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“I got the ways and means
To New Orleans
I’m going down by the river where it’s warm and green
I’m gonna have a drink
And walk around
I got a lot to think about, oh yeah…

This go ‘round, the “drink” was iced chicory coffee, an earthy compliment to the tower of billowy beignets and powered sugar designed to raise my A1C levels. The place? Café du Monde, an institution in the center of town.

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That’s right. We went about a month ago—our first trip!—and now Hubs and I know what it means to miss New Orleans. The Big Easy. The Crescent City. NOLA. Whatever you call it, make it a must-see on your itinerary. And be sure to bring a fork.

“Oh you’ll never see my shade or hear the sound of my feet
While there’s a moon over Bourbon Street…”

 

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New Orleans has been on my bucket list ever since I was in high school when a friend recommended Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire—because what pre-emo, pre-goth, existential teen doesn’t identify with an eighteenth-century fanged dandy?? I won’t even begin to dissect what makes New Orleans different from the rest of the country—or even the world. Look to the writings of Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Or listen to the hundreds of songs written about the place. Or wander through the unique cemeteries that rival master works of art. Or taste the signature dishes that you’ll never quite copy in your own kitchen.

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Charbroiled oysters, y’all!

Yeah, start there. If only I’d been born a fashionista, I’d have an enviable closet. But God had other plans for me: I’m a foodie. And, for foodies like me and Hubs, New Orleans is Ground Zero—grits, jambalaya, étouffée, gumbo, red beans and rice. I ate the best biscuits and gravy I’d ever had and the best iced coffee I ever drank. I slung back charbroiled oysters and devoured jumbo lump & crawfish beignets. And of course, savored the James Beard Award-winning fried chicken at Willie Mae’s, a local institution. (When the waitress suggests getting a side of butter beans, don’t question her. She knows what she’s talking about.) In New Orleans, the “Whole30” means you wait a whole thirty minutes before you eat again!

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And if I haven’t whetted your appetite enough, for breakfast, biscuits topped with boneless fried chicken topped with poached egg and covered in pork tasso sauce…on a bed of spinach because you need you gotta get in those greens, right?

 

Baby, please don’t go / down to New Orleans
You know I love you so
Baby, please don’t goooooo…

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

12829127_10208907508865693_5741758809938982862_oThe Beast was having none of this “vacation” business. The night before we left, Finn got terrible tummy trouble. Unlike me, he refused to eat while we were away. Not eating is not that worrisome—he was still drinking water like it was going out of style—but turning his nose up at his heart medication is a different matter. Not taking them is not an option.

I came unglued as I confronted one of my worst fears: Finn getting sick, or worse, while I was away. The cardiologist’s dire warning at every check-up that the Beast could “drop dead any moment,” has stalled most of my travel over the past four years and kept me at a perpetual DEFCON 3. No, I haven’t made peace with the inevitable.

Despite exasperating the dogsitter with his picky ways, he still drank his water, wagged his tail, and went for walks. An awesome friend took him to the vet for me and all his vitals were normal. What could possibly be wrong?

“I think he misses his mama,” my friend said over the phone. Hubs seconded the sentiment, “He sensed you were anxious about leaving him and now he’s upset.” Sure enough, the very moment we arrived home, he ate and took his meds without any trouble. I tipped the dog sitter extra for her troubles. Who knew my anxiety could be so expensive?

 

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“You’ll never know
What heaven means
Until you’ve been down to New Orleans”

I wish I had the words to describe what music means to me, what it does to me. I can get lost in chord progressions and obsessive over a melody. I chime in with harmonies to songs on the radio or in the supermarket. I break out into full-voiced verses at inappropriate moments (ask Hubs).  I hear at least five songs in my head at once. I have yet to decide if all of this is blessing or a curse.

So, I felt right at home in New Orleans, where the locals suffer a similar affliction. After all, it’s the birthplace of jazz, and I think they banish folks from the city if they don’t know how to play it.

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On our first night in town, Hubs and I headed to Frenchman Street, home to many of New Orleans’s jazz and blues clubs. I needed something to take my worried and frantic mind off the Beast and his health swings. The moment our taxi turned the corner, I felt the concussions of drums through my seat and heard the blare of brass. The closer we got to the sound, the more people we saw lining the street. The taxi had yet to come to a complete stop when I opened the door and jumped out, afraid to be left out of this impromptu scene for one more second. A brass band of at least a dozen guys was standing on the street corner. Trumpets, saxophones, tubas, trombones—even a sousaphone!—played tight and with spirit for the gathered crowd, some dancing right in the middle of the intersection.

In that moment, I felt the joy of the song, the connection of the music to the people, and the overwhelming, raw mix of fear and love that comes with the awareness that life and the lives of those I loved—two- and four-legged—are utterly precious to me. Is it any wonder that my feet stomped, my hips swayed, and my eyes overflowed? 

 

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Do you know what it means?

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