Fall in the Swamp – New Orleans in October

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A View from Hot Tin

Well, I don’t mean literally fall in. Fall in New Orleans is a glorious time. We’ve taken full advantage of daughter S’s post college residence there at least twice every year thus far. So two weeks after the hurricane and hail that infused our recent tour of New England – see https://fromswamptosummit.com/2016/10/17/election-year-hurricanes-presidentials-and-mt-jefferson/- with daughter A and boyfriend N, we headed across the Gulf of Mexico to the Louisiana swamp, our reverse summit.

I think of trips to New Orleans like visits to an Auntie Mame. An elderly relative whom you regularly visit but never quite know what will happen when you get there. And always dressed to kill, in long beads and bangles and faded red velvet.

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We arrived before the younger generation had finished work, so started with a walk up Magazine Street. Our AirBnB was a lovely unit behind a bar and restaurant on Magazine. First port of call – and unbeknownst to them – we scoped out the outside of the daughter’s and boyfriend’s house – half of a brightly colored turquoise double shotgun only three blocks away. There wasn’t a square corner anywhere but when we were finally shown the interior the three rooms were huge, with 12 foot ceilings – and close to everything.

After parental espionage, we ventured further up Magazine toward Audubon Park. There we stopped at the Monkey Hill Bar, where J had his first of many Sazaracs of the weekend. Monkeys were the theme – from the lamps to the rest of the decor.

Friday was to be our fancy night, with dinner at Commander’s Palace. In all our trips to NOLA we had never eaten there. Personal favorites – instead of re-filling water glasses, at a certain point in the evening the waiters all showed up with trays of fresh water glasses and swapped out every single diner’s water. The owner, elegantly dressed in a tiger print silk shirt, was very visible, greeting each table and in constant consultation with her staff. Oh, and the Saint 75 cocktail wasn’t bad either.

From there we took a rapid tumble downward to the Bulldog. The weather had turned and there was quite a chill inthe air as we sat drinking beers in the courtyard.

Saturday started with breakfast at Toast. ((Well, upcoming Everest Base Camp Trek in mind I did actually start off with a slow but steady four mile run down Magazine Street, dodging baby strollers and coffee drinkers the whole way.)  Avocado toast with a sunny egg to match the day. Boyfriend P took us on a brief driving tour of some parts of New Orleans we hadn’t seen before. We started in the Bayou, where we have attended the Bayou Bugaloo before, but then drove onward through City Park, which is apparently the biggest urban park after Central Park in New York. After the levees broke following Katrina, this area was all under water. From there we drove on to Lake Pontchartrain.  Such a strange feeling to be behind levees you can’t see over – and all of a sudden to cross to the other side – with an enormous lake spread out before you

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Very hot tin

After the obligatory trip to Costco to restock the offspring’s freezer, the evening’s festivities began in mid-afternoon. Despite all the scare stories we’ve been reading about oysters, we can’t resist, and took full advantage of happy hour raw and chargrilled oysters at The Blind Pelican. From there, we took the streetcar down St. Charles and moved up 14 floors to the rooftop bar, Hot Tin, on the top of the Pontchartrain Hotel. It is chock full of antiques, and is particularly memorable for what at first blush appear to be very prim and proper curtains. Upon closer examination, you can see the pattern are images from the Kama Sutra or some similar manual! There is a long outdoor terrace offering up a spectacular view of the city’s skyline.

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Schooners at Jack Dempsey’s, Bywater, New Orleans

To offset the opulence of Commander’s Palace, P had suggested dinner at Jack Dempsey’s in the Bywater area. It’s an old time restaurant that closes early and serves all sorts of fish, crab, and a thinly cut steak. Some of the best onion rings I’ve ever had. There was a post wedding party going on, and I felt we were practically guests as we listened to the heartfelt toast given by the pastor at the end.

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The restaurant was right by Bacchanal. It isn’t New Orleans without listening to music, and at Bacchanal you buy a bottle of wine from the wine shop, sit outside on the grassy terrace, and listen to jazz.

Heading back to uptown, we stopped at 45 Tchoup where we engaged in a spirited, if somewhat inept, game of darts. But I did get a double bullseye!

Our last day was equally glorious and crisp and sunny. We drove further uptown and had a lovely visit with P’s parents who live right at the location of the annual Po’boy festival. Managed to sample oyster, spinach and Brie and lobster po’boys before we had to hie on off to the airport.

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Did I mention I got a double bull’s eye during our game of darts? That was like the whole trip.

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A Quick Trip to the Swamp – 24 Hours in New Orleans

Dat Dog - dare you try the Chef's Surprise?
Dat Dog – dare you try the Chef’s Surprise?

Despite a large number of work duties stretching ahead of me in the next week, I honored my original plan to visit daughter 2, also known as S, for what had to be one of the shortest in and out visits to New Orleans ever.

But as always, despite its brevity, any period of time in NOLA is worth it. This visit was no exception.

Of course, it started with a torrential downpour, and we were soaked after walking the two blocks from where we parked to the Dat Dog on Magazine Street. But as I’d probably brought the rain with me from Florida, this was hardly a novel experience. Plus, when looking for something dry to wear in S’s closet I discovered that she was the culprit who had taken one of my favorite dresses – well, it meant at least there was something to wear that fit.

