Dog River Marina is not very beautiful, but it is a highly respected working marina, and that’s what we needed—more work! The quote for hauling out and waxing was much more competitive than Turner’s Marina, which is next door and only slightly more attractive. William buckled right down and started waxing and buffing our 40-foot, 2 story boat with a tiny, 8-inch buffer. Sometimes he started at 10:00, sometimes he quit at 3:00, but he got ‘er done. The river crud is now gone and Red Pearl is beautiful and gleaming once again. You have gotten the drift by now, that there is always something to fix on a boat, so while we were there we had some other things fixed—a loose prop, new underwater zincs (which work like the anode rod in water heaters), a locker hinge, the shower sump, the outboard engine… 12 days at Dog River!… I admit to having momentary thoughts some days of what I am missing and could be doing at home, but those have been fleeting.
Mobile is a working river city which becomes a magical fairyland at night. One night we stumbled onto a nicer place than we planned on the 34th floor of a bank building, Dauphine’s. (Dauphin(e) is a very popular name for streets and such down here—like Washington up north. Meaning “dolphin,” it was the title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France from 1350-1791 and then again in 1824-1830.) As we approached our table, we were stunned to see the guy at the table next to ours sporting a large, holstered hand gun in plain view. We breathed easier after he left, and enjoyed the night time view of the river and a memorable dinner. On Steve’s birthday, we grilled lovely New York Strips, which sister Holly had given Steve for his special day. His birthday cake, a Walmart pound cake, however, fell short of his traditional Red Velvet Cake; and we were reminded by a happy birthday text from Susan, Steve’s first nurse at Hudson, that the Mint Brownie office treat tradition was also broken this year. (He owes you, Susan!)
As we waited at Dog River, we went to New Orleans twice, first for a day with looping friends Mike and Brenda Finkenbinder from St. Paul, and then for a few days while Pearlie was “on the hard” (as opposed to in the water). With Mike and Brenda we started at Cafe du Monde for Beignets— elegant, square dough-nutty pastries, totally ensconced in powdered sugar which drifts everywhere as they are ingested. Accompanied by signature cafe au lait blended with chicory, we were armed for the morning with quick energy!
From there we visited Jackson Square, with Knock-Out roses a-bloom and the architecturally and culturally important St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans being a very
Catholic city. Adjacent to the cathedral is the Presbytere which houses a moving Hurricane Katrina exhibit, and an upstairs Mardi Gras exhibit. What a different world this is! From there we found lunch at Napoleon House whose 200-year-history was marked by its being offered by its first resident, also the mayor of New Orleans, to Napoleon as a refuge during his exile in 1821. Napoleon never made it there, but the name remains, and the cafe is currently run by a member of the Brennan family, a name well-known in the restaurant business in New Orleans. Classical Music is played—mostly Beethoven, who was a devotee of Napoleon—and graffiti enhances the rough, old walls. The food was lovely, but the experience was awesome!
From there we made a sashay down the 6-block French Market, a must-do—but only once—and then hopped in the car and drove around the Garden District, settled by the American Creole, to admire beautiful estate homes there. Back in the French Quarter, we found a cute boutique cafe advertising BACON with happy hour drinks. Over a bottle of wine we snacked on a BASKET of bacon, and then another (!!!) along with other appetizers. Even the tired drive home did not blunt our fun conversation, which ended a full and happy day. Mike and Brenda will spend February at their timeshare in Hawaii, so we look forward to connecting again later in the spring.
Steve and I returned to New Orleans on Monday, Jan. 21, after hoisting Red Pearl out of the water. We could have remained on her on the hard, but heat and air conditioning units on boats are water-cooled, so when they are out of the water one has no heat, and night temps in the 30s quickly nixed this option. After inspecting her bottom paint, props and zincs, we rented a car and headed for New Orleans again.
