Monday, April 28, 2008

Finally...Val & I Meet in New Orleans

“We are here. When will you arrive?” I asked.

“Two more hours and we’ll be there!” Val responded.

Finally, we get to visit Bourbon Street together.

Thirty years ago, Val had returned from a trip to New Orleans with a souvenir. She hung the mock street sign above our Amberson Gardens Apartment bathroom door. “Bourbon Street” it read. Val had traveled to a Pitt bowl game in New Orleans, leaving me her roommate behind in Pittsburgh. I had to work and didn’t have the cash for the trip. Every time I passed under the threshold, I wondered about the mysterious Bourbon Street.

Ed and I traveled to New Orleans in 1998. I learned to make my first roux at The New Orleans School of Cooking, ate king cake at Mardi Gras World, toured the historic cemeteries, and experienced the French Quarter. The Holiday Inn French Quarter upgraded us to the Presidential Suite when the noise from the hotel swimming pool grew too loud for our tolerance. And, we toured the Superdome.

A planning study for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities took me back to New Orleans in 2002. The Executive Director could not fill my appointment schedule with donor/prospect meetings. I used my free time to visit the D-day Museum and sample Hurricanes at Pat O’Brian’s. When I returned several weeks later to complete the study, my daughter Suzie came with me. She was 15 years old. She blurted aloud, “Momma, that woman’s a whore!” when she saw a stripper luring customers from Bourbon Street in a darkened entry to watch the dancers. Then, Suzie begged to have her belly-button pierced at the tattoo and piercing shop.

Val and I planned to celebrate the occasion of my 50th birthday in New Orleans. That would have been October 2005. Katrina hit in August. We met in Houston, Texas instead.

Then, it all came together. Val and her husband Ed would be delivering a family car to their son Greg, a Junior at Tulane University. My Ed and I would be passing through New Orleans that same weekend. I was no longer a financially strapped new writer, I was not on a work assignment, and the weather promised blue skies. We would meet in New Orleans Saturday, April 19, 2008!

My Ed, aka “Red Ed”, accused Val and I of acting like “school girls”. Val’s Ed, aka “Grey Ed”, rolled his eyes; he’d witness this in the past. Her son Greg just grinned as his Mom and I chattered and laughed making our way through the crowd of Bourbon Street trying to decide where we’d go for a Hurricane.

We wandered into The Original PIERRE MĀSPERO’s, Foods & Spirits, Est. 1788, 440 Chartres St. French Quarter where a table faced a window and the music allowed table conversation without shouting. We toasted our long wait – 30-years – for a visit to New Orleans with Hurricanes and icy cold beers. We enjoyed the casual dining atmosphere and dined on etouffe and po boys. Chef James Cameron joined us at our table, and then he treated us to two of his specialties. His new appetizer – an oyster dish sent Val into eye-closing ecstasy as she savored the taste. “Gray Ed” stole my last morsel of bread to soak up the tangy barbecue sauce covering the oysters. Everyone’s forks greedily dug into the bread pudding topped with a whipped cream mound and caramel drizzle.

“Red Ed” found The Cigar Factory on Decatur Street, the city’s oldest and only cigar factory. It became a hit with the guys as they watched men rolled fresh cigars and debated the merits of enjoying a smoke. Val and I headed for Lush, her favorite fragrance shop for soaps cut off the block and lotions. We didn’t get to enjoy the scent of honeysuckle or jasmine, Lush had closed moments before we tried the door. We retreated to the Cigar Factory where the heavy smoke of cigars hung in the air, not quite the scents we’d been hoping to inhale.

Entertainment in Jackson Square caught our attention. Acrobats flipped over five spectators down on all fours, clearing them all without mishap. And, a bereted gentleman played “Oh Canada” by rubbing his finger on the lip of goblets holding varied levels of liquid. A full moon hung over the Mississippi when we posed for a group photo to preserve this evening.

Not wanting this night to end, we let Val coax us to stop in Café Du Monde, the original French Market coffee stand. We sipped café au lait and gorged on plates of beignets covered in mounds of powdered sugar. We wore the evidence of this tasty Louisiana state donut. Powdered sugar speckled the guys’ dark trousers and clung to all of our lips. Greg dabbed some on his Mom’s nose. We also had souvenir Hurricane glasses and the satisfaction of finally having come to New Orleans – together!

April 19, 2007

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