So here we are in New Orleans. Carol was invited to speak, and, being Queen of the Jews, she now commands not only a handsome fee, but also the presence of her Prince Consort, to keep her happy.
Last night, I finished my work and went to bed about midnight. I turned on the TV, and there was a documentary on the life and music of Leonard Bernstein. It was so wonderful, that I kept watching. By the time it was over, and I turned it off, it was 3 AM. I said, "What the hell, my flight is at 12:15 in the afternoon, so I'll sleep late. I didn't set the alarm, and the next thing I knew, I awoke at 10:00 AM. I dashed to the shower, threw some clothes in a bag, sloshed down my pills with a mouthful of grapefruit juice, threw my bike on the car, and tore off to the airport. Halfway down Gano Street, I realized that I hadn't taken my bike tools to dissemble the bike at the airport, tore home, grabbed the tools, and headed for the highway. I hit 90 on the highway, zoomed into the terminal, and ran my suitcase to the skycap. "I need a bike box," I explained. "You have to do that inside," he said. I left my bag and driver's license with him and zoomed off to the parking lot. It was full, so I went to the valet parking. I rode the bike into the terminal, went to the counter, got a bike box, packed the bike, but it was 12:00 PM. "Will I make it?" I asked the agent? "Not with the bike," she said, "I'll have to reroute the bike at 5:00 PM." I told her to send the bike later, and I would catch this flight, but she said I would have to go with the bike. I said I would leave the bike with her. She said, "What will I do with it?" I told her, "Keep it for me." I ran to security. In my bag, the X-ray spotted my CO2 cartridge on a trigger-like device, which I use to blow up flats on the bike. "You can't bring carbon dioxide on the bike," the security person told me. "You keep it till I get back," I told her. "Where shall I put it?" she asked. I didn't tell her. I would have been arrested.
I was the last person on the plane. In New Orleans, we are staying at the Hotel de la Monnaie. Carol was supposed to be put up at the Royal Sonesta, but the Rabbi making the arrangements is, shall we say, a bit disorganized. So here we are, in a fleabag in a slum. But it's in the French Quarter. Tonight, dinner at Gabrielle's, in a funky neighborhood. Good spinach salad with goat cheese and walnuts. Carol had a delicious Mexican three-tailed fish, poppy encrusted, with excellent mashed potatoes and great vegetables, baby squash, baby carrots, etc., with a slightly bitter taste. I had sauteed veal with fried oysters and a Tasso mustard sauce. Divine combination. The wine was a Ridge Mataro. Excellent. For dessert, fresh peach shortcake. Superb.
Friday morning, breakfast at Cafe French Market, which is close by. Beignets and coffee. The best.The beignets are light but greasy, covered with finely powdered sugar, which cuts the grease. If you inhale while eating them, you choke, and if you exhale, you blow the sugar all over everyone near you. Then, I rented a bike nearby and toured the Vieux Carre, up and down every street. I just love this city, so seedy and moldy and shabby and decaying, and beautiful, and old, and restful. There's nowhere else quite like it. I met Carol, who walked the French Quarter, at Bayona for lunch. She had a delicious crouton with melted chevre mushrooms and sherry and I had wonderful onion soup. Then, Carol had a salad, and I had a "peanut butter and jelly sandwich," which was cashew butter, lime jelly, warm duck breast, bits of grilled red onion, all on grilled seven-grain bread. Stupendous combination. A glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (superb) and a glass of Ridge Bayona Chardonnay (very oaky). Terrible service, so we saved money on the tip. Then we went to a fancy-schmancy dealer in Judaica on Chartres Street, and down to the Riverfront, to watch the perfomance artists in Jackson Park and to buy some lime jelly at Central Grocery (home of the famous Muffaletta (which is nothing but a sub with some olives added, and which from past experience I can tell you is nothing special) to buy some lime jelly so that we can make our own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at home. Dinner was a bit of a dissapointment. We went to Kelsey's, out on Magazine Street, where the chef, Randy Barlow, has had rave reviews over the past few years as innovative, creative, etc. I had a white bean and tasso soup which was nice and peppery--excellent. Carol had a cold asparagus salad which was dry and undistinguished. Carol had a fish fried in batter with wild rice that was also undistinguished. I had rabbit with a tasso cream sauce and shrimp which was nice and hot, but the rabbit was simply deep fried and disappointing. We skipped dessert. The wine was a Vigil Zinfandel, which was excellent and not expensive.
