Friday, September 10, 2004

On tuesday night we ventured out in search of some tasty seafood. It was kinda late by the time we got out to find dinner, and it was still a weeknight so not every place was open. We broswed some menus and got ideas for places we'd drop by at later times, and also saw some really yummy stuff that was not quite in our price range.

Two famous chefs who have restaurants there, and both of whom started out at Commanders Palace (an excellent upscale place we ate last year) are Paul Prudhomme and Emeril. Paul has one restaurant - K Paul's, and Emeril has 3. All of them are about equal in price, entrees being anywhere from $20-$30. While the selections were mouthwatering, we were on a budget, and there was sure to be more affordable tastiness to be had.

We wound up at the French Market Cafe/Restaurant. We indoctrinated ourselves to our first hurricane - which while good, would have been better with crushed ice. Mike had a FABULOUS plate of crab au gratin, and I had the fresh red snapper covered with shrimp scampi. Fiiiiiiiish. Yum. There were no leftovers. :)

After eating a substantial meal in New Orleans, it's always a good idea to walk, because remaining still means a food coma is likely to set in. So we did our rounds of the quarter under the full which was threatening to be all full as we were.

Street performers are always out at night, and, unlike most of those you'll find in the Chicago areas, (especially around the train) most of them are very very talented. Sure, you've got mimes, but lots of musicians as well. For example - at least three times during the week we found this ensemble of three guys dresses up in suits and singing oldies in three part harmony just outside the Hurwitz Mintz antique store across from the Montelone Hotel. They had spirit. You could tell they loved what they did. Almost every time we passed them, and/or stopped someone was getting serenaded, and sometimes they'd even have people dancing with them.

They'd always say something like "Don't go yet, we've got a song for you" and they'd croon right too you in a way that only old motown records could. We gave them a few tips, as a result.
One guy in particular that was out around royal street on one of the corners near our hotel was at first funny, then annoying, then annoyingly funny. He was stairway to heaven guy. It didn't matter what time of day, or if we'd just passed him, he was ALWAYS playing stairway to heaven as if he only had strings on his guitar that corresponded to that song. Funniest of all is when we passed him twice on the same night within the span of maybe a half hour - the guy had moved his location but was still playing that damn song!

After our walk through the quarter we retired early to the hotel room, as our feet had taken enough abuse and Mike's knee was being crabby. We wanted to go clubbing, but as we weren't up for waiting till midnight for the Dungeon to open, and Whirling Dervish was playing Rockabilly, we thought we'd save our energy.

So we watched the new hip miniseries called "What the hell is going to get flattened by a hurricane this time?" Our other favorite station was the NOLA TV channel - as lame as it may be to be a tourist and watch tourist TV, we learned a lot about what would be cool to visit and where to eat. I will say it again - Food Porn. Sure, there were extended informercials about restaurants, but the giant closeups of food were worth it. I learned that the Brennan family is all over the restaurant business in NO, and has their fingers in many many pies - literally.

Also learned about the streetcars and where they run. There are older looking green ones - like the one we took- which are actually the antique cars but kept up. They run on St. Charles and go past the garden district. They are red ones that run along canal, which are built new but exactly like the old model, except in the fact that they are airconditioned.

I saw all kinds of stuff on the channel about what's in some of the antique galleries, art exhibits, what's at the art museum, etc. Some of the bourbon street club ads like the one for POP BAR were annoying - they had that same name masturbation problem as KMFDM.

So, we were lame on Tuesday night and didn't go out late, just watched the city lights and few people wandering on Bourbon street from ourround window before turning in. There was more walking to be done the next day - as I wanted to hit the cemeteries. And were are more cemeteries in NOLA than I knew what to do with.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


Woke up early again, and continued to watch the weather channel. I finally got Mike to put away the remote after bouncing up and down like a caffeinated squirrel, and then we did our yoga. We headed to the gym for more torture on the machines, but decided to save the pool and hot tub for later as we figured the zoo would be a good place to go. We then showered and decided to full up with some high test beignet and coffee at Cafe DuMonde.

For someone who still holds a grudge against donuts after working in a donut shop in high school, I sure do love these damn beignet. $3 gets you and order of 6, which is sometimes more than enough to feed 2 people. We speculated the amount of powdered sugar they must dump on those things, and the amount of beignet mix they use every day. The number was mostly likely beyond the capapcity of our very small human brains.

