Monday, April 9, 2012

New Orleans Trip #11: Odds & Ends

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On my last trip to NOLA, decades ago, I'd happened upon a small-time vendor whose pralines were leagues better than any other I tried. Tee Eva's was the bomb, and Eva herself was the nicest lady ever.

Tee Eva's is now a thriving, well-known business (5201 Magazine St; 504-899-8350), and Eva, herself, has left the building. It's now run by people claiming to be her family, which I find hard to believe because they are so brusquely unfriendly. And prices are now sky-high.

So I hesitate to recommend them, but must admit the pralines are still supernal. Leagues above anything else. And worth putting up with a very dark retail vibe to score. Better, order online, though they will absolutely kill you on the shipping charge ($15 to send a dozen bite-sized pralines, themselves pricey).

"Old New Orleans" is a great new small distillery here, and it's enjoying increasingly national distribution. I didn't try their regular rums, but, for some reason opted for their spiced rum, even though I'm not usually a fan of the style. My instinct was right; it's awesome. The spicing is identical to Dutch speculoos (e.g. "Biscoff", i.e. gingerbread) cookies. It's the single happiest spirit I've ever imbibed, redolent with the innocent deliciousness of yummy Dutch cookies!

I bought this trippy wall hanging, an antique Indian gypsy embrodiery, circa 1920, at Tribal Revival, run by a friendly and well-travelled New Orleanian yogi named Ryan. He mostly sells Oriental rugs, has exquisite taste and charges fair prices. Every rug has a story, and Ryan loves to regale prospective customers over a cup of good tea in his living room/showroom. It's a must-stop.

My intention was to get out of New Orleans before Mardi Gras. I don't like crowds, generally, and had assumed Mardi Gras was mostly about drunken frat boys screaming at women to take their shirts off. But as my time there started to leak into the leading edge of the festivities, I realized that I'd erred. This is not just another parade. It's not just another drunken crowd.

It's the source of all that. This is the good one, putting to shame all others. So while I was scurrying around preparing to leave town, a certain vibe was palpably building, and I regretted not sticking around to steep in it. Several strangers urged me, in all sincerity, to stop dashing around and just hang out and enjoy the party. And, in a one-hour span of pure Twilight Zone, I bumped into nearly every person I'd met on my trip. Amid the roiling horde of thousands, hey, here's the older woman from the bar with the electric handshake and her son who seems only about money but isn't! And there's Cassidy, the bike tour guy! And, wait, look, it's the guy who sold me a hat last night! And now the girl in the folding chair I'd previously asked for directions! It felt totally crazy, but, who knows, maybe this happens all the time...only, everywhere else, such near-strangers would be more inclined to turn away rather than grab your arm and holler "Hey! How you doin'!".

By the way, the hat shop was Goorin Bros.. It's on Royal Street, the classier, more grown-up, quieter street parallel to Bourbon Street. It's a fairly staid, upscale store; the sort of space you'd see in an upscale shopping mall. But at night, they set up a table with a guy making free cocktails (for anyone passing through, not just customers), and a DJ. The atmosphere feels like someone's party, and there just happen to be hats for sale. Real cool hats, too.

And the merchandise was selling like hotcakes. But, opportunistic and imitative though retailers are, you can bet "just make it all feel like a party!" won't ever be seized upon as a widespread marketing strategy. We are, after all, a puritan nation.

New Orleans is very much a separate country, though. My first walk up Bourbon Street, the mega-touristic French Quarter throughfare, spurred a wide range of emotions. First, it's mind-bogglingly commercial; one is hustled in a thousand directions by grizzled barkeeps, sexy bartenders, and innumerable dodgy characters. And while you'll find no shortage of violently drunken tourists sucking down Hurricanes and clapping hands arhythmically to the beat, that's not all there is. Bland jiveness is actually in the minority, because this is, in fact, ground zero for lots of things I like. Bourbon. Funky music. Fried shellfish. Interesting beers. Passionate quirkiness. Dancing. Going off-script in everyday conversation. It was so disorienting to be pelted with crass come-ons for things I'm actually interested in!

Which is not to say that I find Bourbon Street an appealing destination. Each of those things can be found much better in other parts of town. But it's an awfully odd sensation to find my own tastes reflected even on the most crassly commercial strip in town, accustomed, as I am, to scurrying, rat-like, toward remote corners of any given place to evade a mainstream which makes me feel completely alienated.

It's like when I first went to Japan and found not the Bible but "The Sayings of Buddha" on my hotel night table. I'm not a Buddhist, nor am I a full-fledged New Orleanian. But there's a certain unburdening when prevalent taste is so much closer to your own.

And I'm not sure, frankly, that I like it!

To be continued...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Will take your word about the pralines, but one of the first things stumbled upon on their website was a "Mission Statement" - that doesn't sound like any NOLA I ever been to.

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