Carnival Foolishness

It was the Friday of the second big weekend of Carnival. I stuck to the routine, swimming and Envie in the morning, and then walked up Frenchmen home. I saw a flyer for the 101 Runners late night show at dba and put it on the menu of carnival delights. I ate leftover mofongo in the sunshine of the courtyard, appreciating the good weather.

I took my camera out to Bourbon Street in the afternoon for the Krewe of Cork parade and the Krewe of Ponchatrain pre-party. Bourbon Street was packed, and the nipple glitter girls were out in force. There was a party at the Four Seasons with a bunch of people throwing beads, and the Ponchatrain party was upstairs at Johnny White’s. I walked as far uptown as the Famous Door, where some of the Touro Street Irregulars were supposed to intercept the Krewe of Cork. Jill and Ellen were marching with the Krewe, but I missed all of them. I walked back to Johnnie White’s, photographing the people on the street. Jill the bartender opened the doors for me, and I shot the crowd through the door.

The Ponchatrain party was preceded by the Chalmette High School marching band, and then the Krewe royalty. Everyone was dressed formally, for Carnival anyway, like fancy dresses with neon colored wigs. They filed upstairs and distributed beads for a couple of hours, attracting a big crowd of bead seekers.

Cork paraded right down the street but the crowds made it hard to see all the costumes. A woman broke ranks to walk through the crowd and give me Krewe of Cork beads complete with corks and a medallion. A mule carriage pushed right through the crowd, with the mule maintaining its calm demeanor but looking for direction and reassurance. It would have been a tough tour to lead.

I downloaded some pictures and cooked some king salmon before heading out. Frenchmen Street was quiet, which I did not expect after the insanity on Bourbon Street in the afternoon, and the band that caught my eye at the Brasserie was breaking down their equipment as I walked up. I talked with the Hank was Here crowd for a few minutes, and then went to Buffa’s to chill out for a couple of hours before the 11 o’clock show at dba. I avoided going home, figuring the couch would trap me.

The 101 Runners have June Yamaguchi, one of the best guitar players in the city, Tom Worrell on the piano and organ, the bass player from the Neville Brothers band, and a four piece percussion section with two Neville cousins and a guy from Africa. There are two vocalists from the Wild Magnolias in full regalia. They played the Mardi Gras classics to a small crowd of mixed tourists and locals. The African drummer led a version of Oye Como Va in an African language that allowed June Yamaguchi to stretch out on the guitar. That was a real highlight. I’m glad I was out late, but it made for a slow morning.

Saturday was the day for an Uptown parade. I had a disappointing breakfast at Buffa’s (they ran out of biscuits and gravy) and then costumed in a King Tut headdress and a gold sequin jacket over black, with the only costuming guidance being “gold is the theme”. I Ubered across town, with the usual 15 minute trip taking 40 minutes and getting dropped off a half mile from the meet up spot. The Krewe du Fool was meeting right at the intersection of Napoleon and Tchoupatoulas, along with thirty or forty NOPD officers and every part of every parade that rolled that day.

This was my second Uptown parade experience, and I’ve noticed a pattern. You get lost, spend an half hour or so looking for your group amid horses, floats, dancing girls, marching bands, and all manner of costumed folks, find a bunch of people in roughly the same costume you are in who you don’t really know, mill about drinking for a couple of hours wondering who is in charge of this goat rope, stand in long lines for a bathroom or a beer, and then rush to join the parade when it is your turn. I’m glad that Claiborne had ushered us through the first one a couple of years ago or this might have been overwhelming.

The Krewe du Fool is a marching Krewe based in the Marigny whose main event is the only April Fools Day parade in the city. The Krewe was invited to join the Krewe of Freret music themed parade as a favor to the guest of honor of Freret, Dancingman504, the best known second line dancer in the city who is also the lead dancer for the April Fools parade this year.

The downtown walking krewes are much less formal and organized than the downtown krewes, with a fairly open membership roster(you don’t have to be one of the founding families of New Orleans or pay thousands to ride the big floats). They feature homemade costumes and throws, with some store bought beads and cups, and no specific dances or music. The krewe dresses to a theme, and walks together through the narrow streets of the Marigny, Bywater, and French Quarter accompanied by a band or two, and interacts with people on the street by dancing or handing out throws.

