Tales from the road and then some
In spring a young woman’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…getting unstuck! So it’s time to take a lesson from The 52 Weeks playbook and set about Trying Something New (Chapter 1), Facing Fears (Chapter 6,) or my personal favorite, Flying Solo (Chapter 10).
Here’s a brief selection of tips distilled from Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin’s book based on their popular blog, The 52 Weeks: Two Women and Their Quest to Get Unstuck, with Stories and Ideas to Jumpstart Your Year of Discovery (Skyhorse, 2013).
Trying Something New
Sometimes you have to shake it up to get “unstuck” and thrive. Break out of your comfort zone this spring and try new things. It’s good for your health and your brain.
1. Get your caricature done by a street artist.
2. Have a picnic near a pond or lake, preferably one with some cherry blossoms around it!
3. Make out with a stranger.
What better time than spring to take a deep breath and start facing your fears?
4. Go on a rollercoaster.
5. Plan a solo trip to pursue a passion.
6. End a bad relationship and move on.
Photo: Penelope King
If you’re going it alone, by choice or by circumstance, spring is the ideal time to kick start your life in ways big and small.
7. Adopt a rescue dog.
8. See the world through a child’s eyes; spring is all about new opportunities.
9. Go soaring alone in a glider plane.
And the #10 way to get unstuck for spring and thrive…
10, Go pink. On your lips that is.
According to Danielle Langsner, Cosmetics and FIne Frangrances Manager for Nordstrom Natick Mall. “All the colors for spring are corals and pinks. The newest trend for lip color though, is the chunky lip ‘crayon.’ Basically it’s a two in one: if you freshly sharpen before each use, you can use it as a liner first and then fill it in the rest of the lip as a color, saving money and time…and let’s be serious, room in our new spring mini bags!”
You’ll be amazed at how you face the world when you know everyone is looking at your lips.
Other chapters to ignite your spring bucket list from The 52 Weeks include Wellness, Arts & Culture, Relationships, Giving Back and Changing Course. Start your own 52 Week list by downloading a template at the52weeks.com. And join me and The 52 Weeks authors Karen and Pam on April 23rd at Logos Bookstore in Manhattan to share your own tips for getting unstuck for spring, or tell us about them below.
It’s a great month for music here in NYC. While I was out looking for Mr. Big at the 21st Annual Jammy Awards on Friday night at the Cutting Room (Chris Noth is a co-owner), ten of the city’s “best amateur bands” competed for a coveted “Jammy Award.”
Alas, no Chris Noth sightings at the Jammy’s this year
Produced by The Jam NYC, the Jammy’s honor the talent and hard work of the best “recreational musicians” in NYC, who played their hearts out vying for 12 awards in categories ranging from “Male Vocalist of the Year” to “Most Dysfunctional Band” to “Best Dressed Performer.”
The evening began with my personal favorite, Local Heroes, a Bruce Springsteen tribute band. The guys were solid, with Brian August’s pitch perfect piano medleys anchoring the eight other musicians, including David Zensky and his rockin’ guitar licks—he didn’t just play his Fender Custom Shop 1960 Telecaster Relic, he performed it). Guy Villano’s respectable vocals made the iconic passages in “Badlands,” “Backstreets,” “Born to Run” and others resonate without trying to replicate Bruce, while Steve Sheider took home the Jammy for “Bass Player of the Year”— go Steve!
Local Hero David Zensky performs his Telecaster
Local Hero Brian August sports his Jammy badge
The “Female Vocalist of the Year” award went to Heidi Sadowsky of Bustling Hedgerow, a Led Zeppelin tribute band. Not that there was much competition (most of the Jammy performers are men; many, in fact, lawyers moonlighting as fabulous musicians). But even if there had been more estrogen in the jamfest, Heidi would have rocked this award by a long shot just as she has several times in the past; a refreshing female spin a la Patti Smith meets Aimee Mann that made me not miss Robert Plant’s vocals one bit on “Stairway to Heaven,” ingrained as they are into our collective musical memory.
Another favorite of the evening for me was The Petty Thieves, a Tom Petty tribute band. The tweak to the opening lyrics of “Runnin’ Down A Dream” spoke volumes…It was a beautiful day, Me and Hank were singin’…as a nod to the passing of Hank Goldsmith last June, a stunning loss of talent, friendship and support for the Jammy’s. One of its earliest members, Hank helped make sure the Jam continued after its creator Bill Bennett died in a car accident in 2005, and took home several awards himself including the Jammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.
