Sunday, October 23, 2011

What to See in NOLA - by neighborhood

Hey everybody! Sorry I haven't posted in a while... here is an article I did for the national photography guild, which will be having it's convention in New Orleans next January. This is pretty spectacular since the last national photography convention held here was in January 2005, just 8 months before the storm, so having them back is fantastic! Just because I'm addressing this to photographers doesn't mean that anyone can't get some great what to do and where to go info from this article, and amateur photogs might enjoy the tips as well!

New Orleans Welcomes You Back!

          It’s been six years since Imaging USA graced the streets of the Crescent City, and boy, has the Big Easy been through a lot since then! If this is your first time visiting since 2005, you might be wondering how much has changed since you were here. Well, the answer to that is – a whole lot, and so much for the better! In fact, there are more restaurants open in the New Orleans area now than there were before the storm even though our population numbers are still slightly lower than Pre-Katrina levels. You know what that means? We’ve got more to share! Actually, our rebuilding efforts have managed to bolster our local economy above the levels of financial crisis that the rest of the country has been experiencing. If this is your first time ever to New Orleans, we are more than excited to see you! We’re a very generous city, and our favorite pastime is sharing it with guests.
          We know you’ll be having tons of fun learning and exploring everything the convention has to offer, but in your free time, there are some things in our city that you’ve just gotta see! Get your cameras ready because New Orleans is a photographer’s dream! Here are the greatest areas of the city that you won’t want to miss!

The French Quarter

Of course, the French Quarter is a must. It’s the oldest section of the city, with buildings nearing 300 years old. You’ll find fantastic music, drinks, and food all through the Quarter, which stretches from Canal St. to Esplanade Ave. In between the Mississippi River and Bourbon St. is the main area you’ll want to see. While the Quarter technically extends to Rampart St., past Bourbon is nearly all residential. People tend to think only of Bourbon St. when they think of the French Quarter – free-flowing booze and scantily clad women. Now, while you are free to roam the streets, drink in hand anywhere around the city (as long as it’s not glass – just ask for a go-cup!), the Girls-Gone-Wildness is fairly contained to just Bourbon Street (and more-so on the side closest to Canal Street). In fact, just one street up from Bourbon is Royal St., where you’ll find some of the most elegant antique stores, boutiques, and galleries that the city has to offer. If you are looking for drinks, order a hand grenade from Tropical Isle and/or a hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s! Just don’t make early plans the next morning!
There are many historic buildings that allow tours in the French Quarter, but there are three right next to each other that are probably the most iconic images of New Orleans – the Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral, and the Presbytere. Both the Cabildo and the Presbytere, once government buildings, have been converted to museums retelling the grand history of our city (with extremely low admissions!). They serve as bookends to St. Louis Cathedral, the centerpiece of New Orleans’ rich Catholic heritage. It was featured prominently in Walt Disney’s film The Princess and the Frog, which is a great movie to watch to get you into the spirit of the Crescent City! These buildings sit on Jackson Square, around which fledgling artists, face-painters, and fortune tellers congregate. I see some great images in your future!
Find yourself hungry in the French Quarter? There are tons of good eats around from the very casual to the ultra-fancy! Two of New Orleans’ favorite sandwiches are the po-boy and the muffaleta (MOO-fah-lotta). Get your po-boys at Maspero’s on Decatur St. A po-boy is a sandwich made on thick, crackly French Bread with anything from roast beef or ham to fried catfish, shrimp, and oysters. They’ll ask you if you want it “dressed”. That means do you want it with everything (lettuce, tomato, mustard, etc.). A muffaleta is a New Orleans Italian sandwich on a huge Italian bun with every sort of meat imaginable plus cheese and olive salad. Get these at Central Grocery further down Decatur. They’ll ask you “whole or half?”. Ask for a whole if you haven’t eaten for at least a month. For dessert (don’t tell us you’re full??) stop into Café Du Monde right at Jackson Square on Decatur for coffee and beignets (ben-YAYs). Beignets are square, fried doughnuts, doused in powdered sugar. They come in orders of three. The coffee they serve (and pretty much all coffee at any New Orleans restaurant) is made with chickory, which is a form of tree bark that is ground in with the coffee beans which makes it thicker and gives it a stronger flavor. It’s served au lait (with milk). Don’t ask for it black. At the least, you’ll receive startled looks, but more caring waiters will warn you of its potency. Trust us on this one… drink it like it comes. All you need to add is sugar… if you like.
There are some fairly famous breakfast places in the Quarter that will all provide entertainment as well as great food! Breakfast at Brennan’s Restaurant is practically a New Orleans institution. Attire is dressy casual. Anything on the menu will knock your socks off but a great local dish is Grits and Grillades (GREE-odds…strips of savory veal in a spicy sauce on top of grits), and for dessert you can’t pass up Bananas Foster, which was invented by the Brennan family. It’ll be cooked and flambéed right at your tableside! The Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch Buffet (same attire as Brennan’s) will have you tapping your toes and licking your lips! You can get some fantastic Grits and Grillades here, along with Bananas foster, plus gumbo, Shrimp Creole, Eggs Benedict and omelets made to order – the list goes on and on! A Jazz trio keeps the atmosphere fun and casual! If you like to hoot and holler, do the House of Blues Gospel Brunch! Note: All 3 of the above restaurants get packed quickly so reservations are your best bet! Could you eat breakfast at any meal of the day? Stop into Camellia Grill on Toulouse and Chartres. This diner’s original location is in the Carrollton neighborhood and has been insanely popular for decades with locals. The food is great but it’s really the waiters that you’ll be talking about after! These guys just love to cut up! There’s no way to make reservations here. Just be aware that there will probably be a little wait. That’s a good bet for pretty much any New Orleans restaurant. Don’t let a line scare you away. If there’s a line at any restaurant, chances are there’s really good eats at the end of it!
Dinnertime in the Quarter? Take your pick at any number of classic New Orleans restaurants! Red Fish Grill, Mr. B’s Bistro, and Brennan’s are all Brennan’s family restaurants, which assures deliciousness! Other famous restaurants are Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, and Arnaud’s. Antoine’s is where the dish Oysters Rockefeller was created and is the oldest continually operated family restaurant in the country! It also houses some fantastic Mardi Gras artifacts and paraphernalia so it’s worth walking into and asking to be shown around even if you don’t wind up eating there! All of the above places fall into the “dressy casual” category. If you’re looking for casual dinner spots, check out Acme Oyster House (featured on Man vs. Food!), Fiorella’s, and Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. Acme and Fiorella’s both serve fantastic fried… well… EVERYTHING. Fried pickles at Fiorella’s are awesome, and of course, Acme has fantastic oysters. Louisiana Pizza Kitchen serves gourmet brick oven pizzas that are out of this world!

The CBD (Central Business District)

          Chances are you’ll be staying at the New Orleans Riverside Hilton which means this area of town is right at your doorstep! The CBD is situated in between Poydras and Canal St. While it doesn’t house the amount of historic sites that the French Quarter does, it certainly doesn’t fall short on fantastic hotels! Le Pavilion, The Roosevelt, and Windsor Court are probably the ritziest hotels in the city and worth stepping into! Le Pavilion is famous for its ties to Napoleon. One of his bathtubs is actually housed in one of the hotel’s suites! The Roosevelt is known for its grandeur, and its music lounge, the Blue Room, has seen performances by countless numbers of the world’s great musicians. The Sazerac cocktail was created at the Roosevelt’s Sazerac bar, and the hotel is also home to Domenica, one of world-renowned Chef John Besh’s restaurants. Windsor Court’s lobby is not as grandiose as the two aforementioned hotels, but taking tea at Windsor Court is a fantastic treat! Along with delectable teas, you’ll be served tea sandwiches, scones, as well as chocolates and tarts. Don’t be afraid, gentlemen! It’s not unusual to see the guys taking afternoon tea here as well! Reservations are essential!
          And while we’re speaking of luxury, it’s appropriate to mention Restaurant August. True cuisine connoisseurs will not be able to pass this restaurant up! This is John Besh’s signature restaurant, and effort is made here to not just make phenomenal food but to make food ART. Get the tasting menu with the wine pairings, and you just can’t go wrong! Don’t even look at the menu! Just put what they stick on your plate on your fork and in your mouth, and you will be treated with a true experience of taste Nirvana!
          If you’re looking for someplace casual, all you have to do is go right downstairs at the Hilton to Drago’s. Drago’s is famous for its charbroiled oysters, and they have certainly well-earned their fame! Even if you “don’t eat oysters”, these are well-worth a try! Also close by is Mother’s (also featured on Man vs. Food!). It’s po-boy heaven right at the foot of Poydras! They are famous for their “debris” po-boy. They take all the juice and crumblings and pieces that fall off when they slow cook their roast beef and put it right back on the po-boy. If you’re particular about dropping food on your shirt, you might want to consider a bib!

