Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Orleans Souvenirs: Day 2

We joined Darin and Kaori, a couple friends from NYC, who happened to be vacationing in the Big Easy the same week we were and it turned out to be a great day--we met in the morning, hopped in their rental car and started off on the right foot with all things deep fried, fatty and delicious at Elizabeth's Restaurant in Bywater.
On the menu: cornbread waffles with sweet potato salmon topping, breakfast po boy, grits, salmon balls in seafood sauce, and the piece de resistance--praline bacon in all its salty sweet goodness. I rarely eat red meat, just a tiny bite of something super-special every other year or so, but one bite of this and I was ready to go whole hog:

Then we checked out the Backstreet Cultural Museum. It's located in what used to be a funeral home in Treme, which is the oldest neighborhood of "Free People of Color" in the U.S. One room is filled with beautiful feathered and beaded Mardi Gras Indians costumes, many of which, including the black and white one pictured below and most likely the other one, were worn by the Fi Yi Yi tribe (one of many that represents the different cultures that make up the Mardi Gras Indians). The other room is filled with memorabilia from Skeletons, Baby Dolls, Social Aid and Pleasure clubs and funeral parades. Robert, our tour guide, makes many of these costumes himself and it was great listening to him talk about how they're made and what they represent, the Second Line and Funeral parades, the neighborhood, New Orleans in general, his favorite music...this was hands down my favorite part of the trip. If you want to see something truly beautiful and unique while you're in New Orleans, if you love music and need some great recommendations, VISIT THIS MUSEUM!!!!
One of Robert's favorite places to see music was the Ernie K-Doe Mother-in-Law Lounge, named for Ernie K-Doe's R&B hit. It was closed when we stopped by that afternoon and we didn't get another chance to go back, but it's well worth checking out just to see the murals of K-Doe and his beloved wife and the courtyard around back. There's always next time.I was a bit torn about visiting the Lower Ninth Ward, but after talking to some of the locals felt better about it. Our waitress at Elizabeth's encouraged us to see it and to tell our friends what we saw--she also recommended reading 1 Dead in the Attic. Another person told us: "Everybody blaming it on Katrina, but that neighborhood looked that way before the storm." On the other hand, Seth had read in Douglas Brinkley's The Great Deluge that before the hurricane, the Ninth Ward had more African-American property owners than any other place in Louisiana, rivaling the ownership rates any African-American neighborhood in the country. Beyond the levee in the photograph below is the Mississippi River--it was strange to look up and see a ship floating so far above our heads and homes in the Lower Ninth Ward. From the top of the levee looking down into the neighborhood you see the two Doullut Steamboat Houses that seem like they're in perfect condition despite the flood, a few of the new construction "Brad Pitt" homes (still for sale), and original homes--some inhabited; most in various stages of repair or deterioration. This levee stayed intact after the hurricane doing as good a job keeping the water from Lake Pontchartrain in the city as it did keeping the Mississippi out.
From there, we headed out of the city to check out Louisiana's wetlands making a pit stop along the way at one of the many drive-through daiquiri stands so Seth could get his drink on. (Seth wants me to mention that Darin insisted we stop.) We timed it perfectly, arriving at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve just in time to watch the sunset through the cypress trees and listen to the owls hooting at each other.
But the day wasn't over yet. Seeing Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar was one of the highlights of the trip. Recommended by Robert, this is the best band ever. We had had a really full day that day and I felt like a zombie by the time the band started, but one they started they were so good! Talk about the perfect pick-me-up. They played to a packed house--with everyone dancing. At one point a 90-something-year-old man got up on stage and danced until he fell off. (Luckily, he was okay.) The perfect end to a perfect day.These are just the highlights. See more pix on flickr.

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