The Original Petty Thief: our beloved Hank Goldsmith (1962 – 2013)
Teddy Ames took over the lead vocals in The Petty Thieves with allegiance and deference to “his brother Hank,” the band’s creator and front man who is sorely missed by all who knew him. Ted, you have done Hank proud.
The “Best Tribute Band” award went to The Rolling Bones, deservedly so due in no small part to none other than Teddy Ames, who after shedding his Tom Petty persona, quickly channeled Mick Jagger’s sweaty, tongue-wagging, hyperactive moves with spot on reverence—as a tribute band should—to close the night.
While there was no Billy Joel tribute band at the Jammy’s (there’s always next year?) I would be remiss to not share the experience of Billy Joel singing “New York State of Mind”—in New York—at MSG on March 21st.
Billy has been performing one night a month at the Garden since January and will continue at least through the end of the year…or until people stop buying tickets which seems like a far off, distant notion based on the Billy love evident in the newly renovated Garden that night. Billy’s playlist varies just enough at each show but he always delivers with show stoppers we all want to hear like “I’ve Loved These Days” and “Billy the Kid,” along with obscure gems like “Surprises” (which he hadn’t ever performed live) and an unexpected rock-the-house moment; for us, this was accompanying Brian Johnson of ACDC on “You Shook Me All Night Long.” The renovated MSG is reason alone to attend this show, as it’s now a place to enjoy, rather than just endure, a performance.
Yes, I’ve loved these rock and roll days. Thanks Billy and thanks to the Jammy Awards for keeping great music alive and well in our fair city. And I will be back looking for Mr. Big at his awesome Cutting Room venue again for sure.
To see clips of the music mentioned in this blog, follow the links in the picture captions. Enjoy!
What does a hiker not especially fond of winter hiking do after more than 40 inches of snow falls in just over a month? Why, try snowshoeing of course!
Snowshoeing, to me, has always been a bit like hot yoga — everyone who tries it raves about it but the thought of actually donning a pair of tennis rackets on my feet (or breathing in a room full of sweat belonging to 30 strangers) has always left me kind of meh. But when my hiker buds asked if I wanted to join them to try out their new snowshoes, I figured let’s see what all the fuss is about.
Shows you how much I knew about snowshoeing. They don’t look like tennis rackets (although in 1987 they did); they look like compact, brightly-colored snowboards and you feel like a really cool ski dudette wearing them.
So a few things to navigate:
First, how to put them on. Is there a right and a left? Yes. Look for the little “L” or “R” under the straps where you put your feet. A front and a back? Yes, the round part goes in the front unlike skis where the points go in the front.
Only 35 minutes to figure it out in the parking lot, guys, not bad!
A few ups and downs. When you go up, you have to release the little metal bar so that your heels are elevated and then you have to pop them down again when you go downhill. Easier said than done, especially while you’re moving over a bridge!
Going to the bathroom. When you are a woman peeing in the woods you have to go off trail behind a rock or hardy tree. But when there’s snow, that means trudging through knee-deep, cold, wet powder that makes you wonder how badly you have to go. I did not try peeing with the snowshoes on but if I had known I was going to write about it, I might have given it a shot.
How badly do I have to go?
Snowshoes vs. microspikes. Probably best to have both. If the trail is sufficiently broken in, the freedom and ease of putting on the microspikes is a pleasure. But we had to break trail to get to our destination (Rainbow Falls in Minnewaska State Park) and it was either turn around and go back or walk ankle deep in snow or use the shoes. What would you do?
Microspikes? Not so good in deep snow…
But great for ice climbing!
Once you get the hang of the snowshoes though, you kinda feel like you’re on an elliptical machine gliding through the white, winter wonderland.
Only you’re actually going somewhere.
Why do we do it?
For the falls (the frozen kind!)
For the falls (the sliding kind!)
For the fearlessness!
For the frolic!
For the fun…
And for the friendships.
Thanks guys! More snow coming this week. What’s next?
There is something very cool about being at the extreme point of anywhere - the northernmost or easternmost tip of a country where the land meets the sea and we are reminded just how much else there is “out there.” Maybe that’s part of the charm of Key West Florida, the southernmost tip of the U.S., only 90 miles from Cuba, as its famous landmark boasts.
