Big Blue

Immediate post-tattoo photo. I like that you can see the puffy skin and the little trickle of blood. Earning this one, and it is coming along swimmingly!

I leave for Alaska in a week. I swam this morning, a slow 1000 yards that felt good and smooth.

Yesterday I cooked the last of the Alaska fish in the freezer, a nice chunk of halibut, and shared a piece with Steve. I replaced the interior door knobs while listening to arguably the worst Cub game in years. Six errors and no offensive production with poor pitching. Ouch. Ron Santo would have been groaning for about four straight innings before he broke his mic. The house project was one of those that will be hard to see if you aren’t looking, but the old ones were corroded and had been inadvertently painted several paint jobs in the past. I went with the $10 versions, and now that they are installed think I should have gone to the Green Project to get some cool looking ones, or Restoration Hardware for swanky ones. Maybe next year. The interior doors gave me a chance to practice on non-critical locksets before doing the main door today.

I am looking forward to being back in Southeast Alaska, if not the house and boat chores, and to getting back in the weight room. This has been a good break, and I should work on a program for the summer/fall, or just jump back into the familiar schedule as best I can. I will have to decide if I can actually use the kayaks, and if not, sell out of that activity as I did the dive stuff. Hard decisions.

I finished the door project, replacing the entry lock set, and enjoyed a late afternoon dinner in the courtyard. It is awfully pleasant at 65 degrees in the sun. Susie had a day off and spent most of it barhopping before ending up in the courtyard. We chatted for a bit, and then went to dba to see Dinosaurchestra. It was a good show on a mellow night in the club. I walked the street, listening to the street band for a few minutes and seeing some good black and white photography at the art market. I ended up at Checkpoint Charlie for an open mike night for singer songwriters.

It always seems like a good idea to listen to one more set, but it makes swimming in the morning fall off the schedule.

We have a tenant for the summer, a recently divorced woman who is just starting at Johnny White’s. She was recruited fro the restaurant and referred to us by last year’s tenant who was an excellent person to have watch the place. Financially, it would be more lucrative to Airbnb the place, but that would require bending some rules and pissing off the neighbors. I would prefer not to deal with the hassle of being a long distance landlord, and like the privacy of not having a tenant, but being able to help out someone with a below-market rent in exchange for looking after the place through the hot summer months in a compromise I am willing to make. And it might pay for a sailing trip, or….

It was a good day for a tattoo, if not for the walk to the tattoo shop. There was a serious thunderstorm all morning, starting about three followed by a torrential rain. The lightning seemed close, so I skipped my last potential New Orleans swim for the season in favor of not being electrocuted. The news said it rained four inches in 24 hours, and my sweatpants said it took about three minutes to become thoroughly soaked. I stopped t a grocery store to buy a towel to dry off before the work started.

Jamie Ruth pumped me full of blue ink, filling in on my back. The best parts look 3D, and a little more shading ought to really make it pop out. I was in the chair for 5 hours, and she was able to get about a third of what she had planned done. I am learning that this is kind of how it works, and also that the extra time put in makes for a better result. I am glad she is putting the work in.

I got a dramatic histamine reaction, not unexpected, with the skin getting too puffy to work on unless she switched to a different body part. I have heard the tattooing process compared to bee stings, and I think that is accurate, although tattooing pokes you tens of thousands of times it feels like half a dozen bee stings, thankfully not hundreds or thousands. Like a bee sting, the pain goes away with the histamine reaction, leaving a sunburned feeling for a few days.

The reaction settled right back down as I watched the Cubs play at Buffa’s over a cheeseburger. Once again the Aurora Nealand show was SRO, odd to me on a rainy night. She is outgrowing her venues, a good thing I suppose, but hard if you want to sit and listen for a bit.

I made peace with being wet, and wore shorts and flip flops under a rain jacket to walk to the coffee shop, figuring there was no way to be fully clothed and dry. Envie was full of people taking shelter. Hopefully the weather will break for the Chris’ block party Saturday, and so our roofers can get back to work.

Spring Breakers

It was good to get back in the pool this morning on a crisp sunny day after a long week of Spring Break. Deanna was here for the whole time, and Stef and Rosemary visited for parts. We ramped up the activity level a little bit, hearing some great music and eating great food while enjoying the warm weather and the city.

Deanna arrived late Friday after a long travel day, and we began our establishment as regulars at Horn’s for brunch Saturday. We walked across town along the river to the Upper Quarter, enjoying the Italian-American parade at the Chart Room, and then meandering through the Quarter back to Touro Street before a late night show from the Rebirth Brass Band at dba.

On Sunday we had a mellow start, including some grocery shopping where we ran into Kermit Ruffins in the deli aisle. Fun stuff! We were invited to a neighborhood crawfish boil in the driveway/courtyard of a neighbor’s house and met some interesting folks. It is good to get dug in deeper to the neighborhood. Rosemary arrived, and we had a good first meal at Buffa’s while listening to Steve Pistorius from the table closest to the stage. The unamplified tone from the clarinets and saxophone made the set a special one.

