be the capital of hospitality. Residents are vocal in their warmth, greeting everyone who passes at length, with eye contact. Couple that with the food, the cocktails, the music… and just about anyone would feel at home. Or at least at the home of their cool-but-unreliable uncle.
Hospitable, but also unknowable. If someone tells you they understand New Orleans, that person is wrong. Not totally wrong: everyone knows—and typically loves—their New Orleans. God bless them. I felt the same way.
The longer I spend here, the less I feel I get it. It’s a European city, a Caribbean city, a poor city. A rich city. A city where slavery wasn’t as terrible as it was elsewhere. A city that was the hub of the slave trade. It is not an American city, even though it technically is. It is definitely a wet city. It is a party town. A college town. Super gay-friendly. An up-and-coming city. A violent city. A gritty city.
I’ve given up on getting it. That said, and regardless of whatever contradictions wove the fabric of the city, there is one thing about New Orleans at present, the best clue I have, one crumb of evidence that makes me feel like if I can’t wrap my head all the way around it, I can understand at least a part of it.
Here it is:
Parade season in New Orleans runs nine months a year.
The city marches in parades in every month of the year except July, August, and September, at which point it’s too damn hot to walk outside anyway.
Carnival season just wrapped up this past Tuesday, Mardi Gras day. Mardi Gras is not just a day; it is a season. The first krewe (mystic krewes are the social groups who throw parades… again, you can see why I’ve given up on understanding or explaining New Orleans…) marches on the Epiphany. Epiphany is a Catholic holiday, the day the Wise Men visited baby Jesus.
That’s another thing. Mardi Gras season is based on the Catholic calendar but is purely hedonic and atheistic. There is no God here on Mardi Gras, just the guys with bullhorns hollering at the thousands of revelers on Bourbon St., who in turn either ignore or openly mock those guys’ attempts at party pooping.
Parades reveal the ideologies, values, and resources of the krewes who throw them. That means they run the gamut, from Endymion (“Mardi Gras’ Main Event” in their words… if you want my opinion on Endymion, all I have to say is this: Pitbull was the star of their 2016 Endymion Extravaganza) to ‘tit Rex, a krewe that rolls mini, shoebox-sized floats. Krewe du Vieux is a smash hit on our side of town, a group that specializes—no, focuses single-mindedly on—politically-themed double entendres (my favorite this year was “The Besh is Yet to Cum” float, smashing chef-cum-douchebag John Besh for his restaurants’ tolerance of sexual harassment and abuse). St. Ann’s on Mardi Gras Day was wild fun… a people’s parade full of absolutely elaborate homemade costumes, many elaborate and truly beautiful.
This is me scratching the surface. I don’t know the entirety of parade season. No one could—it’s too much, too widespread. But parade season is like a translucent vein, an slicing angle of quartz giving a view into the history, the heart, the soul of New Orleans.
There is a profound and pervasive vibe here: experienced through all of the senses, and expressed as both euphoric and stank. The smell of chicory coffee and fresh baked pastries might be followed by a smell cloud of natural gas, or pee. Studying the branches of a stately and elegant Magnolia tree or the intricate French Colonial wrought iron work of a brightly colored home might be interrupted by a spill into an enormous pot hole, or or a trip over an exposed sewer pipe being birthed from the swamp.
Yes, this beautiful town is built on a swamp. And yes, most of the city is below sea level: creating a bowl that traps energy and lets it fester and blossom and decay. The city is haunted by the ghosts of slave traders and free people of color, lords and ladies (titles both inherited and bought) criminals and common folk, Creole and Cajun.
Katrina flooded the city, but she did not wash away the spirit or spirits of this place. She was brutal and destructive, stealing the homes and lives of many, and yet New Orleans thrives. From the perspective of a visitor, it seems that New Orleanians have evolved into a community that has learned to face adversity and challenge (be it potholes or poverty) with a strength and positive forward movement that is as dynamic as the parades that they cherish.
Attending a Second Line (community parades that cannot truly be described, only experienced) we were welcomed into the celebration with smiles and nods and love that could be felt in the music and the dance. Entering the rituals of this city (of which there are many) with confident kindness will most often be mirrored back, or at the very least silently respected.
