Second Line Sunday

I tried to mellow out over the weekend by walking the Quarter and Marigny with my camera, perhaps not the best tattoo recovery plan, but enjoyable and I can pretend the extra steps constitute exercise. The weather was perfect, pushing 80 but not too hard.

On Saturday, I did a double loop, catching the morning quiet on Bourbon Street as I walked to Mary’s for pieces and parts and through the upper Quarter Christmas and grocery shopping at Rouses. I camped out for a bit at Jackson Square, and ran into a wedding second line, with half the band playing off the balcony at Tableau, and the other on the street. I’m guessing these folks, celebrating at the Petit Theatre, had a little pull in town because they blocked St. Peter for at least a half hour, backing up traffic on Chartres all the way to Canal. Tourists who pay for a second line don’t get that kind of deference from the police.

I walked my groceries home, and took a short break before heading out again, this time with a mission to visit Meyer the Hatter and Courtney at the Little Bar, even though it meant crossing over into the American Sector. I am still a little confused about how the streets work, changing names and running off at oblique angles after you cross Canal, so I walked Bourbon Street from Lafitte’s to Canal, where it changes into St. Charles. I stopped at Johnnie White’s and visited with a laid off reporter from the Philadelphia Enquirer who was in town working on a freed lance story about the art world. An interesting fella, with the look of desperation I see in a lot of people my age who did not win the pension lottery. 35 years in journalism, starting just out of college, with a solid career, and then no more, not enough in the 401k and no health insurance, and no plan or sense that there is any opportunity even given a formidable set of skills.

I continued on to take photos of the Christmas decorations inside the Royal Sonesta, and saw a group of women in designer clothes, with perfect makeup and hair, wearing light-up Christmas bulbs they had bought from a street vendor. Upper Bourbon on a Saturday afternoon was crowded, and both too crazy and not crazy enough to be pleasant. I got across Canal, and went to the hat store, a Southern institution. The elder Meyers were in the shop, and it is one of those few remaining places where the inventory is huge and invisible without help. I shopped next to a man who seemed vaguely familiar who was shopping for a pork pie hat, and who I later found out was the actor who played Clay Phillips in the Wire. I bought an upscale Saints hat, a Stetson flat cap with a fleur-de-lis embroidered in the back. A suitable substitute for a ball cap in the city.

I went over to the Little Bar to see Courtney for the first time since I got back. She is doing great, recently engaged and apparently a lot happier and more together than I have ever seen her. From there, I wandered back into my orb, stopping at the Chart Room and seeing Chris the neighbor and Tracy at the bar, and having a good conversation with a much richer denizen of the Quarter who was interested in Alaska stories.

I had a nice sandwich an a drink at Manolito. It is a funky place, and I arrived to find the bar empty except for the 5 staff. I was feeling guilty, and too much the object of attention, when two small groups came in and immediately filled the place.

Sunday I walked to the sound of a brass band, intercepting a second line on St. Claude near Elysian Fields and following for a bit into the Marigny. This was a 9th Ward group, and there were a few of the hard boys from the neighborhood trying to look cool along with the families dancing and having fun. The bikers were out, a different kind of bike culture, with a number of the three wheel slingshot type bikes, customized to the hilt, and a group of “9th Ward Riders” wearing leather vests and riding small, almost toy looking Japanese bikes. They didn’t look like outlaws, but they were riding security on the parade like Angels do on Klan rallies.

I walked through the Bywater and along the river, enjoying the afternoon, and ended with a burger at Turtle Bay, watching a little of the football game. Lower Decatur was crowded with the cruise ship demographic, jostling to find the best t-shirt shop. A good mellow weekend.

All over but the shouting

It was a cold morning but I took the walk along the river to shop at Canal Place. A 15 minute walk from the new bohemia to the mall in America. After finding what I was looking for, I stopped at Mollies to work on photos for a bit, but instead got into a conversation with the bartender and a musician friend of his who had just returned from a Texas tour. The afternoon was filled with errands, picking up packages and making groceries.