We had another great meal at Horn’s the next day, and walked the neighborhood a bit, touring the St. Augustine Church, the Unknown Slave memorial, Armstrong Park and Congo Square. The highlight of the afternoon was the Backstreet cultural museum focused on Mardi Gras Indians and Second Line groups of the Treme. It was a very detailed look at the history of one of the Indian tribes. That evening we ate at Snug Harbor, and because of a ticketing snafu, ended up seeing John Boutte at dba for an excellent and moving set, and then seeing Charmaine Neville back at Snug in the company of a memorable couple from Guyana by way of Maryland.

On Tuesday, we ate breakfast at the Clover Grill and then walked the galleries on Royal Street, stopping for a tour of the beautifully restored 1850s era courtyard and a drink at Finnegan’s Easy, and a good traditional meal at the Napoleon House. The street musicians seemed to be especially good on this sunny day. We stopped for refreshment at Tujague’s and Molly’s at the Market, with a stop at the costume shop to buy sparkly clothing. A black and gold sequin jacket and a glittery cape turn out to be the perfect wardrobe choices for a Tuesday night Treme Brass Band show at dba, although I did break my Lenten prohibition against costuming after Carnival. I suppose I will have to repent harder.

The next morning I found the Banksy “girl with umbrella” piece on the way from Buffa’s to the airbnb, and showed it to Rosemary. It is fun to have an internationally known work of street art two blocks from our house. We took the long walk through the Bywater for a little change of pace, and ended up at brunch at Elizabeth’s. The shrimp and grits in beef and tasso gravy is one of the great dishes of New Orleans. Stef met us there, and we spent an hour in our courtyard, and then we were off to the Elysian Bar at the very fancy St. Peter and Paul hotel in the neighborhood. We were joined by Chris Seker for a drink and conversation, and then were off to Cane and Table for some excellent seafood.

Rosemary left early the next morning after a great visit, and we had a casual morning in the lower Quarter walking with Stef, ending up at the Great American Sports Saloon for Opening Day for the Cubbies. We watched the first part of the game and then made for the N-7 restaurant on Montegut. It is a speakeasy style restaurant, behind a wood gate unmarked except for a stenciled and painted sign. Open the gate, and it is beautiful courtyard with excellently restored small buildings, and a rusted Citroen straight out of a 1940s European gangster movie. The crowd was different than most I hang out with, richer, hipper, and whiter, with fewer obvious tourists or street people. The food was excellent, French-inspired but local ingredients and a lot of care taken in preparation. We shared nine big “small plates”, each of which with a distinctive flavor and texture profile, followed by two perfect desserts. A soy sauce Creme Brullee? This is a great restaurant. We tried to meet friends at our local wine shop and tasting room, Second Vine, where we heard Mojo Working (Mike from around the corner) play a few songs in a singer-songwriter style, and met Danny the wine shop manager. This is a very cool space in the back of a small retail shop that I had passed many times without stopping. They also had a grill going outside, serving charbroiled oysters.

On Friday we met with Stef and Eileen at her bakery on Magazine Street, and had a nice shopping walk up the street. I scored a seersucker jacket at a thrift store that will make at least a great prop or semi-costume. We had a nice break at the Balcony Bar and Grill, looked at furniture at West Elm, walking away without a comfy chair, and ended up at Parasol’s for a roast beef po-boy. We fought the clock, and ended up at the Blue Nile to hear a late night show from Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. He had a woman soul singer and dancer join the group for a couple of songs which was the highlight of the show, unless you count Kermit doing “Wonderful World”, a show-stopper.

Stef met us for another great meal at Horn’s in the morning before she had to fly out, and we had a relaxed day in the Lower Quarter, with a drink and snack at Manolito, home of the perfect Cuban daiquiri, a very good and unusual Chinese food meal at Dian Xian that included a wrap filled with good veggies, a couple of fried crackers, and seafood. Another excellent spot to discover in the extended neighborhood. We watched a little of the baseball game, and Deanna headed out the next morning.

Perhaps appropriately, the temperature dropped and it rained for a good part of the day Sunday, so I spent the morning doing house chores and then went out to watch baseball. I ended the evening with a sandwich at Buffa’s, sitting next to a couple of musicians trying to write rap beats in 5:4 time. A great neighborhood, and an almost exhausting week!

Getting Ready

This week has been kind of mellow, with the Indians on St. Joseph’s Day the highlight so far. I went to dba for a set of music from Dinosaurchestra to let the excitement die down. I have been doing the deep cleaning not-so-fun stuff in preparation for visitors and for shutting the place down for the summer.

I have turned the corner on the tattoo and don’t feel feverish or punky anymore, but it is still scabby and a little painful to touch. It was a lot of square footage. We’ll see if it will be healed enough to go for the next round in a couple of weeks. I still haven’t made it to the pool, keeping the molting skin out of the pool and the chlorine off the shiny new skin, which makes me feel a bit sluggish. Soon enough.

