Friday, September 10, 2010

big easy day

After driving into the city tired and hungry, we made a bee line for The Clover Grill, a tiny diner on the corner of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. A decade earlier, I spent a Friday the 13th in the Big Easy and had eaten there minutes after my arrival. It was a cramped place with a grill, a counter, a row of red stools, a handful of tables, and fantastic, greasy burgers. After we booked our flight to New Orleans I was determined to find that diner again and start Deb & I's visit off right. I googled "new orleans corner diner" and found it immediately. Not only were they still open, they were open 24/7.

We found it easily and started our futile search for parking. Our request for advice from a couple of local contractors was met with polite laughter and the advice to find a lot, which we eventually did near the waterfront. Then the long trek back to our destination began. One of the most amazing things about the French Quarter, and the areas which border it, is that the journey is all part of the destination. There is something to marvel at on every block: whether it's the non-stop parade of fascinating architecture, the colorful locals that pass by, or details like a hidden courtyard spied through a fence or a fish head sculpture at the bottom of a drainpipe.

The service at the grill was surly and distracted, but the biscuits and gravy were amazing. That particular breakfast dish is one of my favorites and very hard to find in the five boroughs (they usually try to make it fancy somehow so they can charge $14). A note on the menu advised us that if we were not served in five minutes, to wait another five; "this is not New York City." We were served slow and ate fast, eventually noticing that Deb was the only woman in the place and that the crowded tables were populated exclusively by gay men. As we left, I read a review on the wall that told "homophobes to head for the hills," I suppose living in New York makes ennures one to such things. Deb later told me that I'd been getting checked out by quite a few patrons. I was flattered.

After some good, rib-sticking grub we headed down to the banks of the Mississippi and came upon New Orlean's farmers market, which is touted as the oldest in the country. On the way we were serenaded by a shirtless man with a mic, a portable amp, and a great voice singing "New York, New York." He even changed the lyrics to include us. We gave him some money and he gave us a couple high fives that stung our hands for the next ten blocks. We went in a book store that was once William Faulkner's house on Pirate's Alley and met a lovely older woman at the tourist office who gave us all sorts of wonderful advice and free maps. The adjacent park was entirely shut down for an upcoming football kick-off party featuring the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, Taylor Swift, and Dave Matthews Band. Apparently the park had been shut down for a week. That town sure loves it's football.

Next to the farmer's market was a non-descript building that houses the Louis Armstrong National Park. It's one of only two national parks dedicated to art forms, the other is located in New York's Hudson Valley and is dedicated to the painting style born there. Inside was an older woman at a piano playing an old Ray Charles song. She chatted with us for a bit and then played a religious song which was deeply felt and very moving. Where her fingers had missed keys during Ray's song, they now came down with precision, power, and purpose as she sang about her deep, abiding love for Jesus.

Music is a way of life in New Orleans and as we made our way through the city, jazz was our near constant companion. Just as one band faded into the distance another rose up to take it's place. It spilled out of bars and restaurants, impromptu bands played on street corners and parks, each one competing for your time and attention.

After driving to our motel to shower and leave the car we hopped the streetcar back to where we'd been. But New Orleans at night is another story...

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