The Warehouse District

          Once New Orleans’ industrial district, former warehouses have been converted to high-end lofts, galleries, and fantastic eateries. The length of the Morial Convention Center is your landmark and outline of the span of this area. At the end of the Convention Center, you’ll find Mardi Gras World, where you can see some of the biggest, most extravagant floats that grace the Crescent City’s streets during Carnvial Season! The Warehouse district also houses the National World War II Museum. Its 4-D film, Beyond all Boundaries, was put together by Tom Hanks and is truly a one of a kind, awe-inspiring experience. At the World War II Museum is John Besh’s casual restaurant, the American Sector, serving the best of classic American dishes. The USO style shows at the Stage Door Canteen (also at the WWII Museum) are tons of fun as well! You can also find great music at the Howlin’ Wolf.
          There are several great bars with equally great eats in the Warehouse District. The Ugly Dog Saloon has fantastic burgers, the Red Eye has the “Unbelievable Tuna Steak Sandwich” (which lives up to its name!), and you’ll find truly delectable appetizers (mussels, sweat breads, and escargot – to name a few!) at Tommy’s Wine Bar. Lucy’s on Tchoupitoulas (Chop-ih-TOO-luss… you’ll impress locals by being able to pronounce this street!) is also a great dinner time hot spot!
          The Warehouse district is also a great place for ethnic cuisine. Want some real Cajun cookin’ along with Cajun dancing? Check out Mulate’s (MEW-lots) right across from the Convention Center. Another great place is Cochon (KU-shawn… which is Cajun for “pig”), whose whole menu is focused around pork. Looking for Spanish cuisine? Try La Boca on Fulton St. Their steaks will melt in your mouth! If you’re a sushi fan, there is no place better than RocknSake, also on Fulton St.


          Walking through Uptown New Orleans is like taking a stroll through the Old South. Centuries-old oaks canopy the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line, embracing Greek-revival style antebellum mansions. It’s a pretty safe bet that if the Streetcar line passes by, it’s an area you want to check out! Don’t let locals hear you call it a trolley! You’ll be swiftly corrected! It’s the perfect vantage point for photographs of stately homes lining St. Charles Avenue. Past Napoleon Ave. to Audubon Park (right across from the universities Loyola and Tulane) is where you’ll see the largest homes on St. Charles so don’t get off and turn back early! The Streetcar moves fairly slowly and stops on nearly every corner, so be sure to take some time take everything in. You won’t be disappointed! Check with your concierge because there are lots of walking tours that will point out historical and celebrity homes in the Uptown area. Be sure to look up as well. It’s very easy to spot the Uptown parade route from the Mardi Gras beads that hang year-round on Oak trees lining St. Charles Avenue.
          A few blocks up, running parallel to St. Charles Avenue is Magazine St. This is THE street for shopping in New Orleans! There are tons of Boutiques and specialty stores running for countless blocks! You’ll also find great local hang outs like the Bulldog (check out the back courtyard for a fountain made of beer taps!), Buddha Belly (combination bar and Laundromat), and St. Joe’s. Local coffeeshops can also be found, like CC’s and PJ’s, as well as great dessert places like Sucre. Speaking of desserts, the Creole Creamery is located on nearby Prytania St, and has New Orleans style ice cream flavors (Bananas Foster!) that are not to be missed!
          It is near impossible to talk about Uptown New Orleans and not mention the culinary legend that is Commander’s Palace, the crown jewel of the Brennan’s restaurants! The best part is, you don’t have to break the bank to eat here! Go for lunch on a weekday (or brunch on a weekend) and you’ll find three-course meals for $35 PLUS martinis for 25 cents. That’s right. One quarter for a martini. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you can get good and sloshed for a mere $1 at one of the finest restaurants in the city of New Orleans. Dreams do come true right here in the Crescent City!
          On St. Charles itself you’ll find one of New Orleans’ best Mexican restaurants, Superior Grill! The margaritas are fantastic and the atmosphere is all fun! Afterwards, stroll along St. Charles to wind down at the Columns, this beautiful hotel’s bar is a local favorite for sipping a glass of wine on their large front porch or in one of the hotel’s stately parlors.


          Stay on the Streetcar as it turns onto Carrollton Ave. and you’ll find yourself in the quaint yet still stately neighborhood of Carrollton. You’ll see that the homes here turn from the imposing to the inviting, as a more relaxed, homey, yet still naturally New Orleans neighborhood emerges. Get off the Streetcar and be sure to stroll up Oak St. where there’s fun local stores and great restaurants. Oak is a great, classy bar with a selection of fantastic mixed drinks and a generous wine list, but it’s also a restaurant even though it has more of a bar atmosphere. We’d suggest a few cocktails and a selection of their amazing appetizers. On Oak St., you’ll also find an awesome restaurant called Jacque-Imo’s. Be prepared for a wait because this place is always packed and rightly so! Very often you’ll see Jacque-Imo’s waiting patrons spilling into the street! If you’re a barbecue fan, Squeal is out of this world! It’s phenomenal! Sushi fans will love Ninja. Their sushi is outrageously fresh, and man, are they sticklers for presentation! Their rolls are beautifully presented! Be sure to order the Caterpillar Roll, which they decorate with avocado and asparagus so that it looks like a little caterpillar!
          If you like Middle-Eastern food, stay on the streetcar and don’t pass up Lebanon’s! Delicious! Plus, this restaurant knows that people can be particular about their alcohol, so while they don’t serve any, you can bring in whatever you like, and they’ll provide the glasses, and a bucket to ice your wine or beer bottles down if necessary! Afterwards, hop on the Streetcar and kick back and relax while you head back Downtown.

Mid-City and City Park

          St. Charles isn’t the only street you can wander down on a Streetcar! The Canal St. Streetcar line is also tons of fun! You can tell the difference easily because St. Charles Streetcars are green while Canal St. Streetcars are red. Those red streetcars will take you to a treasure-trove of fantastic restaurants called Mid-City. NOTE: Mid-City New Orleans is not to be confused with Central City New Orleans! Yes, only in New Orleans is the Middle not the same as the Center! Central City is not an area you want to visit. Mid-City is. There ya go! Got it? Alrighty!
          The intersection of Canal St. and Carrollton Ave. is where you’re headed! You’ll see on your left, a block before the intersection, a fantastic restaurant called Mandina’s. It’s in a big pink house where the neon in the windows proudly advertises that this restaurant is Air-Conditioned! Step on in (once again, there’s probably a line!), and you’ll be looking at a classic New Orleans restaurant menu. You’ll have your po-boys, gumbo, and fried seafood platters as well as some amazing Italian dishes. Few out-of-towners (if you’re not from New Orleans, you’re from “out-of-town”, whether that be Mississippi or Minnesota) realize the influence that Italian immigrants have had on the New Orleans area. It’s a big reason our accent sounds more like Brooklyn rather than Southern. Anyway, let’s focus on Mandina’s! The Trout Almondine is a big favorite here. If seafood isn’t your thing, the Veal Parmesan is fantastic. Be sure to also check the daily specials on the back of the menu!
          At Carrollton Ave., get off the Streetcar and walk right to your right. You’ll see a great Italian restaurant called Venezia’s. Once again, everything on the menu is delicious! Just be sure you leave room for dessert! Walk a block further on Carrollton and you’ll see Brocato’s, a local phenomenon! It’s an Italian ice cream parlor serving smooth, refreshing Italian gelato as well as an amazing array of Italian desserts! Have some spumoni, have a cannoli, or have some Italian Ice and a hot cappuccino… or, hey!, have it all! Nobody’s gonna judge you in New Orleans!
          You’ll notice that at Carrollton and Canal, the Streetcar line veers in two different directions. One way continues on Canal St. and goes to the cemeteries. Because New Orleans is below sea-level and our water-table is so high, it’s really not practical to bury people in the ground so our cemeteries are full of above-ground tombs that are usually very ornate and adorned with all sorts of statues. Some have stained-glass windows! Photographers love the cemeteries! There are many guided cemetery tours you can take. Just ask your concierge! One other thing you’ll find at the end of the Canal St. Streetcar line right by the cemeteries is a little bar called the Beachcorner. Best. Burgers. Ever. Not exaggerating here. They’re phenomenal. A Streetcar ride here is certainly well-rewarded!
          Back at the Carrollton and Canal intersection, the other direction the Streetcar goes to is down Carrollton Ave to City Park. Get off when the line ends and walk straight. You’ll find yourself in New Orleans’ City Park. There’s lots to see here! The New Orleans Museum of Art will be on your left at the end of a long line of young Magnolia trees. In front of the Museum to the right, you’ll see a jogging path surrounding a pond where you can rent a little paddle boat. Behind the Museum is a beautiful sculpture garden as well as a picturesque amusement park called the Carousel Gardens, which is named for the antique carousel at the center of the park. It’s enclosed in a white gazebo, and locals often refer to it as “the flying horses”. Next to the Carousel Gardens is a little park called Storyland full of adorable attractions for younger kids themed to everyone’s favorite nursery rhymes. All through City Park, you’ll see ancient Oak trees, many with limbs trailing the ground. There’s also stone bridges and gazebos that make for amazing photographs. City Park is a New Orleans hot spot for wedding portraits.

But what about the Lower Ninth Ward?

          There are lots of tour companies that do “disaster tours” and will take you to areas that still have major recovery to do. Tour groups are the best way to do this because the areas most affected are nowhere near the Streetcar lines and are far away from any areas that visitors usually frequent. Fortunately for New Orleans, the areas that tourists most look to see – the French Quarter and Uptown – didn’t flood at all! In fact, Johnny White’s Bar in the French Quarter, whose famous reputation is that they never close, was able to stay completely operational – even during the height of the storm!