Yesterday I took advantage of the contractor up front taking a break from painting for the morning and used their porch and floor paint to put a couple of coats on the outside stairs, which get weathered to bare wood from the rain dripping off the porch roof. It looks good today, and it is good to keep paint on. And the contractor did a much better job of color matching the trim than Susie and Booth did with the back stairs. Now the steps match the door frame, but not the outdoor stairs. It was a good way to spend a couple of hours in the sun, and it is a little disconcerting in a good way to be painting dry wood at 70 degrees in the sun-the pain actually adheres to the wood, and dries. Our Alaska porch project would be so much easier at sunny and 70 for a week.

I took a walk around the Healing Center on St. Claude, and re-oriented myself to the Siberia-Hi-Ho-Allways Lounge entertainment district, right across the street from the Robert’s. My mental image was that they were on the other side of St. Roch, and I was glad to prove myself wrong. It might be time to venture into that area now and again.

Seker texted as I was grocery shopping, and suggested a walk through the Quarter. That was a good suggestion on a warm sunny day. We walked Royal at a brisk pace, stopping only in one art gallery and at the Touché lounge, a fancily decorated dive bar attached to the Rib Room, a fancy steak house style restaurant. He was on a mission to buy Birkenstocks and went to the Good Feet shoe store on Bienville, where I bought some flip-flops to replace the ones I blew out in the Caribbean. There were no pop-tops involved. We took the hyper-drive shortcut (along the river) back to the French Market where he bought cheap sunglasses.

I finished the night at Buffa’s with a burger and NCAA basketball. I’ve got no real dog in any of the games, but the win or go home aspect of the tournament makes every game exciting in some respect. I did appreciate the Nevada team took the individual names off their jerseys and replaced them with the team name. They still lost, but it was a fun game to watch.

It is another beautiful day, and a crowded morning at Envie. The spring breakers are overlapping with the BUKU fest people, which makes for a younger, richer, and more obnoxious crowd. At $700-1200 a ticket for the BUKU fest that specializes in electronic and pop dance music, the economic inequality of our society is on full display. 20-somethings with $500 haircuts wearing Rolexes and fraternity sweatshirts waving $100 bills at baristas to try to get service from the back of a long line is not America at its best. Perhaps they should stick to the massage parlors in Palm Beach.

I’m looking forward to a busy week with Deanna here starting later tonight and Mom and Stef here for parts of the week. It will be fun to see what trouble we can collectively get into, and it will be good to look at the city from less experienced perspectives.

The Indians come out on St. Joseph’s Day

St. Joseph’s Day is a Sicilian holiday falling near the vernal equinox, a spring feast that is superficially Catholic, but probably a lot older than that. People make massive quantities of their fanciest food and leave it as an offering to the saint at a St. Joseph’s altar. Some are double wide garages with a statue, packed with homemade food. The food is later shared by all, with the poor getting first spot in line and first dibs at the leftovers.

This is a cool tradition, but it is New Orleans so there is always something cooler. St. Joseph’s Day is the day when the Mardi Gras Indians meet at sunset in their neighborhoods in mock battles dressed in their prettiest suits. They chant, sing, and beat the drum(usually a tambourine), calling out the other tribes and showing mutual respect for the work put into the regalia and the relative social position of the big chief. Each tribe has a big chief, sometimes a queen, a spy boy whose job it is to look for the other tribes, and a flag boy who announces the presence of the tribes. There are usually family members or junior members of the tribes walking with the group, supporting them by joining the chants and bringing drinks, controlling traffic, etc. They wander the streets of the neighborhoods, seeking each other out for a meeting, not unusually for New Orleans often outside a bar, perform a little ceremonial conflict, and move on to the next tribe. At sunset, a large group of tribes meet under the I-10 overpass, and re-enact the challenge and response rituals. This is also a relatively modern tradition, begun in response to a ban on public marching by black people in the latter days of slavery and Reconstruction that carried on right through the 1990s including a lot of police conflict with the un-authorized marching groups, that clearly is part of an old tradition.

I saw the Indians marching in my neighborhood last year around sunset at Iggy’s after having given up on them(and put away my camera) for the year, and didn’t want to make that mistake twice. I walked out my door this St. Joseph’s Day, and towards the Treme. I saw the flag, a feathered sign on a long stick carried by the flag boy, of a tribe from about four blocks away, and crossed St. Claude to follow. This was a neighborhood thing, with people opening their garages and cooking, little kids all over the street, some dressed in their suits and others in school clothes, and people out in the street with go-cups full of hard liquor. I walked with them for a couple of hours, stopping as it got darker and the procession got towards the middle of Treme. I saw three or four distinct tribes in spectacular colors and embroidered beadwork, and two challenges that ended amicably with both big chiefs being respected.

Downtown Super Sunday, the next time the tribes meet, and perhaps the last for the year before these suits are retired, is coming right up, and I hope to shoot that as well.

More photos here:

St. Patrick’s Preview

The weekend started rainy and cool, in the 50s, and I was feeling the after effects of square yards of tattooing. My skin was hot to the touch, and I just did not have the energy to head out on the streets in the rain even for one of my favorite walking parades, the Jim Monahan memorial on Friday, or even a set of music. I did read a couple hundred pages of the Plessy history, for a half-hearted stab at productivity.