Okay, maybe that’s the charm for the tour books, but the hedonistic qualities of Key West, minus the debauchery that usually accompanies such places, is what I think did it for me.
There is always something going on in the streets: music, new friends beckoning for you to join them in the bars, singers who can sing anything you tell them, (some of them well!), all while swigging a good, strong rum drink in a plastic cup as you traipse down Duval Street with a smile on your face.
To add to the mayhem and frivolity, we experienced almost twice the average amount of rainfall for the month of January in one night. A straight, steady downpour leading to puddles, streetlight outages and, of course, even more merriment in the bars. What to wear for tiptoeing through the raindrops in Key West, Florida? This intrepid traveler was stumped— no umbrella, no closed-toe shoes, not even a sweatshirt. When I go to Florida, I think palm trees and sun tan lotion, excuse me.
So I pulled together a ridiculous outfit including an over-sized white baseball cap and my black, quilted winter coat (yes, winter coat!) over my black beach schmata and white leggings, gold flip flops on my feet. (It was easier to get your feet wet rather than try to dry any type of shoe during this deluge.) Don’t ask. All this just to hop the ten feet from our room at the Duval Inn to their Tiki Bar by the pool, where they offered a complimentary happy hour – rain or shine!
The bartender, Roy, looked like the Gorton’s Fisherman in a yellow hooded raincoat with his scrappy white beard.
We figured happy hour meant wine or beer, maybe a specialty margarita, but lo and behold, Roy was pouring everything on the shelf! And he kept pouring ‘em, probably because the rain kept everyone from moving onward to check out the sunset. So five rum punches later (apiece), we were bold enough to venture into the streets where we eventually hit a warm, inviting bar, Willie T’s, and I was able to lose the nun’s habit…
…and be serenaded by a local singer and guitarist, Gerd Rube, who made me forget about the rain with his soulful renditions of everything from the Eagles to Neil Young to Garth Brooks, along some original tunes like” Key West Sunset” which make you want to grab a beer with your honey and take in the dipping of the gold ball into the horizon and the famous green flash that follows.
The next day the skies cleared and we hit Southernmost Beach Café (yes they are very proud of their extreme status down there) for brunch and frozen margaritas followed by a buzzed walk down Duval Street in the daytime, complete with its sex “exploration” club (tempted, but no), t-shirt shops (yes) and beer sold on the street (yes). Then we hit our inn’s happy hour again— only one drink this time because we were off to sample the Key West sunset that our friend Gerd had sung about. Yeah, I get it. Be a tourist in Key West and watch the sunset in Mallory Square. It’s a celebration of life, as in, it’s good to be alive.
When we asked a jewelry cart vendor what the best place for seafood was, she did not steer us wrong. We found our way to Conch Republic where we sampled the best peel and eat shrimp (that taste like lobster), blackened grouper and grilled swordfish. Perfect Floridian fare.
And don’t forget the obligatory key lime pie, but ditch your restaurant and head to the Key Lime and Coconut Factory, where personally, I thought the coconut pie was even better than the key lime.
We made it off and out of the southernmost point before the 5.1 earthquake that hit Cuba a few days later and was felt in Key West. We had enough adventure as it was. Don’t ever change, Key West, there is no place else like you. Like Gerd Rube sings:
I’ve never seen a place like this before
Where people are fun and you’re never on your own
Where the sun is home 365 days a year
And the waves and birds are the only sounds you hear
Let me take you by the hand and I’ll show you what I mean
Come here my friend and see how wonderful life can be
Down in the Florida Keys
Just watch the waves after a heavy storm!
Our tree from the Divi Phoenix Aruba made it into Travelogged’s Best Hotel Christmas Trees Around the World but the ones from Kuala Lampur and the Maldives are way more exotic!
Read the full post at Tragvelogged:
All nestled in our cozy red velvet seats at Broadway’s Lyceum theater last Saturday night, we eagerly awaited the rise of the curtain for A Night with Janis Joplin. We had braved the first few snowflakes of winter to get there and had exchanged the tickets from an earlier date, so being there felt good—we were ready. Unfortunately, the leading actress, Mary Bridget Davies, wasn’t. Neither were three of her supporting players.
