There is art everywhere here in downtown New Orleans. Even the burnt hulls of buildings are canvases here. Melody and color seep out of the cracked uneven pavement of The Bywater and Marigny, the neighborhoods I spent the last few days exploring. Unlike The Quarter, the buildings don't ooze of last night's beer and hurricane-puke, street-washed foam that hugs the sidewalk walls till noon, till the sun dries up the vestiges of the night before.
My plan was to give myself an adventure--the present of wandering somewhere new, without spending too much money. To refill the heart and the imagination. I finished the recording part of the next record last week. Sang my last harmony, and had a few days off and needed to get out of town. My next show would be in Pensacola, Florida, so New Orleans seemed a good place to park my imagination for a few days. I asked around, got a gig and headed south. My favorite thing in the world to do is to wander. As a junior in college, I spent a few weeks wandering alone in Madrid, in Paris, in Seville, in Toledo, in Nice and a certain wave of the breeze, bringing along steam and garbage and maybe the cigarette of someone at an outdoor cafe will mix into a memory cocktail and I'm right back there in Madrid, the world a wide open landscape.
I rented a bike and rode each corner of The Marigny and Bywater, sent there by a friend who told me this was the place I would feel most at home. Funky and slightly dangerous. Reminds me of parts of the East Village of NYC about 15 years ago, Williamsburg Brooklyn before the Investment Bankers with Rock Star Haircuts took over, East Nashville and parts of Austin.
Here's what I did and what I highly recommend:
I stayed at The LaMothe House on Esplanade in a tiny room that was perfect.
Rented a bike from Michaels on Frenchmen Street for $30 a day. Best idea ever. I left my car in the lot the whole time and at night after dinner and after the music, I loved riding through the Bywater back to my hotel, the streets dark and quiet.
Played a set of music at The Three Muses on Frenchmen Street with Kristin Diable, who's hosting a Monday night songwriter showcase. This was her first and it was packed. They fed me and the food there is outstanding. Little plates (a thing here): quail and butternut squash ravioli and salmon and great wine...
I ended up each night late at The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen to hear traditional New Orleans music played by young bands. There was dancing in the streets. Literally. Abitas at the bar and women with tattoo-sleeve arms dressed up like 40's pinup queens singing like Billie Holiday and joyous swing dancing by hipsters my age and younger. Meschiya Lake. Great voice. Great style. She looks fragile and tough at the same time and I think I have a girl crush.
Best meal: Elizabeth's in the Bywater. BBQ shrimp, softshell crabs, osso bucco, collards and red beans and rice and cabbage with bacon and fried grits and great wine. All for under $50. You wouldn't think it from the looks of the place, but it was the most exquisite meal.
Vaughn's in the Bywater. Best jukebox in a great funky dive bar. Drank Abita Restoration. Yum.
Mimi's in The Marigny. Great tapas bar. Wonderful music. I heard the Sarah Quintana trio and she was incredible. Young and pretty, she plays an archtop guitar too big for her tiny frame, strums it fast and sings in an Edith Piaf-like voice, standards and her own originals. I bought her homemade (as in duplicated on a blank CD in her computer and Sharpie-written on) CD for $10 happily. Ate fried goat cheese balls dripped with honey and drank Cabernet.
The Roosevelt Hotel's bar, The Sazerac. I rode my bike over to Lafayette Square to hear a free concert with Dr. John. Felt very Parisian, riding in my vintage dress and motorcycle boots and my hair in a long braid, my purse in the basket. After the concert, I rode to the Roosevelt. I figure if you look like you belong, you can get away with almost anything, and so I rode my bike straight into this elegant lobby, straight up to the Concierge and asked him if I could put my bike into storage for an hour and he smiled and took my bike from me. Smoothed my hair down and walked into The Sazerac and took a stool at the bar and ordered the Sazerac, a rye whiskey concoction I was told was a "must". I'm not much of a whiskey drinker, but I felt very sophisticated slowly sipping this lemony drink. The bartender was crushing blackberries for a concoction he called "The Southern Gentlemen", a drink he'd made up with mint and blackberries and Maker's Mark and he made me a little so I could taste it and THAT, my friends, was a drink! I had pulled out my IPad to read a book and 5 people asked me if I liked it, kept coming up to me and asking to hold it, to see how light it was, researching if they would buy one. Funny how these things go. A slightly tipsy gentleman in a business suit began a conversation about the IPad with me, offered to buy me another drink (I declined) asked me if I had dinner plans (I told him I did), gave me his card "in case you're ever in Cleveland". He asked what I did. I told him I was a songwriter. And he said, "I figured you were some kind of artist. You didn't seem like everyone else here." And he got that slightly drunk look on his face of a traveling businessman stuck in a world of sameness. I think if he sat down at Vaughn's in The Bywater, some hipster pierced, tattooed woman might do the same to him. Exotic is a matter of neighborhood.
Had lunch at a corner shack. Domilise's Po Boys and Bar. Had a fried shrimp Po Boy for $10 and a mug of Miller High Life for $2. Best sandwhich ever.
Sitting at Cafe Rose Nicaud on Frenchmen writing this and just heard this.
"Who dat?" laughter from the man as he back-slaps his buddy who smiles broadly and says, "who dat?" Big gutteral laughter.
"Fuck it man, they trying to .. what? you hear?"
"I know, I know, brother..."
"I mean, what we spozed to do, heya? Take it to the streets, man, thas right."
"Musicians. No home, that's what I say. No respect."
"I blow it in the streets. That's what I do, you hear?"
"Yeah. I hear it."
"Well, you gots the gig. So there's that."
"Thass right. The gig. I got it."
"So there's that."
"Yeah. There's that."