For more fun information about New Orleans, please visit!
We hope that you’re as excited to see us as we are to see you!
See you soon in the Crescent City! Let the good times roll!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some Things We Should Never Forget

We love to joke down here. We love to take situations that would normally be stressful, uncomfortable, and downright depressing and laugh the Hell out of them. I think that's one of the strongest things about the people of New Orleans; we have an amazing sense of humor that gets us through the worst moments in our lives. In a sense, it also somewhat translates into a lassiez fare attitude towards things that should be taken very seriously. We do tend to get so wrapped up in laughing at our problems that it takes a while for the joke to grow old before we actually pick up and do something about it, which is why New Orleanians, while we do complain occassionally, are generally fairly content to be mildly behind the times on things that other cities stress themselves into convulsions about. So without further ado, yes... I'm going to talk about hurricanes. At this point, I can almost hear other New Orleanians groan and roll their eyes, and I know the feeling. Whenever I see anything about Katrina or hurricanes in general and their effect on New Orleans, I do the exact same thing. I hate TV shows and mini-series and movies and anything at all that talks about Katrina and its after-effects on the city. K-Ville was just brutal, and honestly I watched all of 5 minutes of Treme. As soon as they started on about the storm, I was like "ok... CLICK." One of the things that I think frustrates New Orleanians so much about storm talk is that the media's attitude towards hurricanes is so vastly different than our own. They go insane on the doom and gloom, giving people all over the world the impression that we are so insanely screwed when it comes to storms that we shouldn't even live here in the first place. In reality, while there were IMMENSE failures in our protection system during Katrina, those type of failures don't happen on a daily basis. Yes, they could be a HELL of a lot better, but the major events that these systems are meant to protect against don't really happen every other weekend. Also, since Katrina, the attitude towards hurricanes has deepened TREMENDOUSLY. People actually do evacuate and take precautions now if there does happen to be a storm heading our way. This was NOT the general attitude before Katrina. When I was younger, it was like "Woohoo!! Hurricane time!!" Honestly, hurricanes were fun. We got out of school for a day or two. The lights would go out for maybe a day or two, which would mean we would all play boardgames or cards by candlelight. The city would come by and pick up whatever branches happened to topple, and life would resume fairly quickly. People would actually have parties during hurricanes. And give this city 10 - 15 years without any real storms, and I guarantee, this mindset will seep right back in. That's one of the reasons I'm writing this right now, because I know how the pendulum (albeit, extremely slowly) swings here, and I believe that there are some things that we should never forget about the hurricane that locals now simply refer to as "the storm."
    I get extremely angry when I watch media coverage from Katrina, and it's because the story that was painted for the general public was 180 degrees from what actually. Yes, the levees failed. Yes, there was hideous damage from the rage of Mother Nature, but that was nothing to the damage that was caused by human beings, and Mother Nature's damage could have been taken care of much quicker, if the government was overwhelmed by dealing with the human damage. I say "human", but that's a term that I will use very loosely. Let me point out that I love my city with every fiber of my soul, but there is a caliber of people here that I would not categorize as anywhere near human. These people have been taught to take and take and take, and they've been taught that that's alright. It's ok if you didn't earn it, need it, or even rightfully pay for it. If you want it, it's yours, and there's no need to work or better yourself or create anything beautiful or helpful to anyone else in the world because compassion just doesn't matter. Before the storm, my husband and I owned a coffee shop/theatre in New Orleans' Warehouse District, one block from the Convention Center. We had both gone to college at Loyola in New Orleans for theatre so we were living our dream. True Brew had a small 100 seat theatre as well as a cabaret stage in the coffee shop where stand-up comics and beat poets would perform. When the storm was approaching, we treated it with a lot of concern because I was 7 months pregnant for our son. We were running a show that was selling out like crazy. Once the city started talking about evacuating, which was on the previous Thursday, we did start to have some people calling to cancel their tickets, but we had even more people calling to ask us, "Hey, is anybody cancelling their tickets because of the hurricane because we want to come see the show." When we saw that the local government was getting so anxious, we announced that we were cancelling our Sunday performance, and people were cursing us out for it! The evacuation was called, but we didn't leave before getting the Saturday night box office done. My husband told the cast, "Have a great show, y'all. My wife and I are gonna spend the weekend in Little Rock. I'll see you on Thursday." Then we left, driving straight through the night to Little Rock, listening to Mardi Gras music to keep us awake, and then we sat in a Hampton Inn for over a week and watched the life we'd built unravel. We were glued to the TV. We also had our laptop open because our local news, Channel 4, kept streaming the local news online. CNN had set up their cameras on the neutral ground in front of the Convention Center, so we could see the front of True Brew whenever they would pan the camera around. We heard about the levees breaking, but our place never flooded. The Convention Center is right next to the River, and the area next to the River, which is where the French Quarter, the house we were living in, and True Brew are so we knew they hadn't been flooded, but we had family who were stuck at hospitals that had been flooded so we were anxious and listening for any news about them. Then, the news coverage turned a lot different. Suddenly, there were people packing the Convention Center. They showed people lining the streets allegedly starving and dehydrated all around True Brew, and word was starting to pour in from friends and acquaitences who had stayed that anarchy was breaking out. Thugs were looting and shooting at policemen. People were being killed in gunfights. A friend of ours who was working at the now abandoned Charity Hospital told us stories about how they were trying to evacuate dying patients out of the hospital in helicopters and there were these horrible people shooting up at the helicopters. We watched and watched as all of this unfolded. I was terrified. I was in my third trimester, and we had to start looking around trying to figure out where on Earth we could have the baby if we weren't able to go back home. We watched and watched until the Thursday after, the day we had told our cast that we would see them again. That's the day we saw that the doors to True Brew had been broken open. We had believed the media's story that these people were starving and thirsty and there was a part of us that said, "Oh thank God! We have food and water all right there. I hope there was enough to help some people." That's what kept us from going mad at first, but then after several days, friends of ours who were with the police and were able to get to True Brew started to tell us about what had really happened. They told us that they had trashed our place, that there was all this damage. They told us about all the stuff that they had stolen, and we started noticing on the news that some of the people  by the Convention Center that they were interviewing were doing the interview while sitting in our chairs, and we saw that some of our chairs had been converted to toilets. We even saw a pair of our cooking scissors sticking out of a covered body on Convention Center Boulevard. This was barely scratching the surface. We left Little Rock and moved to my grandmother's house which is right outside Baton Rouge so that we could be close, and my husband could try and get in and clean up the place so that we could get it back up and running as fast as possible. Once my husband was allowed to get back, WEEKS after the storm, we saw the full extent of what had happened to True Brew. All the alcohol was gone. They had taken a newspaper dispenser and ripped the lock off the door and then thrown it through to get in. The ATM and video poker machines looked like they had been ripped apart by a rabid tiger. They were absolutely destroyed. The same for our safe and filing cabinets. But that was not the worst. There were feces everywhere. All over the floor, on my husband's desk. They had taken out the pots, pans, and coffee pots from behind the counter and defecated in them. They had even put feces on doilies and left them on display on our countertops. As far as our hope that hungry/thirsty people had made use of our food, that was a miserable discovery. We threw away a freezer and at least two fridges worth of food that had not been touched. There were cases of water unopened and untouched in our store room. Actually, there was one piece of fruit that was used. There was a drink at the end of the bar that had a twist of lime in it. The most gruesome discoveries were thankfully removed before my husband had got in, but the search crew marking on the door clearly identified that there had been bodies inside at one point. There was blood and dirty underwear in the bathrooms and in the video poker booth. Thankfully, we discovered afterwards that our insurance covered "riots and civil unrest", which is the title that our claim was filed under. Storm damage? None. But the insurance only got us so far. We had to hire specialized crews to make sure the place was sanitary again before we reopened, and we did reopen, but after many pitiful months, we closed shop. The audiences were gone. The Convention Center wasn't booking. Owners after us have had several other restaurants in True Brew's place, but the theatre was annexed by another restaurant as additional dining space. Thankfully, my dad asked my husband to help his business, which is Jefferson parish, which stayed relatively safe from the anarchy in New Orleans, and we were able to create a new life for ourselves because of that, but we still have a lot of sadness and anger over the way our dream was looted out of existence.
     When the media revisits Katrina, it's usually images of flooded out streets and people stuck on rooftops that are most often re-aired, but that was hardly the worst of the damage that was done in this city. The greatest damage was to the tenuous trust between the different peoples of this city. It's not about rich vs. poor. It's about people with humanity vs. those who have been taught not to have any. The saddest part about all of this was that there were so many people who abused the situation that the people who truly did need the help couldn't get it because the people in charge were too busy trying to return order to actually have time to really help anyone. My mother-in-law's friend was staying at a hotel downtown with her husband. A day or two after the storm, her husband had a heart attack. He died because he couldn't get to a hospital in time. The National Guardsmen who were trying to take him were being shot at as they were trying to save him. Homes can be rebuilt. Trees and powerlines can be cleared away, but the lives that were lost because of the disintegration of civilization can never be regained. When they count the number killed in Katrina, those "don't count as storm victims." But they were.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Orleans Food and Wine Experience Review