Magazine Street balcony on a Sunday morning
Magazine Street balcony on a Sunday morning

S is now ensconced in an apartment right on Magazine. It’s in an old, two story building with balconies both at the front and back, one overlooking the street and the other a small rear courtyard. Magazine is one of my favorite New Orleans streets. Less overwhelming than St. Charles, it still has its share of huge, beautiful and sometimes slightly decaying houses, interspersed with bars and restaurants and eclectic shops. Age permeates everything in New Orleans – it’s as though the humidity cushions the city against the rigors of modern life.

After making several fairly unsuccessful house furnishing forays to not very exciting shopping centers, we met up with S’s friends (friend 1 and friend 2) for a great dinner at Dick and Jenny’s. They had just gotten their charbroiled oyster equipment (who knew there was such a thing) and last night was the very first time they’d served charbroiled oysters to guests. Fabulous sums it up.

Dick and Jenny’s is across the street from Tipitina’s, a New Orleans institution for live music. And what had inspired the trip in the first place was going to hear Rickie Lee Jones there. I’ve been a fan since the 1979, when her first album came out, and J and I were originally supposed to see her years ago, before the daughters were even born, at a sunset jazz series in Orlando. But, alas, she canceled (I have a bad history of that – the one time I was finally going to get to see the Greatful Dead the concert was cancelled) – so I’d been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. Her voice still sounded great.

Ricki Lee Jones at Tipitina's
Rickie Lee Jones at Tipitina’s

We rounded out the 24 hours with brunch at the Oak Street Cafe. It was a little surreal. Supposedly it featured live music – which consisted of an older woman mostly lip syncing to recordings from her own CD and doing what can only be described as interpretive dance. It was a bizarre combination of zydeco, funk and folk with bits of live accordion playing every now and then. The completely bald baby, accompanied by mother, father and grandfather, all sitting near us, was enthralled. The father’s and grandfather’s hats made a nice addition too – they were adorned with long feathers sticking up on either side. The whole experience was vaguely tribal.

Now back to work tomorrow. Its own special sort of summit.

Summit in the Swamp – Graduation in New Orleans

Overlooking Ursalines Street
Overlooking Ursalines Street

Little did I know when we dropped off daughter #2 (she bitterly resents that designation, so let’s call her S) in NOLA four years ago that we were taking her to a city she would grow to love so and call home. But that’s certainly been the case. Husband J and I have loved his place since 1986, when my frequent flyer miles on the now defunct New York Air enabled us to go there for our honeymoon. The alternative was Detroit – anyone remember how New York Air flew primarily to Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and New York? Never an explanation for that bizarre combination. We were already living in Boston and New York, and, Prince aside, Detroit didn’t really seem like the best option.

S has taken full advantage of the city, and at her graduation the city itself almost seemed to assume human qualities and participate in the ceremony. Her graduation, at one of the city’s stellar institutions, is likely the only one in the U.S. with an equal amount of jazz music to spoken word. And what about the second line handkerchiefs handed out to the graduating students, as well as Topsy Chapman singing “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.”

In keeping with family tradition, a large contingent of family members from all coasts made their way to New Orleans for the festivities. Many of us stayed at the Hotel Villa Convento on Ursalines Street across from the convent in the French Quarter (yes, that does seem to be an oxymoron). The hotel (not the convent) is where husband J and I stayed for our honeymoon in 1986 – we actually found it through a Let’s Go guide we consulted in a bookstore and that we were too impoverished (or cheap) to actually buy. The hotel is by folklore the famous brothel, The House of the Rising Sun, and has been owned by the same family for decades. It has a faded charm that embodies the city – our rooms had balconies that fronted Ursalines Street, and which were the perfect location for a before dinner glass of wine.

Seersucker - what else can you wear to Delmonico's?
Seersucker – what else can you wear to Delmonico’s?

Emeril’s Delminico’s did its usual spectacular job of service and food for the graduation dinner on Friday night. We were in a smaller room with two tables of eight that felt as private as could be without being a private room. A smaller group of us were at Appolline on Magazine Street the night  before and I still can’t quite figure out why that restaurant is never more crowded. Graduation night we made it to Frenchmen’s Street, where the music rolls as solidly as the Mississippi itself.

This visit we checked out a new area of town as well – the Bayou Boogaloo Festival in Mid City – lots of great bands and unusual watercraft making their way down the bayou. We were particularly pleased to get there because we’d actually tried to go a day too early only to find we were ther only attendees aside from the vendors setting up! Reading schedules closely has never been a strong suit in this family.

After our second – and successful – trip to the festival,  we went to the Bywater area – scene of gentrifying and gentrified shotgun houses – and had a great time at Bacchanal. You walk through a wine shop, buy your wine, and sit out in a shaded back yard listening to music. The band we heard even included a tap dancer. There’s also a great small plate menu and sitting under the trees, with food, wine, music, family and friends at hand sums up New Orleans.

