Monday, December 17, 2007

New Orleans!

Ok, I swear that I'm alive. You can stop the search party. I know I've been gone for um...well over a week. But it's the holidays, so I've been really busy. I'm sure you can understand.

Did you know I am kind of a perfectionist with my blog posts? I am. I re-write each one about three times. So writing about my trip to New Orleans has been quite an ordeal -- one post was not enough, so I have a 2nd drafted post after this. But I wanted to wait on my photos to get developed so that I could show you my pics in the same post...and then I had car trouble....and....BLAH. Now I'm all screwed up, because part of me is thinking, "Dude, no one wants to read two posts about your trip. Just sum it up and get on with your life." But another part of me is saying, "Yes, but you are stuck at home today while your car is being worked on, so what the hell else are you going to do?"

Anyway, this is a post about my trip. It may/may not be the last post. I dunno yet. Haven't even developed the film. And I may not get around to another post before I go home to Virginia on Thursday. But I'm tired of editing it and stuff, so I'm just posting it for now, so I can get on with my life. If this post does it for you, great. If you want another post about my trip, stay tuned. I won't be mad if you skip it. Even I'm sick of reading it by now. Being anal-retentive is a double edge sword. :)

New Orleans is fantastic! If you have never been, I highly recommend it. Even if you don't drink in the numerous bars, you will enjoy the history, food and culture of this unique city. The downtown area is totally back up and running, as is the French Quarter. I did see a lot of "For Lease" and "For Sale" signs in windows, but that is pretty true in lots of cities across the country. Most of the heavily damaged part that is being rebuilt is on the other side of town from the touristy areas.

The people and the food cannot be beat. Man oh man, did I have some good food!!!! This is a city that knows how to have a good time.

I took a lot of pictures, but did not use the whole roll of film yet, so I will have to share them with you later. For now, I will give you my general overview of the Crescent City. My next post will be more personal experiences.

Things I learned about New Orleans:

1. There are street musicians and performers everywhere. The large majority of them are fairly talented.

2. Almost everything has a French connotation or name, but every once in a while, you'll see something Spanish. That is because the city was passed back and forth between the two countries prior to the Louisiana Purchase, when it became U.S. territory. But the French culture is most evident, as just about everything has a fleur de lis on it.

3. There's lots of seafood to eat. I can tell the restaurant business there has a ton of competition. But it's pretty hard to go wrong in New Orleans. It's all delicious! While it is most definitely Southern cuisine, it has a lot of unique dishes not normally found in the rest of the South: jambalaya, gumbo, bread pudding (imagine an extremely moist cake, flavored with cinnamon or vanilla, sometimes including raisins), crawfish (aka crawdads aka mud puppies), redfish (a mild, flaky white fish), po'boys and lots of oysters. The signature dessert is bananas foster. I think they probably eat more rice per capita than any city in the country! Everything had rice in it or on the side.

They also love shrimp, anything with pecans, crab and beans. But that is fairly common anywhere in the South. Lots of things had wonderfully flavored sauces on them. If you've ever had something "blackened", then you know what I mean about the kick their food has. More often than not, their dishes are very zesty and flavorful, rather than spicy hot. But you can find spicy hot food, too.

Edit: I have already made bread pudding, a fantastic local dessert, from the cookbook I bought while there. I'll post it in a sec on my cooking blog. I just took it out of the oven and it smells fantastic!

4. I also realized that New Orleans is sort of the Las Vegas of the East Coast. This is most definitely a town for people with vices. Although unlike Vegas, it really caters more to alcoholics and exhibitionists than gamblers and prostitutes. Prostitution was legal in the French Quarter between about the 1870s and our entry into WWI. During that time, it became easier for the city to just legalize it than deal with all the hassle of enforcing the anti-prostitution laws.

But when we entered WWI, the Navy shut it all down because they didn't want the sailors all getting distracted (and getting VD!) before shipping out. Anyway, there's still strip clubs and tons of bars there. You can even walk around with an alcoholic drink in the streets, year-round! A lot of the bars have special side windows where you can buy "to-go" drinks. In short, this is not a city for straight-laced people. It definitely has a wild side!

5. Speaking of the wild side, although Mardi Gras is only once a year, you'd never know it by looking at all the shops. You'd think Mardi Gras was every weekend! Beads, masks, hats, feather boas, shot glasses, crazy outfits....all can be had on every street corner in town. And of course, everything is green, gold and purple. And since I am a culture vulture, I diligently read my travel guide on the flight down, so I taught myself all about the krewes, King Cake and Rex. Did you know that Mardi Gras lasts at least a couple of weeks, and there are several parades each day? Krewes (the people on the parade floats) can spend tens of thousands of dollars on the beads they throw to the crowds. And all of this has been going on since the 1700s!

