Greetings from the Big Easy! I've been visiting friends here since Wednesday and what a visit it's been. I've done more and eaten more amazing food already than one might expect to do and eat in a month. Each day has been completely full. And the best part is that I get to do all these things with my beloved friend Jenna, who is graciously taking time off from work to play host for my adventures. Here's a rundown of the week so far.
We hit the ground running with a New Orleans Zephyrs baseball game. Actually, half a game. My flight into NOLA was delayed for so long by weather that we ended up missing the first five innings. But we got in a good hour of baseball, with the home team coming out on top. But most of all, it was a nice chance to sit and visit with Jenna and her husband Mitch.
The next day got a bit of a late start because Jenna had to get some last-minute things done at her work. I took advantage of the time by getting a couple thousand words written on the first draft of my new book. More on that in coming weeks, but it's coming along quite nicely. But once she got back, we were off for a driving tour of much of New Orleans, ending with dinner in the French Quarter that was beyond my meager ability to describe it. The city is known for its amazing seafood, so I chose a jumbo lump crab cake after a peach and blueberry salad with goat cheese and candied pecans. The salad was delicious, but nothing compared to the heavenly joy that was the entree. It was impeccably prepared and, simply put, elevated the crab cake to the level of culinary art.
After dinner, we were off to Preservation Hall, which is a true hole in the wall. It has no air conditioning or restrooms, serves no food or drinks, the floors and walls are in varying states of decay and disrepair, and there is usually seating enough for roughly half of the people who pay the admission fee for one of the three nightly sets. But no one cares about any of that. Its name refers to the fact that it's dedicated to the preservation of the pure art of jazz music. The music was unadorned by any microphones or anything electronic. There was barely even any lighting. It was just an hour of six dedicated musicians plying their craft lovingly. It speaks to how transporting the concert was that it seemed to last only about fifteen minutes. I was genuinely flabbergasted when they said they were finished because I was convinced we had just gotten started.
Yesterday was even busier. It started with a trip to Honey Island for a tour. We were piloted in a great long flat-bottomed boat with the biggest outboard motor I have ever seen (250 hp!) by a skilled and personable man named Gary through the sometimes narrow and seemingly impassible waterways of the Honey Island swamp. Along the way, we encountered several alligators, which were drawn to our boat by the promise of hot dogs and marshmallows. We didn't get to see the biggie, though. Our pilot said Brutus, who is about fourteen feet long, is a little more cautious of the tour boats than the relatively smaller ones we got to see. We also saw a pack of feral pigs, many turtles, a raptor of some kind and a lovely crane. We also saw the devastating effect of Hurricane Katrina. Even all these years later, it can be seen in the industrial wreckage and empty pilings where houses once stood. Gary told us that some houses were picked up and carried more than a mile. It was a lovely, exhilarating, and humbling experience.
Back in town, we stopped off at a place called Mahony's for po' boys. I learned that the main attribute that makes a sandwich a po' boy is the bread. It's a French loaf that's super crusty on the outside and light as air on the inside. Mine had shrimp and a spicy remoulade sauce. I remarked to Jenna that my mouth was going to be so sad when I went home. Then we trekked across town to the banks of the mighty Mississippi and a visit to the Audubon Aquarium. Dedicated to showcasing and preserving the unique flora and fauna of the Mississippi delta and Gulf, it was a seemingly endless display of fascinating creatures. Plus, it was cool and dark--a nice counterpoint to the heat and humidity of the morning's swamp tour. After going home to shower (and take a two-hour nap), we were off again. Stopping by a cool joint called the Pita Pit to pick up dinner, we headed to the aquarium's sister, the Audubon Zoo, for movie night. We watched Jurassic World under the stars, accompanied by a highly curious and extremely loud peacock who seemed to know just when to squawk. He had apparently seen the movie before.
Today, after stopping for beignets for breakfast, it's off to Gulfport, Mississippi for a walk along the beach, some shopping, and a tour of a local brewery. I forget what Jenna has planned for us this evening, but it will undoubtedly be equally fun. Tomorrow, we're scheduled for brunch at a beautiful historic restaurant followed by a tour of the World War II museum. Sometime before I leave, we're touring a plantation and going to at least one more concert. I know I'm going to need a long, long nap to recover from this vacation and is it ever going to be worth it.
I have many more picture on my Facebook page if you would like to see them.