On Saturday, I was invited to be a guinea pig for Susie’s literature tour. She did a dress rehearsal of the walking tour she is preparing for the upcoming Tennessee Williams festival for a group of friends. It was an interesting way to see what a tour guide does. We started at the Monteleone and looped through the Quarter, with Susie pointing out a half dozen or so places and telling anecdotes about famous or at least familiar figures like O. Henry, Lyle Saxon, William Faulkner, and, of course, Tennessee Williams. The highlights of the tour for me were the explanation of the role the petit Theatre and petit Salon played in the revival of the Quarter, and the story of Madame John’s Legacy.

It was interesting to see the tour “mechanics”-basically using the time to tell half a dozen stories, pointing out an interesting building or two while walking, building in a 20 minute break at a nice bar, and letting the city sell itself. It is not a lecture, but using the physical prompts to make the stories, true or not, real. I am really not interested in the exterior of a building where author x allegedly lost his virginity to a drunken sailor, but it is one way to structure a walk through the Quarter.

After the tour, I got a text from Chris, and tried to get uptown. I tried to catch the bus, my usual way to the Irish Channel, but missed the noon bus and the next one wasn’t for an hour. As i waited, one of the Envie baristas stopped and chatted for a bit, but didn’t want to make the trek after a full shift. I called an Uber, which also took half an hour to arrive. As we got close to the parade route, traffic just stopped, and I bailed on Jackson well short of Magazine. This was my first Uptown parade, and I got stuck, twice, on the wrong side of police barricades walking against the flow of the parade, kind of like speed reading the parade. I’ve been Chicago-trained on the barricades, and am reluctant to cross them, even if my destination is on the other side of the police line. The rules here seem more relaxed, but I’d hate to spend time in the Orleans Parish jail. I caught a bouncing tennis ball throw, and ran into a black lab who looked like he really wanted it more than I did. A happy dog.

It took about half an hour of wending my way through the crowds to Tracey’s block party, which was packed like a frat party with college age kids and a smattering of older folks. I got a shot and a beer, and worked my way towards Parasol’s, figuring that is where the cool kids might be hanging out. I texted Chris a couple of times with no response, and was about to give up and take a long walk back to the neighborhood when he texted he was at a house party just above Parasol’s. I looked up, and Seker was on the balcony directly above. I got a wristband from the doorman, and joined the Touro Street Irregulars upstairs. Cecile, Judy, Jill, Seker, and his friend John were enjoying the hospitality. They had a full spread of New Orleans specialities, mini-muffulettas, red beans, a gumbo, and an open bar. This house was not on the parade route, so the crew moved on to another house party on Magazine and Jackson.

Cecile narrated the walk over, as this was the neighborhood she had grown up in, and stopped a few times as we walked to catch up with old friends, and ran into her sister. We ended up at a big party where they were serving crawfish and Popeye’s fried chicken and the sides. We popped in and out of the party and the parade route itself, enjoying the six or eight floats, and the Irish themed costuming. This was the end of the route, and the pipers and other bands seemed to have dropped out, with 10 hours of drinking enough to fell even a bagpiper, We picked up her car at the fancy apartment building her parents live in and drove back to the neighborhood.

I had a sandwich and a beer at the bar at Buffa’s, chatting with a guy who had grown up in Geneva and moved to Hawaii as a young adult. I guess I am not the only one who used the escape pod.

I’m peeling like a lizard, a good sign in the healing process, and looking forward to the Downtown Irish walking parade today and St. Joseph’s Day, with the possibility of Indians on Tuesday.


St. Patrick’s day turned out to be a good day fro photography. I walked the Quarter and Bourbon Street in the afternoon. There was a daytime parade in Metairie, Tracey’s was continuing the block party in the Irish Channel, and it was the Mardi Gras Indians’ Super Sunday in mid-city, so the crowd was a little thin. There were some tourists looking lost, and competing gangs of Spring Breakers in matching costumes on Bourbon, benign at 3 in the afternoon, but a real potential fro frat boy antics and fights as the evening wore on.

I took my camera out to lower Decatur for the Downtown Irish parade, staging up at Checkpoint Charlie with a good view out the window. I met some fun folks from Shreveport using it as their party base for the weekend, and had fun watching the parade. I followed it for a bit to Molly’s, and sat for while there. A good holiday!

The Photos:

Salmon on the Grill

It continued hot and relatively pleasant, with a breeze blowing. Locals were exclaiming that if it only could stay like this for more than a month out of the year they would be happy. Many are making plans or just having fantasies about pulling the plug for the summer. I am hearing a lot of Alaska envy.

The project for the week was tattooing. I sat for 5 1/2 hours, perhaps a new record for me. Jamie Ruth has a plan, and now we are in the paint by numbers phase, and only she know where the numbers are. We will try to get the background color done before I take the long break for the summer in Alaska and work on the creatures and the details when I get back to the city. This day it was the black shading and scalloping to give the borders definition. I am liking how it is coming along. Blue is next, filling in some of the wave shapes. I added a heart shape in solidarity with the Rothwell girls after the big stuff was done, and got the “Are you sure you want more? You know you can come back” question from Jamie Ruth. It was a long day.