6. Although voodoo can be found in Savannah, GA, it is most often associated with New Orleans. I didn't have time to go on the voodoo tour or to the voodoo museum, unfortunately. I will have to save it for my next trip down. But there are references to voodoo all over town, especially to Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen.

7. Because the water table is so high, you cannot bury people under the ground in New Orleans. So families have used vaults instead. They look like little buildings, but they hold...well, bodies. There are only so many slots per vault, so when one member of the family dies, they are just sort of pushed out of the way to make room for the newly deceased member. There is a 2 year waiting period between making a "new deposit" into the vault -- for obvious reasons. No, I don't know what they do when they want to make a deposit in less than 2 years. And I'm ok with living ignorantly in that way. But these cemeteries are amazing -- they literally look like little neighborhoods, each vault with a small cross on the top. They are almost always white, and often have statues of angels or cherubs decorating them. I wanted to take a tour of these, too, but unfortunately ran out of time.

8. Ok, enough creepy/morbid stuff. Let's talk architecture. Although it's called the "French" Quarter, much of the French architecture was burned in two 18th century fires. So the Spanish (who were in control at the time) decided to rebuild using only brick, rather than the wooden materials used by the French. Tiled roofs, stucco and balconies with ironwork are all noticeable features of this style. The buildings were often painted in pastel colors. Here is an example of one:

Meanwhile, in other parts of town, Americans were settling in the newer, outlying areas, such as the Garden District. The Americans were not socially accepted by the Creoles in the French Quarter, from what I understand, so they built houses like every other American in the antebellum South did: big, white and with columns. Take, for example, these:

I don't know which style I like better. I just know I really enjoyed looking at them. The trees and gardens (obviously) were also quite beautiful in the Garden District. It was neat to just walk around and see block after block of these gorgeous old homes.

9. I wish every town had a streetcar! They are the coolest way of transportation ever! They make this wonderful clickity-clack sound as they go down the track, and the conductor rings the bell when he crosses intersections -- it's very quaint. They are faster than walking, but slow enough that you can get a great view of your surroundings as you travel. There are big windows you can open to provide a nice breeze. And it's only $1.25 each way! Much cheaper than gas.

10. Overall, New Orleans reminds me of Charleston and Savannah, with a splash of NYC, all rolled into one.

Ok, hopefully I am developing the film tomorrow, and I will have another post for you, complete with my own pics and more personal experiences. I was going to do it today, but my car is in the shop and I'm stuck at home.

My car almost killed me on Saturday. I was on the highway, doing about 70 mph, when the engine DIED and I lost steering, brakes and gas. Luckily, I pulled over to the side ok, but I was shaking and on the verge of tears I was so scared. It turns out, I need a new fuel filter. Anyway, I am officially fed up with my POS car, and am getting a new one when I go home for Xmas! WOOT! More news on that soon. This post is long enough already.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

He Gets Me

CN and I hung out together most of last weekend. On the first of every month, we have Date Night, because we started dating on September 1st. So last Saturday, we made plans for dinner and a movie. (We had never been to a movie theater together before! Isn't that crazy?)

True to form, I was ready about 15 minutes after I said I'd be ready. CN teases me about this a lot, despite the fact that I told him a long time ago that VB time is always +15. I guess men just don't listen. ;)

So we hurry off to dinner on the other side of town. We have to eat really fast to make it in time for the movie. We were planning on seeing The Mist. Luckily, the Italian place wasn't very crowded, so we got out of there before the movie started.

We got to the theater just as the movie was starting. Whew! But there was just one, tiny little problem: there was a HUGE line at the ticket counter.

"There's no way we'll get in there in time to see the beginning," CN said.

He was right. We were too late. There's no way we could get in there without missing at least 15 minutes of the movie. Everyone in town wanted to get in this theater.

"Crap! I ruined Date Night!!" I said, angry at myself. I was pretty upset, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I felt like a jerk. He tried to make it seem like it was no big deal, but I could tell he was a little upset about missing the movie. That just made me feel even worse.

That's when I told CN that from now on, he needs to tell me to be ready 30 minutes before we actually need to be somewhere. He agreed, and I apologized for being late. I told him I would take him to see the movie the next day -- my treat. He said ok.