So I had a slushy cafe aulait (drool) and Mike had some iced coffee. WEEEEEE. We were ready to vibrate our way to the zoo.

To get there, we had to take one of the antique street cars on St Charles. They aren't air conditioned, so the windows are open and it's not a good idea to put your arms outside the windows as the trees seem to need extra limbs. The seats are wooden and the backs shift so you can have 2 seats facing one another. It's a $1.25 to ride - which is still a bargain compared to the $1.75 I have to pay to ride the CTA. The cars are slow, but they get you where you need and they have their charm, plus the slowness allows you to see all the pretty houses.

We passed through the garden district, which is lind with sometimes near palatial homes, all victorian, all well kept, with gorgeous landscaping. The architecture is this city is amazing as Mike would agree. It seems that many more of the older buildings are more well kept here than in other cities.

We got off the train and took a free shuttle past Audubon Park, which looked like a gorgeous park as well, but we figured we were going to do enough walking at the zoo, and the shuttle was very convenient. I brought my camera for lots of cute animal pictures, which were easy to take as it was a hot day and the animals were very lazy.

The first thing I saw when we got in were pink flamingos, which was a treat for me because I had never seen any that weren't plastic and impaling someone's lawn. Their necks are rather freakish upon close inspection.

We tried to see the white tigers, but it seems the exhibit was closed for maintenance, so we remained tigerless. We saw lots of other cool stuff though; bears in trees, jaguars and leopards playing like kittens, lazy camels (my personal favorite). I learned later on the NOLA TV station made for travelers that they actually have camels rides there. :( I wanted to ride camels. None for me. We met a couple talking birds, one that said HELLO in an almost seductive voice, and another that said several things and also laughed.

We saw some very muddy, tired and cute capybaras, all lounging or swimming in the water. It was at this point that I started to miss my piggies back home. I managed to get a picture of a little black gecko on a reproduction of a mayan sculpture. The swamp exhibit was very thorough, and having a white alligator - which is a rare thing, explained the difference between the two types of white alligators (yes, there are two). They also had a building full of cute turtles, baby nutria (which I wanted to take home with me) and really disgusting bugs including a black widow spider. And only in new orleans can you go from displays of fish, turtles and crawfish, and see recipes for cooking them inbetween.

It was very hot and humid, so the zoo had these mini sprinkler mister thingies set up to walk under. Iverall, it being a weekday, the zoo was pretty dead.

We did catch the elephants on the way out, as well as the giraffes, rounding off our visit. We were able to hit every part of the zoo in about three hours. It may not be a huge zoo, but it's set up really well and is mostly open air, as the weather never really gets cold down there.

We hobbled out to wait for the shuttle and vowed to dip in the pool before lunch.
Once we got back, we changed into our bathing suits and headed for the rooftop watering hole. Perhaps it was a mistake in more than one way, but we went for the hot top first as our feet were not happy. Mike slipped on the way in, leading to what we think caused his bad knee for the rest of the trip. The hot tub was lovely indeed - but shifting from that to the coldness of the pool was a bit shocking. We swam for a bit until hunger and the food smells got to us, then showered and hunted for our next meal.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