That evening and the next day I took it fairly easy, but cooked a big piece of king salmon on the charcoal grill to share with Susie and our new neighbor Steve. The fish turned out great despite being a little the worse for wear from the freezer and thawing maybe once too many times during travel. Lime juice and Tony’s creole seasoning made for a nice jerkish finish. It really hit the spot. I might be getting ready to head back to the ocean.

Mark Ingram left the Saints for Baltimore in normal free agent fashion, so I bought a Ingram II jersey before that becomes impossible. It was really fun to meet him in the team store this fall, and he seemed like a solid team player who will be missed. I hadn’t remembered that he had won the Heisman Trophy, and it will be good to have a souvenir of his presence.

On to St. Patrick’s Day! Maybe photos tonight for the Jim Monahan memorial through the quarter, but we will see who is out and about, uptown Saturday for the Irish Channel craziness, and back to Decatur for the Downtown Irish on Sunday. Then I will try to find some Indians on St. Joseph’s Day in the neighborhood, this time with a camera.

A Semi-Tropical City

On Sunday it hit 84 degrees, and it felt good. I wandered around town, a little off-kilter from the time change, dressed in my Puerto Rican tropical best, with loose slacks and a guayabera topped with a Panama hat. Those guys know how if you can’t wander around half-naked, although it is New Orleans so I suppose that is not really out of the question. I had a good conversation with a new neighbor, Caroline, at Harry’s Corner, and then made some groceries at Roberts. I did enjoy the air conditioning for a brief break, and then went over to Cecile’s, hoping for an update on her family problems, but missed her there. I walked down Royal, and back up Bourbon. It is a strange crowd. The locals are hiding for the most part in this lull between Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day, but there were a couple of cruise ships in town and it is the beginning of Spring Break season so there are gaggles of barely legal kids stretching their limits mixing with sincerely perplexed cruise shippers.

Rosalie and her crew of friends met me for a drink at the Bar Tonique. It was great to see them, mostly familiar from the wedding, and all great people. They had been tearing up Bywater and Uptown, and taking advantage of the weather to get some pool time. Rosalie recommended a restaurant, N-7, in the Bywater. On the list!

Monday continued in the mid-eighties, which I enjoy about as much as the geckos do, but I sweat more. I haven’t seen the little lizards in months, and on the hot days they are everywhere basking on the sidewalks and walls. They are fun to watch, and theoretically eat lots of bugs that aren’t as entertaining or friendly as they are. I took a walk in the afternoon through the Bywater and then along Crescent Park, enjoying the heat and sunshine as well as the cool breeze off the river.

I finally saw Aurora Nealand for a set at the Maison. It is not my favorite venue, a little awkward because they are complying with the city rules that it has to be a restaurant that also plays music instead of a bar that serves food. This means that the bulk of the place is diners at small tables who talk to each other instead of listening to the music or dancing, which makes for a noisy spot. Despite that, I wedged myself in at the bar and listened to her old time music band, singing and playing music from the 1850s through the 1920s. She has a great voice for this style of music, and the band does not have a weak player. It was good to finally get a chance to see her after several dry runs this month.

I ran into Chris Seker at the R Bar on the way home, and he was lined up for a haircut and a shot. It is good to see the neighborhood returning to a normal level of weird after Mardi Gras. Somehow I don’t think the health inspector would approve of that particular combination, but it is kind of fun to see a barber set up her shop in the front room of a bar.

Getting some serious color in my tattoo tomorrow, and then it is on to St. Patrick’s Day weekend. It looks like a big three day event, starting Friday evening at Mollies in the Quarter, Saturday in the Irish Channel, and back to the Marigny on Sunday. Is green dye in beer or Irish whiskey more toxic?

Daylight Savings Time

After a mellow day and reheated red beans, I went to Buffa’s to try to see Tom McDermott and Aurora Nealand, figuring that with the post-Mardi Gras malaise and the utter lack of activity in town that it would be a good time. There was a dead rat on the sidewalk outside the bar, but the back room was SRO. I didn’t really want to fight the crowd, so just had a couple of beers at the empty front bar with Boone.

I reserved an Airbnb for Mom’s visit, right down St. Anthony’s from our house, but a direction I usually don’t go, right on the edge of the Marigny. It will be good to have a bedroom and bathroom for her separate from our place, but close enough to easily hang out. It should be a busy week, and I will start looking at entertainment options. It looks like the Congo Festival at Armstrong Park is the last weekend of the month, with Rebirth and Hot 8 headlining.

It is already the weekend, and I am not sure I am ready, but the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Society is having a practice parade through the French Quarter today in preparation for the real parade through the Irish Channel on St. Patrick’s Day. I may be practiced enough to skip this one.

I took an early walk through the Quarter, with a quick stop at Harry’s and a couple of cocktails at Manolito. I had their house mojito, excellent as always with a healthy splash of bitters to top it off and add color. I also had the daiquiri mente, the frozen version, for comparison, and a cheese arepa to slow the absorption. Note to self: Happy hour pricing is great. I walked over to dba, trying to catch Aurora Nealand in a bigger venue, but she had canceled the early show. I’m a lousy stalker.

