I’ve been dealing with a couple infections, nothing of the seriousness which almost killed Dylan twenty years ago but, along with the humidity, enough to keep me from drinking beer which is what usually inspires my writing. I like to avoid modern medicine as much as possible, but this time I got three prescriptions along with the usual surprised comment that they hardly ever see anyone these days who isn’t taking some drugs. One worked without any problem, the second I used once and threw out because of a side effect, the third I used sporadically and stopped early because of a side effect.
A few days ago I read about Kris Kristofferson, who I forgot to include in an earlier post about spiritual or seeking musicians I’d listened to long ago (and still do), and his misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s and subsequent decline for a couple years because of the drugs he was given when he really didn’t have Alzheimer’s but Lyme disease. Would have made a good example for the shocked medico as to why I try to avoid prescriptions.
Last time I ignored the meaning of a song and based a post on one line in the song. This time I’m ignoring everything but the title as an inspiration to write about New Orleans so I didn’t even post the link to the irrelevant lyrics. Dylan did record something called Bourbon Street of which I’ve only heard a sample, but apparently it’s (appropriately?) such drunken nonsense that the official site doesn’t even have lyrics for it.
I’m not sure exactly when or why I first became interested in New Orleans—books, movies, or the two main reasons, music and food—but it wasn’t until my brief corporate period that I had the extra money to go, along with the motivation of hating the life I was living. So it was October of 1988 when I made my first visit, flying from Boston although I would have preferred the train if I’d had more time.
I stayed in a fancy old hotel in the French Quarter and like most first-timers spent most of my time in that area—eating oyster po boys, and huge sandwiches from Café Maspero, café au lait and beignets at Café Du Monde, and gumbo at Galatoire’s which I called the most delicious food I’d ever eaten, making several visits to Maison Bourbon to hear Wallace Davenport play trumpet (I later bought a couple of his albums), listening to a saxophonist play by the Mississippi River at 8 AM, drinking a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s after listening to old jazz at Preservation Hall, and visiting the Old Absinthe House. Somewhere there was a waiter who looked like Fats Domino. I was amused by risqué t-shirts about how to eat oysters and crawfish, and by the jive routines of kids hustling on the street. I loved the architecture and still have the photos I took of the old buildings. I did leave the Quarter to go to the zoo, where I saw alligators and flamingos, mostly for the opportunity to take a riverboat one way and a streetcar the other. The weather was perfect, warm but not humid, and I enjoyed the atmosphere of sensuality, feeling free, relaxed, and renewed in what seemed like a different world where I could be someone else.
Like many who fell in love with the city, I considered moving there (two of my favorite musicians moved there from Europe) and checked out the cheap apartment rates and poor job market. I thought of my time there often and expected to at least make regular visits. Almost a year later I was wearing a New Orleans shirt and a woman on the train told me it was her favorite city in the world and that she’d seen a lot of them. A few weeks later, still considering the moving or visiting options, I wrote, “A move, I think, would be my final step for when I’m completely done with the world. I would have to completely indulge myself in the food, drink, music, atmosphere to be able to live there.”
During the 90s, one of my favorite restaurants in Boston was Dixie Kitchen, run by Mary Gauthier, who went on to become an excellent songwriter after selling the restaurant. My usual meal was shrimp creole, greens, and cornbread, but for whatever reasons, that was as close as I got to returning to New Orleans.
Although the city still interested me and I read the Katrina books and listened to New Orleans music, it was more than twenty years later, inspired by a Yellowstone coworker who loved New Orleans, before I returned by train in November 2011. This time I was going primarily to hear music and I stayed at what turned out to be a dumpy hotel close to the clubs of Frenchmen Street. My favorite club there was d.b.a. where I went to a couple $5 shows by favorite local performers who tour internationally. One afternoon I was looking for a place to hear music and went to Margaritaville (which has more pictures of Jimmy Buffett than one should see in a lifetime) and bought a cd from someone new to me after watching him play a set. I bought more local cds at Louisiana Music Factory.
A day at the Po Boy Festival combined music and food. I also had a muffuletta from Central Grocery, and a great meal of catfish, shrimp creole, greens, and yams at Praline Connection. I took a bus to have lunch at Liuzza’s by the Track—gumbo, a garlic oyster po boy, and a bloody mary, then walked a few more blocks to City Park (1300 acres which was flooded for weeks after Katrina) to wander beneath the Spanish moss covered live oaks. Between meals and music, I also visited the aquarium and insectarium, and took a ferry across the river and back.
The people were still interesting—a guy sprawled across the sidewalk happily told me I looked like Jerry (Garcia), and a couple women took to calling me Yellowstone based on the shirt I was wearing when we first talked. But unfortunately I got a bad cold while I was there, and didn’t feel the magic I had on my first trip although I think that had at least as much to do with my age and attitude as the city. Instead of a general feeling of sensuality, I saw a few examples of garish tastelessness this time. On departure day, I decided to walk from the hotel for a last look at the Quarter and bowl of gumbo on the way to the train station. It was so incredibly humid that my last clean shirt was completely soaked by the time I reached the station and in the bathroom I found my cleanest dirty shirt to wear on the trip home.
I didn’t have time to wait another twenty years so I had a visit planned for April 2013 to stay in the hotel I’d used twenty five years earlier and attend the French Quarter Festival (several days of free music on stages all over the Quarter). I also hoped to take a tour of a bayou. But as part of my disastrous last year in Yellowstone, the government shut down the bus company I was going to use to get to my train, just as they would shut down the park itself a few months later, and I had to cancel my vacation. I haven’t thought seriously of returning since, but reading my journals and fact-checking on the internet for this post has made me ache to be there again. I couldn’t afford to live there now because rent has become much more expensive post-Katrina as the powers that be decided that rather than remain a unique city, they’d much rather get rid of as many poor people as possible and make as much money as possible. A vacation trip seems unlikely unless I win the lottery, but maybe I’ll be walking to New Orleans.