The next morning, we went to church (shock and awe, I know! The Heathen Girl goes to church!) with a couple he knows. They are a really nice couple that are getting ready for their first baby. And thanks to our new time policy, I was right on time! Anyway, we went to a church that is not like mine. It's more......modern and liberal than what I'm used to, so it was an adjustment for me. I sounded like a 5 year old, with all of the questions I asked:

"Why is there a rock band here? Are we going to be on TV? Because there's a lot of TV crew-looking people here. Why are those people raising their arms when they sing? Why isn't anyone doing the readings? When do we get to kneel? What's with the big screen TVs? Why aren't we using our hymnals? I've never seen a church where people are allowed to wear jeans and flip-flops. And where's Jesus? I don't see him anywhere...."

CN just shook his head and chuckled to himself.

The questions actually started the night before, when CN asked me if I wanted to go with him to church. "Ok, sure. What is the proper procedure for when you receive the bread and wine there? I need to know, because I don't drink wine at church. I mean, you know I don't drink alcohol, but it's also because I can't stand the taste of wine. So how would it work if I want to opt out?" I asked.

"Oh, they don't even serve it, so you don't have to worry," he replied.

"I'm sorry....what? No bread or wine? Isn't that like....the whole point? The main scene?" I asked, confused. "Are you teasing me? You're making that up. Of course they serve bread and wine. It's not church without it! Stop pulling my leg!"

CN swore up and down that he was not kidding.

This blew my mind. I have never heard such a thing before. I thought all Christians had bread and wine when they went to church on Sundays. (Can you tell I was raised Catholic?)

So I was pretty interested in seeing exactly what went on at this modern church. It turns out that this particular church only does the bread and grape juice (yeah, no wine at this church -- another thing that blew my mind. "Juice?? WTF??) on the first Sunday of the month. So I got to have my Wonder bread and grape juice. It was very surreal to me. And I had forgotten how yummy grape juice is, so that was a good thing.

I've never been to a church service that wasn't my own denomination before. It was sort of like traveling to Europe: the general idea is the same, but there's little differences between this new place and your home. Some of the differences are cool, some of them make you feel uncomfortable.

We were having breakfast with the other couple after church. On the way to the restaurant, I explained to CN that I'm used to real wine, lots of moving around and a more formal presentation. I told him I was not totally comfortable with his modern church. It didn't feel boring and long like what I'm used to.

Call me crazy, but when I'm at church, I want to be hating it. I want it to feel like church. It's not supposed to be fun, in my mind. I want to get the hell outta there ASAP. I want to wear uncomfortable clothes, watch the same routine service I've watched since I was a kid, get a good serving of guilt, real wine, wafers that stick to the roof of your mouth, some hymns, and then I want to go home and forget about all about church until next Sunday. THAT is church.

He told me he'd never been to a Catholic or an Episcopalian service. I told him he'd better hit the gym before he goes to one, because there's a lot of moving around!

"First you stand, then you sit, then you kneel. Then you sit again, then you stand, then you kneel....sit, stand, kneel, stand, sit, kneel....and you sing a lot," I explained.

"I get the idea. We can go to your church next time, if you want," he replied.

"Um...ok. We might have to go to a new Episcopal church, though, because I haven't been to mine in at least a year, and now I'm too embarrassed to go back," I said.

"So......let me get this straight. You haven't been to any church in a year, and you're telling me that you'd rather go to NO church than one that is different than yours. Right?"

"Exactly! Wow, hon, you're a good listener. You ready for some pancakes?" I asked, as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. CN rolled his eyes and sighed.

We had breakfast with the other couple, and then went to go see The Mist. I hated it. I almost got up to leave about 3 times. I don't like gory movies, and this was full of it. Plus, the ending SUCKS. I will stop there, in case you haven't seen it yet, but let's just say, I was not impressed.

When we left the theater, CN informed me that we would not be going to the movies a lot.

"But why?? I like going to the movies!" I protested.

"Because you yelled at the screen the whole time! People were staring at us!" he said.

"Oh. Sorry. Was I that loud?" I asked.

"YES!" he said, laughing.

"OMG! Why didn't you tell me to shut up? Did I embarrass you?" I asked.

"No, I thought it was funny. I tried to tell you to be quiet, but you didn't listen. That's why I was grabbing your arm. You ignored it. After that, I just gave up. But you talk too much at the movies. We need to stick to watching them at home from now on."


That's kind of good, though, because you can't be late to movies you watch at home. Maybe he's got a good idea here. Plus, I can yell at the tv all I want!

Later on that day, he and I were sitting on my bed. I looked at my room.