We found the B and B that Steve had reserved and were met by the owner with puzzlement. Finally she found our reservation for a week hence. Being a new owner and eager to create positive buzz on her booking website, she upgraded us to a lovely big suite. Some mistakes are just lucky….others, not so much. We walked to the Frenchman Street and found a lovely Italian fish dinner at Adolfo’s, good live music next door at Spotted Cat, and an enticing art fair in the alley between.
On Tuesday we went on a New Orleans Food History Tour. We ate cracklin’s, savory beignets, duck confit croquettes at Sobous, pralines and bacon pecan brittle at Leah’s,
and tasted dozens of house-made pepper sauces at Pepper Palace. We ate muffulettas at Little Vic’s Sicilian Trattoria and learned that the Po’boy served as 2 meals for a working man—a 16-inch Italian bread sandwich filled with French fries and slathered with beef gravy. A Po’boy now can be 4-inches to 32 and stuffed with anything from blackened shrimp to deli meat, but it is always dressed with mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickle.
While we enjoyed the history lesson of how brunch was invented by Madame Tujaque at the eponymous restaurant and stood at the oldest bar in the United States, we could enjoy neither the legendary brisket which comprised the second course for the brunch she served, nor the gumbo at upscale Tableau. The name “Gumbo” is derived from the West African word for “okra,” and is considered the perfect coalescence of food traditions from the melting pot of New Orleans society: okra from West Africa, roux from the French, the New Orleans version of French Mirepoix using celery, onion and green pepper, filé powder from Native Americans, extensive use of seafood, cayenne and chili pepper from the Spanish, and sausage from the Germans. We were So. Full. That evening we were looking for music! I was scoping out the deals; Steve was scoping out Preservation Hall. Preservation Hall tickets were a little pricey and we walked away, but as we sat in a fancy hotel bar, where the drinks were overpriced in order to pay the mediocre musicians, we agreed to go back and pay for Music! What we experienced in that tiny, historic shack was such joy! The venue looks like a beat-up, low-ceilinged one-room school house, with 8 wooden benches in the center of the room, a few along the walls, and standing room in back, accommodating perhaps 100 people. The upright piano is open with the hammers exposed. With Jazz Clubs coming into being in the 50s, Preservation Hall boasts founding in 1961. (Yikes! How old we are!!!)
The musicians play 45-minute sets, and guests line up on Bourbon Street for each one, with instructions to go potty at nearby bars and to byob, as these amenities are not offered. As guests file in, payment is cash-only; the French Quarter is very much cash-based, with ATMs all over, even inside the door of nice restaurants. We were not disappointed with the 8 musicians who entertained us that night. Now, I remember when I was a music student way back in the 70s that attending a recital was a requirement for many students on campus, and we would find boxes of “revues” of our recitals in hallways for us to enjoy. They usually said things like, “She wore a long blue dress and looked very sad….” At the risk of stooping to that level, I’m going to describe what I saw visually, because…well, I don’t understand Jazz very well, and we didn’t know or even remember any of their names. No photos were allowed. The old alto sax player was iconic, by the introduction and reception he received. The trumpet player, a cool young “kitten,” dressed to the nines in colorful solids, had brain-busting high notes coming out of his head. The trombone player was a jolly round fellow, who loved to flirt with the first row, extending his slide full out at ladies or sweeping the entire front row on his deep, earthy, and jovial glissando. Always a smile on his face, he boogied while he sang and had perhaps the best time of all of us. The piano player was a minimalist but his long, solo improvisatory rendition of “Amazing Grace” amazed even me. The bassist and the drum player were great; the percussionist was not in our line of vision and was the only musician to not play a solo. And then there was this interesting gender-neutral guy, a second alto sax, whose personal mystery made it difficult for me to focus on his art. He and the trombone player were the only hatless dudes, the others sporting derbies and tams and turbans and such. We recognized a few tunes, but mostly we were enamored watching the interactions of these guys whose spontaneous creation was so soulful. And when Steve enquired about attending a second set, the manager offered that we could stay as her guests. Sometimes you get lucky…other times, not so much.
