Saturday morning Carlos, my roommate for the week, and I both got up early with the goal of making a breakfast trip down Decatur Street to the legendary Cafe Du Monde for beignets. As mentioned earlier, the overpriced unexceptional hotel had served their version of mass-produced, steam table-warmed square hockey pucks the day before. It was imperative that, as a true foodie, I not only get the taste of those tough, bland poseurs out of my mouth, but that I visit one of the genuine common man institutions. Not getting sick on the curbside of Bourbon Street from too many different slushie frozen daiquiris I could easily live without. Missing a New Orleans Historical Food Landmark, especially one that involved fried dough and copious amounts of powdered sugar would be something I would likely regret for the rest of my life.
Yeah, sometimes it really does come down to things that simple in life.
The night before or so I had read a comment by my good friend sakkijarvi in which he poetically wrote:
”Try walking Bourbon Street just after dawn . . . it’s the only time I’ve really enjoyed that part of the French Quarter . . . the light had a pale grayish quality to it . . . it was fairly quiet (I may have done this on a Sunday too) . . . there were a few folks hosing down stretches of the sidewalk and there was a sour smell in the air (mostly alcohol-related, I believe) . . . but the street seemed to reclaim, however ephemerally, some of its grace and beauty in those moments...”
I found that he was right. Decatur Street in the early morning light has almost recaptured some of the grace and innocence I’d like to think that the city once may have had many, many years ago.
It made me consider giving the city streets one last try before I left.
Biegnets come three to a serving at the Cafe Du Monde. If you’re getting two orders, they combine them into a single plate and throw in an extra one for free. On the way there, Carlos was debating the proper number to order. Three, he said, could be too much. One was not enough. What to do?
I commented that three were just fine for me and he could order however many he wanted to.
I had little doubt that I could pick up the slack should he falter on his third one.
As it was, we each ate three and I polished off the fourth one with little trouble. In fact, a second plate would not have been entirely out of the question but for the fact that we actually had conference session to attend and it was going to be dangably difficult to take notes on them with me sound asleep in a sugar coma.
There was no dinner served for the final night of the conference, something that surprised me. A “reception” was listed instead with a New Orleans-style jazz quartet providing the entertainment. Being cheap and always on the prowl for cheap eats I decided to stop by and see what, if anything, they had available.
It turned out to be quite a spread for a reception. The four corners of the huge ballroom were each set up with different foods. Cheese and meats at one, pasta made-to-order at another, desserts in the farthest corner and chilled shrimp and oysters at another.
And, scattered along the far side of the wall were several open bars.
Dinner was obviously no longer a problem.
Several platefuls of shrimp and oysters and a few gin and tonics later, I was enjoying myself. I was sitting alone, not knowing too many of the other attendees, and happy just to have some decent cold shrimp for The Right Price. One co-worker stopped by, she tentatively asked about something we’d heard at the conference and I responded that another person and I had already discussed plans to do said thing long before the conference, but additional help would ensure that it would work. Said co-worker left, content that her time at the conference was not wasted.
As the last of the people were leaving I decided to stop for one last plate of shrimp and oysters. Along came another co-worker who I’ll call Mr. Earnon. I genuinely like Mr. Earnon -- an impression cemented when, on his first evening at the conference he looked at me with appreciative recognition after I said something and exclaimed, “I think I’ve finally met someone more full of $hit than I am!”
My gin and tonics and I were in a talkative mood and Mr. Earnon was willing to listen. I’m sure he was interested in scoping out how much I knew about various work-related subjects and to see just how much I’d learned in the last six months. And while I’m certain I wasn’t nearly as amusing as I thought I was being (a bad habit that has plagued me through life) I don’t think I completely humiliated myself, either.
We did, however -- or rather, I shut down the place.
Closing down a bar has a sort of dark lights, rough edged, vaguely romantic in an early Tom Waits-ish way. There is nothing, nothing similar to closing down a Sheraton Ballroom Reception. It’s pretty pathetic, actually.
As the last of the hotel staff was pulling the table cloths off of the tables, we got to talking. I think I asked him if he could pull the table cloth out from under the items on the table. He laughed and said no, but (in Mr. Earnon’s words later) he challenged me to do so.
I couldn’t decline such a challenge, especially in the presence of a co-worker. So I rose and took stock of the situation.
The table itself was round, not optimal for such a stunt. On a long, straight table there isn’t a problem with cloth coming up around the sides and the shouldn’t be so much drag on the material as well. Both should allow for a faster, cleaner yank of the tablecloth. Also, the tablecloth itself hung almost three feet over the edge of the table far too much to make a quick and easy snap. To do it properly I was going to have to pull the tablecloth from a bit inside the outer edge of the table and be able to step back quickly to make up for the extra overhanging length.
I moved chairs all around me to clear enough space. Then, knowing that thinking the situation out was just going to lead to problems and confidence issues, I reached to where i though would be an optimal point on the round surface, and prepared to grab and snatch.
In the middle of the night I realized what the other problem was -- the edge of the tablecloth was hemmed. This meant that even with the best of fast yanks, there was still going to be a distinct bump at the end of the cloth that was going to jostle everything on the table.
A drink was spilled, a plate was tossed a bit, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Mr. Earnon found one “shrimp carcass” (as he put it) on “my” side of the table that had followed the table cloth.
It’s a skill I wouldn’t mind adding to my list of “Vaguely Entertaining But Largely Useless Talents” but, in the long run, it might be best if I didn’t.
With the morning’s biegnets and the early light on the streets both a fond memory I decided I’d spend my last night in New Orleans walking around. After demonstrating my lack of tablecloth removal skills, I retired to my room, grabbed my tripod and headed back out the door. There were pictures to be taken and biegnets to be had.
I took the long walk up Decatur Street, past the touristy section in the French Quarter and into the outer area where the locals like to hang out. Eventually Decatur ended with another street continuing in that direction a slight shift to the left across a narrow street. I decided that was about as far as I needed to go, and turned to the right and headed off to see what else I could discover.
What I discovered, however, will have to wait for another series of images in another posting.
The midnight beignets were okay. Not nearly as good as the ones first thing in the morning. Part of it was certainly the change in company (being alone instead of with Carlos) and part of it was having them twice in the same day. Still, I knew I wasn’t likely to get back to the Cafe Du Monde anytime soon.
The outside section was even more crowded than it was first thing in the morning. People were sitting around, some a bit louder than necessary, but all were enjoying themselves. Good friends, good hot, sugary treats and a nice place to sit and watch a bit of the world go by without any pressures to get up and re-involve yourself with any of it. In my book, it’s even better than the ever-churning slushie daiquiri machines.
I like nightime photography. The necessity of the long exposure forces the eye to pick out those things that don’t hold still from those that remain motionless for seconds at a time.
The floor beneath a table, scattered with a good dusting of powdered sugar, however, makes an ideal, motionless subject.
Between the conference running well into the evening most nights and the surrounding area outside the hotel being a combination of urban blight and the fratboy worst of every boardwalk you’ve ever seen, I still hadn’t found Bonn anything to bring back to her from the trip. True, she had said the only thing she wanted was pictures from the Ninth Ward, but I wanted to bring her something tangible from my time away as well. I had really only enjoyed two places during my time there, the Upperline Restaurant and the Cafe Du Monde.
I had decided to get her a coffee mug from the Cafe when someone got up from the table across from me and took a group picture. I stood up and said, “You realize the only problem is that you aren’t in that picture. Would you like me to take one of all of you?”
They all agreed that it was a fine idea, and two quick shots later I handed the camera back, collected all of my things and went up to the take-out window to buy Bonn’s mug.
The woman with the camera from the other table suddenly appeared next to me with a dollar in her hand, as if to give it to me.
I looked at her, confused and slightly insulted.
“Take that away,” I said.
“You have a tripod,” she explained. “One of my friends thought you might be a professional and I didn’t want to insult you by not offering you something.”
I explained I was just an amateur who was taking pictures for his blog.
“Oh, I have a blog!” she said, eager to change the subject. “What’s your blog’s name?”
I gave her the URL on the back of a business card and we left it at that.
I don’t quite know why it irked me so much. It may be that the person didn’t believe in random acts of kindness and somehow thought that such acts are only done for in the expectation of being paid. At any rate, my scowl was probably a bit too much for the misunderstanding.
(Next Time: More images of the damage around the larger city of New Orleans)