Snakes, Jazz and Beignets

Photo courtesy of Annalisa Alosco


Life in the Quarter, as the locals refer to the French nook of New Orleans, certainly has its perks.  To start, living within walking distance of Vietnamese po-boys and fresh produce is quite convenient, given the high humidity.  Not to mention the scenic route of Royal Street is not unlike that of New York’s Bleecker Street; a pleasant familiarity which I welcomed.

I would later discover the art of the New Orleans Stroll.  New Yorkers think they can stroll.  Boy have we been misinformed.  The NOLA stroll  (not to be confused with swagger) represents a of a way of life that demands one to become fully enveloped in their surroundings, even when nothing but the heat of the sun on your neck and a street lined with shacked up shanties are all you’ve got to absorb.

So with our best foot forward, our Tuesday looked something like this:
1.) Orange and Juice: Meena sported her 2009 “Syracuse Marathon Men” t-shirt to breakfast, so it wasn’t a surprise when a woman proceeded to ask her: “Excuse me, did you go to Syracuse?” What was surprising was that while New York is over-saturated with ‘Cuse alumns, New Orleans has a population 360,740 (as of 2011).  Hence, an unexpected run-in with Orange alumni. With bagels, coffee and 25 years between us, we reminisced over dining halls, programs that are no longer offered (nursing, specifically) and of course, the Carrier Dome.

2.) French Market: In the spirit of supporting local businesses, we ventured down to the quarter’s second pride and joy (the first being Bourbon Street), the French Market and French Flea Market.  Upon gawking at the intricate detailing of local artist Nurhan Gokturk‘s watercolors, Meena commented that her best style (under no training) was limited to stick figures.  Without missing a beat, Nurhan used the back of a manila envelope for an impromptu sketching session of both Meena and myself, free of charge.  (I’ll let you critique his work for yourself):

Sketch by Nurhan Gorturk

3.) Sam the Snake: “Sam just thinks I’m Mom, Dad and the whole nine yards!” exclaimed John T.  the ‘reader’ on duty at the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum on the year and a half-old rare West African python he sat stroking.  “I’ve known her since she was about the size of this here pencil,” his face beamed like a proud papa in denial of his daughter’s drug habit.  With a stoic expression, he went on to describe, in detail,  of the method his other python (“Two feet longer than this room is wide”) used to kill and consume its prey, and potentially humans if it came to it.

I let him finish.    Hiding my fear, I asked if he ever felt in jeopardy, being the owner of “the 3rd most dangerous python in the world.”  He stared me square on and simply replied, “Nope.”

Meena, with tougher skin than I’ll ever have, answered the call to hold the one and a half year-old.  That’s just one line I refuse to cross.

We later discovered John T. was not lying about aforementioned python:

4.) One Small Step for Man: A “po-boy” down here is sandwich art, and can include anything from corned beef, ham, swiss and olives or straight up fries.  As twentysomethings on a budget, our resident expert Emily recommended the divine Vietnamese po-boys from Moon Wok, which came in at $3 a pop.  We were game for some fried tofu po-boys (sans jalepenos for me), and divine they were.

5.)  Old School Meets New Rule: The sounds of an amateur brass band in the distance is common in the Quarter, but for an authentic experience, the Preservation Hall jazz band rightfully deserves all of my five stars of approval.  Due to limited seating (and I mean limited, circa 30 seats!) we were forced to stand and endure the heat with nothing but a few ceiling fans to remind us of what cool felt like.  But the upbeat syncopated rhythms of Shannon Powell’s drum coupled with Marc Braud’s trumpet solo, the bright,  soulful result was sweeter than the sweetest whiskey-infused brown sugar sauce on bread pudding.  (And that comparison is the truth.)  Their control of each note demanded our attention and respect, jazz lover or not.

Cut to the  Maple Leaf, a mid-size bar and music venue that regularly plays host to local bands.  Taking the stage were a cast of characters known for their 2012 Grammy win, a NOLA brass band called Rebirth.  With the same passion and control as Preservation Hall, these boys used nothing but brass, percussion and their voices in a combined jazz and hip hop sound to take us out of the sweaty bar and into a party worth staying for.