Four– not one, not three—but four rectangular slips of paper indicating understudies cascaded down from my date’s playbill like confetti as I felt the stress beginning to course through my blood. “No, please don’t tell me, not the lead, anyone but the lead!” He picked up the first piece of paper. At tonight’s performance the role of Janis Joplin will be played by…
We had eight minutes ‘til curtain. What to do? I had paid close to $200 for this, our second round of seats, and they jacked the prices up for Thanksgiving week for us to end up with worse seats. What’s more, the Telecharge agent questioned my suggestion of a matinee informing me that Mary Bridget Davies doesn’t do the matinee performances; it would be the understudy. So I told the agent: well, we definitely want the evening performance then.
The clock was ticking down. Four minutes ‘til curtain. Would we still be able to get a refund after the curtain went up? Would we be able to get one at all? What else would we do that night? So many questions. The couple seated next to us was busy searching and texting on their smartphones talking about going to see Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theater instead. Hmmm, that sounded like a good idea. The point was—they weren’t staying. That only fueled my urge to flee. My date said it was up to me.
Two minutes to go – Jami, decide! I stood up and made a beeline to the box office.
A cast of characters lines up for refunds
Well, we certainly were not alone as a bunch of raving, determined theater-goers (what, who? me?) were storming the box office, so much so that they corralled the lot of us and moved us outside the theater to stand in the cold while they figured out what to do about our tickets. Now, it’s not like I’m a theater snob, okay, maybe a little. Hey, I saw A Little Night Music with the understudy for Catherine Zeta Jones, but as it turns out the understudy, Jayne Paterson, was lesser known but arguably better in the role. But when a show is based around one central singer as this one is, and that singer is said to be a must-see, then I must see that singer.
The line to get out…
gets thrown outside…
and clamors to get back in—for a refund and some warmth.
Finally, they let us back into the lobby like Noah’s ark, two by two, to exchange tickets for another date. The drama was not over, now we had to pull out our smartphone calendars to figure out an alternative date. The conversation went something like this:
Me:“How about January 24th?”
V: “That should be good.”
Me: “You sure? You sure that date is good? “
V: “Yes I’m sure. I’m going away for a week in January but it it’s earlier in the month.”
Me: “You sure?”
I turned to the sales agent. “Two tickets for January 24th please.” She was nice enough to put us in the orchestra when our original seats were in the rear mezzanine. Score! Then V looked up at me from his phone with an “oh shit” look on his face. “Does the 24th fall within the week of the 20th?” He was being cute, which doesn’t take much. “Ah, yeah, I think it would,” I said, adding, “That’s the week you’re away, isn’t it?” I didn’t wait for an answer; I just grabbed his wrist and looked at the calendar staring back at me from his palm. ARRRRGGGHHHH!
The tickets were still hot in my little hand and I hadn’t even moved from the line yet. So without thinking I asked the couple in front of us, who hadn’t yet completed their transaction, what date they wanted—and out of all the dates in the calendar from now until the show’s final performance—what do you think they said? “January 24th.” Without hesitation, I said, “Wait, take these!” shoving the tickets under their chins. Stop the presses! I looked at the ticket agent as if to say, okay? She nodded. I gave the couple my tickets and proceeded to pick up two more for the following week. Still orchestra seats. Whew. I don’t care if I have to jump on stage and sing “Me and Bobby McGee” myself, I am not exchanging these tickets again.
As for what to do with our Saturday evening in Times Square, we didn’t want to chance it with Hot Tuna so we opted instead to check out B.B. King Blues Club on 42nd St. They had a Johnny Cash tribute band rocking the house better than Joaquin Phoenix. From the “Queen of Rock” to the “Man in Black,” not bad for a night out.
Not Johnny, not even Joaquin, it’s Johnny Kinnaird, a great stand-in for both.
Little-known lessons learned when it comes to the thee-a-tuh :
Me in Times Square after the exchange. They say the neon lights are bright…
From Shelf Pleasure:
We love the premise behind this book—doing one new thing each week for 52 weeks (and doing it with a friend!) to help get you unstuck. Like us, two friends who share a common passion, authors Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin of The 52 Weeks forged the idea over drinks one night because they were both feeling “stuck” in their lives. They pledged each other’s support right then and there to get “unstuck.” This book chronicles their 52 week search to find something different to do each week whether it was big or small, scary or uncomfortable, so they could grow as mothers, wives, friends and just the awesome women that they are. Then they included some advice from experts and tips for how anyone feeling like they did can move forward in their lives.
We are even more excited about this book because our very own roving reporter, Jami Kelmenson, has contributed to two chapters based on her own expertise in getting unstuck. We sat down with Jami to ask her about the book and her advice for getting unstuck.