     May 27, 2011.... I walk into the Convention Center with muddled expectations.... is it a sit down dinner? Will there be individual tables? Long tables?? As my husband and I approach... at first we see only middle-aged couples approaching... but as we go in, we see that the age range is actually quite varied... everything from 20 somethings to 70 somethings... in everything from cocktail dresses to jeans... As we walk in, we're handed these little bamboo trays that have this nifty little hangy-spot for your wine glass. We are also handed a wine glass, and I began to think to myself, "You mean we're not gonna sit down at all?? I paid $98 to not have a seat??" Then I begin to look at the list (which is really like a small novel!!) of all the restaurants and wineries that are offered.... and it appears that every single awesome restaurant that I could possibly imagine in the city of New Orleans (everything from Antoine's to Parkway Bakery!!) is represented. My curiosity is sparked.... and looking at the list... the price seems to dwindle and suddenly appear extremely reasonable.... and then... the doors open....
     The very angels of Heaven seem to chorus! How glorious!!! To New Orleanians... a veritable Food Nirvana unfolds! Tables upon tables of food, and each one with a wine table right next to it!! I wish I could give reviews of everything I tasted and where it came from.... but I was unprepared.... I would have needed a notebook and pen or some sort of recording device, be it audio or visual... Needless to say, I was in awe.... and was having lots of regrets for having eaten anything at all during the day... I should have fasted in preparation.... Gumbo in a bread bowl, seared scallops... tuna wrapped in beef served over a paste of butternut squash... lobster mac and cheese... It was mindblowing. It was hard not to concentrate entirely on the food, but I did take a moment to notice the decor.... the hall was done up beautifully! Twinkling lights in trees and soft uplighting made the Convention Center just magical looking! Add a few extremely sporty and expensive Audis on display, and it made you feel like a millionaire... it also made you wonder how you ONLY paid $98 for this!! I really can't give a whole lot of detail on all the different wines I tried because honestly.... I'm a light-weight and I got very tipsy, very quickly.... not tipsy enough, however, to forget that I had chosen a not comfortable-enough shoes.... Yes, there was dessert... there were also dessert wines... CC's was also there with some yummy yummy fancy coffee drinks... it was PHENOMENAL... I drank too much and hardly ate enough... next year, I'll know to prepare better, because you've got to believe that I WILL be there next year, and I would advise any one reading this to be there too!! If you've never been to New Orleans and you don't get a lot of time off... take off the last weekend in May and come to the New Orleans Food and Wine Experience!!! It is quintessential New Orleans extravagance!! And you'll be able to say you ate food from nearly every restaurant in the city!!
     A bit shout of thanks to Jeff and Monique Serpas for requesting our attendance! New Orleans Food and Wine Experience is one experience I swear I'll never miss again!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

New Orleans: Why Save It?

     New Orleans is in the news for flooding... again. And once more, the systems in place to keep it from flooding are in question. This time, though, not in the question of them failing--in the question of them working. Because... if the Morganza Spillway is opened, which could potentially save New Orleans from a possible 25 feet of water, hundreds of people's homes and acres and acres of farmland and fisheries will be ruined. And if you read the comments beneath the articles on, you see the inevitable questions... "Why don't people just wise up and move out??" "What's the point of all this obviously expensive engineering and tax dollar spending wasted on this area that floods all the time anyway??" "Why should we save this city??" Obviously, I get extremely heated about this, because, as you can tell, I am completely head over heels in love with my city, and I could go on and on and on about how beautiful, unique, wonderful, magical, this place is. But what good does that do, really? Gets a load off of my chest, sure, but opinions hardly work to convince people. So here I am (slightly calmed down after a cup of tea) to make a case for the Crescent City, and why EVERYONE (even people who don't live here) should be concerned about protecting New Orleans, and how that, in turn, leads us to an obligation to help others.
     New Orleans was founded and maintains it's dominance because of one thing... the Mississippi River. It's a port. In fact, it's the largest inland port in the United States. In 1718, when New Orleans was founded, there was no faster means of transport than water. Overland travel was tedious and slow, and could not handle the movement of large amounts of cargo or people. The Mississippi is connected to a network of 19,000 miles of inland waterways that fan out from the River itself, right into the heart of the continent. In fact, 70% of the nation's waterways drain into the Mississippi River as it flows past New Orleans, and by New Orleans, it's DEEP, over 100 ft., which means that it can easily accommodate GINORMOUS ships with massive amounts of cargo, and it's a few miles inland from the Gulf, which means a natural safe harbor for those ships. Planting a city in New Orleans' location was the 1718 equivalent of plugging directly into the world-wide web. Goods could be brought in from all over the world because of the close access to the Gulf of Mexico and then easily distributed throughout the nation because of the River's vast veins of waterfront access. It was primarily to gain this access that the United States made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 from Napoleon, which at that time DOUBLED the size of the nation, but it would have been useless if New Orleans would not have been included because it's whoever controls New Orleans who controls the use of the Mississippi River.
     New Orleans as a port is no less relevant today. Over 6,000 ships move through New Orleans every year, making it the world's busiest waterway. This single port in one year can generate $2.8 BILLION in tax revenue and support $37 billion of the United States' output. 5 MILLION tons of steel were imported in just one year, and it's the nation's top port in coffee and rubber. The Port of New Orleans boasts the world's longest wharf, which can handle up to 15 vessels at one time. In fact, the world's FIRST World Trade Center was right here in New Orleans.
     The industries of the New Orleans area have a vital impact on the nation. Louisiana is the nation's largest salt producer and represents 19% of the country's natural gas reserves and 11% of the nation's petroleum. Obviously, with the marine background shipbuilding and repair of US Navy vessels is a large business in New Orleans. The Higgins boats, which are recognizable as an instrumental marine vehicle in the D-DAY Invasion, were built and tested in New Orleans, which is part of the reason why New Orleans is the location of the National World War II Museum. It also serves as a big port for cruise ships, with over 700,000 passengers moving through the city annually. A big draw for those tourists is the fantastic food, especially seafood. Louisiana Seafood accounts for 40% of all seafood that Americans eat every year.
      The Tourism Industry is massive in New Orleans, and rightly so. There are over 35,000 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, which, by the way, is 15,000 MORE than Washington D.C. The iconic New Orleans Streetcar is the oldest continually operating streetcar line in the world. Another icon, the Superdome, has hosted more Superbowls than any other stadium. New Orleans' signature holiday, Mardi Gras, alone is a billion dollar event, and let's not forget Jazz Fest, or the vast array of festivals that draw in millions to the city every year.
     When I travel, the thing that amazes me is how much New Orleans is represented in so many other places. When I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last July during one of their street festivals, I saw booth after booth of "New Orleans style" food! I ate in a "New Orleans" restaurant in Oklahoma City! I popped into a "New Orleans" pub in London, England! The famous Disney ride, Pirates of the Carribbean, opened in Disneyland in a section of the park titled "New Orleans Square". Everywhere, people's hearts are striving for the spirit and feel of this city.
     "But it's so dangerous to live there!" "It floods all the time!" "What about hurricanes??" Well... what about hurricanes?? Personally, I don't mind dealing with a natural disaster that gives you ample time to get you and your loved ones well out of harm's way. You-Know-What would not have been the mess it was if it hadn't been for MAN-MADE mistakes on the part of government agencies that AREN'T BASED IN NEW ORLEANS. Predicting blizzards doesn't really give the amount of time for evacuation that hurricane prediction does, and as far as tornadoes are concerned, there's barely any warning for those, and earthquakes give no warning at all! You can't escape nature no matter where you go, and where there's nature there's ALWAYS the potential that it can become hazardous.
      As far as flooding goes, the original city of New Orleans, the French Quarter, is built right next to the River ON HIGH GROUND!! Even when 80% of the city was underwater, the French Quarter and most of Uptown New Orleans was HIGH AND DRY!! New Orleanians really had to start dealing with flooding once the city had grown larger and spread out away from the River. But even after our worse flooding, the city has bounced back ENORMOUSLY! In fact, there are more restaurants open NOW than there were BEFORE the Storm (we locals tend to shy away from the K-word, preferring to refer to it as simply "the Storm"). Every city in the world has its own storms to deal with. I believe that our battle with the elements gets more publicized because deep down, the world would be disheartened without the knowledge that there is someplace truly and naturally vibrant and magical. It would be as if something bad were to happen to Disney World. Oh yes, I went there. I'm also a massive Disney fan, and I think it's because Disney is such an awesome counterpart to New Orleans, in that Disney is man-made magic that can be pin-pointed to individual design choices, visions, and elements, and New Orleans magic seems to well up unseen but felt, beating in its music and its streets. You can see clearly why Princess and the Frog is one of my favorite movies.
     I think everyone should keep in their hearts and minds the people that have been affected and will be affected by the flooding that has occurred because of the River that gives our city its life-blood. But I think it's unnecessary to quabble over "if's" or "maybe's" because not opening the Morganza Spillway will not save its residents from flooding. The River will run over no matter what, and in it's path, injure the very jewel that gives it it's fame. We should be there for those people that will be driven out of their homes, and offer every service and hospitality to them, because as New Orleanians, that is our obligation to others, our price of protection to anyone, who like us, is at the mercy of the elements. Should New Orleans be saved? Absolutely. And in being saved, we must pay it forward, and reach our hands out to others.

*The concrete info from this article was taken from information researched by the New Orleans Marketing and Tourism Company and from*


Friday, April 29, 2011

Happy Royal Wedding Day!