I went to the Marigny Brasserie for a set of music from a pair of women harmonizing with a bass and drum set, apparently all originals. It seemed almost experimental rather than meant to be entertaining. I ate some portobello truffle mac and cheese, which hit the spot on a cool night. I sat next to a woman in her 70s who was wearing a leopard fur and was dripping in diamond tennis bracelets drinking martinis. She did not quite know what to make of the music, and I couldn’t offer any assistance.

The Touro/Royal/Kerlerec section was placarded for a TV shoot, NCIS New Orleans, and Frenchmen Street was full of film equipment and people. I suppose I should watch an episode to see what the neighborhood looks like on TV. DBA was closed for the evening and was all lit for the production. People were in and out of the other clubs, but it was an odd experience to have half the street taken up with generators, lighting, cables, and the food buffet, and the other half with the Young Fellaz brass band doing their thing. Quiet on the set?

Cecile was a little perturbed that she was not allowed to park in front of her house, and was ordered off her own front porch by the movie crews. I think she was more upset by the attitude of entitlement from the film staff—we’ve got a permit so we can take over your neighborhood for a day—than by the inconvenience. Manners are important.

I weaved my way through the film crews and equipment and ended up at Three Muses because I saw a bass player, a Japanese guy who plays with a number of traditional jazz bands I like, dragging his upright bass into the club. I will have to pay closer attention to his name the next time. I had another great cocktail at the bar, this time a riff on an old fashioned with good bourbon, honey, herbs, and orange. The bar setup is interesting because the “secret ingredients” are prepped beforehand and put in small bottles, labeled by drink. It takes some of the fun out of it because you can’t quite see what the bartender is up to, but the results are good. The music was good traditional jazz, with a clarinet lead and a violin to go with the bass and drum kit.

I ended up at the R-bar, where I met the Hank was Here crowd and Seker playing pool. It was good to see Chris after a week or so, and we made plans for the Saints game on Monday.

I had a deliberately mellow day, thinking about a long tattoo day to come. I cleaned the condo, moving the furniture and finding no nasty surprises, polishing furniture and the like. I started planning the holiday eating schedule, reminding myself of the restaurants I have been wanting to visit. There is no shortage of good food in the city. I read a couple of books, and had a good piece of redfish at Buffa’s. The fog came in overnight, and the foghorns from the ships on the river woke me as an unusual sound until I figured out what they were.

Tattooing is all over but the shouting, if shouting means healing and highlighting. I had another good bahn mi at Em Trai, this time smoked pulled pork. It was excellent, but perhaps I just like bahn mi. It is good to eat before a tattoo. This was a hard session, but I am done with long ones, with a highlight/detail hour or so to come after Mardi Gras. I am excited to have this heal and be done with this project. I’ll try to respect the healing and have a mellow weekend. On to Christmas!

The Geek Squad

The cutlassing of the banana trees went well, and I filled three garbage cans with the two big trees. I left a little stump and a couple of smaller shoots, and I’m hoping they re-root and grow. The garden furniture appeared to survive the ordeal. Still in a horticultural mood after the big gardening project, I walked up to the Robert’s and bought a rosemary plant shaped like a Christmas tree. The mustache jewelry from the costume bag made for good ornaments. I’m not quite ready for the Santa hat, but maybe another week or so.

I took a long walk through the Quarter, and as I turned on to Royal Street at Dumaine I saw a walking parade with a brass band and a number of walkers from different krewes. I saw the Zulu Tramps in full regalia and several others I did not recognize. There was a producer-looking guy running up and down the street herding people, but I did not see the cameras. The marchers turned up St. Peter’s towards Bourbon, but I continued on. I walked a little further than usual and sat with three conventioneers at the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon. They tried absinthe for the first time, and complained that it was not as smooth as Bud Light.