I went over to the R Bar and met Chris, who introduced me to Greg Toussaint, a cousin of Allen Toussaint, the famous music producer. We talked local music politics for a bit, and I impressed myself in being able to keep up. The essential, and probably age-old, problem is that as certain musical neighborhoods, like Frenchmen Street, or venues, like the Spotted Cat, become more popular, they become inaccessible to locals and local musicians who made them popular in the first place. As the venues and business owners try to take advantage of the crowds, the music becomes homogenized, and you get Bourbon Street or Vegas, appealing mostly to the Walmart sensibilities—nothing challenging or original, and entertaining in the way that middle America likes to be entertained, with the music of their youth. The local musicians then get squeezed out to the more marginal neighborhood clubs, where they can play more freely, but perhaps not attract the money they need to keep playing original music. It is hard, even as a serious music fan, to push out to some of these midnight shows in transitioning neighborhoods. I’m not sure I really want to be lakeside of I-10 in the Treme at 3AM, even if the Hot 8 is playing new music to the neighborhood folks.

Cecile and Chris had invited me to join them on a road trip to their new place in Bay St. Louis, on the Gulf Coast beach. I got to Cecile’s to find the house in crisis, a relatively common occurrence, but this was a little more serious that most. Cecile’s son had blown out of his rehab center after 5 months of treatment, and and was at loose ends, a bad place for an addict. Simultaneously, an officer that she had been working with as a patient and co-worker for 15 years was having a psychotic episode that included making direct and graphic threats against her by posting violent slasher movie clips on Facebook and explaining in the comments the he was going get her for ruining his life. The police were involved, and probably going to arrest the guy, but he was out and about this morning. It is nice to be trusted enough to overhear this family and personal saga, but a lot of reality.

In any case, we collectively decided to continue on with our plans and drove the hour or so to the beach. Cecile was on the phone almost the whole trip dealing with the dueling emergencies, but it was fun driving the back road-Highway 90-through New Orleans East, the Vietnamese neighborhood, into the lake and bay country. I had recently read a history of Jean Lafitte, so it was fun to see the Rigolets, Fort Bienville, and other familiar geography. There is a de facto wildlife refuge around the NASA test center just past the Pearl River, which is the site of the Cajun Experience tour outfit. The bird life is stunningly different than Alaska, with lots of egrets, herons and cranes along the shore and a number of varieties of hawks and vultures overhead.

Bay St. Louis is a small town with a beach strip of bars and restaurants along a nice small boat harbor and yacht club. Across the street from the beach is a small business strip of higher end art and antique stores and casual restaurants, and then a town. We drove past a high school baseball game in progress, and Cecile’s new house is about a mile back into town in a older working class neighborhood which looked a lot like the older sections of St. Charles. Her place is a 1940s era cottage with a huge lot that feels awfully comfortable. The house has survived all the hurricanes since it was built, and in contrast to New Orleans, the poorer neighborhoods were built on the high ground because they were far away from the beach. The big mansions were built closer to the beach, and as a result have been destroyed and rebuilt several times in the last century.

We met some of their friends at the Blind Tiger for lunch. This is a seafood beach bar, and they had crawfish boiling outside. We had some Royal Red shrimp that had been boiled with the crawfish, and they were quite tasty with the Cajun spice. Royal Reds are Alaskan prawn sized shrimp from the deeper water of the gulf, easily 3 or 4 times the size of the usual Louisiana shrimp.

Suzanne, Cecile’s friend is a Canadian snowbird and real estate investor who runs several Airbnbs around New Orleans and apparently other places. Her words of wisdom were not to ever try to live in New Orleans in the summer. She did it for a few years, and it was just miserable, and she returned to making the trek from Ontario every year. She and her friend Tina have the French Canadian accent, which is endearing, but also french manners, which means to me a more direct conversational style which can be off-putting. It could just be that they are beautiful older rich women who are quite used to getting their way, but I am not used to being corrected when I am trying to be politely agreeable. In any case, Suzanne had some perceptive ideas about quick and practical remodels to the cottage to put it into service as a rental or guest house with little effort.

The drive back was also spent with Cecile on the phone dealing with the emergencies of the day, but the late afternoon light was spectacular over the bays and lakes. It was a good day.

Sunday morning brought daylight savings time, which leaves me with the impression that I am running late, for what I don’t know.

Only 365 Days until Mardi Gras 2020

And I don’t have my costume ready yet!

After the city-wide 5 day party, Ash Wednesday is the designated hangover day. The Carnival switch is officially turned to “off”. Nothing moves, including me. I did put my costuming stuff away, careful to leave the St. Patrick’s Day stuff on top. Glitter gets everywhere. I spent the evening cataloging photos. This morning I made it back to the pool for a short week of recovery swimming before more tattooing next week. Making the leap into color this time, and only one more session before I head back north.

This was a great carnival season for me, with lots of new experiences and lots left to explore. I put together a different costume for each day of the weekend, including a lot of work on the home-improved King Tut for Mardi Gras Day. I took advantage of the spirit of Carnival and ate some excellent crawfish, po-boys, red beans, and muffaletta, and had probably too many good cocktails and some bad ones. I saw some great music, on the street from some great marching bands and fun brass bands, and in the clubs from the Wild Magnolias and John Papa Gros with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux.