We got up earlier than we thought - well, I was just excited. Every morning it was obligatory to look out the window down on to the quarter to see what was going on. Like last year, we had arrived around the time of a festival known as Southern Decadence, which means that gay boys from all over were coming to party, dress up, and hook up. It wasn't going to start until wednesday, so we still had some time before I would be the only girl in the pool. We checked out the weather channel, and noticed that while the weather was still predicting rain, it was only a 40% chance. There wasn't much weather to be seen outside, and that was just fine with me. However, it looked like Florida was going to get another hurricane. I was hoping that our firends Romell and Sara would also be visiting with us, but since I hadn't heard if they found a ride or not, and now with the possible hurricane threat, I was even less sure of that possibility.
I taught Mike some basic yoga and then we headed to the gym to play with all the equipment. After about an hour, we headed back, took showers (I dyed the top portion of my hair red with highlights) and we got ready to wander the quarter. It was still pretty dead. The only people walking around who weren't working were tourists like us, and it was apparent that there weren't too many yet. We were in search of food, and in the mood for the classic New Orleans fare, so we stopped at Coop's Place on Decatur, a small seedy little place that has lots of drinks and amazingly good food at a decent price.
Mike had the jumbalaya I believe, and I had the Chicken Tchoupitoulas (damn those native americans and their phonics). It was yum. They also serve things like rabbit - which I almost got, but then I remembered I got the same thing last year and I really wanted to try something new. You can also order various forms of alligator. We didn't get brave enough to try gator until later in the week.
So after lunch, we took a leisurely walk back to the hotel, taking in the sites and then rested for a bit, figuring out what kind of activities we might want to take part in. There were definitely more cemeteries I wanted to hit, having only been to St Louis #1 and 2 last year. We pondered plantation tours, and were interested in seeing the zoo this time around, having seen the aquarium on the previous visit.
We wandered out of our room again later to take a walk down bourbon so we could remember what it doesn't smell like before all the people got there. Bars and restaurants and strip clubs, half of which seem to be named Mango Mango and serve daiquiris. I did get a mango daiquiri the year before, but the thing was HUGE and it was harder to get toasty off the thing than you'd think. Bourbon has it's glitz, with beads still hanging from wires and poles and trees, and middle aged people who don't realize that wearing sandals is a truly bad idea. But overall, I can only take so much of it. I like to explore the other parts of the quarter.
We wound up not having a real dinner, per se, as we had eaten so much at Coop's, so we grabbed appetizers and dessert at the Gumbo Shop. It was a great place that we should have had a whole meal at, but somehow never got a chance. This was the home of our first alligator experience, being gator sausage with some kind of drool inspiring sauce. I had myself a glass of port and some fantastic bread pudding. Mike had some chocolate cheesecake that was making me rather jealous of his indecent enjoyment.
I love going to New Orleans because it's like living on the food channel for a week (food porn). You get to eat all this ridiculously good stuff and spend as long as you want talking about it.
There was more walking to try and keep our metabolisms going. We wandered down the streets, peeping in shop windows, but avoiding the ones with the overly loud zydeco music and dried gator heads. We remembered where the Whirling Dervish was, a club that had changed names but still kept its goth/industrial/punk format. We peeked at the Dungeon which only opens at midnight. (We never made it there, unfortunately). We spotted Roadkill, the shop with the metal skull sign out front. We wandered past Cafe DuMonde where we would later in the week be getting some beignet.
It was really nice to be able to wander the city with it being as quiet as it was and peer in art gallery windows without getting trampled by tourists.
After our walk led us back to the hotel, we plopped ourselves on the bed in front of the tv and swung into lazy mode. We weren't much for making plans until the next day - or even the next moment, as there was so much to do and so much time. I had some ideas of what might be fun, and it seemed the zoo was a distinct possibility for the next day.
New Orleans trip - second day
We didn't sleep very well on our marble slab at Motel 6, and Mike had to wash his hair with hotel soap. Needless to say we were glad to get going. After packing everything back into the car, we headed out and decided to swing by graceland just to say we'd seen the outside. Graceland is what you'd expect, a big fancy house with tall gates and green lawns, pretty, but surrounded by the seediest looking neighborhood. Everything around it is either named Elvis this or Graceland that, no matter how seedy the building. We had trouble finding the highway after that, because the people who planned the city of Memphis don't want anyone to be able to leave.