Homemade raft floating down the bayou...
Homemade raft floating down the bayou…

So what more can I say? Daughter S is planning to stay for another year. And I did manage to get a run in. The swampis fun – but there are a couple of summits waiting to be climbed in about five weeks.

New Orleans – Down in the Swamp

Audubon Park with Loyola University in the background
Audubon Park with Loyola University in the background

The name of this blog isn’t FromSwamptoSummit for nothing. Occasionally, it’s important to come down from the summit or to allow yourself to be side tracked from the attempt to reach it, and enjoy a good wallow in a swamp. And what better place to wallow than New Orleans!

The husband and I have a long history with this city. When we got married in the spring of 1986, we planned to use the frequent flyer points I had garnered over a year of “fly outs” – as we then called the interview trips paid for by law firms to lure prospective summer associates – for our honeymoon. The only problem – all my points were with the now defunct New York Air. Besides Boston and New York, where we respectively resided, New York Air flew only to Detroit and New Orleans. The choice was not difficult.

Hotel Villa Convento - not sure where the ghostly light came from. Perhaps something to do with the House of the Rising Sun?
Hotel Villa Convento – not sure where the ghostly light came from. Perhaps something to do with the House of the Rising Sun?

Back in 1986, we stayed at the Hotel Villa Convento on Ursalines Street. In those pre Internet days we found it through a budget travel guide that I am sure we consulted at a bookstore without ever purchasing. The small family owned hotel has the dubious distinction of being across the street from a convent and is supposedly also the original house of sin made famous in the song, House of the Rising Sun. It had a certain moldy, faded glory, and we loved it. We’ve been back numerous times, including visits with children, parents and friends.

This trip – to visit daughter #2 – was assisted by the budget hotel vendor, HotWire, and the winner of this particular lottery was the Clarion Grand Boutique Hotel on St.Charles Street, the grand dame of all of New Orleans’ many boulevards. We knew we wanted to stay on St. Charles and this location is just about a mile above the Central Business District on the way uptown. We feared things might be off to an odd start when we checked in only to find a completely unknown credit card number associated with our reservation, together with a San Francisco address. After some detective work (oh, that legal training), we realized the address was that of HotWire itself – and who knows what the credit card was but we checked in anyway.

The daughter had made dinner reservations for us and several of her housemates at Martinique, a nice restaurant off Magazine Street with a pretty garden room where we were seated.  The menu was most notable for its desserts – in particular, chocolate rye cake with beet chutney. I was somewhat surprised when the husband – who hates beets – said he’d try a bite. He was equally surprised when what he thought was a raspberry topping turned out to be beets.

The food extravaganza continued on Saturday. At least we started the day with a four mile walk from the hotel up St. Charles Street to the daughter’s house on the far side of Tulane – one of our favorite walks anywhere.  Most cities have only a narrow strip of historic homes – New Orleans has blocks and blocks that run deep. The houses are often very close together, yet are huge. Many of them appear to still be single family residences. They are grand, with ornate columns and details, small front yards, and the dark, large front doors suggest a secret world closed off to all but those whose families hail from New Orleans’ early days.

We picked up sandwiches at the St. James Cheese Company, a small cafe selling gourmet – what else – cheese, and had a picnic lunch at Audubon Park, New Orleans’ answer to New York’s Central Park. We were barely off St. Charles Street, but our lunch companions were multiple types of ducks and turtles lazing in the sun.

An island of turtles - look closely....
An island of turtles – look closely….

Drove down to the French Quarter and poked around for a little bit. Bourbon Street as tacky as always, but the side streets as charming as I remember. Lots of Halloween ghouls peeking over the balconies, contemplating the various spooky characters below.

Zoom in for the Halloween hosts -
Zoom in for the Halloween hosts –

Dinner at GW Fin’s. I was amused to see that New Bedford sea scallops from Massachusetts were on the menu, together with gulf coast pompano. The daughter and husband both had “scalibit” – it’s a piece of halibut with scallops baked into the top of the fish and tastes as decadent as it sounds.

A trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Sazarac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel.  And following that a visit to the Marigny to hear music on Frenchmen Street. But who knew that there were two such streets in New Orleans – or one street that is disconnected in the middle….I knew something was wrong on our Google maps when we found ourselves on the interstate, ending up at a Frenchmen Street that dead ended into the city bus parking lot! All I can say is the white SUV in front of us had apparently made the same mistake since it made the same u-turn and trip back to the city.

Once we finally got to the right place we listened to some retro sounding jazz at the Apple Barrel and finished with blues by the Smokey Grenwell Band at Club Bamboula’s.

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A final travel note – we ended our stay with a leisurely breakfast at Coulis and a drive through the Fly – also called Avenger Park. It’s the riverside part of Audubon Park where you can see the tugs pushing long lines of barges down the Mississippi. It’s a favorite hangout for the daughter.

And it was particularly leisurely because we thought our flight left at 2 pm. We got to the airport early – and fortunately so, because it turned out the 2 pm on my calendar was eastern time – and the plane was leaving at 1 pm Central! But New Orleans gave us that one extra hour to enjoy without worry – just another one of the gifts of slow time and ease  that the city offers. We all need to spend more time in the swamp.