I walked back to Molly’s for a Guinness, and then on to Harry’s Corner. There were a couple of women from New York celebrating a birthday, and they quickly incorporated me into their rather ribald conversation. They had hired a guy to take them on a pub crawl, and he had taken them to the R-bar, Harry’s, and the Abbey was the next stop. I didn’t know that tour existed. They live in the city, but observed that the whole drinking on the street thing changed the picture and turned the town into a party.

I walked Frenchmen in search of a set of music and a sandwich, and found the Swinging Gypsies tuning up for their first set at Bamboula’s. I had a fried oyster Po-boy, one of the good ones. There was another tour guide, this time with an older couple and a shirt that said “Best Day Ever”. I’m guessing he is on the higher end, and the concierge-style tour would appeal to a lot of folks I know.

I went up to Buffa’s to listen to Antoine Diel, a singer accompanied by a pianist. He has a great voice, and was taking requests from the 70-something crowd who were interested in Sinatra and the 1950s songbook. It was a nice mellow end to the evening and a good New Orleans day.

Another disorienting day in New Orleans as I walked out my door to an 80 degree sunny morning in the courtyard, walked to the coffee shop, and when I walked out of Envie it was 60 degrees and windy. It felt cold, although I am sure my Alaskan friends would beg to differ.

I walked up Decatur to Canal, and back along Royal, stopping in the M.S. Rau gallery on the way. I saw only a part of the collection, spread over three floors. it is the first time I have been in a museum quality gallery, with lesser works from some of the masters like Picasso and Monet with price tags attached. The prices ranged from new car to house to lifetime income, with the small Picasso from the blue period topping the list at $2.5M. They displayed an interesting selection of furniture like an Italian strongbox with an elaborate locking mechanism, and a mechanically expanding round table with pie-shaped leaves to insert. I enjoyed the nautical large scale paintings of naval battles and sailing races. I try to imagine the person’s life who would walk in and actually shop in a place like this rather than just gawk. “I’ll take the matching Roman busts for $3M. Can you deliver?”

The highlight of the day was the pirated showing of The Mandolorian at Buffa’s. Huggy the bartender played all five episodes of the new Star Wars tv show to an enthusiastic group of adults at the bar, all cheering for “baby Yoda” to survive the explosions and gunfighting. One of the couples watching the show was decked out head to toe in Saints gear, including a Saints Santa hat worn by the man in his 60s with a full white Santa beard. He was a retired Air Force officer and forester who had gone to grad school at the University of Illinois in the late 70s. The Geek Squad will reconvene next Tuesday for Episode 6, same bat time, same bat channel.

Football and…

It was a big football weekend, with college football conference championships and the Saints/49ers. The LSU/Georgia game meant a big party on Touro Street, made more interesting by folks traveling in from Lafayette for the Saints game. There always seem to be decisions to be made about entertainment in New Orleans, and this time I opted out of the Krampus parade, the Bad Santa run, and the Mr. Bingle Christmas parade in favor of friends on the porch. The late night bleedover of costumed people on the street gave me a nice NOLA buzz, a taste of good things to come as Mardi Gras season arrives in a month. I’ve been slacking in the costuming department, but there is time to pick up my game.

LSU won the prestige game, and folks were ecstatic. There was lots of drinking on the porch, and some of the conversation got a little ugly, with an older rural Louisianan making provocative racist remarks to see who would bite. I didn’t rise to the bait, but it certainly makes for a less pleasant evening. I had a good conversation with Eric, the unofficial mayor of the neighborhood. Kim, Cecile’s neighbor, was with us on the porch, celebrating the end of a project and the acceptance of a couple of her films at Sundance. A talented woman! She tried to recruit a group to go to the drag show at the Golden Lantern, but most folks were one or two too many tequila shots into the evening to make the trek. I was a little more sober, and in need of a palate cleanser, so walked down with her to the gay bar for the show. On the way we were intercepted by a wedding second line headed down Royal to the R-bar, one of the fun things about the neighborhood.