I run for fun. And for exercise. And to be outside. That means I don’t time my runs, nor do I care about distance, calories burned, etc. That all changed when I signed up for the Run the River 5k run which took place on Randall’s Island last weekend. To show you how clueless I was, I didn’t even know it was a race until I showed up. Once someone asked me if I had a goal for how long it would take me to finish, I said to myself, I’d better stretch!
The event took place at the renowned Icahn Stadium (one of four International Association of Athletic Federations Class 1 certified tracks in the United States) where Olympic athletes and other professionals train and where Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt set the 100 meter world record in 2008 with a time of 9.72 seconds at the Reebok Grand Prix.
100 meters in 9 seconds? I figured a 10-minute mile with no training would be pretty good. So a little quick math in my head: 5k = 3.3 miles = anything under 30 minutes (about 10 minutes per mile) would be GOAL! So I was determined to stay focused and pace myself.
Why do I look like I’m race walking? Pacing myself!
As you approach the finish line, they announce over the microphone what minute finish you’re at. I could hear “30-minute mile, 20 seconds to finish in 30 minutes…” as I approached and the adrenaline kicked in. I was shouting “Thirty…thiiirrrtyyyy…” to cheer myself as the announcements grew louder; I was so close, everything hinged on those few seconds to meet my self-imposed goal.
And meet it I did—29:56 to be exact! Which is a 9:38 minute mile. I placed 12th for my age group (12th!) and 219th overall. Not to say it was a walk in the park or anything, it took a lot out of me!
But mostly, it made me think of all the marathon runners getting ready to run 26.2 miles across all five boroughs tomorrow for the ING NYC Marathon, but really one runner in particular.
Jonathan Eustache trained for his first marathon last year to raise money for his homeland, Haiti. I had the incredible experience of visiting Haiti with Jonathan and other friends from Community2Community (C2C) last fall and was prepared to host his victory party at my apartment after the marathon. I had big poster boards and magic markers strewn about my living room carpet ready to make “Go Jonathan Go!” signs when I heard Mayor Bloomberg on TV tell me that the marathon was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. 5pm the night before the race—cancelled! Whoa, talk about closing in on the finish, or rather, the start.
Starting at the finish - it’s a loop!
So I put the magic markers away and went on with life, like every other New Yorker. But Jonathan continued to train. And train. And train. Tomorrow he will run his first marathon as a RUN04HAITI and I will be there cheering for him, thinking about how much it took for me to complete three miles last weekend—just a fraction of what Jonathan and his peers are doing. I ran for 30 minutes, Jonathan’s goal is to finish in three hours and thirty minutes. It helps that Jonathan is not only running for his own personal goal, but for 16,000 neighbors in Petit Goâve, Haiti who, thanks to C2C, are on the road to restoration after the 2010 earthquake with access to clean potable water and community latrines. But that’s just the beginning. RUN04HAITI will raise more needed funds to complete C2C’s water distribution system and bring dignity and hope to those still left behind.
The water source built by C2C in Piton Value, Haiti
So while New York City dusts off its knees to celebrate its resilience after Sandy on Marathon Day, Jonathan and the entire C2C community will be running to celebrate their own resilience. They’ll be running for Haiti. Go Jonathan Go!
Me and Jonathan in Haiti
RUN04HAITI is a fundraising campaign co-created with Community2Community (C2C) team member, Jonathan Eustache, who will be running the ING NYC Marathon on Sunday, November 3, 2013 to raise awareness and funds for C2C’s Haïti Restoration and Transformation Pilot Project (HRTPP). Proceeds from Jonathan’s run will go to completing the C2C Water System Initiative. You can sponsor Jonathan by pledging you support here.
Waffle House - the best bathrooms on the road
The first two days of my trip to New Orleans (NOLA) last week were spent on the water, Lake Pontchartrain, to be exact. I was down there with the skipper and crew from my “Four Men and a Lady (and a Sailboat)” post for the 2013 Rhodes 19 Class Association National Championship at the Southern Yacht Club and yes, I was officially crew for two and a half races. I say half because one of them never finished and we had to be pulled back, connected to other boats, by a line (it’s not called a rope!) The best part of that was watching the SYC motor boat drivers haul cans of beer into the waiting arms of tired sailors on the other boats. We had our own beer on board, but still it was cool to watch.Hey, anyone need a tow?