It was sunny when we left, but it wasn't long until some truly evil looking clouds descended - ones that made us worried about tornadoes. Then, came the downpour. It rained so hard that all the encrusted bug carcasses were blasted right off the car. The rain was bad, but it did stop for a while. We were now in Mississippi, land of more trees and pavement, with the occasional dead armadillo with its feet in the air. our project arrival was actually early - we figured we'd get in to NOLA a half hour before our check-in time.
The rain however, made sure that we weren't rushing as we had to deal with it on and off. We stopped at a rest stop during a bad downpour, and Mike read an installment of Harry Potter while we waited for it to stop. We had lunch in Jacksonville at a Cracker Barrel, which I must say has very good meatloaf sandwiches and excellent cold cider.
By the time we finally reached Louisiana, the rain was threatening again. Most of the road to New Orleans is a big long bridge over the swamp, which we had only seen at nightime before. So instead of trees and pavement, it was creepy trees and swamp, with the occasional fishing shack in the middle of nowhere.
We didn't get to see the landscape for too long before we got pounded by rain again, so much so that everyone in front of us was pulling off to the side. I entertained thoughts of water coming over the edge of the bridge. Mike kept driving because he was able to at least see in front of him - because if we stopped, who knows when the rain would end. The rain had stopped by the time we were on solid ground again, and we were finally in our city of choice. Mike had some problems exiting the highway to get to the right spot, but having driven before it didn't take too long to right ourselves.
I was already excited at seeing the palm trees everywhere, the seedy streets, the downtown area, and canal with its red street cars. We pulled in sometime before 5, which meant we could valet park the car and check in without having to fill time. we stayed at the Alexa, which is a very nice hotel with access from canal, royal, and bourbon. It's right on the edge of the french quater madness, which means you can easily stumble to the bar of your choice, and still have peace and quiet enough when you get back to your room.
We looked like we were moving in for the rest of our lives - the luggage rack looked like a christmas tree. We got a nice quiet corner room at the end of an arctically cold hallway. it had a round window with a big ledge that we discovered was great for sitting on to check out our 6th floor view of the quarter. We could also look down on a portion of bourbon street to see how the partying was going. The bed was lightyears better than at Motel 666, so we plopped down for a bit before unpacking.
Mike was sad that they changed the hotel soaps from last time, but I thought they were perfectly nice and knew we were going to go home with more soap than we could ever possibly use. We flipped through the tv channels, and found our favorite station the weather channel to check out the current local atmosphere. The station predicted rain for most of our time there, but really I didn't believe it. and even if it did rain, it wasn't going to spoil my good time.
We decided to do our first prowling off the quarter and find ourselves some dinner. It was early on a sunday evening, and very very dead as most tourists must have just gone home. It was humid and the streets were all wet with that familiar New Orleans perfume of restaurants and bodily fluids. (yeah well, I still love it.) The weather was very comfortable and we acclimated quickly to it. We walked around, looking at the familiar spanish architecture until we found Silky O Sullivan's, which drew us in with the smell of their ribs. The place was an Irish pub complete with chandeliers and sports banners. We were two of maybe five people in the place, counting the waitress.
We split a rack of ribs (which by the way were dry ribs, meaning rubbed with spices and without sauce) and had some drinks. The ribs were good but Mike and I found that were are better fans of wet ribs. BB King's were still better. So, now I was slightly woozy and full, we left and walked for a bit to take in more scenery. Royal was the street we found ourselves wandering down most often, as Bourbon gets too hectic. Royal houses most of the more expensive antique stores and galleries, so it's always fun to window shop. We spotted an artist's exhibition which we had caught the year previous, and figured we'd stop back in to see the new stuff later on.
We planned to hit the gym in the the hotel the next day, as I was fervently exercising and wanted to keep with my routine. The alexa has a nice gym with all kinds of machines and a shower, as well as a rooftop pool which we had visited before after hot midday walks.
The first night was basically wandering around and relaxing after the long drive. We didn't want to stuff ourselves too much, as there would be more than enough time to be doing that. We relaxed in the hotel room and watched tv until we were tired enough to crash. The next day would be our first real adventure.
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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