The Krewe du Fool had about two dozen people show up to march. The core group appears to be professional people in their 50s or so, but there was one woman in her 70s who brought a decorated wheelchair and pushed it about half the time and was pushed the other half, and another half a dozen people in their twenties who got to lead the energetic dancing. One guy was dressed as Austin Powers, there was a couple dressed in gold formal wear and monkey hats, a woman in a full length gold gown and gold body paint, me as King Tut with lots of gold glitter, and some assorted Mardi Gras costuming. People brought wagons to carry the throws and beer, and a banner identifying the Krewe.

The Uptown parades feature big marching bands, including the best High School and college bands in the country, big formal two deck parade floats, professionally designed and constructed, pulled by tractors and carrying 50 people each, each person throwing literally thousands of beads or other throws to the crowds lining the streets, military marching groups, hobby groups like horsemen or Jeep customizers, and dancing groups like the Muffalottas or Chorus Girls, all of whom are uniformed and performing a specific set of dance moves to loud recorded music, usually to good effect.

Today there were four of these parades, all following the same route down Napoleon to St. Charles, around Lee Circle, down Canal and into the CBD. We were in the third of the four parades, and got to watch the first two with thirty floats and ten or so marching bands and another dozen dance groups and assorted oddfellows like the Buffalo Soldier horse group. We were the only walking downtown Krewe in any parade all day, and the sight of a couple of dozen people in varied costumes just walking along was perplexing to some. By happenstance, we were slotted in behind the Krewe d’Ritmeaux, a latin dance group also dressed in black and gold, so we got to poach their salsa music to assist in the long march. We danced along for the approximate 8 mile route, wandering into the crowd to hand our throws to people who caught our eye. Most throws are literally thrown, often from the second deck of the big floats, causing a lot of breakage and pleasant chaos, and the smaller kids appreciated having the trinkets put right in their hand. One woman came out of the crowd to say that we were the best group all day because of our interaction with the spectators.

We disbanded near the Casino, and I found four big bags of unused and discarded beads which I picked up and will reuse. I bought and distributed three dozen, along with an equal amount from the Krewe stash over the course of the day, and went home with five dozen for next time. I look forward to joining the Krewe for future events.

I walked across the Quarter in costume, stopping for a break at the Chart Room and a solid bar food burger at Turtle Bay. Turtle Bay is not a gourmet place, but cheap comfort food with friendly staff. The farther I got from the parade route, the more conversations were sparked by the costume, but it was all in a Mardi Gras day.

Sunday was Barkus, the dog parade. It seemed that every dog in the city came out to either parade or spectate at this walking parade through the Quarter. I continue to be impressed by the socialization of the city dogs. They did not seem to flustered by the crowds, people touching them, or, for the most part, other dogs. It is definitely an area of dog training I can improve on. There were a number of brass bands mixed in with the costumed dogs, and a couple of the dancing groups including one of my favorites, the Organ Grinders.

There was a little cognitive dissonance for all parties as the family friendly kid and dog parade crossed Bourbon Street with the nipple glitter girls wearing not a lot of clothing on the street and the hard partiers not understanding why the dogs are dressed up as Star Wars characters. It is an almost psychedelic experience without the need for the chemical assist.

I spent most of this one photographing the people and dogs from the Original Johnny White’s on St. Peter. I saw one perfect border collie along with the more usual New Orleans assortment of mutts, and missed my dogs.

I survived the first weekend of Mardi Gras! The only apparent casualty was being sore from dancing down the street for 20000 steps. Now a breather until the Uptown evening parades start Wednesday and it comes fast and furious until midnight next Tuesday.

Good magic?

Well, she must have been a good witch. After bumping into the scary looking woman at Envie, I had a great New Orleans day. She occupied the bathroom at Envie, so I walked down to Checkpoint Charlies for a beer and bathroom break after coffee and before I continued on my mission for the day. There was a young woman, fashionably dressed in a vertically color blocked jumpsuit, with a shaved head. She was sitting at the bar with perfect, almost feline, posture. She visibly perked up, almost purring, every time someone looked her way, and we talked about Mardi Gras plans. I don’t know what kind of drugs she was on, but they were the happy ones.

I walked through the Marigny by a little different route than usual, up Frenchmen to Chartres, passing the Friendly Bar, Cake, and Cru along the way. I went around the back of the Muses Den and through Architect’s Alley, seeing the woodworkers and artists doing their thing, some making original furniture and others restoring doors and panels. This was the route to one of the first Airbnbs we stayed in as we explored the city, but a little out of my normal routes through the city.

