Wednesday, June 10, 2009

National Lampoons Southern Vacation (sorta) Part IV

Becca and I hit Bourbon Street that evening looking for some good music and good times. That doesn't take long to find on Bourbon Street! Practically two blocks from our Holiday Inn in the French Quarter, we found a hopping little joint with blues music blaring from the wide open, wall-less entrance. THIS is what I'm talkin' 'bout! I was all smiles! The anticipation was over!

We sat and ordered a couple beers (Beck wasn't in the mood for anything phoofy or frilly), and listened to the Rhythm and Blues act on stage tear it up. Something like out of the Blues Brothers, they had a horn section, guitar, keys, drums and bass, and a couple of different singers jumped up and jammed. They were very good! Full of soul and electricity, really bringing it home. Ah! So good to be back in the French Quarter!

Now, I like this kind of stuff, the whole R&B, Motown, James Brown, Blues Brothers kinda sound. But what I was really hoping to see was some gritty, gutsy, guitar slingin' Blues, like Stevie Ray, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Albert Collins kinda stuff. So, after enjoying a brew and a couple good tunes, I took Becca by the hand and we continued to wander down Bourbon Street, looking for more music. Looking for that Holy Grail of Blues, like I'd heard the last time.

As I'd pointed out to Becca, one of the really cool features to Bourbon Street is at nearly every bar and even souvenir shop there is often a little half door or window where they'll sell you a big cup of beer, or Hurricane, or whatever, and you just wander up and down Bourbon Street, get drunk and party! Hell, one place was even called Big Ass Beers! For those of you who've been to Collinsville's Italian Fest, think that, only with Blues music everywhere, as well as debauchery, tittie joints, and great, great New Orleans food. Hey, no knock on Collinsville's great Italian food, but this is gourmet New Orleans. World class stuff!

We happened up on another club, and stood outside listening to the band. It was a younger group of musicians, and a younger, twenty something crowd. They were good, but very commercial, very Pop oriented. Neah, not what I'm here for. I can get that at Pop's or something. Sharkey's, for Christ's Sakes! Blues, baby! Where are the Blues Masters? Gotta get me some! Someone to Testify!

We wandered farther down Bourbon Street, but more and more all we found was similar to the Pop bar. Some DJ's, some Top 40 bands. Nothing quite like we saw at the first place, and absolutely nothing like what I remembered. Sigh. Maybe you can never go back?

Well, either Bourbon Street had changed, or, I also needed to keep in mind this was Friday night. Amateur night. All the kids out partying. This is the kind of crap THEY want to hear, so they book it to bring them in. Could be that any particular weekday, Bourbon Street would be crawling with Blues bands. But Friday night, that's when they book this crap. Oh well. Still a great time, and Beck wasn't disappointed. She was just happy to see something new. Bourbon Street has a great party vibe, no matter what the music..

We made our way back to the original blues club and took in the rest of the show. We found a table a little farther back this time, as the place was really packed. Another indicator this was one of the only places like this left on Bourbon Street. At least tonight.

Beers weren't cheap, but the music was pretty damn good, and we had a wonderful time. I probably should have brought more money down, but that just kept me from getting too hammered. I can do that any weekend with Rock Bottom. Keepin' it cool tonight.

At one point, they introduced the trombone player, which they claimed was the great nephew of Louis Armstrong. Yeah, right. I bet 45 different musicians in the Greater New Orleans area stake that claim. Can't swing a dead cat around Bourbon Street without hitting someone claiming to be Louis Armstrong's nephew! Don't bother with a DNA test, they are probably full of shit.

In the great tradition of New Orleans jazz and blues, he started singing “When The Saints Go Marching In”. Damned if he didn't sound like Louis Armstrong! Great stuff. They started to parade around the bar like a New Orleans festival, marching and soloing to “Saints”, coming right up to the table, wailing away on trombone, trumpet, sax. Quite a treat! They took a donation basket as well, gently requesting tips. I think I had about a $1 left. But, they were worth it, and as a fellow musician, I wanted to show the respect. These guys were the real deal!

Regardless of his Armstrong heritage, he could play a hell of a 'bone, and the whole group was filled with seasoned blues musicians. They rotated around a number of different singers, but the one I think I enjoyed the most was a Black gentleman with a colorful leisure-type suit and matching shiny leather shoes, with a sharp Trilby hat commonly worn by his ethnicity of an older generation. Kinda of a 70's “pimpin'” look. Huggy Bear, from Starsky and Hutch fame. The man could sing some blues. He was a stud.

We stayed for a hour or so, and both agreed it was time to call it a night. It had been a long day driving, and getting a good night's sleep sounded really good! Must be getting' old! Plus, I guess we were still recovering from the Extreme season end party the night before in Panama City Beach. Neither one of us wanted to party too much tonight. So, we headed back to the hotel and crashed almost immediately.

The next morning, I glanced out our 10th story hotel room and gazed out over the French Quarter as the sun rose. This old, battered city still had life in it. What a wonderful trip we were having. I love to travel, just as my mother does, and was counting my blessings. Like New Orleans, I've been through a lot, but still kicking, still going strong. And I love sharing it with Beck and my girls.

Mom had set a date for us at the New Orleans School of Cooking. She'd been down here just this past February for Marti Gras, and stumbled onto this place. Knowing I love to dabble in cooking, she said I must go and take in the demonstration, it was wonderful! Kinda like watching Emeril or something, where they cook the food and tell stories about the culture. The hostess was extremely amusing, and the food is fantastic! Sounds good to me! As a child of 10 or 11, I was fascinated by watching shows on PBS like Justin Wilson's Cookin' Cajun, and Julia Child. Cooking has fascinated me from a very early age.