To break the silence and try and work through my post vacation stupor, I'm going to relive the recent vacation to New Orleans in several posts.

So, after weeks of sheer madness designing a show for which my reimbursement check was to be bigger than my paycheck, and the afterglow of piles of crusty dishes and dirty rooms, Mike and I were headed to our favorite place. I packed everything we owned the night before while Mike was at the Metallica concert, and desperately trired to contain my impatience.

We hit the road on saturday morning, and drove off with Memphis as our goal because taking the whole drive would make us insane and we had plenty of time to get there. once out of the chicago area, we noted that Illinois, though marked with the occasional cow or horse, is pretty damn boring. We had loud music and pleasant company to get us through, but after several hundred miles, there was nothing to do but sing the trees and pavement song.

It goes like this: Trees and pavement, Trees and pavement, Trees and pavement...etc etc etc.

Might I add that I dislike rest stops? Not so much the stopping as the doors that don't lock, toilets that don't flush, and the sometimes excessive fluids.

Anyhow, so we managed to get through Illinois only to pass into Missouri (or Misery as we fondly named it.) The fun part about passing into Missouri was seeing huge red billboards for BOOMLAND. At least 12. And this place needed all 12 as each one featured a new item that was sold there. Peaches. Fireworks. Crafts. Jewelry.

Yes, everything you could possibly want. (Please note that the place was called BOOMTOWN a couple years ago, they must have swollen due to the amount of crap they decided to sell)

Because we needed gas, a walk, and something to talk about while driving through the rest of the wasteland know as Missouri, we stopped there.


They have a football field long room of fireworks and several signs that plead with you not to smoke. Mike nearly peed himself however, when he noticed that despite all the explosives and signs for no smoking ans EXIT HERE, that there were no sprinkler systems to be found. If God zapps the place with lightning, the whole state would be sure to blow up in a very colorful way. There were also gambling machines, numerous cedar wood boxes, hillbilly accessories made out of logs, (including a $5 log moose we pondering for a second before coming to our senses), animals made out of real fur, fiber optic jesuses in the color of your choice, aisles of disturbing knick knacks, "native american" items, crap to keep the kids busy, 99 cent studded bracelets....

It just kept going. We stopped in the restroom near the scary restaurant, which looked like some trailer park residents were vacationing for the day. Had I chosen to, I could have easy gotten a french tickler out of the "health station" dispenser, but thankfully I decided to pass.

on the way out we saw some stickers, many of them being about snowboarding, but one of them saying something along the lines of "surf or die." There must be a lot of dead people in Missouri, because we sure as hell didn't see anyone surfing.

We left BOOMTOWN enlightened, to say the least.

So we plowed onward through the rest of the state. And on. And on. And on. Little did we know that the vast landscapes full of nothingness would soon give way to even more nothingness in Arkan-snore. In Missouri we could still sing about trees and pavement, and the occasional billboard. Arkansas didn't even have any billboards, or signs to amuse us. The worst part is it was only an hours drive through - but it was undoubtedly the longest hour of our lives.

We didn't have too far to go after getting through ARRRR Kansas to get to memphis, fortunately, but we did have to pass through West Memphis - where naturally we were not going to stop for obvious reasons.

It was dark and still early in the night by the time we arrived and got a hotel just off the highway. We unpacked some, noted the slablike nature of the bed and the fact we had no shampoo, then decided to check out the local nightlife.

After some aimless wandering through through the poorly planned pre-downtown area, we finally managed to figure out how to actually get downtown. I did get to see the very large pyramid on the way.

Memphis seemed very clean and about Cleveland sized - which is not too big, but the place obviously takes in a lot more tourists. We parked and started to walk towards Beale Street, which is the happening place downtown, and no sooner than we hit the pavement when some drunk frat guy yelled out the window as us "YOU GUYS ARE GAY!!"


Ok, so Mike has long hair and was wearing his phantom t shirt, and I'm wearing all black, but I still don't quite see us being picked up on any kind of gay-dar. We snickered and continued on.
Beale Street fancies itself a smaller version of Bourbon Street, only cleaner. You have to get ID-ed at a checkpoint to enter, but then you can carry your drinks around, and some bras even have stools on the sidewalk. It's all restaurants, clubs, bars, and odd shops - even a voodoo shop. the building are definitely historic and nicely kept. Beale Street itself isn't all that long, but long enough for bar hopping. It's a more lively version of the way Cleveland's flats/warehouse district used to be.

We popped in BB King's Club, all the while noticing that we were very obviously not blending in with the crowd, to have some ribs, as I heard the ribs were faboo here. And, as promised, they were WONDERFUL. Meat falling off, drippy, sticky..gahhhhh. drool. While we ate and had a few drinks, we were entertained my a group of guys known as the Beale Street Flippers; three guys who wander around the area doing flips, somersaults, and other tricks. They vaulted over women in chairs, as well as each other. Once they were done, we heard some live music from BB King's widow and her son - who own and operate the place. It was a good night all around.

After dinner, we stopped through the "oldest drugstore" in town, which sells everything from voodoo supplies and candles to...pants. You could buy an entire outfit there, including a silver or gold lame cowboy hat. Lots of tourist kitsch, but some useful stuff too.

We waddled back to the car and headed back to the hotel to get some rest.
It was only the first night away from home, and we had mississippi to look forward to in the morning.