I went into the Muses Costuming Center to get some gold sequined tape. I ordered some white basketball shorts to go along with my white jacket for the Mardi Gras costume, but they will definitively need to be improved with sequins. I avoided the temptation to buy any bigger pieces or more bling than I can put together in a few days, but there were some tempting partial costumes, like multi colored /satin tunics from float riders outfits from years past. The shop was as busy as I have seen it, with three women in there putting material together for costumes, laying out fabric and measuring. It is good time of year to be in New Orleans.

I went into the Mardi Gras Supermarket in the same building, and bought three dozen bead necklaces to give out as I walk on Saturday. I feel like I graduated, buying beads in bulk for the first time. I have not been saving the beads I collected the last few years, but this is a good reason to keep a collection—to reuse them as I become more participatory in the parades.

I went from there to Mimi’s with lunch in mind after seeing the tapas come out of the kitchen a couple of times after having eaten. The chef, Heath, does a “chef’s choice” daily, a non-announced special. He just brings out what he has the best ingredients to cook. Last week I saw steamed mussels, and today he made lamb chop lollipops, small portions of lamb chop still on the bone, over tomato water with smoked pecan salt and fresh garden bitter greens to garnish. They took a while because he was smoking the salt to order. They were a treat, and not what you expect in a dive bar.

I got into a conversation with a guy who lives in a “camp” down by the river and raises exotic animals, like water buffalo and alligators along with more common animals like pigs and horses. He said he has been hunting wild boar from his porch, and had photos of a red tailed hawk that had raided his barn and got injured, so they took care of it and released it. He described himself as a plumber, but showed some pictures of his place which made him look more like a Saudi prince. He talked about his German stein collection and was drinking beer out of a pewter tankard which he said was an old English one. He must be a pretty good plumber. I had to leave when he started expounding on the conspiracy that is holding Donald Trump back, but he was an interesting guy for the most part.

I got a call from the frame shop, and walked into the Quarter. I picked up the framed Cubs “breaking the curse” newspaper article, and stopped at Johnny White’s to get Mardi Gras advice from the bartender there who marches with Nyx and a couple of other krewes. From there, I went to Harry’s and talked with Tom Roby, the chef from Tujague’s, for a bit. Apparently they are having to rebuild the electrical system entirely at the new building, so the move has been put off until August. Good news for those of us in the lower Quarter.

I went to the Tayho for mofongo, which I watched Lauren prepare with a mortar and pestle from plantains, and it was topped with ropa vieja, a slow cooked pork specialty. So far, Tayho has an excellent burger, great mofongo when you are in the mood, and they specialize in a shrimp po-boy which I will have to try next time. It is excellent bar food.

I stopped home to drop off and hang the new art, and then went to dba to listen to Jon Cleary play solo piano for a set. He was warming up for Mardi Gras, playing some of the classics and hitting the boogie woogie piano hard.

If this was a cursed day, I’ll take it.

King Cake and other Mysteries

I sat next to some tourists Tuesday morning at Envie, which is not unusual in itself, but one of the women was loud, as only New Jersey or Long islanders can be loud, and had clearly read the guidebook. She laid out the day’s activities to her friends, explaining why the sites to see were important using some very arguable facts(like Bourbon Street was named after the whiskey sold there), and as she walked out she exclaimed: “What the hell is this king cake they all talk about? I haven’t seen one anywhere.” It is always good to run into an expert.

It was another warm day, and I walked to the framing shop in the Quarter, enjoying the heat of the day. Town is definitely taking a pause before the weekend that includes the Krewe of Cork, the first mechanized parades Uptown, and Barkus, the pet parade through the Quarter. I spent an hour in Mollie’s, and was asked by Boog to review a piece of comedy routine he was writing. I was a little out of my depth, but it was fun to see the writing process. I can barely remember jokes and hadn’t really considered the effort that goes into a comedy routine.

After a simple dinner in the courtyard, I headed out towards Frenchmen Street and ran into the Roots of Music kids marching on Pauger at Burgundy. They were headed into the Treme, and I peeled off. As I approached the R bar it started to sprinkle,and I ducked under the awning in time for it to pour. It was raining so hard that it bounced head high off the pavement. I felt bad for the marching band far from shelter. I’ll bet those kids got soaked. It rained hard for an hour or so, and I stayed at the R bar until the storm was well past. A woman named Heidi pulled up with a taco truck and cooked some excellent street tacos. I split an order of shredded beef tacos with Michael Wilder. They were excellent, letting the meat flavor carry without overspicing, and the tortillas were fresh and handmade. The chicken ones looked and smelled good as well. These were better than the much more expensive ones I had at Three Muses earlier in the week. I missed the music on Frenchmen, but it was not a bad place to wait out the rain.

