Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lunch In New Orleans

I am not fond of I-10 through the Florida panhandle. It is several hundred miles from Tallahassee, the state capital in the Eastern Time Zone to Pensacola, the noted airbase (and recipient of BP's tarball largesse) in the Central Time Zone, but it always feels like an age, driving down the dales over the dips in the endless pine forests.Then I spotted this anomaly, one Harley passing a fellow cruiser stricken at the side of the road. I hope he waved cheerfully as he went. I used to think waving was a sign of solidarity between riders in a harsh world. Instead it just means: "Hi, I'm a middle class jerk pretending to ride a motorcycle that cost an arm and a leg, and I don't really know why I'm waving at all." He had a flat and a plug in the rear tire and was slowly inflating it with his little gas bottles. We talked and reminisced about riding in our youth, a time with no cell phones and the expectation that a break down would cause passing riders to offer a hand. We shook hands and I followed him to the exit in case his plug failed and we waved - goodbye.Cruise control is a wonderful thing though I never did much like it on the one motorcycle I owned. By the time we got to California we were getting 30mpg on the long straight stretches of endless Texas freeways.New Orleans was a wreck after Katrina when we last visited and signs of the Great Flood are still evident in the outer ring of strip mall developments. But they are coming back. We saw lots of new apartment complexes available for rent, new box stores and car dealerships litter the east shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
The French Quarter was never much affected, nor the Faubourg Marigny and on this quick trip we checked Bywater and this formerly down at heel neighborhood is now hopping with youthful artistic homes. All very encouraging I'm sure, but someone still needs to clean up the horse puckey.It was a steaming hot day, around 100 degrees. Yet we still saw signs of no air conditioning. How do they do it? Crime rates are sky rocketing they tell us, and it may very well be true. The Crescent City has always had lots of crime but not that I would notice in the neighborhoods close to the river. I have to confess I have occasionally found myself in neighborhoods that scare even me, veteran traveler, but I drive unarmed so I skipped a stop here.
These scooters with bags and baskets looked purposeful. Sidewalk parking is a great benefit in a town with chaotic parking like New Orleans enjoys.
Fiorella's Café sells what is billed as New Orleans's best fried chicken and we came back for more. Besides they sell draught beer in goblets- too cool.
And yes the waitress was a babe. So were the fried pickle appetizer. A vast plate we could barely put a dent in.
Ranch dressing and mustard sauce were not enough to tempt us to finish this enormous pile of pickle chips. Then we shared a plate of chicken with red beans and rice, delicious and smokey flavored, and a bowl of the weirdest mac and cheese I ever ate. A mixture of tagliatelle and angel hair pasta, al dente, with shavings of several different cheese half melted on top. It sounds awful but like all food anywhere in NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) it was delicious. I am resigned to strict dieting when we get home.A few years ago we were considering living in New Orleans, but Katrina saved us from making the choice. I like the old fart music, the food is uniformly excellent, the culture is wide ranging and the fact that two thirds of the city's population is black gives it an under dog status I rather like. I also like the way history is a daily fact of life. Medians are called "neutral ground"from the city's divided past when these strips of turf separated the various cultural groups in the city. French on one side and Spanish on the other and neutral ground in between across which they could trade. Cheyenne liked it because lots of people walk their dogs there and leave enticing smells.I was overwhelmed by the possibilities with a camera, even a modest squeeze box like mine, in this city. Our stop was just a few hours long and there is so much to see.Shot gun homes shown below. I am not fond of them as places to live- you walk into the front room and through a door to the next room and so forth. Rarely do they have corridors. I am a conventional old bore. They look lovely though, even I can see that. Courtyards make a lot of sense with new Orleans crime rate I guess.I never tire of looking at results of the effort that has gone into making buildings look good. Modern criteria of fast and cheap and ROI (horrid acronym!) leave no room for wrought iron like this. It is not well known but for much of it's history New Orleans was Spanish run. The Spanish sold Louisiana to Napoleon who turned round and sold it a month later to the Americans, with such speed that no one in the city knew who was running their government for a few months. I don't suppose it mattered much to them.
Cheyenne was enjoying the smells of Ursulines Street (Rue Des Ursulines) and then we came across what must have been the convent that gave the rue it's nombre. Restored and lovely.Some poor soul parked with the front of the car over the white line at a corner. It got towed. As the truck took it away I listened to two locals lamenting the woman who lived at the corner complaining about the car. "They won't be coming back to visit any time soon," one of them lamented about the towed tourist. Just like Key West, I thought to myself as Cheyenne laid in the shade and got her breath back. Bye bye tourist car!All good things come to an end and we got back to the car for a stiff drink and some rest.Then we drove to the French market for beignets and coffee for the road.
Tomorrow we say good bye to New Orleans as we take up the drive to California, no time to lose!