Friday, January 08, 2010

Freezing but happy in New Orleans

I am sitting on the bed in our room at the Fairchild Bed and Breakfast on Prytania St. in the Lower Garden District, with the heater on. Yes, it is freezing here in the south, but the sun is out which is a damn sight better than yesterday which was drizzly and cold. The only real negative is that Ciprian is sick. We've both been a bit sick over the last few days but he woke up with a little fever. That kind of put a damper on things, but I told him that the trick is to be defiant. Take good care of yourself but have the attitude that you refuse to be sick. This gets the adrenaline up (or that's the idea), which is good for boosting the immune system (I think) and ultimately makes you all better. This is my strategy when I'm sick and it usually works.

[Note: first pic is of our room, second pic is of the downstairs hall.]

In the meantime we're having fun anyway. We arrived yesterday afternoon after a very nice Continental flight. They even gave us a little snacky sandwich; a surprise in this era of no-frills air travel. We took public transit from the airport to our B&B. The E-2 bus on Jefferson Transit (so named for the parish west of Orleans parish...maybe "Parish" should be capitalized?) took us all the way to the CBD (Central Business District) in downtown New Orleans. The CBD used to be the American Quarter after the Louisiana Purchase when a bunch of Americans started moving in on this historically French and Spanish city. It borders the French Quarter at Canal Street. Canal is a wide street with a median. That median used to be known as "neutral ground" between the American and French Quarters. I gather they did not get on too well. Supposedly all medians are now nicknamed "neutral ground", although I have not yet heard a New Orleanian call them that. Then again I've been here less than 24 hours.

So our bus dropped us at the corner of Tulane and Elk in the CBD and we walked a few blocks down Canal to the famed St. Charles Avenue streetcar. I've taken this before - the last time I was in this city in 2001. It is the oldest continuously-operating streetcar in the world, operating since 1835. 1835! It's a charming and nicely laid-back experience to ride the streetcar. And it's only $1.25, so it's a deal. We took the streetcar to Melpomene street, got out and walked about a block and a half in the drizzle to Prytania, and there was our lovely B&B.

The Fairchild House is actually two houses, built in 1841. It was a plantation. Both houses have columns out front. I'll try to take a photo and stick it in here later today or tomorrow.

One of the two houses has an old stable attached which over the years was converted to living quarters and now serves as the breakfast area. The innkeeper is a lovely woman named Beatriz. She and her family are originally from Brazil but they moved here when she was a child and so she has now lived in New Orleans for most of her life.

New Orleans has this reputation, as I understand it, for being a place where people stay. San Francisco also has this reputation. What I mean is, people who grow up here (or there) often stick around because the quality of life is good and at least in the case of New Orleans, the culture and community are so rich and diverse. This is one of the reasons I fell in love with this city back in 2001 and it still has the same magic today. We could feel it immediately when we arrived.

Last night we took the streetcar back to Canal and wandered through the French Quarter a bit. Ciprian finally understood why Bourbon St. has a reputation for debauchery. There are strip clubs and bars galore and the street is peppered here and there with the occasional moderately high-priced restaurant serving up oysters and various creole and cajun specialties. A couple of doors down you might find a place that looks like a hotdog stand or a futuristic ice cream parlor, but which serves daquiries and hurricanes and has mardi gras beads and masks draped about as decor. We wandered down to Decatur St., which is closer to the river, looking for a place to eat. The goal was: local, good, cheap. I'd been told about a place called Coops and that was really what we were looking for, but we walked and walked and couldn't find it. Then at one point we were about to turn around when a young man said, "hey, are you looking for someplace to eat?" And we said "yes, something good and cheap." He said, "Well, you should try Coops." "Oh my god!" I said, "That's the place we were looking for!" So he directed us. Turned out we were only a block away. Lucky that guy found us.

For dinner, I ordered the Coops Taste Plate which came with a cup of seafood gumbo (fantastic), followed by a plate piled with several of the NOLA classics (oh...quick note...I decided to abandon my "no mammals" rule while here...there's just too much good stuff to eat): shrimp creole, red beans and rice, fried chicken (best I've had in my life, hands down), and rabbit and sausage jambalaya, which apart from the chicken was probably my favorite food on the plate. Ciprian got the fried shrimp and oyster platter. I reached the food coma state pretty quickly, but then I got a second wind and we managed to clean up most of the food between the two of us. We also had some excellent local beers. Abita is the name of the popular Louisiana brewery. We had the Restoration ale, a kind of pale ale.

Later in the evening we walked to Frenchmen St., which is across Esplanade Ave, the eastern border of the French Quarter and it's where the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood begins. Frenchmen is kind of the Williamsburg of NOLA from what I gather. It's small, but has some excellent jazz clubs and hangouts. We wandered into the Spotted Cat where a young woman named Sophie Lee was singing jazz standards with her band (upright bass, hollow-body guitar, piano, trumpet).  Note how much her guitar player looks like Robert Downey Jr.

We stayed for about a set and a half, then went across the street to d.b.a. and caught the tail-end of a solo piano set, a la Allen Toussaint. I didn't catch the performer's name, but he was quite a hit with the crowd. The last act of the night was a band from Woodstock, NY, oddly enough, and perhaps even more serendipitous was that they were called the Dharma Bums. They sing about Buddhism! And, to add to the coincidence, it turns out that Ciprian and Evan had seen them play about 10 years ago AND Evan knows the lead singer. So Ciprian went up to him after the first set and said hello. Crazy fun night.

At that point it was about 11:30pm and we were wiped since we'd gotten very little sleep the night before, so we grabbed a taxi and headed back to our lovely room and crashed.

This morning I had breakfast and met one of the other guests at the B&B. Did not catch her name, but she's a fascinating woman; retired engineer, now taking science classes for fun. We talked about science and feminism and just enjoyed each others company. That's the best part of a B&B; meeting people. It is now almost 1pm and I need to get out and about. Ciprian will be lagging behind me this morning, but that's okay. I'll go explore the neighborhood and maybe find a place where I can get a haircut.

Till next time,

1 comment:

Lauren S said...

Your making me miss NOLA, was there almost 2 years ago with my mom, the food was amazing, had bengiets almost everyday! Have a great trip, see you soon!