This was my first nighttime visit to the Golden Lantern, and my first drag show outside of a multi-performer burlesque production. The performers were spectacular, some concentrating on dance, others on outfits, and one on displaying her perfect breasts on an offensive lineman’s body. All of them worked the crowd with aplomb, and the diverse crowd played along with enthusiasm. The apparent regulars didn’t pay much attention, involved in their own conversations in the corners. I hung out for about an hour, long enough to see each of the performers a couple of times and have my fill of cheesy lip-syncable pop music. Apparently I need to broaden my musical horizons because most of the crowd was able to sing along and I am pretty sure I had never heard most of the tunes.

Kim was fully engaged on the dance floor and I left her to her own devices. I went over to Buffa’s for a beer on the way home, and sat next to Tom McDermott, the piano player, and a woman in full skull makeup. A Nutcracker soldier sat further down the bar. I’m glad not to be into psychedelics.

Sunday was more mellow, with an exciting football game that ended badly for the Saints. It was one of the best football games I have seen this year, but the ending took the fun out of the afternoon.

I woke to find a couple of big banana trees down in the courtyard from no apparent cause other than big trees and shallow roots. I have an afternoon project and get to break out the cutlass. Maybe I should break out the pirate costume as well?

Midweek in the Zone

Working on the tattoo recovery, not a bad one this time, but it does sap the energy to have that much healing going on. Another day off from pushups and such so long as it is still visibly swollen. I walked thorough the Quarter, half-heartedly looking for Christmas decorations and a hide a key for the outer gate. I’m convinced that I will lock myself out one day and don’t want to deal with the realtor box.

I struck out on both counts, but it was a warm sunny day, preternaturally quiet. I had a beer and a chat with Jill at the Hole in the Wall, knowing they will be gone next month. I like the stories from the bartenders who have been on the street for years, usually nothing profound or focused, but a connection to the old New Orleans from an interesting perspective.

After a quick stop at Walgreens, I sat in the sun for minute in front of the Cabildo and listened to a few songs from a brass band. The light was right, and I took a couple of photos to add to the street music series. From there, it was Muriel’s to make a holiday reservation, and I sat at the back bar, intending to check out the Seance Room upstairs. Seker texted that he was out and about, and he met me at the bar having run into Pam and Paul from the neighborhood at the door. We talked story, and I was reminded that Paul had worked for Dan Blanchard as a boat captain for part of a season and had fond memories of Southeast Alaska. He also reminded me I had promised him salmon, which I can do.

Seker and I continued on to the gyro place on St. Peter, and then on to Molly’s and the R-Bar. It was a good mellow day.

I walked along the river in the sun after coffee, and then back through the Quarter. There was a saxophone player busking/practicing right at the stairs. I have seen him before, and it was good to listen to him run through the bossa nova songbook. I didn’t have change to tip him so I didn’t get photos, but the steamboat was photogenic. I returned to find that Neighbor Dave had bought a gas grill, a good addition to the courtyard. I swept the leaves and took the old charcoal grill to the curb with the garbage, and it was gone in an hour. It is an oddly efficient system for disposing of usable junk, a cross between theft and recycle/reuse. It sure beats sending all that stuff to the dump.

I walked up to the Robert’s and stopped after making groceries at Kajun’s on St. Claude, one of the cornerstones of the neighborhood, established fairly soon before Katrina and a fixture during the storm recovery. The owner, Joanne, was featured in a book called Nine Lives, about people who had survived the storm. She sat next to me at the bar and we had a short conversation about the neighborhood, but it was a little odd to know her story(she is a trans woman) as least as presented by a journalist, and to have her know nothing about me. The bar itself is a self-consciously divey space, concrete floors and no furniture other than the bar, gambling machines, a laundromat attached, and a small stage for burlesque and karaoke. Joanne is famous for inclusiveness and for helping the down and outers. I’m glad I walked in.

Later in the day I went to Manolito for a happy hour daiquiri and was the only non-employee in the joint. It was fun getting to know those folks better, and I hope they have a better weekend. It was a slow week for everyone I talked to, but it is a football weekend culminating in the Saints-49ers at the Dome.

