… We Took A Little Trip…

Sure. Like it’s never happened to you.

Sitting in your favourite Cajun watering hole eating establishment, knocking back a few whisky sours hush puppies and blackened chicken livers, talking about how long it’s been since you visited New Orleans.

Fired our guns but the British kep' a-comin'...

Way before Katrina. Maybe even as long as 10 years ago. Quite possibly longer. 1998 rings a bell…

A few more whisky sours piquant shrimp and some corn bread, and the next thing you know, two days have passed and you’re still drinking whisky sours but now at the Maple Leaf Tavern on Oak Street, listening to the regular Tuesday sound of the Rebirth Brass Band. Bourbon makes folks do strange, sometimes fantastical things. Teleportation is not even out of the question.

It is hopping on a Tuesday night here in New Orleans, at least in this particular bar, out near what they call the Riverbend district of town. The same can not be said for the rest of the city. To these very inexpert Big Easy eyes, the place feels quiet. Maybe it’s a pre-Thanksgiving lull with everyone hunkering down for a final work push before the holiday kicks in. But the guy I share a cab back to Canal Street with who went to college here back in the day and is in town visiting for a conference, tells me he’s never seen the city this dead. It’s kind of spooky, he says. And not the good kind of spooky New Orleans is notorious (and loved) for.

The place has been hit hard during the course of the past five years. Hurricane Katrina and governments’ woeful response might’ve been a mortal blow to lesser cities. BP’s gulf oil spill (and another tepid reaction on governments’ part) further sullied the entire region’s reputation. Not to mention the vicious global economic downturn over the past 2 years, as was pointed out to me yesterday on a sunny a.m. in Jackson Square by a really, really drunk local while I stuffed my face full of beinets, oj and coffee. Tourist destinations take it especially hard on the chin when a country’s wallets tighten.

So New Orleans endures. Its inhabitants hang on (Louisiana like much of the Dixie south is not known for having much of a social safety net) and hope that the worst is over. What else can nature or man throw at it? Besides, it is 23-degrees Celsius on this mid-November day. I’m heading over to see if I can find Brennan’s, a restaurant that gives wine suggestions with your choice of breakfast entrées. How could any day that starts out like that turn out badly?

Eventually, however, I will have to figure out if I ever got around to checking myself into a hotel and, if so, where. So far I’ve found nothing on my person that resembles a room key or card. Without that and a corresponding checkout date, I’ll be hard pressed to know when it was I planned on returning home. Despite all the recent adversity visited upon it, there are worse places than New Orleans to be stranded and discombobulated.

gumboly submitted by Cityslikr


Why We Love This City

Prone as I am to impulsive acts of merriment and derring-do, some of which have taken me far afield for weeks on end, I’ll be the first to say that there is a time and place for such pleasure seeking. One has to set boundaries or else it’s all play and no work. That, my friends, is the slippery slope on the road to pure hedonism, and take it from someone who has been there, done that and purchased the tank top to prove it, it is a tough, seductive slog back to the land of the dreary everyday.

So it was last night. We decided to take our editorial meeting out from the fetid confines of the office/media viewing room, pungent with the smell of non-stop sports spectating, chocolate ingesting and the agony of defeat. It was necessary to find a TV-free venue if we hoped to accomplish any semblance of work; jonesing as our colleague was with an insatiable need to cheer for someone, anyone.

We discovered just the place at the northern tip of the hot, hot west end strip of Ossington Street. The Painted Lady, it’s called. Had I known it would ultimately live up to its alluring name, I would’ve insisted on returning at another time when work wasn’t the reason we were looking for a bar.

Pure hindsight, unfortunately. It all stared innocuously enough. Ossington was quiet, what with it being the Tuesday night after a long, long weekend. The weather had returned to spring-like conditions from the blast of summer we’d received over the past few days. The Painted Lady was sparsely occupied, perfect for a work meeting. One could see, however, the appeal of it with a full crowd crammed into its fairly narrow confines. A slightly elevated stage sat at the back of the room past the long bar, underneath a ceiling decorated with deliberately gaudy baubles. Was that a picture of 70s icon, Xaviera Hollander aka The Happy Hooker peeking out from the back wall behind the drum set, slightly obscured by a heavy velvet curtain?

You want to say that The Painted Lady has a very lower, east side Manhattan feel but NYC comparisons are as futile as they are useless. It reveals a paucity of imagination on our part which I have just done by pursuing this thought out loud. So I’ll stop.

Things went swimmingly at first although it was a task to keep distracting Cityslikr from peering longingly up at the empty TV screen hung over the bar. We amassed future civic issues to follow, politicians and media personalities to praise and chastise. We even found ourselves downing delicious (if slightly sweet) pulled pork sandwiches prepared by our friendly if slightly reticent bartender who told us that this was something we could not expect when crowds filled the place.

Fair enough. But on this particular evening, all was well for the brain trust of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

That is, until the band arrived.

Why I didn’t insist at that very moment on paying up and heading out, I can’t honestly say. That the meeting was at an end was beyond doubt. There would be no more work talk to be talked. The bigger concern was for tomorrow (now today) and perhaps a few more days after that. I can personally attest to situations like this spiraling out of control and wanted no part of it now. My colleagues could not see (or chose not to see) the danger lurking. They were deaf to my protestations.

The band called themselves Rambunctious and were an ad hoc group of musicians featuring mainly horns and woodwinds with a drummer and accordion thrown into the mix. Only after it was too late did we learn that Rambunctious got together every Tuesday for an improv jam. And jam they did.

My best description of it was a sort of Broken Social Scene gathering playing dirty jazz. It immediately took me back to my days auditing religious courses at Loyola University in New Orleans where I frequented a down and dirty place called The Maple Leaf Bar, listening to the likes of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. It was that good.

Which is why I had to leave. Eventually. Someone had to be the responsible one and it was quickly obvious that neither of my colleagues would be up to the task. I gathered together my meeting notes and took one for the team, calling it a night prematurely. Bidding the other two adieu (which they barely acknowledged), I ventured out into the drizzle, looking back one last time to witness as they shared a round of Jägermeister shots with the band. No, they would be of no use in the morning.

As I made my way home, I wrapped myself in the self-righteously edifying cloak of being the responsible one in the crowd. Besides, there would be other Tuesdays for me. At The Painted Lady. With Rambunctious.

longingly submitted by Acaphlegmic