My cab driver didn’t make out too badly in Katrina. He got his wife, son, and aged grandparents out to a hotel near Houston by the time the levee broke.
“When I got back home, the house was five feet deep in mold,” he said. "I was lucky."
I had only been in New Orleans for ten minutes, but I was already starting to understand why Jen had packed it all up and moved. New Orleans is on my short list of cities for which it is acceptable to dump New York.
As soon as I dropped off my suitcase in the palatial new apartment that costs less than Jen’s old East Village one-bedroom, we headed to Atchafalaya for brunch. The eggs Louisianne were perched atop extremely crabby crab cakes, and the sublime grits were almost more cheese than grit. A trio played jazz in the front bar while we chowed down in the back.
When Jen commented on the odd flavor of the green tomato mixer -- we’d chosen unwisely among the many options available in the make-your-own bloody mary bar -- the waiter said, “Let’s just hit the reset button, shall we?” and brought us fresh pint glasses of ice and vodka.
New Orleans is a place where the mistakes of the past no longer haunt you. We rebuilt our cocktails with red tomato juice, horseradish, pickled okra, and watermelon rinds and sipped them while Barbeque Dave explained how he got his nickname. Then we went home to nap.
Jen’s claim that she didn’t know how to parallel park proved untrue; she just parks at a rakish angle. We spent the cocktail hour at Sylvain, a jewel box of unpretentious deliciousness run by another New York refugee, Sean McCusker.
Here are some scallops over farro with roasted grapes. I tried not to think about how much butter was in this dish, especially because Jen had threatened to take me to a clothing-optional swimming pool the following morning. The scallops were perfectly caramelized and the grapes tasted like haute Welch’s jam. With them I drank the best sazerac I’ve ever had.
We next cabbed it to the Contemporary Arts Center for their “Bourbon and Burlesque” benefit, where we prowled the premises in search of more snacks and tried to fend off the advances of a pediatric dentist whose wife was on vacation in New Zealand. I began to wonder how I could ever make it up to Jen for being the Best Tour Guide Ever. Perhaps by letting her flog me in the Burlesque Photo Booth?
The live performance featuring local burlesque troops seemed more costume-driven and less sexily individualistic than New York burlesque, but Peekaboo Pointe has spoiled me. Mo Johnson and the Shim Shamettes, who closed the show, were the best. We left and went to dba for some live music.
“Come on, let’s dance,” Jen said, and she led me through the packed house to the front of the stage, where I could look down the barrel of the slide trombones.
The band was called the Hot 8, but they gave me chills and there were at least twelve of them. Up front were the trombones, trumpets, and saxophones. One of the trumpet players had no legs. Behind them were the tuba and drums, big guys who were shaking the stage.
I felt a pure joy in this music that I have not felt in a very long time. A woman was dancing up front with a flower made of dollar bills pinned to her dress.
“It’s her birthday,” Jen explained.
At the set break we went to R Bar for a round, although I had switched to seltzer at this point, being somewhat of an amateur. The persona at this smoky dive included Chris, who directs radio plays for the blind and told me about the literary wake his friends held for Ray Bradbury.
I also met a cranky man who directs a male chorus that sings only sea shanties. He got mad when Jen called his group a "choir" and was uninterested in my recommendation that they sing Robert Pearsall's setting of Sir Patrick Spens.
Then it was back to dba for the second set of the Hot 8...
...and even though our feet hurt and it was like three in the morning we snagged a ride with the pediatric dentist over to Mimi’s, where Jen said the best DJ in town was spinning. It was impossible to top the live brass band, but there were cute boys on the dance floor and I liked Soul Sister’s groovy 80’s stylings.
Jenn introduced me to the charming Jonathan Freilich, and at this point New Orleans reminded me a lot of college in that everyone seemed to know each other and have at one time been romantically involved. Jonathan gave us a lift back to his pad where he played us the Finale version of the song cycle he’s working on about De Kooning. The studio belonged to a hat maker and looked like the set of a very posh La Boheme.
It took us a while to figure out how to use the microwave so we could heat up some of the gumbo in the frig.
Jonathan kindly drove us home as dawn crept through the sky, and when we got there we figured, what the hell, why not finish off that bottle of rose. New Orleans is a city where only the brave survive. Before we fell asleep, Jen gave Elvis his insulin.