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…

Syncopation, NOLA Style

Where else can you enjoy a Strawberry Ice Cream Daquiri on a hot afternoon with a live soundtrack of exquisite, blues and soul?

Then there is the taste of a soulful bowl of Chicken & Andouille Gumbo just before being entertained by the melifluous voice of local jazz legend Charmaine Neville.

Or, you can interrupt your picking at side plates of alligator bites, brussels & bacon, and fried green tomatoes with a session by a Kermit (Ruffins, that is)?

Or even sample a brew of Dixie while accompanied by the Dixieland sound of the Steamboat Stompers?

And does all this happen in Cardiff, you ask? Think not, I reply.

Until we speak again, New Orleans is all about off-beat and unexpected variety. A place where true Jazz legends secretively perform in what to all intents and purposes looks like a run-down shack (i.e. the Preservation Hall). And, that my friend, is syncopation!