I want to extend the best of wishes to William and Kate on the day of their Royal Wedding! I think it's awesome today that the whole world is watching and celebrating royalty today. Yes, there's a lot of buzz about the dresses, the hats, the flowers, and all the pagentry that goes along with it, but I think the thing that is most important in events like these and about the Carnival Balls and pagentry that we throw here in New Orleans is the display of beauty and poise and class that is so different from the overuse of sexuality and crudeness that is so prevelant in film, television, and music today. It's so important for young people to have good role models with manners and class who have true respect for themselves. That's what all the pomp and circumstance is really about. That's why I think it's such a wonderful experience for young girls to be part of Carnival Balls and such that we have here because you have to have a sense of poise and dignity to participate in those sorts of events. I think these sorts of ceremonial events also give people a connection and real show of their history and culture. So many young people feel disconnected, but having a sense of place and history and connecting to that can give someone a true sense of place in the world. Our history is part of our identity. And today is history in the making! God Save the Queen!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

NOLA and Catholicism

     In so much of the United States, the secular world is all-encompassing, and while there are many freedoms gained by taking a specific religion out of the limelight, so much history and culture is lost when the faith that shaped them is pushed to sidelines. But there is a place where culture, history, and faith remain not only in the limelight but in a firm embrace. I speak of course of the unique and symbiotic relationship of New Orleans and Catholicism.
     There are of course, numerous cities in the United States that have large Catholic populations but it's hard to find anywhere else where Catholic traditions and cultures have become so deeply ingrained in the culture of a city. New York and Boston for instance both have large Catholic populations but these areas originally were founded predominantly by Protestants and large Catholic populations immigrated in after their founding. Los Angeles and several other California cities have large Catholic populations, but although they were founded by the Spanish (a largely Catholic country), California has had large Prostestant populations move in, thus diluting the Catholic influence.
     New Orleans was founded by the French, who were largely Catholic. Next it passed into the hands of the Spanish... also, largely Catholic, before it moved into the hands of the French once again. The Cajuns who immigrated into the Southern Louisiana bayous were also largely Catholic, meaning that New Orleans wasn't just a Catholic bubble in a mainly Protestant area, but rather, New Orleans became a hub for a much larger Catholic community. Louisiana remains today the only state that is divided into "Parishes", a religious term for a church community, rather than "Counties" like every other state in the nation. Even after Louisiana became part of the United States, New Orleans continued to grow in its Catholic population. Large immigrations of Irish and Italians swelled the city, putting the preverbial icing on the very very Catholic cake.
     How does this play out into the modern culture of New Orleans? First let's consider the city's greatest landmark. Most US city's are instantly recognized by great secular architectural pieces. New York has the Statue of Liberty. St. Louis has the Arch. San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge... so what's New Orleans' greatest, instantly recognizable landmark? St. Louis Cathedral, the central church of the Catholicism in New Orleans. You see a poster or some general advertisement about New Orleans, and chances are, you'll see the Cathedral. It's even part of the logo for the University of New Orleans, a PUBLIC university, which is located not at all near the French Quarter, where the Cathedral is located.
     As far as New Orleans festivities are concerned, it's clear to see the Church's influence. As I explained in my Mardi Gras post, Mardi Gras itself is a church holiday. The Carnival season is kicked off on King's Day, the celebration of the day the three wise men visited the Christ child in the manger. King Cake, which symbolically represents their journey and the search for the Christchild, is enjoyed by New Orleanians of every religion, not just Catholics... or even just Christians for that matter!
     Now let's discuss Lent, the church season that Mardi Gras exists to herald. In other areas, this season is greatly overlooked in the rest of the nation. There are even some Christians that don't even know what Lent is. Lent is the 40 day period (technically 47 days since the Sundays aren't counted) of penance that is observed in preparation for the celebration of Easter, the holiday that celebrates Jesus' rising from the dead. The season begins with Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras. On this day, Catholics go to Church and stand in line to get ashes smeared on their forhead usually while hearing "Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return" or the watered-down version "Repent and turn away from sin." It's meant to remind you of your mortality and your need to seek forgiveness for sin, which was Jesus' whole point of death and Resurrection. This tradition is not very well observed in other places in the US, but in New Orleans on Ash Wednesday, you can't turn the corner without seeing numerous people who look like someone put out a cigar on their forehead. It's hard to forget about a day centered around repentance when you're nursing your Mardi Gras hangover, and that's only the beginning of Lenten tradition.
     As previously explained, Carnival Season comes from the Latin meaning "Farewell to the Flesh", this is because on Fridays in Lent, Catholics are not supposed to eat meat. So what can we eat? Seafood. Now, this is meant to be a penance, but in New Orleans, where Seafood is so abundant, "no meat on Fridays" is simply an excuse to pig out on seafood. There are many "Catholic" New Orleanians who otherwise don't step foot in a church, but absolutely refuse to eat meat on a Friday in Lent. "No, no it's Friday. I'll have the shrimp po-boy instead of the roast beef." New Orleans seafood restaurants are absolutely PACKED on Fridays in Lent, and restaurants that aren't specifically seafood restaurants advertise Lenten specials with no-meat options. I got Domino's Pizza the other day, with a big flyer on top that advertised shrimp as a topping available during Lent. It also doesn't hurt that the season of Lent happens to coincide with crawfish season. It's very popular for families and groups of friends to have big crawfish boils on Fridays in Lent, especially on Good Friday. Yup, in New Orleans, even the day of Jesus' Crucifixion is a cause to party.
     Another Lenten tradition that is observed widely in New Orleans is the tradition of giving up something for Lent. Although the Church encourages more that Catholics do extra charity work or engage in extra prayer, the practice of giving up something for Lent is still widely observed. Many New Orleanians also use Lent as an excuse to re-resolve to follow any New Year's Resolution. So while health clubs around the nation see a boost simply on January 1st, New Orleans gyms also see an increase of membership at the beginning of Lent, from those who are giving up a muffin-top for Lent. 
     Like many places, St. Patrick's Day (March 17) is another Catholic observance that's celebrated in New Orleans by Catholics and Non-Catholics alike. Of course, we put our own New Orleans flair on it by celebrating with parades, and like any New Orleans parade, we don't just wave and smile. Green throws like beads and frisbees and cups are thrown to the crowds as well as cabbage, potatos, Irish Spring soap, and other grocery items.
     Right after St. Patrick's Day, the Irish step aside to let the Italians have the limelight with St. Joseph's Day (March 19) parades and celebrations. A Scicilian St. Joseph's tradition has taken firm root in New Orleans with the popularity of St. Joseph's Altars. Many churches and families set up St. Joseph's Altars that are open to the public. These altars are filled with cookies and pastries, many in religious shapes, and visitors can take home goodie bags full of all sorts of Italian treats. On the Sunday closest to St. Joseph's Day, the Mardi Gras Indians have a huge celebration they call "Super Sunday". The Mardi Gras Indians are groups of African-Americans that dress in elaborate Native American style costumes (anticlimatically called "suits"). They are organized into "tribes" that parade around their sections of city and have mock fights (basically tribal dance-offs) when they run into another tribe. Where is St. Joseph in this? Yeah... absolutely nowhere. It's just always held around St. Joseph's Day.
     But it's not just these celebrations that show off NOLA's Catholic heritage. More obvious than anywhere is our Football team's name - the Saints. Honoring and asking for intercession from the Church's most notable followers is a very well-known Catholic practice. There's also a very popular jazzy hymn called "When the Saints go Marching In" that New Orleans street bands play very often that the Saints adopted as their signature tune.
     One of the strongest areas that Catholicsm has in the city is in its school system. The Catholic school system in the city is much older than the public school system. Most are single sex schools run by a specific religious order of brothers or sisters, such as Dominican, Jesuit, Mt. Carmel, and Urusline. In fact, Ursuline, an all girl school ranging from preschool to twelfth grade was founded in the 1720's, when the city itself was less than a decade old! And it's still going strong. While many of the Catholic grammar schools are co-ed, most of the high schools have remained single sex, and because there are so many, the competition between them is fierce. School pride and loyalty is so strong that your personal identity as a New Orleanian is very much determined by where you went to high school. When two New Orleanians meet, one of the first questions asked is "Where'd you go to school?" That means they want to know where the other went to high school, not college. Many kids attend the same school their parents and grandparents attended. My daughter, for instance, will be attending Dominican High School, which is where me, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother all went to high school. She'll be our fourth generation there! Often, New Orleanian parents will know where their kids are going to high school before they know where they're going to grammar school! With all the tradition and family ties that surround the Catholic school system, it's no wonder that the New Orleans public school system really doesn't meet the standards of public schools elsewhere. Locals just tend to overlook it. It's really only recently with the introduction of charter schools that the public school system has even been much of an option for New Orleanian parents. Even non-Catholics attend the Catholic schools, and the selection of local private schools. Suffice it to say, New Orleans parents are very used to the idea of paying for their kid's education way before college.
     Now, you might ask, "What about Voodoo?? You always hear about Voodoo in New Orleans." Many of the slaves that came into the city brought their native religion of Voodoo with them, and while it's true that many were converted to the Catholic faith of their masters, those who were freed (New Orleans did have a large population of "free people of color" even before the emancipation) and those slaves who were allowed to maintain their faith did pass down Voodoo, and there are some practioners today. A lot of the Voodoo hype comes from a particular Voodoo priestess named Marie Laveau, who was also a practicing Catholic and was married in St. Louis Cathedral. She was a popular hairdresser amongst many upperclass white families and thus was well known in New Orleans society. Madame Laveau combined a lot of her Catholic faith with Voodoo ritual and is even known to have performed some of these rituals inside of the Cathedral. I find it very amusing that the most famous person associated with Voodoo was actually a Catholic!
     It's hard to go through the city and not be reminded of its Catholic heritage, whether you're simply passing a Catholic church while driving around (not hard to do!), or you see a statue of the Blessed Mother in someone's front yard. New Orleans is more than just a city that happens to have a lot of Catholics. When people of very different nations all flowed in together, they took their one common factor, their faith and allowed it to be the foundation for a culture and set of traditions that is entirely unique and uniquely New Orleans.
     So if you're visiting the city or simply studying it's history, be sure and take a peek into some of it's historically Catholic sites. St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, St. Patrick's in the Warehouse District, Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter, Holy Name of Jesus on the campus of New Orleans' Catholic University--Loyola, St. Roch, the Shrine of Blessed Father Seelos, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor - which is on the campus of Ursuline Academy. You might wanna call ahead to find out the schedules and times when you could see these places because they are religious sites. But if you are able to see them, you'll get a great understanding of the spirit of the Crescent City.
     If you want to read more about the unique New Orleans Catholic culture, check out Earl J Higgins's book The Joy of Y'At Catholicism!  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Join the Krewe! An Experience of a Lifetime!