I walked across to the Rouse’s after coffee the next morning, buying some greens and a baguette. I walked back down Royal Street, and a man in his 20s with a heavy French accent ran after me and grabbed my arm, asking where he could get bread. My directions were going over his head, so I walked back a block with him to show him the little bread cubbie in the grocery store. That was one happy man. I should have asked for a tip.

After a good lunch of salad and smoked fish in the courtyard in the sun, I walked into the Quarter again to pick up a package at the mail drop and had a Happy Hour Floridita daiquiri at Manolito as I dodged rain showers. Heather was throwing a 17th birthday party for her dog Radar, and had cooked clam chowder and biscuits for the R bar crowd. I had some of her chowder and called it an early night.

I contacted the Krewe du Fool, and was invited to walk in a big Uptown parade, Freret, with Trombone Shorty as the honored guest, down St. Charles from Napoleon to the CBD. The guy seemed cool on the phone, and their main event is a walking parade through the Marigny on April Fools Day, right before I leave New Orleans. The Krewe is low key and low cost, and based in my neighborhood. It is a little uncomfortable just joining a group of strangers for a day of acting foolish in public, but pushing boundaries may just be why I am here.

https://krewedufool.com

I walked into Envie to find a woman dressed in full fortune teller garb, dirty from head to toe, reading a “psychic journey through science” book, and droning. They were clearly words, perhaps imaginary or perhaps in a language I don’t recognize, and she stared at me as she droned. She had bones and crystals on the table in front of her which she was rearranging, and occasionally jammed a geode fragment into her neck. I’m absolutely sure she is the real deal, either completely crazy or in touch with some other plane of existence. Either way, she would have been burned at the stake a couple of hundred years ago. I’m not particularly superstitious, but did sneak as I took her photograph. I don’t need a curse.

Walking Carnival Parades

The National Geographic article I was interviewed for in August was published on line this weekend. They used one of the photographs of me as their lead photo, and quoted me as much as anyone else in the article. They made me look good in both the photo and the quotes, as when you are on the record for six or eight hours you are bound to say something stupid. I’m not sure if it is just an online thing or if the article will be in the print magazine. I think of Sam Gray being featured in his youth in National Geographic for his epic raft trip, and reflect that it is fun to be one of the interesting people. And I didn’t even have to show them my tribal markings.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/02/new-way-to-profit-from-ancient-alaskan-forests-leave-them-standing/

It was the first multi-parade weekend of the season, with walking parades through the Marigny and lower Quarter kicking it off. Friday it was Krewe Boheme rolling down Royal from the Bywater into the Quarter. Krewe Boheme is a new Krewe, in its second year, and is themed around absinthe and the 1920s decadence. Tank of Tank and the Bangas was in the lead float. I stopped by the R bar early, dressed in green with a green fedora in honor of the absinthe theme, and received a couple of generous pours which set the rather out of control tone for the evening. Michael Imperioli, a TV actor, was on the street at the R bar attracting fans. Jill was hosting an open house, so I busted over to the Touro Street side. There were fabulous dancers and gymnasts on some of the floats, and good music.

Krewe du Vieux and Krewe de Illusion were on Saturday night with the Touro Street irregulars holding parties at four houses on the street. I brought my camera out for this one, and got some interesting shots in the challenging light. I dressed in tie dye from POW and a jester hat with bells, fulfilling the New Orleans doctrine to be part of the show, and encouraged others the dress up. There were some good looks from the spectators as well as the participants. I love these walking parades because the lines are blurred-everyone is having a good time, many people are in some degree of costume, and it is all about the experience for the evening. Cecile was a featured part of Krewe du Vieux, and was in serious costume as one of the handmaidens to the Queen. I missed her float in the craziness, but saw her later at the after party at her house.

Sunday was one of my favorite parades, ‘tit Rex, which features shoebox size floats towed and escorted by people in formal wear and rolls through the narrow streets of the Marigny, this year with four excellent marching bands. The headline band was Panorama who were playing brass band music with clarinet solos(?) and making it work. There was a mostly female band featuring an accordion as well. The parade moves slowly, and is notable for attracting families with small kids. They are fascinated by the toy-size floats and the music, and unusually for this era of paranoia are encouraged to interact with strangers also fascinated by the floats and music. It also kicks off in the late afternoon, making photography more fun.