I love the smaller neighborhood parades, and our little neighborhood is flooded with maskers a couple of times during the weekend. Touro Street is a great place to be for the Queen Anne’s parade-not too crowded or wild, but a short block away from the crazy. It is good to have a refuge when your neighborhood bars turn from quiet corners to party central. I walked Bourbon a couple of times, including a few hours on a balcony for a private party, and early in the evening on Mardi Gras itself.

I never did make it Uptown to the parade route on St. Charles, not getting farther than the Mayor’s reviewing stand at Gallier Hall at Lafayette Square, but did see parts of a few of the big parades. I didn’t re-connect with the Krewe of Kosmic Debris or the Krewe of Yes, both informal krewes with some degree of organization that we marched with last year, but not enough to actually get parade permits or police escorts or have websites or such. There is always next year.

On Friday evening, Chris had wristbands to the official mayor’s reviewing stand for Hermès and Morpheus. I wore a black and gold glittery tux jacket with a bowler hat in honor of the mayor. His daughter, Jen, and a friend were in town, and we went across the Quarter in a cab. We went into the reviewing stand, and were seated right behind the dignitaries. A judge was in the box directly in front of us and he and his crew were dressed in the blue blazer, tan slacks and tie uniform of the off-duty attorney, but were completely shot faced, barely verbal. They were kind about the throws, passing some of the beads and other stuff back into the less advantageous seats. The high school and small college marching bands are a highlight of the big parades as well as the flambeaux marchers.

We stayed about an hour, and then Chris and I walked the Quarter back towards Frenchmen Street. We stopped for oysters at the bar at the Redfish Grill, and then split up. I walked the crowd on Bourbon, a little overwhelmed by the sheer mass of partying people, and we met back at Harry’s Corner to regroup. I went to dba to see the Wild Magnolias, a Mardi Gras Indian group chanting through the Mardi Gras classics. It was a fun show, and they were out in their blue suits.

Saturday was a slow starter after the late night show at dba. I made a quick grocery run and then I took a short walk through the Quarter, with a stop at Harry’s Corner. The bartenders were in superhero costume, probably appropriate on this weekend as they were working heroically everywhere I went. I stopped at the Hole in the Wall, and took some street pictures. A college girl in full beads and feathers asked me to take some photos of her, and Mz. Tina had to get in the act. Working it every day!

I went to the mask market and purchased a quality leather mask. The mask market is on the uptown side of the French market the weekend before Mardi Gras, and there are a couple of dozen artisans selling homemade masks. Some of the feather creations are costumes in themselves, and I saw several of them out and about later in the weekend. The rain and wind picked up and I ducked into Mollie’s for a couple of beers, massaging my mask like a baseball glove to break it in. I walked next door to Turtle Bay and they were cooking crawfish.

My friend Susie gave me an invitation to a balcony party on Bourbon Street. I had not been on a balcony on Bourbon during Mardi Gras, so I had to do it once. The costume for the evening was all black with a pirate hat including a black and gold feather. A solid base for a more elaborate costume later!

The party was sponsored by Yuengling Brewery, and they provided throws and beer as well as the space, the upstairs of the Maison on Bourbon. There were some fun people on the balcony, and some boorish thirty something ex-frat boys. The religious weirdos had posted up on the corner under the balcony carrying large crosses and haranguing the crowd with their “the end is near” message. I almost converted, they were so convincing. The frat boys started throwing beads at the cross bearers, feeding their sense of righteousness, and then the Christians started throwing things back, hard, at the folks on the balcony and challenging them to fight. Turn the other cheek and all that apparently doesn’t apply if you are preaching the word to the sinners. The state police were out in a group of about a dozen on the corner protecting the zealots, but not correcting the threats. They did break up a slap fight between two girls dressed in skirts and body paint, but I think they were picking and choosing who they wanted to interact with. It is hard to blame them, as the experience was overwhelming. The whole scene was a bit weird, even for Mardi Gras, and a bit of a downer. It was time to go. One of those supposedly fun things to do that you should do at least once.

Sunday started out still in summer temperatures, in the 80s. Cecile had invited me to go Uptown to a party on the parade route and then to stage for the big parades at her parent’s fancy condo on St. Charles. I made my way over to Touro, but the house was dead and there were sleeping people all over the living room. I went for coffee and came back, and folks were up and moving, but not ready for an afternoon out after a four in the morning bedtime the night before. I went with the more subtle Uptown costume, playing Johnny Depp playing Hunter S. Thompson, with tropical slacks, a bright Hawaiian shirt, a panama fedora, and dark glasses.

Around 3 in the afternoon, it just started to pour rain. I waited out the storm at Tujague’s, having a sazerac and an old-fashioned. After the rain passed in the company of groups of wet tourists, I took a break before going out to see John Papa Gros playing with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux at dba. Monk Boudreaux is 77 years old, and one of the first Indians to be recorded as a musician with Dr. John, John Papa Gros’ mentor. The highlight of the show was Monk calling Indian Red with John Papa Gros backing him.