We're offering an experience of a lifetime! Want to be a part of Carnival 2012?? My family and I put together a package for those who would like to be a part of the Krewe of Carrollton. The dates of Carrollton weekend next year are February 9 - 12. We host a dinner at Deanie's Restaurant on the Thursday, Friday night is the Ball, and on Saturday, we do brunch at the Court of Two Sisters, a tour of Oak Alley Plantation followed by gumbo and snoballs. On Sunday, the whole krewe does breakfast at the House of Blues, then we second line back to the Hilton for the guys to get into their costumes and get on buses to go to their floats. Then the rest of us go out and watch the parade! Throws are included and are loaded on your float for you! The price is $1,690 for 2 people, one rider, and one non-rider. So you get a dinner for 2, ball invitations for 2 (which also include dinner), brunch for 2, plantation tour for 2, gumbo and snoballs for 2, breakfast for 2, and ride (including costume and throws) for 1. Plus, we take care of transportation for all the scheduled activities. All you pay for is your hotel and airfare. Carrollton gets a block of rooms at the New Orleans Hilton at a discount rate. Here is some important info:
Participation - Gentlemen ages 13 and up are eligible to ride. There's really no age limit for any other activity, however, because the ball is a very formal late night event, we recommend this experience for ages 13 and up only. Kids 5 and up can be members of the Royal Court, however, additional obligations and fees apply.
Dress Code - The Ball is a black tie event. Men should be in tuxedos. Ladies should be in floor length gowns. Those not in proper attire WILL be turned away! All other events are casual.
If you are interested, please email me at with your mailing address, and I will mail you a full brochure!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Inside a Carnival Krewe

    This is the real deal of Mardi Gras! It's these organizations that put on all the parades that tourists flock to the city to see! The government has no part in planning or putting on the parade. They simply provide the police presence and the infrastructure. Everything else is done by the krewe itself. Getting in with a krewe and going to krewe events is like having a backstage pass to Mardi Gras! Traditions vary slightly between krewes for different things but the basic make up of our events is the same. These parties and festivities are events that tourists rarely get to see. But you know me *wink*, so here we go!
    My family belongs to the Krewe of Carrollton, which is the fourth oldest parading krewe in New Orleans. Like many krewes, Carrollton is an all male krewe. This means that the actual members are the guys, and they're the ones who ride on the floats and attend the meetings. Yet, this doesn't mean that women aren't involved! Ladies attend pretty much every event, plus the Past Queens and the wives of the King's Circle members (explanation momentarily) hold many of their own women-only events. There are also all female krewes (like Muses) and co-ed krewes (like Orpheus). For a krewe, Mardi Gras IS year round! Parties, get-togethers, dinners, and celebrations of varying size and formality occur all year. Meetings are held to discuss plans for the upcoming parade and ball. Also, of course (like anything else in New Orleans), to eat, drink, and generally have a good time. The leader of the krewe is called the Captain. The Captain is Captain for life (or until he chooses to resign). It is traditional for the Captain's identity not to be made public (although of course, the people in the krewe know who it is!). This is why you will see a Captain masked during a parade. The Captain is usually in all white riding at the very front of the parade. Although the position of Captain is voted on by a group of Officers, it is typical (especially for a well-liked Captain) to make it generally known who he wants to succeed him.  The Captain appoints the Officers, who help him in choosing that year's theme and selecting what float titles will be.  The krewe also has an executive board that is voted on by the members who take care of a lot of the financial and logistic decisions in the Krewe. The Royal Court has no part in making decisions, and hold their titles for one year. So yes, a Carnival Krewe has a Captain, a President, and a King... all at the same time!
    The events in the krewe generally revolve around the Royal Court and the celebration of their reign. Carrollton's Court is made up of a King and Queen who each have 2 pages, usually 6 or 8 maids and their dukes, junior maids (number varies), and ladies in waiting (around 10). Junior maids are girls usually around 12 - 15 years old. Maids are girls usually 16 - 20. Their dukes are typically men in the krewe and vary widely in age. Ladies in waiting are usually little girls 5-11 years old. The Queen is typically around 18-21. The King is a member of the krewe and his age can vary widely. Their pages are young boys and girls usually between 5 and 10. Other krewes' courts are similar although size and titles may vary. For instance, the king of Thoth is called the "Pharaoh" since Thoth is an Egyptian god. Some krewes may have more or less maids, that sort of thing. Different krewes also have differing traditions on how the court members are selected. This is how Carrollton does it...
    If you're a lady in waiting, junior maid, maid, page, or Queen, it's very simple. You pay. Family members pay the krewe, and the girl's name is put down on the list for the court for that year. For everything except Queen, the name does not have to be down too far ahead of time. Queens book up YEARS ahead. My daughter is two, and she is down to be Queen of Carrollton in 2027. We put her on the list as soon as the ultrasound confirmed we were having a girl. There are names down every year up to 2027 and some past that! There are families who put down a family's name for certain years for children who have not yet been conceived! This is the process for many of the krewes. The Twelfth Night Revellers, however, use the tradition of the King Cake to pick their court. Instead of a baby, they place one gold bean and several silver beans inside of a cake, and give slices to all girls of eligibility. The girl with the gold bean is the Queen, and the silver beans are her maids.
    For King the process is much different. In Carrollton, there is a club within the club called the King's Circle. The members of the King's Circle pay an additional fee to be a member. There are only 60 spots in the King's Circle, and it's of these 60 men that the King is chosen. Sometime in August, we have a "Pulling Party". A blank invitation is set out near the door, and all King's Circle members sign it as they enter the party. They then pick a number. Once all members are in attendance, the signed invite is placed in an envelope and mixed in among unsigned invites in envelopes. The members assemble, and according to the number they pulled, choose an envelope. They do not open these envelopes until the party is over. Once they are alone, they open the envelope. Whoever gets the signed invite has three options. 1. They can accept it and be king. 2. They can give it to any other member of the King's Circle. 3. They can sell it. The member who pulled it calls the Captain and let's him know what his decision is. If he chooses to sell it, the Captain then takes over. He has a list of which members are interested in case King comes up to buy. He calls these members and asks them to put in a bid. This bid can be for ANY amount. Nobody else's bid is revealed. Simply the highest bid offered gets the Kingship. King selection varies widely between krewes. Some krewes only pull from a select group, some, like Endymion, pull from all members of the krewe. Others have a list, similar to a Queen's list.
    The King's identity remains secret until the Coronation Ball, which is held usually around late October or early November. The Coronation is really a transitional event-saying farewell to last year's court and welcoming this year's. The ladies of the court are presented in white gowns, and the whole atmosphere is slightly less formal than at the actual Carnival Ball. Coronation Balls are fairly new to the Carnival scene, around 20 years ago, but once they were introduced, many krewes have picked up on them as if they were any traditional Carnival necessity. At Carrollton's the Captain makes a big to-do over who the next king will be by walking around the ballroom and trying the crown on various King's Circle members' heads in turn. He'll often fake-out the audience by placing the crown, shaking the member's hand, only to remove the crown as soon as that member begins to stand up. It's very amusing! In Endymion, any member can be crowned King, and the audience watches as a name is pulled from a large basket at random. It has happened before where a member's very first year in Endymion has been his year as king! 
    Between the Coronation and the Carnival Ball, there are numerous parties that occur in honor of the Court. Sometimes, court members' families throw a party (usually revolving around king cake) for their family and friends honoring their lady of the court. The Queen is expected to throw a luncheon for her and all of her maids to attend. The King throws a luncheon as well. One very popular place for these luncheons is Antoine's, an upscale, historic New Orleans restaurant that houses a good amount of Mardi Gras memorabilia. There is a room in Antoine's called "The Rex Room" because it houses memorabilia from past royalty of the Krewe of Rex as well as portraits of EVERY King and Queen of Carnival. This is the most popular room to request for a King or Queen's luncheon. An Open House is also held for krewe members to purchase Carrollton throws (as in beads, cups, etc... that is... anything you could throw off a float with the Carrollton emblem on it), Carrollton shirts and such, and favors and ball invitations.
    It is traditional for krewe members to purchase krewe favors to give to their female guests at the Ball. Sometimes these are necklaces or brooches, compact mirrors, small music boxes. They're usually some sort of small item that goes along with the theme for the year although sometimes they just have the krewe emblem on it. This year they're a really nice picture frame with the krewe emblem. 
    How do you get invited to a Carnival Ball? Usually, you have to know someone in the krewe, who either pays for your invitation or you give them money, and they'll pick up your invitation for you. Orpheus, Endymion, and Zulu sell invitations to their Balls online to the public. It is considered very poor taste to refer to Ball Invitations as "tickets", even though you pay for them and use them for admittance. Yes, in the case of Carnival Balls, you pay to be invited.
    Balls are extremely formal events. Men wear tuxedos and ladies wear floor length gowns. Even the craziest, hugest Carnival Balls, like the Endymion Extravaganza and the Orpheuscapade (which don't even have Court presentations), are formal-attire only. The fantastic paradox about Carrollton and Endymion (and most of the Carnvial Balls) is that... they're BYOL (Bring Your OWn Liquor). So It's perfectly normal to see people in long evening gowns and tuxedos pulling ice chests and carrying grocery bags full of booze into an event that with protocol doormen who WILL turn you away if you're not in proper attire.
    As explained in a previous post, Carnival Balls come in two parts, the tableau and the supper-dance. Some krewes do them on separate nights and locations. Some, like Thoth, do them on the same night, but hold the two parts in different rooms. Carrollton holds both parts in the same room on the same night. In any krewe's presentation, you will notice that surrounding the dance floor are reserved seats that are just for ladies. These seats can be requested when purchasing invitations.
    The presentation of the court will start with introducing the Return Court, these are the maids and Queen of last year's Carnival Ball. Then, the present court is introduced. First the maids, then the King, then the ladies in waiting and the Queen. Each member of the court processes around the floor and curtsies or bows (except for the King and Queen, who wave their scepters) at different locations around the floor to acknowledge all of the guests. There are then usually several special presentations that the King and Queen make, flowers for the Returning Queen and usually presents to the wife of the King, mother of the Queen, and other special guests. Carrollton has a special tradition of presenting dolls to the wife of the King and mother of the Queen that are perfect representations of the King and Queen's costumes. After these presentations are over, the entire court processes once more around the floor in what's called "the Grand March" while the orchestra plays the official song of Mardi Gras, "If Ever I Cease to Love." The presentation is then over and the supper-dance begins! This all occurs over about a 2 hour period. At Carrollton, the presentation begins at 9, and dinner is not usually served until around 11. This can vary depending on how many court members there are, and in the case of a very traditional tableau, which some krewes do, there are short skits performed between maids that depict different aspects of that year's theme. Those can end up being around 3 hours. They are absolutely stunning events, and I LOVE going to them, but I do like to let people know ahead of time that they should eat beforehand and plan on sitting for a while. That's why I love how Carrollton does it all in one place. Since you're basically already at your dinner table, you can go ahead and snack while it's all going on... wards off the sugar-crash!
   After that, you dance dance dance until the band goes home or until you pass out, whichever comes first! One dance that you will see done during a Carnival Ball is the Second Line. This dance originates from Jazz Funerals. Instead of having everything be very sad and mournful, after the funeral, a Jazz band plays and the family takes the same hankies they used to wipe away their tears and they wave them in the air while they dance to celebrate the life of the person who died. The family and the band are known as the first line, and anyone else who joins in are called the second line, hence the name of the song. This song however, has expanded to be used not just at funerals but at weddings, parties, Carnival Balls... basically any large New Orleans occassion. You'll notice that a lot of people have special, decorated umbrellas at the Ball. As soon as this song starts, you'll see them all appear out of nowhere, and the dance floor will be a sea of umbrellas and people dancing with napkins!
   The morning of the parade, Carrollton has a breakfast at the House of Blues for the krewe and family and friends, after which everyone second lines back to the Hilton, which is where everyone gets dressed for the parade. Everyone riding is loaded into buses and taken to the start of the route. The Return court is taken in their costumes to ride in the parade. The current maids and Queen dress in skirt suits with matching gloves and hats and are taken in limos to the front of the parade where they toast to the Captain and King for a good ride. Then, they're taken to grandstands in front of a hotel to have brunch and then review the parade as it passes. The Queen toasts to the King when his float comes by.
    About a month after the parade, the king of Carrollton hosts a King's Party, a dinner and dance for the members of the court and the King's Circle. In some krewes, this party takes place during Carnival. While there may be several small parties and events that occur during the next couple of months, things stay pretty calm until the following August, when a new King is pulled and the partying begins all over again!
    As you can see, there's a lot that goes on, and every krewe is a little bit different and hold their own special events. Some krewes are extremely secretive, never revealing their royalty to the public and keeping their membership very private, but there are many organizations that are very open and anyone can participate in! Carrollton actually has a good number of out-of-town members. Having our Ball and Parade all in one weekend makes it very easy for guests to come to New Orleans and participate in all the big events. I have listed on the side links to several krewes who sell invites and membership to the general public. Go ahead and check it out! You can be a part of Mardi Gras too!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Parading: Where to Park and Where to Pee