The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria? Hauling them in with a “line”
Competitors one minute, bonded together the next
Hey, anyone need a beer with that tow?
I will refrain from admitting how we placed in the regatta but if you’re really interested you can view the results here. Or if you understand what DFL means, you will know. Our boat was Amenomania, a term coined by Ernest Shackelton of the ill-fated 1914 Antarctica expedition to describe “a mania for pleasing delusions.” No comment on the skipper’s choice of a boat name. Others in the race were “Shameless Perfection,” (not really, they placed second), “Fandango” and “Pon Ma Hon,” which means Kiss My Ass in Irish Galic. Sailors, gotta love ‘em and their boat names.
The NOLA skyline by boat…
turns to threatening skies…
leaving three bored sailors with nowhere to go…
and one crew member ready for pictures!
Once down in NOLA there was no way I wasn’t going to see the sights and sounds that had struck my fancy ever since Dennis Quaid jogged along with Ellen Barkin in The Big Easy. Just hearing Harry Connick Jr. talk has always made me want to go to N’Orleans. So I “abandoned” the last two days of racing in favor of exploring NOLA on my own. Read my other posts in this series about the food and music in “Cajun vs. Creole: Who Cares?” and the underbelly of NOLA in “New Orleans: Just Like I Pictured It?”
Leaving NOLA was not the end of our adventure. We drove back and stopped over in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina to unwind in style and take in the breathtaking stonework and vistas surrounding the Grove Park Inn:
We drove back to New Jersey with Amenonmania in tow, and yes, I got to drive the trailer. Once you’ve driven an RV, I guess anything is possible.
Sunrise view of Amenomania after her long voyage back from NOLA.
Here’s more of the fearless crew pre-, during and post-races:
This post is Part 1 in a three-part series on “New Orleans: The Good, The Bad and The Spicy.”
Read Part 2: New Orleans, Just Like I Pictured It?
I could write a post about the wrought iron terraces or the homes with three different styles of columns dating back to the 1800’s that I saw along St. Charles Ave. on my trip to New Orleans (NOLA) last week. I could tell you about the astonishingly good jazz heard while roaming the streets of the French Quarter by day or the mayhem on Bourbon Street after dark. But what struck me most about New Orleans on my first visit here was not the expected, but what lurks beneath the brassy surface of this party town firstly defined by Mardi Gras and Hurricane cocktails, then sadly by an act of nature with a pretty girl’s name, and now by….well…I think that’s where the interesting part lies.
As I sit here in my studio apartment sipping a cleansing spinach drink trying to detox my body from all of the salt, spice, fat and alcohol I consumed in NOLA, I’m struck by the similarities of this place to a few others I’ve seen, and yet there is no place exactly like it, as the locals will be sure to tell you. NOLA is filled with characters from all walks of life brought together by music, merriment and the need to get lost in something. But unlike Las Vegas and Amsterdam, two other cities known in part for their decadence, NOLA puts everyone on the same ground, albeit one that’s below sea level. I’m guessing Hurricane Katrina did much to further the divide between the haves and the have nots, but it seems they occasionally come together and ignore each other in the heart of it all—the French Quarter.
Amidst the pastel-shaded homes with bougainvillea-strewn porches they’re there—the people that everyone notices but no one acknowledges. Those that have sunk so low, that when you’ve all but given up, you can lose it in drink, music, crime, even voodoo. The guide books allude to it in careful language (there are nine instances of safety cautions in the 2013 Fodor’s New Orleans book) like this:
“Much of the post-Katrina media coverage has focused on New Orleans’s escalating crime rate. Sadly, this isn’t just sensationalism—gangs operate in the city’s underpopulated neighborhoods, there’s a growing homelessness problem, the murder rate is among the highest in the nation, and armed robberies occur all too frequently. These grim statistics should not dissuade you from visiting, but you need to exercise caution if you venture outside the well-touristed areas—especially at night.” Not dissuade you from visiting? Sounds like one of those commercials for pharmaceuticals that give you all the warnings at the end but then say, “buy the pill!”
As I strolled the French Quarter by day (read on for more about Bourbon Street at night) it was easy to strike up conversations with other tourists as we waited in line for café au lait and beignets (NOLA’s version of fried dough with powdered sugar). Any guide book on NOLA will steer you to Café du Monde for these, but frankly, the experience itself was more exciting than the powdery sweet snack and very milky coffee. The takeout line in back has neat little bundles of three beignets prepackaged and ready to hand out. Listening to the trumpet player give it his all as he serenaded those on the long line for a table was worth the stop here for sure. (More about the music of NOLA in my post Cajun vs. Creole: Who Cares?).
