NOLA: Distilling the essence

Born on a bayou, emerging out of a swamp, frequently in the eye of a hurricane, situated between the mighty Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, largely lying at or below the natural water table, wondering when the levees will break… (there are quite a few ideas for songs here already!). But, why would anyone visit, let alone live, in a place like New Orleans?

The French came here and lay the foundations for a Quarter. The Spanish came here and added to the architectural diversity. Creoles and Cajuns emerged here bringing their separate and unique influences on the diversity of Louisiana cuisine, amongst many other characteristics. Africans were brought here and contributed so much to a culture of celebration, emanating from Congo Square (now part of Armstrong Park). And, the British came here looking to expand an empire only to be defeated by the combination of a local bureaucrat and a pirate (Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte)!

Jazz music was born here, and exported to the rest of America and beyond as a young Louis Armstrong followed in the footsteps of his early mentors. It continues to thrive through virtuosity in the Preservation Hall, the clubs and bars throughout the city, and street musicians and marches.

The range of cuisine alone, from diners to fine dining, takes up many accompanying posts on this blog. From shrimp & grits to turtle soup, from crawfish etouffee to seafood gumbo, from boudin sausage to beignets… leave your mental recipe book behind because this is a whole new language!

How do you capture the essence of such a complex city of people, history, architecture, food, and music? And I haven’t even started on the quaint old streetcars on St Charles Avenue, Steamboat Nachez on the Mississippi, or the voodoo influences and iconic above-ground cemeteries, that include the tombs of notables such as Marie Laveau (the Witch Queen of New Orleans).

Well, I guess I need to sit down and think about that over a tipple of something special. The French Quarter just happens to be the home of the cocktail, with Sazerac being established in a pharmacy by Antoine Peychaud in 1838 on Royal Street. If I were to distil the essence of New Orleans perhaps that’s it right there in a glass! Just make sure you have an expert like my good friend Tom Seay (follower of this blog) to perform the ritual of creating your drink!

Until we speak again, New Orleans is a melting pot of influences, ideas, atmosphere and experiences, of cultures, a complex range of local cuisines, the birthplace of great musical traditions. Depending on your personal tastes and who you are it’s a friendly and welcoming place. You can take it or leave it, because essentially…

Perverse principles

With the advent of a Premier League season involving the locals just a matter of weeks away, I was struck by the all-important question…

What do you stand for?

Just what is my local city all about? What do we have to offer to the visiting hordes of demented football fans over the next 9 months? Everyone should be aware of the excellent shopping and nightlife, but what about sampling some unique street food?

Street Food seagull

Then there is our stylish way of preserving historic buildings…

Preservation What's left of the docks?

Our principled way of looking after endanger species doesn’t present any conflict with the pursuit of commerce…

Bear shop [2]

This is a place where you can get sea-sick just by standing still and looking at some of the buildings…

Car park [2]

But, we are proud of the fact that our great historical heritage stands tall (well, tall-ish) in the face of the advance of bland modernity…

Insurance [4]

Until we speak again, don’t let the dark gloomy clouds of potential defeat obscure the important decisions…

Bay & City Centre post

Cultural defiance

In an America so captivated by the deal-driven marketing dream; of hyper-efficient profit-making; Dan Baum reminds us that New Orleans is ‘a citysized act of civil disobedience‘.

Ain’t nothing tidy about New Orleans. A big brass band can suddenly strike up a ear-splitting tune from any available public bench, any time of day or night…

Here is a place that speaks to the truth; they may not haunt you in a ghostly sense, but, financially, well that could be another matter…

You can do your laundry in a former recording studio that was graced by some of the musical greats… where else will your shorts and panties be indelibly linked with Ray Charles, Little Richard or Fats Domino?

And the nailing down of the corporate lid will be stubbornly resisted with the darkest of humour…

Where the hustle and bustle of busy 21st century complexity receives short shrift…

In a world renowned act of rebellion this is where the simple act of eating out requires that you learn something akin to a culinary foreign language…

But it is also where the built environment can speak to you in understated emotional tones that eminate a great warmth of welcome…

Where human and avian worlds meet in an elegant balance…

Where glass ceilings have no place…

So, until we speak again, come to New Awlings, and…

Degrees of difficulty

Seems that the good burghers of Grangetown in Cardiff┬ádon’t hold out the warmest of welcomes for posh people!

Grange [2]

But revenge looks sweet, as the owners are no doubt members of the landed gentry; and my guess is they decided if we are not getting in then nobody is getting in!

Grange [3]

Call this food!

 

Until we speak again this Bella hopes that all of your preferred lotion is accessible!

Ton Up

Who said cats can’t write? Welcome to my 101st post in the last 15 months. To celebrate the milestone (or is that millstone?) I have reviewed those moments represented across the first 100 posts. Here are some of my highlights, but who would blame you for summoning up the spectre of Room 101 in which to consign my reminiscences.

Eating al fresco, who doesn’t love it? My favourite meal…

My feast!

Then there are those moments of personal contemplation. But it took a trip to Southend for my favourite philosophical musing (particularly reminding me of the resident numpty)…

Southend [4]

I hear that health & safety has gone completely mad in your human world, but even I was taken aback by the locals need to restrict the age-old childhood rite of passage… tree-climbing:

No tree climbing

The cultural history of Wales has apparently been partly shaped by the fire and brimstone oratory of the Baptist Minister, but my favourite religious moment has to be the shock declaration that even Jesus elaborates on the truth from time to time…

Jesus Loves

But there is no denying that Cardiff has established itself on the world music map, as its many venues play host to top quality talent. My favourite girl band (Pecker and the Birds) played a surprise concert at the little known Bute East Dock venue…

All girl group +1

But while the masses were enjoying themselves at the free concert my favourite burglar was quick to seize on the opportunity to check out any potential opportunities for plunder…

Swan burglary

The penultimate word has to belong to the guy who never stops giving; so tell me Sean, how successful do you think my blog has been so far?

Sean's world

 

Always the harsh critic… in the meantime until we speak again this has been Thespian Juno wishing you many more moments of literary and visual enjoyment.

Searching for the zeitgeist

Southend [1]Why does my ‘resident renogade’ always take it upon themselves to do the opposite of what I suggest? Only the other day, and against the spirit of the age for international travel, they were lost for things to do in the spare moments during a UK coastal appreciation gig. I couldn’t resist to proffer the obvious combination of a long walk off a short pier!

Unknowingly, I was offering this advice to someone who happened to be gazing at the world’s longest. Time for a quick reappraisal of the situation, and by my calculus what was needed here was a recalculation of the ‘long to extra long’ boards to steps ratio…

Southend [2]

And as if this wasn’t enough of an intellectual challenge for a sophisticated cat, originating from London I should have known that the neighbouring county of Essex bucks many a trend. Us cats are known for our curiosity, but I am sure you will forgive my incredulity at the evidence that the all-pervading nannie state had been well and truly driven out of town. Something distinctly American seems to be happening in a noisy corner of the land of the white stiletto, as a subtle obesity drive seems to be going down, with a distinct charge-for-walking vibe, bucking the current trends for healthy living…

Southend [3]Where is the zeitgeist when you most need it, I pondered?

All that was left was for me to assimilate the wisdom of a local insightful exhortation…

Southend [4]… which come to think of it, is precisely what I did when I decided to move to Cardiff with the ‘in-house numpty’ on their attempt at a personal homecoming and cultural re-imagining. Until we speak again I shall be a claw-sharpening Juno, intent on re-moulding my ‘resident servant’ into something more contemporary.