Day One of the New Orleans trip started at 5:30 AM in Amherst, scraping frozen slush off my windshield from an mid-April snow. Landed around 11:30 in an unseasonably cold New Orleans at 11:30 AM.
Bill and Cindy live in the Carrollton neighborhood and driving to the library in an old silent film star’s mansion where Cindy was volunteering, we drove down big streets like St. Charles and Carrollton, with old grand houses, shotgun houses, and live oaks. The air smelled a little like Far Rockaway did, when I’d go to our family’s bungalow some cold March day to get a jump on summer. The streets seemed a little like a beach town as well—the pastel colored houses, the low buildings, the restaurants on every corner as well as tucked into residential neighborhoods, one house now sporting a sign and windows papered with coming events.
After an indifferent shrimp po’ boy (no oysters today), Bill and I hit the stores, stopping at a pizza place where he had some work hanging and to Rouses for some local shopping. One of the best things Sarah and I do is hit the markets in a new town and Rouses was no different. I had to hold back a lot, but I did buy some Tasso to freeze and take home. Donald Link has a recipe for it in Real Cajun, but I want some experience with how it tastes before I try to make my own.
We passed a couple of places he’d lived as a boy, the Lusher school where he went, and the stories became a swirl of when he was a boy, Treme scenes, before Katrina, after Katrina, and his new residence. You can’t go home again, but it is good to see him happy in a place he so clearly loves. His parents are long-gone, but looking at a window where his mother did typing for Tulane dissertations, wife of a professor, or the area rode his bike as a kid, you know that he is seeing not only what is there today, but what was there, that overlay of memories of a place you’ve known and loved over the years.
Went to Jacques Imo for dinner. Sensory overload on the walls, sprawling to what used to be a backyard and to what used to be a fish store next door, early in the evening, but nearly full. You gotta love a place where you have to walk through the kitchen to get to your table.
We had Fried Eggplant—a bread stuffing shot through with cooked eggplant and covered in a thin cream sauce and an Alligator sausage cheesecake, more like a savory cake than a cheesecake, with the ubiquitous cream sauce. Bill and Cindy are coming up north for a visit this summer and I can do something with that Eggplant. The house salad-spinach with black and white sesame seeds, a sesame oil/balsamic dressing, topped with a single fried oyster is something else I can do something with. And I intend to.
We split a Paneed Rabbit over shrimp and Tasso pasta shells and the Crawfish Etouffee. More like garlic crawfish, with a medium roux, but good solid food. Great mashed sweet potatoes, sweet, nutmeg and clove spiced, good Corn Macque Chou and some creamy red beans. With something like 12,000 restaurants in New Orleans, it’s hard to go back to a place so you take your flavors and move on. Dessert was a coconut bread pudding, crème brulee, and cheesecake with raspberry sauce trio, just enough.
Bill’s been taking photographs of musicians and then painting portraits from the pics. We were going to see Ed Wills at BMC-Balcony Music Club, near Frenchman Street, and we got there early so Bill could give him the second picture he’d painted. (First one is on his Facebook page.) Got to hear the end of Mykia Jovan’s set-a beautiful and powerfully voiced jazz singer who Bill’s seen singing with Kermit for the last couple of years.
Wills played for two and half hours basically without stopping. He’s an old-school bluesman and everything he plays sounds familiar without sounding like anyone else-bluesy Unchain My Heart, Crossroads, All Along the Watchtower, Albert King and his own stuff. He got funkier as the set wore one, announcing before his last song, Family Affair, that if you know the words, you probably were a grandparent, which pretty much capped it. Hey Pocky Way for the encore, with a verse of Saints thrown in.
Walked around Frenchman Street a bit, then headed home. Cindy, who taught kindergarten for years, kept meeting people—the drummer for the Iguanas whose kids she taught, another of her students all grown up now and playing on stage—but enough street people and college age kids to make me feel my age.
Looking out the window as we drove, I kept thinking, if I leave tomorrow morning, I’d’ve had a full trip. But it’s only just begun.