     There are 75 parades rolling in and around New Orleans during Carnival Season this year! Seems a bit overwhelming, I know. Can you hit them all? Nope. This is logistically impossible as there are multiple parades rolling in different areas at the same time. Really what you need to decide is what kind of parade experience you want before you start plotting out which ones you're going to hit up and where you are going to stand. Are you going with a bunch of adults or is it a family affair? Are you concerned about catching as much as possible or are you more concerned about food choices or accessibility? New Orleanians don't just show up randomly at a parade. Many have their "spots" that they return to year after year, which are based on the above factors plus access to a potty. So what's the magic formula for perfect parading? Let's break it down...
   The families to adults ratio of a parade watching location is directly proportionate to the distance of the location from the start of the parade. As in, the closer you get to the beginning of the route, the more family oriented the atmosphere... and the closer you get to the end, the more adult it gets. This is ESPECIALLY true for night parades. Daytime parades are more family oriented in general and will have more families all along the route. The only real exception to this rule is Endymion. At the beginning of the Endymion route, the krewe hosts a concert (known as "Samedi Gras"... that is, "Fat Saturday") to kick off the parade so this tends to attract a more adult crowd around the immediate area of the concert stage, which is right at Orleans Ave. and City Park Ave. But as you move slightly further along, it becomes more families.
    There is a big bonus to making it an adult affair or taking your older kids to the end of the parade. Riders about to get off their floats start dumping all their throws as it gets closer to the end so standing at the end of the parade will assure you a really good amount of loot. The parades the second weekend (that is, the weekend right before Mardi Gras) have larger crowds and generally lean more towards the adult crowd while the first weekend (that is, two weeks before Mardi Gras) is more family oriented and the crowds are a lot lighter. 
    It is very simple to judge if the area you have chosen as your spot is family oriented. Just look around and see
how many ladders there are. A mandatory tool of any New Orleans family is a parade ladder. A parade ladder is typically a six foot-ish wooden ladder with a seat on top for kids to sit in so they can see and catch better. Some people really do up their ladders. Many are painted or hot-glued with beads. Some have shag carpet lining the seat so that it's nice and cozy. Many have cup holders (sometimes more for the parents than the kids!), and I've seen some
that take AC duct piping that's hooked on the side so the kids can catch stuff and drop it down the piping for a huge
bag waiting underneath! The more ladders in a an area, the more families are there.
     If you're traveling to New Orleans with your family and you're going to be in for numerous parades (particularly if you have kids 5 and under), it is well worth it to get a ladder. Hardware stores all over the New Orleans area sell them, usually around $80. Look for one that has wheels on the side of the seat so that they roll easily to your spot. Whether you have kids or not, necessities at any parade include folding chairs and ice chests. As many people are aware, it is perfectly acceptable (and very much EXPECTED at parades!) to have open alcoholic beverages on the street, but if you have glass bottles, make sure you bring plastic cups for your drinks because glass out on the streets is NOT legal... or safe. Plus, ice chests serve as extra seating if you run out of chairs.
    As far as food is concerned, many people brings snacks and such out to the parade route. Plus, there are numerous mobile food trucks all along parade routes, and I mean, you're in New Orleans... nine chances out of ten, there's an awesome restaurant a short walk from wherever you're standing! Just make sure you get in well ahead of the parade because if you're anywhere close to a parade route, all nearby restaurants are gonna be very busy in the hours leading up to a parade. The bonus of going to eat at a restaurant close to a parade route is that if you eat there, you can usually return back to that restaurant to use the bathroom! VERY IMPORTANT!
    The real art of New Orleans parading is waiting. You cannot arrive ten minutes before a parade starts and expect to get a good spot. For most parades, you should pan to arrive at your spot around two hours before you expect the
parade. Keep in mind that with all things New Orleans, start times are relative terms, and you can always expect things to run slightly behind schedule. Keep in mind also that New Orleans parades are LONG. If a parade starts at around 6pm, the first float is not gonna make it so the end of the route until around 10pm at the earliest. So if you plan on standing far along the route, don't expect the parade to pass by you thirty minutes after start time. Also, most parades don't happen solo. They roll by one right after the other. So if you're looking to see a certain parade, you need to check the calendar and see if there's a parade (or three!) that rolls in front of it, and just plan on hanging out for those parades as well.
    Now, for the Super Krewes (Endymion, Bacchus, and Orpheus), you need to get there WAY ahead of time to get a good spot! There are people who literally camp out for these parades. You'll see tents lining the parade route with old couches and easy chairs sitting in front of them! It is possible to get there the day of the parade, but you need to get there WAY ahead of time! For Bacchus, there are many good parades that roll that morning on it's route so you could hang out and just make a day of it, but if you don't care to, I'd stick with 3 hours before start time--keeping in mind, that you will probably find a lot of people who have already staked out spots from that morning. For Orpheus, Proteus rolls right before it, so you need to get out there two hours prior to Proteus. And then there's Endymion...
    If there was such a thing as a SUPER SUPER krewe, it would be Endymion! This is the most gigantic parade that rolls during Carnival Season! It rolls right after 4, and it has its own route through the area of town known as Mid-City, and there are no parades that preceed it or follow it. Some people camp out for DAYS waiting for Endymion. You should get at least one member of your group out AT LEAST six hours prior to start time to secure yourself a spot. And when you get out there, I guarantee you will see a crowd similar to the crowds you would see ten minutes before start time for any other parade. Yes. It is that huge.
    So what do you do while waiting for a parade? You eat, drink. You talk. You people watch. You stroll up and down the parade route (of course, not your entire group! Someone has to save the spot!). Usually, you will be within earshot of someone who's brought a sound system so there will be music. People will probably be dancing. Once it starts to get close to parade time, the cops will block off the streets, and people will start mingling in the middle of the street. Kids sometimes bring footballs and toss them back and forth. People will carts come by selling peanuts, cotton candy, and stuffed animals and other toys. Chances are you'll see some people in costumes at any parade, but on Mardi Gras Day, they'll be fantastic! Keep your cameras out because they'll be tons to see! Some costumes are harmless TV or movie references, but many will be mocking any sort of local or national political or pop culture scandal that's going on. It's hysterical!
    So where are my top spots? Let me lay them out. I love standing by Superior Grill on St. Charles Ave. I think it's a great spot to eat in general so I don't mind eating there multiple times during a parade season! If you eat there, you can use their bathrooms. Their margaritas are so good, which I enjoy because I'm not really a beer drinker and that's the only thing easily hauled out to a parade route, unless you pick up a gallon of daquiris before getting out there. Plus, they play music and usually have a DJ, who can usually coerce a band to start playing a good song as soon as they pass in front of there. Also, you don't usually have to park any further than 3 or four blocks away, which is not bad. You take I-10 to the expressway and take the Tchoupitoulas exit, head back towards Uptown and park along Antonine (that's the Superior Grill sidestreet) just before you hit Prytania. Check the side streets too, because there's usually stuff all along there, and then when you leave, you can just head back towards the River and take Tchoupitoulas back to the expressway. Very accessible, and closer to the beginning so it's not late when everything passes. A great spot for both day and night parades any weekend!