Just a few blocks away from our hotel on St. Louis Street we were face to face with the New Orleans School of Cooking. A very humble place by its appearance, located inside an old brick building with very little ornate decoration. Close to what I would expect to find on St. Louis' Laclede's Landing. Probably was an old warehouse at one time. Much less decorative than so many other places in the fanciful Vieux Carre.

Inside was a General Store type setting loaded with all manner of spices, cook books, kitchen utensils, just tons of stuff for the kitchen. It smelled wonderful in there! So many spices! My eyes grew wide at the possibilities! I could spend way too much money in here! Too bad I really don't know how to cook!

Becca and I gravitated towards the hot sauces, and I admit, my mind began to race, plotting possibilities for dressing up my World Famous hot chili! What could I put in? How can I make it really killer hot? Mwahahaha!

About the time for the class to begin, we were led past some glass panel Pella doors to a large classroom setting filled with circular dining tables, and at the head of the class was the kitchen. Suspended over the stove hung a large mirror, allowing all in the class to view directly down into what ever was cooking on the stovetop. Ingenious!

Mom was disappointed to learn that the woman who hosted the class on her visit wasn't hosting today's class. But, this woman assured my mother that the gentleman who was would be just as much fun, and we'd all love the food. By the way, today's menu was Jambalaya, Gumbo, Bread Pudding, and Pralines, all New Orleans staples. Yum! Can't wait to compare my Jambalaya to the real thing!

Our chef was a short haired, gray haired gentleman with a white apron that adorned the School of Cooking logo. He sported large framed glasses, and seemed a bit meek and on the effeminate side. But on the podium, he promptly came to life with a booming oratory, and was a charming, affable host.

He treated it in the way you would expect a professor to teach a course, after all this was the New Orleans School of Cooking! But, he was also very amusing, having a wonderful time with the food and the crowd, keeping the demonstration light and interesting. He had a wonderful sense of humor that came through very quickly. He was a natural performer.

Now, I'm fascinated by history, and especially regional history. I've studied a bit about our own French Colonial history around St. Louis and southwestern Illinois, because after all, the French were the first to settle around here. So, the tie into Louisiana history and the Cajun culture is fascinating. Our esteemed host was from, in fact, Detroit. Not very Cajun! But, his mother was Cajun, and often on summer vacations he spent time in Louisiana visiting the family, learning the craft of cooking this wonderful style of food. And, his family owned a restaurant in the Detroit area.

He introduced us to the origins of the culture here, the French and Cajun, the Jewish influx, the Creole/African American contingent, and how they all mixed together. All while whipping up Gumbo, Jambalaya, Pralines, and what was my absolute favorite, Bread Pudding. At first, that sounded like the least interesting thing on the menu. But when it was time to eat, I gave it a whirl, and fell in love with it. All of it was wonderful! I was pretty close on my Jambalaya, too! Of course, mine comes out of a box of Zatarains, and his was made from scratch!

After the class and a wonderful lunch, we adjourned to the General Store, pumped full of inspiration and ideas for our next cooking experience. A clever marketing tool! But, I happily wished to shop and pick up some things I'd seen, like the hot sauces, and also Joe's Stuff, which is a special blend of Cajun spices made on the premises they introduced us to. Great stuff! I also picked up one of the aprons with the school logo. I was hooked!

We headed back to the Cafe Du Monde for some Cafe Au Lait, and Beck and I decided we'd sit with one of the psychics at the Jackson Square area. Since we've become more interested in the paranormal, it seemed like an entertaining flavor to the trip. We were blown away by Star, the psychic that helped us with the paranormal investigation of Becca's home. What would a New Orleans psychic have to say? New Orleans has a very spooky, paranormal edge to it. It's alive with psychic energy, from the Creole Voodoo practice to the alleged “vampire” contingent!
So, we pick a random sooth sayer, and he started to read our tarot. He was a bulging, hulk of a man, with a Greek face. I think some where in our conversation he mentioned having been a former pro-wrestler. He looked it, only down and out.

It didn't take too long before I realized this guy was a charlatan. But, that in itself was fascinating. Having been around a woman that is truly psychic, it's fascinating to see someone try to pretend to be one. I could see right through him. He was probably more like some homeless dude that was just looking for a way to score a quick buck instead of cleaning car windshields. We tipped him at the end, but I considered it more of a donation to the homeless than any thing else. There were no psychic insights here from this poor guy.

We met back up with the girls and my mother, and did some souvenir shopping, exploring, and sight seeing. I bought some cool shirts and stuff, some scented candles at the flea market, just all around junk that most touristas buy. The ladies were in shopping mode, and having a ball. A wonderful afternoon of exploring and taking in the family friendly side of the French Quarter.

We even stopped at a Voodoo shop and perused it's wares. All manner of spiritual offering candles, protection bags, anything and everything you'd imagine a Voodoo shop to be. They also had a cigar shop, and I picked up some good cigars to enjoy that evening. Beck looked calmly at home. I think she was a Voodoo priestess or something in her past life!

As the afternoon wore on, Beck and I decided to rest before heading back out for the evening. We'd noted a number of “haunted tours” of the Quarter that were available which met back at the Voodoo shop, and were kicking around the idea of taking in one of those. But rest was in order first.

Honestly, that turn into us just crashing early for the evening. We really didn't do a damn thing! We were exhausted! We just cuddled up in our room, and relaxed the night away. So much for a wild and crazy Bourbon Street night!