There are very few social rules here, but the following are crucial if you wish to weave yourself into the fabric of the city:
We are honored to return here. Thank you New Orleans.
I’m pretty open-minded about taking in new experiences. That’s actually a part of my 5 factor personality index…I’m highly into new experiences.
So, we took in the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library yesterday. It’s in Biloxi, Mississippi, at Jeff’s last home on the gulf.
I thought it was fascinating. We’ve been to the Reagan, Nixon, Clinton, and Carter presidential libraries and museums. By comparison, this one was pretty much shitty. Understaffed, poorly curated…and of course, covered in confederate flags. If one place is entitled to fly confederate flags, I guess it’s this one, but the volume was still a little unnerving. There were hundreds, maybe a thousand confederate flags and gift items to buy.
Matt heard our tour guide say something that he thought might have been racist. I sort-of-willingly ignored it, then later acknowledged that yeah, that was totally fucking racist. He said:
“They have black spring break down here. You ever witness that before? Three years ago they almost burned the whole town down.”
The part I didn’t hear was the adjective ‘black’ (which is key).
Here’s the weird part: I really liked our tour guide. He was sweet, funny, gentle, well-informed. I was a fan.
And he is also a racist. That’s a fact. That he’s a volunteer tour guide at the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library might have been my first clue, but his comment left no room for interpretation.
What do you do with kind, funny racists? Matt wanted to kick him in the teeth. My friend Martha, whom I spoke to today, said that “his heritage is slavery, and slavery is something we shouldn’t celebrate.” I agree. I get it. I just also think that people are people, and that even when they hold hateful beliefs, most of the rest of their beliefs line up with mine. We can be friends, and if we are, we’ll likely get along and understand each other’s positions better than if we are enemies.
Just so you know, there is a correct way to pronounce the name of this city, and the locals take it very seriously. We’ve been practicing it for like 4 days: MO-BEEL (with the accent on the second syllable).
You should also know that much to the chagrin of New Orleanians, this is where the celebration of Mardi Gras as we know it in the New World first appeared. The French declared Mobile as the capital of the French colony of Louisiana in 1702, and by 1703 masked balls began to appear.
But it wasn’t until New Years Eve 1830 when a drunk dude named Michael Kraft raided a hardware store in Mobile with his friends and paraded down the streets of Mobile banging a cowbell. Over the next several years, they formed the first mystic society (or Krewe) called the Cowbellion de Rakin society, and eventually switched their parade-times-fun to Fat Tuesday. And thus, Mardi Gras as we know it today was born.
Mardi Gras has been celebrated here in Mobile every year except during the two World Wars, and was shut down completely during the Civil War. But in 1868, a local hero named Joseph Cain defied the rules of “no public gatherings” set forth by the occupying Union forces, and revived the parades of Mardi Gras, which have been happening ever since.
We were here before most of the Mardi Gras festivities began, but had the pleasure of attending a “people’s parade” (no Krewes, only ordinary citizens) on Dauphin (pronounced DAH-FIN) Island, just outside of Mobile.
As we head to New Orleans on Tuesday, stay tuned for how Mardi Gras first appeared there, one of our most beloved cities.
Before we left, I predicted that we would have some moments of “adjustment” during the first part of the trip—just some understandable discomfort as we completely upended how we live our lives. Well, I was right. Somehow the joy of being right does not, however, lessen the challenge of an adjustment period.
To make adjustment even tougher, we’ve been bouncing around a lot. Since January 1, 2018, we’ve spent the night in nine (9) different locations. Nine! That’s a lot of bouncing around, don’t you think?
So not only are we essentially homeless, we’re also itinerant.
Freedom is great, but I think it’s fair to say that no one really wants complete freedom. Is it un-American to say that? Am I a bad van lifer?
All I know is, some freaking stability is also nice. Even on the road. So we’re in Mobile, Alabama, and will be for the next five nights. And then we’ll be in New Orleans for a month. And then, who knows? Maybe we’ll be ready for a little more bouncing around.