Lundi Gras, Monday of the week, was the day that the Red Beans parade rolled through our neighborhood. The costumes are made from beans glued or sewn into creative costumes. this year’s was a little somber because two members of the krewe had been killed by a drunk driver the day before. It was hard to tell they weren’t partying hard by they got to Buffa’s, my neighborhood bar. After the parade, I ran over to Frank’s to buy a muffaletta for my contribution to the buffet on Tuesday.

In the evening, I met up with Jen and her friend and we went to the reviewing stand to see Orpheus. My costume was a jester hat, a tie dye shirt, mask, and glitter tuxedo jacket. It was a little less formal, but more fun as Mardi Gras approached.

We got to see a few of the big floats, and the rain started again driving a lot of people away from the stands. I experienced being showered with beads, too many to catch. I held my arms up and beads just strung themselves on my arms. It was too cold to stay for long, so we walked back across the quarter, this time doing the pub crawl from the Chart Room to Harry’s Corner to Manolito and back to Touro Street. A nice relatively mellow way to prepare for the big day.

Mardi Gras came early. I got dressed in my full King Tut outfit, with the addition of fleece underneath, as it was about 40 degrees. I planned to try to intercept the Krewe of Kosmic Debris on Frenchmen, or to walk with The Society of Queen Anne, both informal walking krewes, in the morning and then head back to Touro Street to hang out with Cecile and Chris and the rest of the neighborhood.

I headed towards Frenchmen a little before 9, fully decked out, and saw a large crowd gathered in front of the R Bar, all in costume and enjoying the day. I went to dba, the rendezvous spot for Kosmic Debris, but they had not arrived and the street was full of costumed people headed towards the R Bar and the Quarter. I went back to the R Bar where they were charging $10 for a Bloody Mary, and decided to change plans. I hung around there for a while, not recognizing my friends in their homemade costumes, and being photographed a lot. I ran home, gathered food and liquor, and made for Touro Street.

The Queen Anne parade rolls on Royal, just a couple of doors up from Cecile’s, and she keeps an open house going all day. Ellen across the street also throws a party, and people migrate back and forth. Parade goers walk up and down the street, and another neighbor is the founder of the Krewe of Confetti, which consists of half a dozen confetti cannons they use to greet the parade by shooting off every half hour or so in a brief ceremony. The street is absolutely packed with people from Royal Sushi to the R Bar, and the parade rolls right through the crowd with bands and dancers and small human powered floats. It seemed to be a long parade, or perhaps just slow.

It was sunny in the front yard of Cecile’s house, and I stood out front talking to the people passing by. I ended up serving as the de facto doorman, with dozens of people asking politely and offering money to use the bathroom. As they say, “Ain’t no place to pee on Mardi Gras Day”. I didn’t take money, and Cecile was graciously allowing folks into her house. I was gifted with a black leather flogger by a woman wearing no shirt who was extremely grateful to use plumbing. I didn’t refuse it or pursue it, and she she ambled off down the street, hopefully for home.

Cecile, Chris and I took a walk down Bourbon late in the afternoon because I had never done it and they had not done it in years. It was a crowded fun mess, with everyone dressed up or undressed and having a good time. The rabid religious folks seemed to be taking a break when we walked, which was a nice change from earlier in the weekend. We ended up dancing briefly in a couple of clubs and heading back to Touro Street. The parading had mellowed out at dark, but people were still walking up and down in costume.

A great Mardi Gras!

The Krewe of Muses

I missed Nyx on Wednesday, mostly due to bad planning and a lack of motivation brought on by a late big lunch at Bamboula’s. I love their fried oyster po-boy, and went home to take a nap before walking uptown to see the parade. As it approached time to go, it started to pour down rain, and I decided to stay home. Maybe next year!

I made up for it with the Muses on Thursday. I was invited to the float prep party at Cecile’s to photograph one of the float Krewes getting ready for their day. They had a catered lunch and bar, and the twenty or so women transformed themselves into Muses with black costumes, red wigs, and makeup. This was the first New Orleans event where I was the “official photographer” and it was a lot of fun.

After a couple of hours of eating, drinking and primping, the women got on a fleet of pedicabs for a ride through the Quarter in full costume to their big pre-party luncheon. They would continue on to the staging area for another party, and then on to the floats. Over 1100 women participate in floats with comedic or satirical themes.

I stayed with Chris and his daughter Jennifer, and we relaxed for a while before heading across town to the Ace Hotel. It was a good place to stage, just two blocks off the parade route but not crowded. The folks in the bar appeared to be mostly locals escaping the parade. We walked right up to the back of the reviewing stand, and found a gap where we could see the floats and the bands. I got to see the St. Augustine Marching 100 for the first time-impressive!-and the flambeaux which are a little scary. It is a bunch of guys in casual costumes carrying propane bottles in backpacks and large propane torches. I’m fairly confident OSHA would not approve. It was not a great place to catch throws and I did not bring a camera, but we saw probably half of the Muses floats before Cecile’s came by. It was a good Carnival day!

a link to more photos: