Mardi Gras on my mind

Do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans? As another Mardi Gras rolls around – it’s tomorrow, in case you’ve forgotten – this question is especially poignant for NOLA expats, as well as anyone who holds the Crescent City dear to their heart. Tonight, I’ll be making jambalaya and gumbo, and baking up some King Cake for dessert, while filling the house with music such as New Orleans Party, the Jazz Fest, and some great music by The Meters, Allen Toussaint, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dr. John, The Wild Tchapatoulas, and Galactic.

Continue reading “Mardi Gras on my mind”

Inkspiration

Click here to view Bodies of Subversion in the SPL catalogTattoos may not be a favorite among some, but this city is filled with the art of it. As I help patrons check out books or talk to my fellow co-workers, I see a rose on a shoulder or a pair of wings on a forearm. I know each one of those tells a story, whether good or bad; each one represents a time, a mood, a place, or a person; there are so many possibilities. I have three and I fall in love with them over and over again…and each of them has a story. Today I will share one with you. Continue reading “Inkspiration”

Romantic Wednesdays: Paranormal New Orleans

If you’ve ever walked the streets of New Orleans, you recognize that there is something beautiful and decadent and just plain eerie about the place. New Orleans is a city where you can feel the past walk beside you; its history creeps in between the cracks of its sidewalks and seeps along the alleyways of the French Quarter. It’s not just the age of the city, it’s the layers of the history, it seems as if its past never quite lays itself to rest.

interview with the vampire by anne riceNew Orleans has become a setting of choice for tales of the paranormal ever since Anne Rice forced Daniel Malloy to sit down and listen to Louis’ recounting his story of life as a vampire in Interview with a Vampire. Louis’ home was a plantation outside New Orleans in 1790.

It’s entirely possible that Interview with a Vampire is responsible for both popularizing vampires as soulful, romantic heroes and fixing New Orleans in the mind as an eerie place to set such stories. Perhaps Louis and Lestat are Edward Cullen’s great-grand-vamp-parents? Continue reading “Romantic Wednesdays: Paranormal New Orleans”

A Visit to New Orleans, Part 2

(Find Part 1 of this post here)

“To be engaged in some small way in the revival of one of the great cities of the world is to live a meaningful existence by default.”-Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

The third most important is Hurricane Katrina and the toll it left on the city. Even though New Orleans was infamous before the hurricane, due to Mardi Gras and its cultural significance in our country, it’s almost like we finally saw it once the hurricane hit. However, it has an integral place in our country and we need to acknowledge what we would have lost without it.

When the Levees Broke by Director Spike Lee isn’t easy to watch, but uncovers what went wrong with Hurricane Katrina. He tells it like it is and for that I am very thankful. Through this documentary we see how this city was almost lost to us by human hand rather than nature itself. Neighborhoods wiped out, people left for dead days after the Hurricane, and violence against those that needed the most help. It exposes our shame and asks us what we are going to do about it.

The fourth most important is the recovery, which is still happening. The Lower Ninth  Ward was historically an area where immigrant laborers and freed slaves could afford housing due to the proximity and flood risk of the Mississippi. Once drainage was installed in the neighborhood, business and activism thrived in its community. Those that lived here very rarely stepped outside its neighborhood’s borders. Driving through the Lower Ninth Ward after Katrina was like going through a prairie.

In Plenty Enough Suck To Go Around by Cheryl Wagner we see that age old cliché “New Orleans gets into people’s blood” runs true. I feel like I’ll always have a burning desire to return to New Orleans. Through Cheryl we see the physical and emotional struggles that come with rebuilding, how devastating it can be to see your neighborhood change, and the desperation to recreate that sense of home and family that was so suddenly taken away. For Cheryl and other New Orleans residents they knew the struggles were worth it.

Rebuilding Together New Orleans (RTNO) started in 1988 when the Preservation Resource Center instituted a one-day neighborhood revitalization program in the Lower Garden District. I went in 2010 and 2011 with a friend who is a Gonzaga University Alum. Through the Alumni office we teamed up with RTNO and their AmeriCorps volunteers to work on a house for a week. You never know what you might be working on, which was really exciting to me. One day I would be painting and then the next installing trim and baseboards. I’ve learned so much about home improvement and each year have gained new skills, as well as learned about an amazing city, culture, and people.

Rebuilding Together is an amazing organization. Most cities have local chapters so if volunteer tourism isn’t ideal for you take a day or two to volunteer in your city or neighborhood.

A Visit to New Orleans, Part 1

“New Orleans’ food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” -Mark Twain

For the past two years I’ve gone to New Orleans to volunteer with Rebuilding Together. Those trips have been the best experiences of my life. Getting to understand the importance of that city and to help them recover is something I will never forget.

To me the most important thing about New Orleans is the food. I love food and always have, so when it comes to unique cuisine I’m always up for trying anything once.

On my first trip to New Orleans I took a class at The New Orleans School of Cooking. We made crawfish etouffee and chicken and Andouille gumbo. Andouille is traditionally a French coarse-grained sausage made with pork, pepper, onions, wine and seasonings and was introduced to New Orleans by French immigrants.

I tried gator for the first time last year and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it; it was like chewy chicken. I also had my first beignets, deep fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar and a muffuletta, a sandwich layered with olive salad, salami, pepperoni, and provolone. New Orleans food is just as eclectic as their culture! 

Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen is a book I wish that I read before I traveled to New Orleans, but I actually bought it this year on my second trip. I had already received a history lesson at the New Orleans School of Cooking, but Sara gave me an outsider’s perspective and appreciation of the food the city offers. She explains how gumbo is different everywhere in the city depending on where you are located in its neighborhoods and what has passed down traditionally between generations.

The second most important thing is the music. Smelling gumbo and hearing a second line come down the street tend to go hand in hand.

When it comes to jazz, funk, and soul, I am completely clueless. I know that the music I listen to today has been influenced by these genres. I’m also aware of how the city of New Orleans through the numerous cultural influences in that region birthed jazz, funk, and soul. From the dances at Congo Square to the crowded jazz halls on Frenchmen Street, the music is a treasure for your soul. The music forces you to move … you will find yourself dancing with hardly any provocation. The rhythm and beat of the trombone, bass and saxophone makes the crowd become part of the music.

Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans is the quintessential soundtrack to the City of New Orleans. A reputable cheat sheet, so to speak, of the most influential musicians and music that many of us have heard, but never understood its importance to the city itself. This collection becomes a tutorial of the New Orleans’ sound from Louis Armstrong’s raspy voice and stellar trumpeting to the founder of the Rebirth Jazz Band, Kermit Ruffins’ own trumpeting skills.