    Now the first weekend is the weekend that my family's krewe, the Krewe of Carrollton does all its events. We have our Ball and Supper-dance that Friday night, Saturday is our...ummm... RECOVERY day... and Sunday is our parade, and there are numerous other events that go along with our Krewe this weekend (will go more into detail in my next post "Inside a Carnival Krewe") so we don't really do anything special for any other parade, and even though there are parades that follow Carrollton, we go back to the end of the parade to meet my family as they get off their floats so we don't see any other parades that day. Now, since we're already downtown, we stand downtown to watch Carrollton. There's a spot on the corner of St. Charles and Poydras right next to the Shell building, across the street from the Hotel Intercontinental that is a FANTASTIC place to watch daytime parades! Because the stands are across the street, not many people want to stand opposite them so it's not crowded at all. You can get there an hour after start time and still be right on the curb with no one in front of you. Plus, there are several food trucks that hang around the St. Charles and Poydras intersection so you've got lots of refreshment options! If you're staying downtown, and you want to hit daytime parades this is the best place to be!
    WARNING! DO NOT - I REPEAT - DO NOT attempt to watch a parade on Canal Street, day or night!! This is where every unsavory character in the city of New Orleans comes to watch parades!! They're rough, and they might literally fight you for beads!! Mixed in with these people are people who come in from out of town and stay at hotels on Canal Street and are unfamiliar with New Orleans parading and are easy targets for the hooligans who frequent this area. Plus, the street is barricaded right here so it's hard to get around, and the cops, who are aware of the rough nature of this area are not very likely to stop and let anyone get through. Even if you're staying at a hotel on Canal Street, GO WATCH PARADES SOMEWHERE ELSE! Trust me!
   Endymion does not roll on the regular "Uptown" route (which acutally rolls both Uptown and Downtown... the parades all start Uptown). Endymion rolls in Mid-City. I like to be right up close to the beginning of the parade right by Carrollton and Orleans. We go pick up Popeyes and king cake beforehand then go park so that we can snack all day while waiting for the parade. There is a warehouse on Toulouse that has parking, and if you pay to park there, they also let you have use of their portapottys, which is honestly the best bathroom you're gonna find around there unless you know someone who happens to live in the area. This is a more residential area.
   On Mardi Gras Day, I also have a special spot. While Zulu rolls before Rex, Zulu has a specialized route that does not turn onto St. Charles until Jackson Ave. (every other Uptown parade hits St. Charles at Napoleon, which is more Uptown). Personally, I do not like standing farther downtown on St. Charles than Jackson Ave. The closer you get to downtown, the less family oriented the parade route becomes, and there have been violent incidents in past years down St. Charles past Jackson Ave, closer to Lee Circle. To watch Zulu, I prefer just to walk down St. Charles and Jackson (no further!) and see Zulu as it turns onto St. Charles. If you want to be further Downtown so
that you can really see Zulu as well as Rex, I would go into the Warehouse District at St. Charles and Julia to stake your spot. Personally, I like having a really upclose view for Rex alone because the Rex floats are so beautifully detailed, and Rex (you don't say "King of Rex" or "King Rex" because Rex means "king" in Latin so it's like saying "King King") is the King of all Carnival so that's why I make it a point to get a superb spot for that parade. I like to stand on St. Charles about two blocks off of Louisiana because there, Rex crosses over to go down the opposite side of St. Charles so that Rex can stop and toast to Comus (which was the first Mardi Gras krewe ever and only hosts a ball - VERY elite!) at a mansion on the other side of St. Charles than what parades normally roll on. (All parades roll on the Riverside - the side of St. Charles closest to the Mississippi River - of St. Charles.) A lot of people don't realize that it does this so they don't set up their spots there. It's also close to a McDonald's and since Rex starts at 10am, it's great to go out around 7:30, get a McDonald's breakfast and check out the costumes and maybe walk and see Zulu before Rex rolls past. Love this spot! 
     Locals (and some visitors who frequent New Orleans often) will notice that I haven't mentioned any tips for Metairie parades. For those of you who aren't familiar with the area, Metairie is a large suburb that runs right into the city of New Orleans. The only border between the two is a drainage canal known as the 17th Street Canal that runs from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River. Otherwise, it would be impossible to tell where Metairie ends and New Orleans begins. Many people who will respond "New Orleans" to the question "Where do you live?" actually live in Metairie (myself being one!). Metairie has its own set of parades that roll on the same schedule as the New Orleans parades.
    Warning, I am now going to sound extremely snotty so forgive me a moment until I explain. I don't go to Metairie parades. while Metairie parades have gotten larger and improved greatly over the years, the largest, most extravagent, and oldest parades roll in New Orleans. To me, there's something so much more authentic and magical about watching a parade beneath the ancient oaks that line St. Charles Avenue (which is why in New Orleans parades, I don't like to stand downtown... I love the oaks!) than watching a parade from a mall parkling lot. It's just not the same atmosphere, and it cost absolutely nothing to attend a parade so why not go where you enjoy the atmosphere better? There are people who think that Metairie parades are more family oriented and safer than New Orleans parades and this simply isn't the case as long as you know where to stand, which I have just provided for you... so there ya go. No matter where you go, Metairie or New Orleans, there are going to be people drinking and partying so I don't see what the difference in being in Metairie or New Orleans makes to be "safer". And let's face it, if people drinking and partying makes you uncomfortable, then chances are you shouldn't be in New Orleans in the first place! LOL!
    You've probably heard of the saying "Throw me somethin' mister!" However, you'll find at actual parades, people aren't really asking for a gerneric "something". They're usually looking for something specific. Long beads are something that people ask for as well as pearls. Now, we're not talking about actual pearls. What people mean are the plastic beads that are a pearly white color. Krewes usually have plastic cups with that year's theme and/or names of royalty on it, and you'll hear people yell "CUPS!!" a lot. (Go in any New Orleanian's kitchen, and you'll find it's always stocked with Mardi Gras cups!) Dubloons are coins that have the krewe's theme and year on it. These can be hard to catch. Usually what you have to do is stomp on them as they clink to the ground. Just watch your fingers since everyone else will be doing the same thing! Stuffed animals are prized throws, and a rider can get a crowd really riled up over them! Some krewes have special throws you'll only catch with at that parade. Muses is an all-women krewe, and they decorate high-heels that they selectively throw during their parade. Zulu paints cocunuts that they throw. It's a big deal to get a Muses heel or a Zulu coconut! Don't worry, they don't actually throw them, they kinda just hand them off the side of the float. You need to be up close to get these!
    You know a parade's starting when you see the cop cars, and you know a parade's over when you see the firetrucks. Everything in between is pure, ultimate fun! I hope you have a great time at whatever parades you decide to hit! Don't forget a bag to put all your throws in!