The week has been a little disorienting after the busy holiday and the long tat session, a little fever reaction to the tat, and a salad, coffee, and beer diet. It did not help at all to walk the Quarter at 85 degrees in December. There were women walking Bourbon in lingerie at 2 pm, trying to attract business for their clubs and bachorlette parties disrobing in groups trying to match the spirit of the strippers. I sat in Hole in the Wall next to Nicolette, a 50 year old woman who sports glued on vampire fangs and surgically modified elf ears. One day I will get a picture of her, but want to be more on my game to get that personal with her. All in all, together disorienting afternoon was not a great way to try to get a handle on things.

I went to see Shawn Williams for a set of rockabilly at Cafe Negril, and then home for a break. I read a little bit, intending to walk Frenchmen later in the evening for a snack and a set of music but a hard rain fell for about an hour draining any motivation to walk the street. I braved the elements to get a burger at Buffa’s, running the gauntlet of begging guys out front. A tourist sitting next to me asked for my leftovers to give to the guys out front, and handed over the leftover burger and cold fries for which he got yelled at by the unwashed. I try to tip the street musicians who I listen to or photograph, and give leftover food to the travelers on Decatur, but try not to encourage them in my neighborhood. Aggressive panhandling turns to mugging in a heartbeat.

Boon asked me for my burger card, which I had never heard of. I feel like I graduated to being a true local when he gave me the frequent flier card and punched a half a dozen holes in it. I’m now an official card carrying regular at Buffa’s. I stuck around for a partial set from a outlaw country type singer songwriter in the back room. The slide guitar player was excellent, but a half dozen songs was enough of that genre for the evening.

I took a walk in the morning to a couple of garage/antique sales in the Bywater, but the junk to treasure ratio was pretty high, and there were no perfect mid-century modern chairs, piano benches, or congas on offer.

More Color

A tattoo Tuesday! I had coffee at Envie, and heard a New Orleans neologism: “You want that in a here cup or a go cup?” I think I should start spreading that one around, although every native New Orleanian I have run it by has been shocked and appalled.

I decided to eat before the tattoo session, apparently a good plan, and stopped in Em Trai on St. Claude. It is a Vietnamese sandwich and pho shop that was well reviewed, with the brisket, roast beef, and tendon being called out. It started as a food truck, then a booth in the St. Roch Market food court, and now a counter service stand-alone at the edge of my orb. The menu was pho, bahn mi, and po-boys. The special was a hot sausage po-boy for $8, but I decided to go for the bang bang shrimp bahn mi. It was perfectly fried spicy shrimp on Vietnamese bakery bread dressed well. Perhaps it is as good as a Bamboula’s fried oyster po-boy, my standard for a fried fish po-boy. I will have to come back for the pho and a deeper dive into the sandwich menu. The menu looks dangerously good, with a lingering question to be answered only by experience of how different roast beef, brisket, and tendon can be.

It was a good long tattoo session, finishing the left chest panel with detail and some bright colors and pumping some color into the right shoulder tentacles. Walt the tattooer was not very busy, and was telling stories, the most memorable about a tattoo artist who belonged to an outlaw bike gang, the Galloping Geese, and was their enforcer. A good guy to have on your side, even if he had to scoot out the back door when police came in to be tattooed. He also talked about having to fabricate their own needles from sewing needles, and sharpening them once a week—the apprentice’s job. The needles were sharpened on Saturdays, and the shop was closed Sundays and Mondays, so those in the know got tattooed on Tuesdays before the needles got dull and dirty, resulting in pain, blurred lines, and infections or worse. He was joking about every OG tattooer he knew from the 70s ending up with solid black arms as the ink in their sleeves bled together. I’m hoping, and confident that the modern inks and techniques hold up a little better.

I walked by Melvin’s, the dive bar on St. Claude next to the tire shop. It is one of the few bars I have ever been in that had a buzzer to get in. You walked into the entryway to see a second door, and the bartender buzzed you in if you appeared to be proper Melvin’s clientele. I’m not sure what exactly that is, because it was a $3 shot and a beer place with some rickety pool tables, a mixed race clientele, and clearly no dress code. How you look at someone through dirty glass and determine that they indeed have $3 in their pocket I don’t know. I had no real desire to become a regular.

