There's music everywhere here. On any given street corner in the French Quarter there could be a band playing -- with dented up instruments and announced by cardboard sign -- that'll blow your socks off. They're playing for change and they have a box full of home-burned CDs enscribed in sharpee and wrapped up in binder paper. Then you go into the clubs on Frenchmen Street and your world gets rocked again. Everywhere you turn, jazz, brass, and blues.
Most the street performers here are musicians, but not all. There is a string of palm and tarot readers set up, in a curious geographical juxtaposition, across from the entrance to Saint Louis Cathedral, and the perimeter of Jackson Square is lined with artists, propping canvases up against the wrought-iron fence. One night on Frenchmen Street, we came across three poets sitting behind old-school typewriters. I approached one.
"How much does your work cost?"
He shrugged. "Whatever you think it's worth."
"Then, speak to me of travel."
He talked to me for a few minutes about who I am, and where I come from, and how I found myself travelling, then turned to his typewriter. In perhaps five minutes he produced a poem, with no correcto-tape or regrets, and read it out to me on the streets of New Orleans. Improvisational poetry. I love it.
The funny thing about Louisiana swamps is that they look exactly like I expected them to. You see this sort of thing in movies and whatnot (yeah, alright, the California girl doesn't get out much) and generally speaking, when you're then confronted with real life, it's nothing of the sort. Not this time. They looked and smelled just as I expected them to somehow, eerily beautiful in their own way, and complete with alligators and spanish moss and whole nine yards. Except for the pigs, I guess. I was not expecting pigs.
Good lord, the food... I was only there for three days and I ate my way through every one of them. Gumbo and jambalaya and crawfish étouffée. Red beans and rice, grits, alligator sausage. Coffee and beignets at Café du Monde. Crawfish on everything from omelettes to noodles. This one night I had this shrimp and crawfish pasta dish that, and I swear I'm not exagerating, was probably the best damned thing I have ever put in my mouth in my whole life, and maybe ever will. They don't do cookies in New Orleans. They do pralines. All over town, little places are open late selling these chewy sticky things that melt in your mouth and stick to your teeth at the same time. We came home with cookbooks, and alligator sausage shoved into the carry-on, and possibly a slightly tighter waistband.
New Orleans is apparently not really a beer town. They do daiquiris, and hurricanes, and shots of [fill in the blank], but I'm at least fifteen years too smart for that kind of thing. I do like to try whatever the local brewery offers when I travel. I need to remember though, that as a wise teacher of mine often said, when you leave California, you're not in California anymore. I ordered an IPA and thought, "Oh, this is adorable. There are no hops in it. But it's very cute." And another thing that surprises the California girl? When you go to close out your tab and bartender says, "You want to add on a beer to go, baby?" To go????
I loved New Orleans. We did not have enough time there. That's okay, though, because I'm going back. I'm going to have to. I never got to try crawfish pie.
Post-script: a letter to my grandfather
When I got home from my trip and sat down to write this post, I put on some appropriate music in the background, and when Billie started singing "Do You Know What it Means", I suddenly missed you so much my chest ached from it. I miss you all the time, and I would have loved to talk with you about this trip and the music I heard. What's posted above is my half of the conversation. Here's hoping it finds you, and that someday, long off in the future, we can talk about it together.
-The Lemon Kid