"WOW. My room is really messy. I'm a slob. Don't you think I'm a slob, honey?" I said.

CN thought for a minute, then replied, "No. You're just really, really, really bad at putting things away!"

We laughed. I love that he gets me. :)

The Big Easy?

More like The Big Stress.

Wow, I haven't posted in a while. Sorry. I am really busy, getting all ready for some traveling. I am going to a conference in New Orleans. So my brain is a little preoccupied. My hotel reservations got all messed up, and I've been emailing and on the phone non-stop. It's stressful, because everything is all set, except for my hotel. And I have a lot of stuff to do before I'm ready to leave in 2 days. Plus, you know, it's December.

Argh. The older I get, the more stressful December gets for me. I miss being a kid, and only having to worry about writing down my Christmas list for Santa and then just counting down the days via the Advent calendar. Now, as an adult, I have to find good presents, spend the money to get them, work on travel arrangements, attend boring parties, stress about the weather, figure out when to wrap the presents, worry about mailing and delivery dates, deal with mall insanity for those last-minute gifts, donate to the right charities, coordinate with siblings to see who is getting Mom what.......*sigh*

I'm not complaining -- I like the holiday season. It puts me in a good mood, and I have generosity and love for all mankind oozing from my pores. Yeah, it's kind of disgusting. Almost makes me barf. But it's the good kind of barfing.

So yeah, I like this time of year, I just don't like the stress and the crowds. I woke up this morning and thought, "OMG! Only 20 days left? How will I get it all done, especially when I'm going to be out of town for 5 days?!"

And I'm sorry, but going to a work conference this weekend is really bad timing. Why would any organization set up an annual conference in December?? What, people don't have things do do during December?? Like we are all sitting around on our asses or something? This was obviously a man's idea. A boring, friendless man without children. That is the only type of person who would think it's a good idea. He was oblivious to baking, shopping, decorating, parties, travel and other holiday-related stress. Perhaps he was angry at the world for making him spend the holidays alone every year? I don't know. But 3,000 of us have to put our holiday planning on hold for a few days while we soak up the flavor of The Big Easy. Too bad we will be stuck in ultra-boring meetings most of the time.

Oh well. At least this year, I get to go to New Orleans, which is WAY cooler than last year's Orlando. The Crescent City has history, culture, good food and is easily explored on foot -- the only thing Orlando has going for it World. And I'm not 7 years old.

I am leaving on Friday and won't be back until Tuesday. Now, now, stop crying. I'll be back before you know it. As long as I make it out alive from the airports. Ugh. I can feel my stomach cramping up, just thinking about airports. I love love love to fly, once I get on the plane. But airports? They stress me the f**k out. Anyone want to donate a Xanax? I'd be much obliged.

CN was sweet enough to offer to take care of Sammy & Toby for me. Aw. And he's taking me to/from the airport. He's such a good boyfriend, huh? *cheers for CN*

Oh, speaking of CN, I need to post about this past weekend. *makes note to self* Perhaps I will write a second post later today.

Have you been to New Orleans? How is it safety-wise? Is everything back open now that Katrina is over? Do you have any restaurant recommendations for me? Any shops? Interesting tours? I am interested in the following activities while I'm down there:

eating Cajun food (except raw oysters and crayfish)
eating Creole food (except raw oysters and crayfish)
eating Po Boys (especially if they have fried oysters or shrimp)
learning the difference between Creole and Cajun (I have tried!!)
buying pralines
buying Cajun/Creole food/spices I can take home with me
learning how to pronounce "pralines" correctly (apparently, it's "PRAW-leens")
historic home tours
history tours
ghost tours
voodoo tours
having my fortune read by a voodoo witch doctor, unless it's bad juju
buying magic potions from the witch doctors, unless it's bad juju
avoiding bad juju in general
local art/artists
Mardi Gras stuff
good souvenirs (masks, especially)

You are probably wondering why I'm not listing "Jazz music" on here. That is because I am not a jazz fan. *ducks to avoid being hit by readers' tomatoes and shoes* I know, I know. I am the anti-Christ because I don't like jazz. Sorry. But if you promise not to make me listen to jazz, I promise not to make you listen to my gangsta rap. Deal?

So if you know anything about any of the things I've listed, please give me a heads up or make some recommendations for me. I'd appreciate it! Because so far, all I've heard is that the French Quarter smells like pee. And don't go out after dark. So I'm a little apprehensive, at this point.

I just looked at the weather. It will be in the mid-70s. WOO HOO!!!

New Orleans, here I come! Laissez les bon temps roulez!