Saturday morning, Carol did some work in the sun, while I biked out to Casamento's on Magazine Street for lunch. Casamento's serves oysters or oysters. They have raw oysters, oyster loaf (fried oysters packed into a baking pan, baked, and served in the pan), oyster stew, or Po' Boys (fried oysters with lettuce and tomato on a roll). I got there at 11:30 AM. By noon, the line was out into the street. I had a dozen big, fat, shiny, briny oysters, convexly brimming over the shell, and a Heiniken. Prices have risen--$8 a dozen. I biked through the Garden District of gorgeous stately homes, stopping at the zoo. The New Orleans Zoo has a special Cajun-Creole style to it. Whereas at the Bronx Zoo, they put the name of the animal and its habitat on the cage, here they put the name of the animal and the recipe. Then I biked to the Museum of Art to meet Carol, who had eaten a Veggie Muffaletta in town, at the Museum of Art, where we saw there new exhibit of Thracian gold. The Thrakes, as you know, were ancient Bulagarians. The real art of Bulgaria is moustached women singing through their noses, but given that some of the stuff was from 1500 B.C., it wasn't bad. I mean it was better than the cave drawings in Southern France. The Thrakes were great horsemen and warriors, so they had lots of gold and horse manure, which they combined in a smelter, to make an alloy, known as go-shit. The art was incorporated by the Jews who built the Second Temple, calling the alloy Gey-Kak-in-Yam (Go-shit-in-the-ocean) because they were near the Mediterranean Sea. But enough history. I biked back to town and stopped at the St. Louis cemetery. The dead in New Orleans are all buried above ground in mausoleums, since the city is below sea level and when it floods, as it often does, the dead would wash out of their graves. The Jews bury their dead in earth, but the earth is surrounded by a cement vault so that they don't wash away. I started back to the hotel, but I had to be sure. Were Casamento's oysters really the best. I stopped at the Acme Oyster House on Iberville Street in the Quarter. It was mobbed at 3:30 PM, but I got a seat right at the oyster bar, where the guy shucks and puts them on the marble top one at a time. I learned from the guy next to me, who was on his fourth dozen. You put a big tip on the counter before you start. The shucker then gives you only huge oysters. He gave me one extra at the end. The verdict: it's more fun at Acme, but the oysters at Casamento's still rule--they are sweeter and fresher, if that is possible, because the ones at Acme were stupendous. BTW, you mix your own sauce in these places. The purists don't use sauce at all, but they give you bottles of ketchup, Worcestershire, horseradish, Tabasco, and fresh lemons. The names of the great oyster eaters of all time are on the wall at Acme. Three people belong to the fifteen dozen club, including a guy named Feldman from Syracuse. Hundreds belong to the twelve dozen club. I thought of crossing the street to try out Felix's Oyster House, but decided it was best to call it a day.
Saturday evening, we went out at 6:30 PM to see the start of the Halloween parade, which began right near us. Halloween in New Orleans is very big, since the city is populated by freaks and drunks to start with, and since voodoo permeates the culture, and since the Krewes seek any excuse for a parade...The costumes were obscene, lots of phalluses. The grand marshal of the parade was Andrej Ceaudrescu, who lives here, and we were probably the only people to come out to see him, or who knew who he was. We didn't see him. The Krewes threw baubles from their floats, e.g., doubloons and beads, and people, adults, lining Decatur Street screamed, "Throw me something!" jumping up and down. Well, this is the seamy side of New Orleans at its worst.
For dinner, we took the trolley to Bienville Street to The Pelican Club. A bit more opulent than the restaurants we had been to thus far, but not that expensive. We began with a split of Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs. Excellent. Some wonderful focaccia with nicely herbed olive oil. We split a spectacular salad of mesclun, red grapefuit, spiced pecans, and gorgonzola cheese. Carol had rare tuna with Asian noodles. I had two appetizers: spicy crayfish and shrimp cakes with a remoulade sauce and stupendous baked oysters with bits of andouille and red peppers with remoulade sauce. No dessert, but a wonderful glass of Tokaji 5 Puttanoyos and excellent decaf. We took the trolley back and there, right in front of our hotel was the real Halloween parade. It is an annual event called Project Lazarus, an AIDS fundraiser. People come from all over the country in costume. There were scores of buses and scores more of limos. All traffic was stopped as thousands upon thousands of queers in costume entered a huge warehouse on the river for the party. And what costumes--impossible to describe. Forget about Wigstock. People dressed in groups of 10 or so, all the same--gladiators, S&M, a bit of Halloween stuff, but mainly in drag. Flamboyant drag, flashier than Ru Paul. It was the perfect end to a New Orleans vacation. Of all times to leave my camera at home.
Sunday morning, before my flight home, I made
one last circle around the Quarter on my bike, looking for a place to eat.
What a mess the streets were from the Halloween revels of the night before,
littered with paper and human refuse. I planned to end up at some funky
place in the Faubourg-Marigny. But on Royal Street I passed by Brennan's.
I figured, "What the hell, it's a New Orleans tradition." I got a table
beside the garden, and the courtly old N'awlins waiter brought me a menu,
offering me a drink to start (9:00 AM). I asked for coffee and looked at
the menu. Breakfast was a three-course affair costing $35.00. I asked him
if I could just have Eggs Sardou. "No problem, sir," he said, and brought
me two perfect bulging poached eggs resting in creamed spinach atop an
artichoke heart, with hollandaise sauce on top and a breaded grilled tomato
slice on the side. They were divine. "How much can they charge for two
eggs," I wondered, "After all, at J. Elliott's two eggs are 99 cents on
Monday and Tuesday mornings." How much, you ask? $24.50, that's how much.
That's more than we paid for any entree all weekend. Live and learn.