Last week we went to New Orleans with our friends, Bogie and Jeanette, for the Jazz and Heritage Festival. Oddly enough, being Louisiana natives and living so close to New Orleans, neither Neal nor I had ever been to Jazz Fest. It rained both days we attended the festival, but that didn't deter us or most of the other folks who made the pilgrimage. We had intended to see Billy Joel and Tim McGraw, but after getting drenched to the bone and walking in the mud and muck for several hours, we decided to pass. We did enjoy some great local artists including Dr. John, Wayne Toups and Pete Fountain. And one evening we went to a club in the French Quarter to hear Charmaine Neville and her band. That was my favorite part of the whole trip. They were awesome. Before the show, I went to the Ladies room and knocked on a stall door to see if anyone was in there. A voice replied, so I waited, and soon after a well-dressed black woman with long, braided hair emerged. We exchanged pleasantries and she made a comment about my sunburned face and I retreated to the toilet. As soon as we left the restroom, I said to Jeanette, "I wonder if that was Charmaine Neville." Being from Louisiana, I am very familiar with the names of the Neville family, but other than Aaron, I don't remember faces. When the show began and Charmaine took the stage, my suspicion was confirmed. Afterwards, I went up to her to say how much I enjoyed the show and I told her the story about the bathroom. I apologized for not recognizing her and she graciously said, "That's okay." What a great night that was.
Neal and Jeanette at Pat O'Brien's
The last time I was in New Orleans was in 2006 when it was still a FEMA tent city and the devastation from hurricane Katrina was very much evident. I had also been there a couple of weeks after the hurricane in 2005 to help with animal rescue efforts. What I saw and experienced then is really hard to wrap my brain around, much less articulate, even today. At that time, I really wondered if New Orleans would ever be a viable city again. Nothing anyone read in the papers or saw on the television could adequately portray the realty of the hell that city and its inhabitants endured. I am happy to report that the Big Easy is alive and well and making great strides in the rebuilding and repairing efforts. New Orleans may never be the same place it once was, and in some respects that's okay, but the city and her people are coming back. And tourists are coming back. While standing in line at Cafe du Monde, we struck up a conversation with a local woman who said how nice it was to have to wait in a line or fight for a parking spot because that meant the city was alive again. What a wonderful attitude to have.
Evidence from Mardi Gras
One of the things we miss most about Louisiana is the food. When you've savored the flavors of the South, especially Cajun and Creole cooking, everything else pales in comparison. We feasted on raw oysters, fried oysters, boiled crawfish, fried crawfish, gumbo, red beans and rice, boudin, andouille sausage, grits, fried cracklins, fried shrimp, beignets (fried donuts) and fried pickles. Do you see a theme here? People from the south really like their fried food. Whoever would have thought you could batter and fry dill pickles and come out with something edible?
Laissez la le bon temps rouler!