Wednesday we went to the National World War II Museum, the most popular attraction in NOLA—who knew?! Perhaps I should devote as much blog space to this experience as to the music, but I cannot. Our focus on the exhibits was distracted by following up on boat work, our hunger, and a general overwhelm at the magnitude of this horrific world event. 65 MILLION people died, a number which, of course does not include those who suffered injuries that changed and shortened the trajectory of their lives. We lingered through the introductory exhibit, watched a great “4D” video, had lunch, learned that our boat was not going to be returned to the water that day, took in the Road to Tokyo exhibit, which we knew very little about, had dessert, and spun through the Road to Berlin. My biggest takeaway was an uneasy feeling about Pearl Harbor: The American version of history is that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was entirely unprovoked, but I have to wonder if the moving of the naval base from San Diego to Pearl Harbor just the previous year was not seen by the Japanese as an act of aggression, especially as the US cut off oil trade with Japan. Steve was impressed by the transformation of the US military from a size similar to Belgium’s at the beginning of the war, to one that mobilized and utilized a huge work force, military and non-military; at one point, a war plane was produced every 90 minutes. We were emotionally exhausted by our day and went back to our room to rest, eating a late repast at a charming and tiny vegan hole in the wall, which I would love to be able to frequent. The artichoke cakes (a la crab cakes) were amazing, as was a huge kale salad with walnuts and mango. Yum!
Thursday we treated ourselves to a lighter subject—Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras starts on Kings Day, January 6 and culminates on “Fat Tuesday,” which is March 5 this year. Essentially, it is a billion-dollar party and tourist attraction. Images most of us see might come from the prestigious Rex Krew parade and Masquerade Ball; but there is a quasi-caste system of dozens of Krews around New Orleans, and the suburbs and villages in the area grab a piece of the action too, with a parade or two every week during the season. During the parades, the spectators become participants, calling, “Hey Mister, Throw Me Something,” to which they hope the response will be a tossed string of beads, a plastic cup, toys, or doubloons. Each float rider and throw-tosser spends his own money for the opportunity to be a rock star for a few hours, anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars. We toured the main facility where floats are made for Mardi Gras, Disney, and advertising campaigns, ranging in price from $100-1000 per square foot. This year’s Mardi Gras theme is Orpheus, and the floral motif abounds. The Props, the decor that embellishes the wagon, are made from stacked and carved 4-inch slabs of styrofoam and old pieces are often repurposed for subsequent use, perhaps with a different hair style. More permanent—and more expensive—props are made from fiberglass. Pixie is a relatively new robot who aids immensely in the fabrication of 3-dimensional designs, she being named after founder Mr. Kearns’ indispensable administrative assistant. We were helpless to curtail our photo-taking, so here is a passel of color-saturated snaps from that fun morning. One of my favorites is the “Eat More Chikin” Chick-fil-A billboard cows.
That afternoon we returned by streetcar to the French Quarter to tour a couple of historic homes, the Hermann-Grima Home and the Gallier Home, and we gained insights into the social strata of NOLA in the 19th century and the privileged way of life in the city with slaves, through the transition to the Emacipation.
We saw a meal that had been prepared totally over a kitchen fire and talked with these energetic ladies who do this on site every other Thursday. They described a dinner that would have been comprised of at least 3 courses and was timed during the two to three hottest hours of the day. We heard about the financial ruin of the Hermann family when the cotton market in Europe collapsed, forcing them to sell their home to the Grimas and live their remaining years with their daughter and son-in-law in social obscurity.
We saw in the home of architect Gallier one of the earliest bathrooms with running hot water and flushing toilets, beautifully crafted from walnut wood. We were reminded that even prominent families had diminished opportunities for their daughters to marry after the Civil War. Of the Galliers’ four daughters, only one ever married; they did, however, have education, work, and income that shaped their lives and offered relative independence. We left the French Quarter for the final time feeling that we had a good sense of the culture, at least in that area of New Orleans.
We have word that Red Pearl is ready to float again, and we will return to Mobile in the morning, hoping to shove off for new sights in the afternoon.