Last year, one of the local TV shows had filmed a fire scene there, and it was hard to tell the difference between the actors playing at firefighters and police, and the firefighters and police working the detail to make sure the joint didn’t burn down. Last night, Melvin’s had a real fire and the rear half of the building burned completely. The bar area was smoke and water damaged, and the owner was hemming and hawing about perhaps not having insurance on the news. The neighborhood changes all the time, but as it is on the same block as Gene’s Po-boy, which ain’t there no more, it makes you wonder. Some developers have big plans and no scruples.

I had a shot and a beer with the Hank was Here corner crowd, and then wandered onto Frenchmen Street. It was early, but as dead as I have seen it, which matched my energy level. I had excellent $2 happy hour tacos at 13, stopped in the bookstore and bought a collection of stories by a local author, and ended up at dba for Dinosaurchestra. Miles was back on the trombone, and in good form. There were only half a dozen folks in the bar, and it was a one set and done evening. I’ll try to remember nights like these come New Years and Mardi Gras.

Mustache Massacre

I went out for a mellow evening after completely cleaning out the kitchen pre-travel. I had a beer at the R-Bar, talking with the smokers outside, and ended up at Three Muses for an excellent cocktail and a good bowl of gumbo. Monte, the piano player, sat next to me at the bar and he had noticed that I was one of the only people in the dinner hour who was paying attention. I stashed for one set of Meschiya Lake, a vocalist. I had forgotten how nice the little club is when you are in the mood.

I stuck my head in the door at the R-bar, and it was Monday night barbering night, $10 for a haircut and a shot. I had not had my mustache trimmed in a year or so, and it is hard to get it even when you do it yourself. I waited my turn, and then told the guy what I wanted, just a trim, even around the mouth, and nothing too drastic. He repeated back to me, just a trim, about the same as it is now, just cleaned up a bit. This is a bar, not a barbershop, so there are no mirrors to see what he is doing, and I heard him run clippers for about thirty seconds.

A glorious mustache was gone in thirty seconds. I went from Pancho Villa to Freddy Mercury in less than a minute. Arlo Guthrie should write a song.

I had taken my lobbying mentor seriously when he suggested that distinctive facial hair is the key to success, and had cultivated the look for decades. It is like if you went in to get your hair dyed blonde and the hairdresser dyed you red. There are even bible stories about men and their hair. It will grow out, but I’m feeling naked.

The Thanksgiving holiday was great. It was good to see Mom, and her place. I am pleased that even after a debilitating illness she is coping well. Winter is coming, the hardest part of the year for her, but she seems to have developed work-arounds for the hardest parts. Sue is a great hostess, and it was good to reconnect with Dave, Sue and Jimmy. Sue’s kids are great, and I spent time talking with Virginia Rothwell, Jim’s mom, for longer than I had before. Jimmy even gave up his kitchen for a day to let me experiment with a turkey and sausage gumbo. Sue’s friends are fun and it was good time with a full house. I liked the tour of Columbia’s entertainment venues.

Travel back to New Orleans was a bit of a hassle, with a flight delay out of Columbia. You know you are in trouble when at 9:30 pm for your scheduled 10 pm flight the announcement is “We are boarding for the scheduled 6:30 flight to Chicago.” To their credit, I only missed the door closing on the midnight flight at O’Hare by five minutes, but the only advantage to that is there was a crying customer service agent who had just been yelled at who was apologetic and appreciative of good manners. United did a much better job than their reputation, re-booking me for a 5 am flight and messaging me with no input required from me. I signed into their re-booking computer and it looked like a 24 hour layover, but got the message before I pressed the button. It was still not fun zombying my way through the airports in Chicago and Houston, but it was efficient.

The flight over the Gulf Coast from Houston to New Orleans was fun, with a window seat and a good view of the coastal plain that I have been reading about.