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20 March 2010

New Orleans continued, or Beignets, Anyone?

We arrived in the City of New Orleans on the train called The City of New Orleans ten minutes early on Friday.

For sleeping, we had not been able to find reasonable accommodations in the quiet part of the French Quarter and thus, happened upon the Henry Howard House on Prytania in the Garden District, which was not far from the train station. A 17-room Bed & Breakfast Inn (more like an inn with no front desk), it is a lovely oasis on a busy street. My only complaint, which works out to be the comment I have for most places, is that part of a luxurious or even good bathroom should include enough places & space for used/wet towels and toiletries. They are accepting reservations for the Jazz (& Heritage) Fest (23 April - 2 May 2010).

After our friends had arrived from Austin on a construction-obstructed I-110, and we had relaxed on the porch of the HHHouse for an hour or so, we went along Canal Street and waited at the stand-up bar in Mandina's for 45 minutes for a table.  It was already after 7:30pm.  It is known for the late-night family atmosphere, the stand-up bar and its Old Fashioneds, a drink I saw a bartender making a dozen at a time for a large party.  I am also told that Mandina's stand-up bar is featured in Elmore Leonard's novel, Bandits, along with the funeral home across the street.

Of course, we had to walk the French Quarter. Our friends pointed out all the apartments where he had lived, and all their favorite haunts -- Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, which used to be a quiet, jazz place (alas, no more -- young'uns with plastic cups spilled out in the street, probably to escape the roar of the music inside such a small place) and Napoleon's. Central Grocery Store, known for creating muffuletta sandwiches, keeps strict 9-5 hours, so we were not able to enjoy them then or for our friends to pick up the olive salad she loves. We stopped by Librairie Book Store at the juncture of the Chartres-Madison Streets "T." It's a used bookstore where one should always find time to do a little browsing. I enjoy going into independent bookstores selling new books, in order to get new ideas and talk with the owners (which we did at the Garden District Book Shop -- 34 years and going strong), but I really like used bookstores for the real finds (and I don't feel too bad about buying a book which I know I can't get from our wholesaler).

On Saturday evening, we went to the Sazerac Lounge in the Roosevelt Hotel.  The Sazerac Lounge created the eponymous drink, made of rye (replacing the later outlawed absinthe made of wormwood), two kinds of bitters and melted sugar cube.  Our friends were game, although they are more connoisseurs of Old Fashioned, and enjoyed the drink, which tastes simultaneously a little bitter and a lot sweet.  The Roosevelt has a long history as the most elegant hotel in the City, and that is reflected in the lobby as well as the understated Lounge atmosphere.  Her parents would have dinner in The Blue Room on special occasions. 

On Sunday a.m., we attended Mass at St Louis Cathedral which is also right there, on Jackson Square in the French Quarter. Despite the rumor that most New Orleanian Catholics go to Mass on Saturday at 4pm, the place was packed. Cathedral, singing by choir and soloist, and organ-playing were all calculated to uplift and they did not fail. Someone who has been having difficulty with the Church, because of its increasingly inflexible and ultra conservative position on some key issues as well as its actions and inactions of late was glad to have agreed to attend. In that regard, I give the Cardinal credit for a rather timelessly neutral sermon about the prodigal son, eternal life and eternal death. We were not threatened with fire and brimstone, or bludgeoned with anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality or anti-anything rhetoric. The agnostic amongst us simply said, "Say what you will about Catholics, but they sure know how to build a church."

Later that night, we went to Muriel's on the corner of Chartres and St Ann's Streets (again, near Jackson Square) and took our drinks up through a special stairway to the corner of its second floor balcony to sit in the dark, gazing out at the river and the street, watching a passing freight train (one of only a few nowadays) and guided ghost tour (more of those daily).


We had late night cafe au lait and hot beignets piled thick with powdered sugar at Cafe du Monde twice, on Friday and Sunday! High HDL cholesterol and glucose intolerance problems be damned! They were to die for (and I probably would if Books on First would serve them up!)!  That's a wonderful welcome and farewell to good times in a great city.

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