Self Taken

6.) Late Night Eats: Fact: New Yorkers have some of the best food establishments at our disposal open at convenient times, up to, but not including dollar pizza.  While most kitchens in the Quarter close up at 10 or midnight, for a short drive, NOLAites can venture out to the Garden District for a warm and savory Spinach and Artichoke quesadilla at the Balcony Bar and Cafe.  (Every place here has a wrap-around balcony.  This particular establishment makes me want to install one in my future home.)

And if you’re wondering how we could’ve gone an entire day without a beignet from Cafe Du Monde, well, we did indeed save the best for last.  (Not intentionally.)  The French Market locale happens to be open 24/7.   We devoured our sugar-coated puffs of fried deliciousness at the prime hour of 2:00 am, in my personal opinion, the only time a beignet should be devoured.


Manic Monday

Hey y’all! Don’t hate us, but Annalisa and I have been pretty slow in uploading posts and keeping you lovely folks filled in with our daily excursions. The two of us got sidetracked with copious amounts of live jazz and brass bands, beignets, and Sam the Snake (we’ll explain later). We promise we’ll be more diligent about this from now on!

On Monday, we moved out of my friend Emily’s place and into our cute and quaint hotel in the French Quarters. As soon as we checked in, Annalisa and I meandered around the Marigny and Quarters. We took a stroll in Washington Square Park, ate a delectable breakfast at Cafe Rose Nicaud, and caught up on the daily New Orleans newspapers for events and deals around the city.

We decided to venture out of the city and pay homage to Oak Alley, a beautiful historic plantation located one hour west of New Orleans. The ride there was therapeutic and relaxing but upon arrival, we got caught in a huge thunderstorm and had to wait under an overhang on a porch for about 20-30 minutes for the rain to pass. By all means, Oak Alley was worth the wait!! Built in 1837, this picaresque plantation is known for its breathtaking view of double row of oak trees that pave the way to the house. Filled with rich history and culture, Oak Alley has even hosted many notable guests such as Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Beyoncé Knowles.

We ended our day with Emily and her friends Molly and Joma and went to Bacchanal in the Bywater for dinner. The food here is to die for! We had the brussels sprout salad with shaved red onions, radish, greens, and sherry vinaigrette; ceviche with drum fish, grape tomatoes, English cucumber, cilantro, and citrus; pequillo peppers with sweet corn, local crabmeat, tobiko, pickled onion, and crema; fried eggplant with pequillo peppers, capers, pine nuts, feta, and herbs; seared scallops with grilled summer squash, marcona almonds, and frisée;  and the confit chicken leg with duck fat, shaved carrots, and pickled watermelon rind. Is your mouth watering yet??

So far, New Orleans has been good to us. The food is great, but the people here are even greater. They’re hospitable, kind, and never hesitate to strike up a random conversation with you. They will always wish you “good morning” and “good night.” If you need something, they will drop everything to help you. People down here really know the meaning of winding down and learning to appreciate their surroundings. As someone who rushes to get everything done in a maximized fashion and never stop to talk to people and extend a hand, I could really learn a thing or two from the people of New Orleans.

How Ideas are Born

Photo by Meena Haque

What began as a gluttonous Sunday brunch at Elizabeth’s (smoked salmon and Brie grilled cheese, topped with two eggs over-easy. My food baby gave birth to a food baby) morphed into a field trip to a User-Generated convention known to the NOLA tech community as Bar Camp. A buzzing floor of graphic designers, project managers and urban planners contributed their time and expertise toward the digital property, which is set to launch later this week.

“The city’s footprint is shrinking,” explained one organizer, a NOLA native. Since Katrina (or as NOLAites will call it, “The Storm”), residents have either moved inland to what is known as “The CBD” (The Central Business District) or simply have not returned.
Commonly known to the larger tech community as a “hackathon,” this site would yield a platform for the innovation and entrepreneurship this city isn’t otherwise known for.

Here’s a look at some of the eclectic minds behind the project.

Wheels up!


Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.
Maya Angelou

Try and understand each other. Difficult to fathom as we begin to board Flight 115 with half the plane vehemently striking, swiping or poking their smart phones before the pilot’s direction to power down. Me included.

I believe, to a degree, that with the prevalence of devices, we often forget the value of the human connection. So much so that if a stranger approached us for anything other than directions, we immediately consider them to be of the “interesting”kind.

While I look forward to documenting an authentic NOLA experience, I look forward most to the moments spent “powered down” and making human connections.

And here we go. Wheels up. Powering down.

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