First stop - cafe au lait and beignets
Go Dizzy Go!
A friend of mine who’s from there (Mrs. B from my “Four Men and a Lady and a Sailboat” post) took me on a drive-by tour of the Garden District and St. Charles Ave., where the stately homes were decked out in their Halloween finest. New Orleans is a bit of a creepy town all the time, the perfect place to be this time of year!
I am no expert from my four days there but it seems to me that, for some, Katrina stripped every last hope and semblance of decency from this already gritty and lopsided town. It started with the cab driver who told me he lost his home to Katrina, was living in a trailer, and was forced by the city to install a credit card machine in his cab, but that it wasn’t working and he hasn’t seen any money from it in two weeks. Nor does he expect to, that’s the way it goes down there. But this isn’t a third world country, this is America! I thought as I handed him a 30% tip for my ride, paid in cash. (I know, I’m a sucker.)
A woman at the yacht club (I was there for the 2013 Rhodes 19 National Championship at the Southern Yacht Club) spoke of people who were never found after Katrina and for some reason I didn’t think she was talking about being washed out to sea. People went bonkers. The have nots revolted against the haves as best they could and I have a feeling they’re still not done yet.
"Relax…it’s just sex."
I really wanted to visit Bourbon Street, although I was told don’t go there alone and it’s ultra-touristy. Still, I had to see it and of course, I went alone! In the daylight, that is. It was alive with mild decadence around 5pm but mostly just looked like a really fun place for Happy Hour. So I stopped into the revolving Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone where I met a lot of fun people as I sipped my first and only Hurricane. This one didn’t have six plus liquors like the original, just one light rum and one dark rum, which was just fine with me.
My friends and I met up for dinner at Galatoire’s on Bourbon Street, probably the finest and best restaurant in NOLA for classic, familial French dining. We had lemon fish, fried oysters, trout, redfish and lots of crabmeat. Best seafood meal I ever had, thanks Mrs. B.
Potatoes souffle with Bearnaise sauce…yum
Crabmeat with that Cajun mustard. Oh my.
Before the separation!
It wasn’t until after dinner that I got a small taste of the underbelly of Bourbon Street. Actually we were off Bourbon Street trying to find our car (duh!) when somehow our group disbanded one by one. At one point it was just me and one other from our group of five, and I suggested going to look for our other friends in the bathroom of a bar, when he said adamantly, clutching my arms, “Don’t leave, whatever you do, we need to stay together.” Snippets of The Hangover movie swirled in my head and I knew he was right. Cell phones not charged (mine) or not being carried (missing friend). Okay, deep breath. Finally, we all managed to reunite and, most importantly, find the car. (One had taken a cab back, one had a bathroom emergency and one was just being jolly at the random bars.)
I changed my mind about having to see to Bourbon Street when a guy we met at one of the hotels during our search for the others alluded to the “unspeakable” about NOLA. He said he knew of a friend of a friend who went to a bachelor party somewhere on Bourbon Street and disappeared. When his family came to town to find him, he turned up at the morgue, naked, with no identification. Why is it that this nation followed the search for Natalie Holloway for months in Aruba and this guy gets no attention when he vanishes right here in our own country? Perhaps because it’s not an unusual occurrence? The guidebook didn’t specify that the city ranked fifth for the Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S., second only to Detroit and Flint, MI for the number of murders committed. I started to feel the underbelly of NOLA in my craw, the place most tourists never see or hear about and those that do for one reason or another seldom speak about.
If I had to guess I would say the divisiveness of this city—the stately homes, devil may care attitude, fun loving culture of the rich and touristy contrasted with the abject poverty of the poor—is so stark that Katrina gave the have nots an excuse to rise up, but not in the way Bruce Springsteen sang about after 9/11. I’m guessing they rose up in hopelessness, in anger and in resignation, the incredible frustration of feeling forgotten.
If I’ve gotten it wrong or offended anyone from there, my apologies. Like the guidebooks, I don’t mean to discourage anyone from going, but to stay in the flowery French Quarter or Garden District and wander the cobble-stoned streets in search of music and food. But to pretend this is the whole of New Orleans only tells half the story. Maybe less than half.
