I’m not French. Well, not really – although there is speculation in certain corners of the family that I am of French Huguenot descent – a recent discovery (to me) which somehow makes sense. My father was South African, and his mother was, he told us, French Portuguese. His father was an Englishman, but that’s not the point – but it’s not surprising that he may have been conflicted.
The point is, I love the Cajun expression, “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” – and it is in this spirit that my girlfriend Brenda and I took a whirlwind trip to New Orleans just as Mardi Gras was heading to its crescendo.
In the past, letting the good times roll involved alcohol, but I am now more than 18 months sober. Brenda usually doesn’t drink either, but she is no alcoholic. But I have seen her hammered twice in our 12-year relationship, and that shit was hilarious.
She has long been infatuated with all things Mardi Gras – and every year decorates the apartment with all manner of ephemera related to the event. And she loves parades. And coffee.
Brenda is also finishing up her final radiation treatments, the culmination of the medical hoops she has had to jump through this year as a result of breast cancer. The lady has been through a lot.
So we went to New Orleans a couple of weeks ago – a quick decision which gave us a weekend’s worth of “bons temps.”
I must say being dropped into the epicenter of alcoholic frenzy made me want to slap myself for my inability to comport myself like a human being when I drank. If I had, perhaps a snort or two would have been expected if not encouraged. And it’s a wonder Brenda thought me a suitable traveling companion given my past. But, alas, I am a new man – and even if the thought crossed my mind to excuse myself to go “to the bathroom” – there was no way in hell I’d act on it. Plus, she would kill me. So would my kids.
If I ever decided to go somewhere to drink myself to death, The Big Easy would be my first choice. But being discovered dead in a hotel room isn’t big on my list. Would I be naked?
But we made a lot of memories in the three days (one full, two partial) we were there: Flying out of Charleston because of a better deal, which involved driving to Charleston at 4 a.m. – we flew American Airlines – first to Washington DC – where I scored some great from-the-air footage of the Washington Monument as we were landing – then a flight to New Orleans.
We both took a small carry-on – and there were no issues. This is the first time Brenda has flown a commercial airline. That alone was great – to see her reactions.
At the suggestion of a good friend, we stayed at the venerable Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street – in the heart of the French Quarter. Some might know that this hotel is where the “greasing of the poles” is done every year at Mardi Gras.
We must have hit up eight parades on Canal Street, right around the corner from us – meandered up and down Bourbon Street – stopping in to see various bands along the way – but there were more classic rock cover bands than anything else. Good bands, for sure – and nothing screams Mardi Gras like a Metallica or AC/DC cover, right? Where was the Zydeco?
We enjoyed our meals, and our hands-down favorite was an apparent local favorite, Deanie’s Seafood. Brenda went for the Crawfish Etouffee and I scarfed down an excellent Barbeque Shrimp Pasta. And of course the iconic Café Du Monde for beignets and café au lait. But we noshed quite a bit.
Other memorable events included a bus tour of the city, including the French Quarter, the Garden District, Treme’, and a stop at an above-ground cemetery – conducted by a very well informed lady who drove that 33-passenger vehicle like most people drive a Ford Focus. We also saw parts of the Ninth Ward – where the ravages of Katrina can still be seen.
I won 15 bucks at Harrah’s at a poker machine – and we split right away.
A lovely walk down to Decatur street at night.
I totally spaced about Preservation Hall because, SQUIRREL.
And we should have check out the music on Frenchman Street – but our dance card was full.
Our cab drivers were awesome, to and from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Flat fees. Seamless. No worries. No dicking us around.
When we got back to Charleston, we randomly ended up at a fantastic place called Smoke BBQ on King Street. My Cuban Sandwich was a highlight of the trip. Smoke started as a food truck, and one of their partners is the Music Farm. Together, they put on a Weekly Burnt End BBQ Brunch.
Big bonus: Got to see my daughter in Charleston – although she was working at Amen Street and we only got to drive her home.
Brenda is right. We need to get out there and live.