I followed the parade to Mimi’s and then took my camera home to download pictures. I went to Three Muses to hear a little music from Raphael et Pascale, just a couple of songs at the end of their set, and the Clementines, playing virtuoso music of the 1920s. I tried perhaps my new favorite drink, the Goth Girlfriend, which is on the menu as dark Basil Hayden rye, stone fruit, and aromatics, served neat with an orange peel. Pretty vague, but I may have to go back when the bartender is not to busy and get a class. Sunday was the Rock and Roll Marathon, so the crowd on Frenchmen was a little different than the usual cruise ship crowd, a little younger and the mean BMI on the street dropped 5 points overnight.

Monday the temperatures were up in the high 70s and it was humid. After a walk to the Rouse’s in the Quarter for ingredients, I stopped at Mollie’s for a Guinness and a chat with Boog, and then home to cook some pasta and red gravy with sausage, squash, and peppers. As I was working on this rather elaborate meal for one guy with the door open because the kitchen was getting warm, I heard brass band music from the street. I went out to the front of the building to see the Roots of Music brass band on the street. They are elementary and middle school kids from the 7th and 9th wards who practice year round after school with professional musicians and teachers and who parade in a couple of the Mardi Gras parades. This was their dress rehearsal, and fun to see and hear.

It stayed hot without a rainstorm overnight, and I walked to the pool past Buffa’s which was being converted into a movie or TV set. Both my neighborhood bars, Buffa’s and the R bar, are used as sets for at least NCIS New Orleans, and probably other feature films. I just like living here.

Lots more photos at https://bobclaus.myportfolio.com/work

Uptown

After a good morning on a hot(for February) day, I went up to Magazine and Napoleon to look at the costume shops and see a different part of town. I went into Uptown Costume and Dance, shopping there for the first time. It is a little overwhelming, with racks and racks of ready to go costumes and costume pieces. They have a big selection of masks and accessories—if i decide I am in need of a rubber sword to add to the pirate ensemble, this is the place. They carry a full line of the show wear jackets that Roadkill features, at similar pricing. Inspiration failed to strike, but the shop is definitely a good resource.

I went into Peaches, a great record store that has flipped back almost entirely to vinyl. As I don’t have a way to play cds or vinyl anymore, it was mostly a tourist visit to the old Woolworth lunch counter installed in the store. I continued down Magazine, stopping in the costume and thrift stores that are unevenly distributed among the high end boutiques along the way. In one of the smaller ones, I found a white military costume jacket with gold trim that will complement the pith helmet for Pythonesque outfits for one of the upcoming parade party days. Nothing else jumped out as essential in the other junk shops.

I stopped at The Vintage, an upscale coffee/pastry place with a full bar. It has essentially the same menu as Envie, with a little more emphasis on baking(beignets, king cake) and craft cocktails. it probably won’t be my favorite place on the street, but perhaps a place to go if someone is jonesing for a super fancy donut and a place to sit across the street from the Rum House.

I once again walked past Tracey’s to get to Parasol’s. It is a good thing to have two great comfortable bars with excellent food on the same block. Jena’s house was all decorated up with Mardi Gras banners across the street, and they were putting up a roof over the sidewalk at Parasol’s. It will change the whole look of the block, actually making the building look more traditional with a way to get out of the sun. The people at the bar were tourists, pleasant enough, and I had a perfect firecracker shrimp po-boy. Another tough decision—the best roast beef po-boy in the city or the best hot shrimp po-boy? I guess I’ll have to come back.

I walk most mornings through the corner of the Treme to get to the pool, and as I walk down Treme street it seems like a black cat is always on the street in the middle of one of the blocks. I assumed that I was on the same schedule as the cat, and we just ran into each other. This morning, the sun was out warming the fence in the courtyard of the house right there, and there were six black cats, all about the same size sunning themselves, and four more cats of different colors hanging out. Was it the same black cat?

The ebb and flow of the Carnival season continues to amuse. Tuesday was quiet in town, and I spent an hour in Mollie’s talking to Boug and his friend Cassie, another bartender who works the summer season in Maine and the winter in New Orleans. I went to the R bar to find a private crawfish boil going on for an elevator mechanic’s union with a smattering of locals, and was pleasantly surprised to be invited to drink a shot with Jackie the bartender. It is good to have friends in high places, and the bartender at the R bar during Mardi Gras is a position of power.

Wednesday was probably the mellowest day I have spent in New Orleans. I made it to the pool, and just after I got home it turned into a thunderstormy and rainy day. It hailed and did the tropical rain thing, pouring for ten minutes at a time and then slacking off enough to make you think you could go out in it without drowning, and then pouring again like someone put a firehose on the door, while the temperature actually rose to about 75 degrees. I baked some white king salmon and steamed some vegetables rather than going out, and put a dent in my reading pile. I organized the costume closet, discovering that I have a lot of options for the season so long as I mix and match and sacrifice all dignity. I’m probably up to the task.

Thursday was the first day I missed the pool in a while. I was awakened by close thunderstorms around 6, and it was still storming when it was time to walk to the pool. It had cooled down to about 50 degrees, so just being wet on the walk across was not an appealing option, and the lightning was a little spooky. The rain ended around 9, and it is good to be able to get out for coffee. You know you are in the Carnival spirit when two Orthodox priests walk into the Cafe Envie and you think “great costumes”.

I walked across the Quarter to Crescent City Books, the used bookstore, and stopped at Jumani on Chartres near Canal for lunch. It had been recommended by a guy at the Chart Room who looked like he enjoyed his food. Jumani is a bright small space with lots of televisions and a small galley kitchen visible from the bar. It has a good menu of burgers, Chicago style hot dogs, and po-boys, with an emphasis on barbecue pork ribs and sandwiches. I ordered gumbo in honor of the cold day, and it hit the spot. It was cheap for that part of the Quarter, and a good spot to keep in mind for 24 hour food on that side of town. The menu reminded me of Buffa’s, simple and a little quirky, but comfortable when you aren’t interested in fine dining and have bypassed the fast food joints.

The bookstore was interesting as always, and I passed on a 1950s anthropological text about Haida totems I had not seen before. It was a little expensive, $65, but had good photographs and transcribed stories. It I may go back to get it to donate to one of the tribes or carvers despite the jarring perspective of 1950s academia. I found a history of Katrina that I don’t recall reading, but it seems like something I should have read. I’ll probably get about a third through it before I recognize it.

I wandered back through the Quarter, stopping at Johnnie White’s and Mollie’s, and ending up talking with Jim the tour guide at the R bar. Seker invited me over to help him cook as he prepared meatballs for the Krewe d’Vieux party he is throwing. I sautéed a bunch of vegetables and helped him prep. It was a fun way to end an evening.

The weekend will be a full one, with parades and parties every day. I’m thinking about whether to bring a camera or just enjoy the flow of events. It is fun to be in town for the whole season this year.

Carnival is on!

Friday was another slow day in the Quarter, and after a stop at Harry’s and a good conversation with Tom Roby I went over to Molly’s. It was a little more crowded, but it was one large group of cruise shippers from New Jersey. I escaped to the Tayho Tavern, a place that had been on my list for a while. It is a divey looking spot on Decatur and Governor Nicholls, and has prominent signage that promotes dog rescue. I think I had avoided it in the past because I thought it was a pet store, or I had it conflated with the dog accessory store just down the block. As I walked in to the almost empty restaurant, I was greeted by Lauren, Cecile’s friend, who works there as a waitress. I recognized most of the people who work there from the R bar which made for a comfortable experience. They were doing a Happy Hour $5 shot and a beer, good for the Quarter. The menu is interesting for New Orleans, with Wagyu beef burgers highlighted, along with some interesting gumbos. The house burger has a fried egg on top, and is served with fries cooked in duck fat. They also had a couple of versions of mofongo, including a vegan one, and several dishes with slow cooked pork. I had a burger with an egg, and it was a good as suggested. The best burger in town? Maybe. It was certainly the best I’ve had in a while. A place to put on the “go back to” list.

Saturday was a whole different story. You could have gone bowling on Bourbon Street on Thursday, and today the streets were packed with people and cars. It was like someone turned on the Carnival faucet. The traffic patterns were disrupted for the evening parade and cars were directed into the Quarter, causing a minor gridlock. It seemed like there were a bunch of people pre-gaming Chewbacchus, but not yet in costume, and perhaps one or two more cruise ships than usual. The streets, out into the Marigny, were full of people. I saw Beverly riding her bike in full Mardi Gras costume on her way to work, and didn’t recognize her until she called me out. I took a walk to enjoy the change of pace, and stopped at the Crescent City Brewpub on Decatur for a lunch of oysters. The place is kind of a Disneyfied version of a brewpub/oyster bar with a jazz quintet playing and no one there had come for the music. It is decorated with Simon signs, and is big, clean and efficient, but missing the grunge that screams New Orleans authenticity. I hope that when Tujague’s moves across the the Quarter soon it does not go this far. That all said, a freshly shucked half dozen oysters and a tall Pilsner while listening to decent music and watching the hordes negotiate the narrow sidewalk makes for a good lunch. Bright and clean may not be a bad thing entirely when eating raw oysters.

I got dressed to go out to Chewbacchus, deciding on a Sith Lord costume. Darth Bob? Head to toe black, with a tuxedo cummerbund and a flowing floor length cape with a hood. No makeup this time, letting the bald head and mustache do the work. I headed out, stopping at the R bar. The bartender Jackie, a beautiful woman who often wears cropped t-shirts and shorts to show off her tattoos at work, was in costume, a body suit that consisted of one inch wide straps, a thong, and black electrical tape over her nipples so nobody would get arrested. Carnival is on!

The parade route was from Dauphine in the Marigny down Frenchmen and up Decatur and points further uptown. Frenchmen was like a funnel, with barricades on both sides, and people packed on the sidewalks. I walked up behind a family with a 12 year old boy, who saw me in full Darth Bob mode, and said “holy fucking shit”, which earned him a quick slap from his mom. It’s good to know when a costume works. I mingled with the crowd, taking lots of photographs, mostly of the spectators, as I worked my way down Frenchmen to Checkpoint Charlie’s and then on to Lower Decatur in front of Mollie’s. I didn’t get close enough to get any throws, but throws are not the focus of the walking parades. It was a good start to the season, and next weekend has three parades through the neighborhood, including Krewe d’vieux. It’s a marathon…

The Sunday crowd was a little lighter and more subdued as people got ready for the Super Bowl. It was a beautiful sunny day, pushing 80 degrees, and a good day for a walk through the Quarter. I was mentally fatigued, almost hung over, from the big crowds, late night,and sensory overload. I made some salmon dip and jerked a piece of coho for the grill and took it over to Ellen’s porch. We watched the game and grilled steak and fish. No one was following the game closely, and I was able to have a good conversation with Jill about Mardi Gras. She is a member of Cork, which has optional monthly meetings with excellent meals at some of the best restaurants in town with lots of wine, several costuming and throw meetings, and an all day party the day of the parade through the Quarter, ending at their ball. I like it because it is a daylight parade which makes photography a little easier. She also has specific spots, friends who host parties at their houses along the routes, to view the most fun uptown parades. I’m hoping she remembers she invited me along.

Chewbacchus Week

Monday was a good day, with a stop at Mollies on the way home from the Walgreens, and a successful cooking experiment. I used the communal grill in the courtyard for the first time to cook a hunk of salmon and discovered it does not get very hot. The thermometer only got to 250 or so, and I had to finish it in the oven. It was good to cook a little bit.

I spent some time cleaning up the pith helmet in preparation for Mardi Gras. It is considerably whiter, and now I need an appropriate plume to top it off. I’m thinking a military style jacket or something underneath, but that will require some shopping. In the meantime, the parades start this weekend with Chewbacchus, the Star Wars/science fiction themed parade, and I am deciding whether to dress for it or just photograph. The general rule of not being able to overdress in New Orleans may apply. I can probably rustle up a decent Senator/Emperor Palpatine from the costume closet, but a Sith Lord or Jedi would require a few more parts.

I went to dba to see Gal Holiday, who is a well reviewed country rocker who covers Hank Williams, John Prine, and Johnny Cash along with originals in the same style. She rarely plays Frenchmen Street, but many of the regulars, including John Boutte who has the Monday night early slot at dba, are touring leading up to Mardi Gras. It was a fun show, with a different feel than the usual jazz or brass band music I seek out.

The next day was bright and sunny, and I took a walk with my camera through the Quarter, seeing the Mardi Gras decorations starting to come out and some street musicians along Bourbon. I walked the length of Bourbon to Canal, with light tourist traffic. I stopped at the Chart Room, and met a photographer there who had kind things to say about my photo site, and suggested a commercial outlet. He does landscape photography in Colorado, and sells to hotel chains and such to outfit rooms with affordable art. I’m not sure that is the way to go, but it was a nice compliment anyway. I continued on, stopping at Molly’s and walking Frenchmen

Street in the late afternoon light. It was a good photo walk.

After dinner I went out to dba for a short set from Dinosaurchestra, and met Seker at the R bar for a little bit. He was chatting up a couple from Canada as they played pool. They were fun, but I know better than to try to drink with Canadians unless you are ready for it, and called it an early night.

I did some photo editing at Envie and decide to split my grocery list between the Rouses on Royal and the Robert’s to work in a walk through the Quarter and the Marigny. Carrying a grocery bag provides a certain immunity from the street hustle but allows for reasonable people watching, even on a slow day for the party crowd.

The walk through the Marigny was more fun, with a stop at the Costume Center for inspiration. I bought a white ostrich plume to top off the pith helmet, which now works well. I just have to figure out the rest of the outfit. I have seen some high school band uniforms in the second hand stores, but will keep looking. Costuming is kicking into high gear all around town.

I stopped at Mimi’s on the way to the grocery store, and met Mimi, a mid 50s hipster who owns the place. Mimi’s did not disappoint, as the beautiful tattooed and facially pierced bartender was joined by her boyfriend, a guy covered in hand-poked tattoos, wearing John Lennon round wire glasses, an “Anal Cunts” band t-shirt, and bright green short dreads. Definitely street wear, but he could hop right up on the Star Wars bar float at the parade and have the best look there. Mimi’s boyfriend, a 60-something guy with shoulder length wavy and professionally maintained hair, shorts, birkenstocks, and a corduroy sport coat with exaggeratedly thick ridges, gave the alien a California greeting-the hug and “oh my god, its so good to meet you” with dead eyes. The cruise shippers definitely don’t get out this far into the neighborhood.

As I walked St. Claude towards home, I appreciated the embarrassment of riches, passing by half a dozen good or at least interesting restaurants that have been well reviewed or recommended by friends, including a pasta place, a charcuterie, two Vietnamese modern restaurants, the St. Roch Market with its food stalls, and the ones I have tried, like Em Trai and the NY Slice place. I also walked by the Hi-Ho, the Carnaval Lounge, Kajun’s Pub, and the Allways Lounge, all live music or performance venues. What a good neighborhood.

I ran around town costuming, settling on a pair of motorcycle boots and a toy pistol to complement the pirate costume. I looked at sashes in the costume stores and decided to go with an old bedsheet. It won’t be Pirates of the Caribbean movie set ready, but plenty good enough for a walk up Bourbon Street in the dark. I can add pieces and parts as time goes on.

I walked by Washington Square Park and met a painter there, Wayne, who paints his impressions of old jazz clubs, like Big Percy’s and the Ebony Lounge, in large format oils. He claimed to have played in the Negro Leagues, and had a painting of a man in a baseball uniform from that era. I’m intrigued, but we didn’t talk price.

I went to Manolito for a daiquiri, and a conversation with the staff. It was a super slow night, and the bartender had been assaulted by a couple of guys in a Mustang as she rode her bike along St. Claude. The car edged her off the road into the curb, and one of them pointed a gun at her demanding her purse. She is tall, and was able to straddle her bike and get it up on the sidewalks and get away, but was still shaky and scared. The same guys made the paper in the morning, similarly going after several bicyclists that afternoon. Big city stuff, I guess.

I had a catfish po-boy at Bamboula’s, a really good piece of fried fish, and listened to a set of 1920s-30s style jazz in an almost empty room at the dinner hour. Many days I cannot find a place to sit on Frenchmen Street at that time of night, so this was a bonus. Seker texted that he was playing pool at the R bar, so I headed that way. I noticed a trio of acoustic guitar players, an unusual group, at the Marigny Brasserie and an empty seat at the bar. I sat for a few songs, and the group, a white hipsterish guy, a young black woman in a t-shirt, and a younger white woman in more typical alt-country costume, was very good, between them covering the full vocal range and providing good harmonies for their original songs. Serendipity strikes again for finding good music.

I had been there for a few songs when an obviously drunk guy dressed in business clothes, a vest and shirt and tie, came up to the bar and ordered food to go, declining to see a menu but giving specific directions to the bartender. He said he was drinking across the street, but ordered a martini and insisted on buying me a drink. He pitched in on singing harmony with the band, showing off a gospel voice and energizing the group, who were performing well for the ten people in the room. I got the full-on “You’re a very attractive man…” spiel, at a least three times as he did not remember running the same lines over and over. A compliment, I guess, but also a quick escape with a go-cup. And the weekend hasn’t started yet.