This town certainly needs all the help it can get financially and I found myself tipping generously as if to say, sorry for what you’ve been through. But what is the real reason we travel, after all? Is it to get lost in the unreal or to see how others live outside our comfortable daily existences? In NOLA you can do both. Just be sure you tell someone where you’re going.
This post is Part 2 of a three-part series on “New Orleans: The Good, The Bad and The Spicy.”
One of the questions I set out to answer during my exploration of New Orleans (NOLA) last week was: What is the difference between Cajun and Creole? More specifically what do the terms Creole or Cajun describe and how does it all relate to Haiti—another dichotomy of a place devastated by natural events and one I have visited and returned from with more questions than answers. (See more on my trip to Haiti here).
Here’s what I gathered:
Creole is a language. Louisiana Creole French is what they speak in NOLA; Haitian Creole is French-based and the official language of Haiti. There are lots of other Creole-based languages spoken as far and wide as Africa, Indonesia and Hawaii.
Creole is a people. There are Louisiana Creole people; as early as the 1700’s this referred to people born in Louisiana, typically descended from the French and Spanish. Similarly, Haitian Creoles are largely descended from the French colonists and African slaves who inhabited the island of Hispanola (Haiti to the west, Dominican Republic to the east). Then you’ve got your assorted Creoles in Africa, Hawaii, the Caribbean, etc.
Creole is a cuisine and so is Cajun. Now, Cajun people are those who came from Canada (Acadian refugees, who knew?) and their cuisine originates from their native northern land but is adapted for local ingredients found in Louisiana. Creoles came from Europe and their cooking blends many European influences (French, Spanish, Portugese, Italian) with Southern cuisine. Both Cajun and Creole cuisines are centered around the “holy trinity” of onions, peppers and celery, or in some cases, garlic. The traditional dishes of gumbo, etouffee, and jambalaya all start with this base and are pretty much considered both Creole and Cajun. Now, does that explain it? I didn’t think so. I told you I came back with more questions than answers.
Chargrilled oysters at Drago’s - that’s the way I like ‘em - cooked!
If you ask me, it’s all the same thing but I am neither a Creole nor a Cajun, nor an Acadian, although I did visit Acadia National Park in Maine this summer and now I know where the name comes from. (See more on my trip to Maine here.)
To further complicate matters, Zydeco is a form of Louisiana Creole folk music, not Cajun.
In NOLA, musicians aren’t picky about where they play; they just need to play. It seems to be a form of release for them; they all have this very soulful look on their faces, as if not doing it for the tips, but for the joy and perhaps an escape? Whatever drives these artists, they sure bring a lot of joy to the tourists when they claim their spot on Decatur or Royal Streets to express themselves, or…
on the banks of the mighty Mississippi…
in the French Market…
outside Jackson Square…
and of course on the streets…
While music is the main form of expression, you can also find another type of artist doing their thing on the streets…
Other thoughts of Haiti crossed my mind last week—not just the Creole/Cajun conundrum, soulful music, food (fried everything), but the Tale of Two Haitis I wrote about was also evident in NOLA. I hopped on a streetcar naively thinking all the streetcars would whistle like Desire on its way to Stanley and Stella’s house in the French Quarter, only to realize I was dead alone somewhere in the rest of it with views of boarded up homes that no one was caring about likely still left after Katrina.
I was on a streetcar but it didn’t have a pretty name. I wasn’t with tourists, but with folks on their way to and from their jobs, if they even had jobs. I knew I had to get off but wanted to be safe (nine safety warnings in the guidebook!). I didn’t want to stand alone out there waiting for the next streetcar back: it could take twenty minutes. Since I had arrived, everyone and everything from the guidebook to the woman at the yacht club’s ship store had warned me about being careful: Stay on the main streets, do NOT wander off. They all knew something they didn’t want to tell me, something too dangerous to tell, as though by some kind of pact.
I finally did get off the streetcar, turned myself around and grabbed these shots of the locals and environs:
The thing about Haiti in contrast to NOLA is: the have nots far outnumber the haves and with that comes less temptation, less throwing it in their faces what they don’t have. The poorest people we saw in Haiti were in some strange way also the happiest, the most grateful for our support. In NOLA, they’re infused among a large, commercial touristy show of a place. We tourists pretend we don’t see them lumbering about, swaying from side to side, drunk, mentally ill? Or just hardened, gritty and worn?
See more about the two sides of NOLA in my post, New Orleans: Just Like I Pictured It?