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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

New Orleans

While the clothes were drying and after I posted the last post, I wandered to the raw bar a couple of doors down in this row of stores just off highway 98 and had some oysters and seafood gumbo for lunch. They were Louisiana oysters, They weren’t as salty as previous oysters and they were plumper and very good. The gumbo was hotter and definitely had a Louisiana flavor about it. After lunch and collecting my laundry, I set out for my first stop, Props Craft Brewery in Fort Walton Beach, FL. It was so easy to find. Just as I crossed the causeway and entered solid ground again, the first building I saw was painted white with big, giant black lettering announcing it was a Micro Brewery. As it turned out there was a Publix in this shopping mall, too. Two birds with one stop, food shopping and beer shopping. I went to the brewery first, of course, and got a flight of their rye, porter, stout and IPA. All were good and I walked away with 2 64 oz growlers (rye and IPA) and 2 32 oz growlers (porter and stout). Restocked with some of the essentials, I headed on down the road to Pensacola Bay Brewery, which also easy to find as it too was on Rt 98 and in plain sight as I turned a corner and stopped at a red light and there it was off to the right. Here I found a good pale ale, and amber ale, and a smoky porter. I love smoked brew. Here too I walked out with 3 big growlers and left most of my cash there as it was cash only. As I got closer to my next park, Big Lagoon SP west of Pensacola and in the direct flight pattern of the Naval Base, which is very active. I found a bank and restocked my cash and lucky I did, because as soon as I turned to the entrance road to the park, a man was selling firewood, red oak and pine. I got a load for twenty dollars and was set to camp. I found a lovely site, 44, and set camp and walked about. They have 75 sites and about 15 are being used. I made a chopped salad for dinner and then made a huge roaring fire, drank some of the beer and listened to John Lennon all night. My friend, David sent me a picture from Strawberry Fields showing the massive crowd there to celebrate John. It is December 8, and since the night of his tragic death until I left NYC in 2012, I always went to Strawberry Fields (Dakota before SF made) on Dec 8. This day now holds even more tragedy for me as my good friend Amanda lost one of her twin boys, Rob,  22, in a skiing accident on Dec 8 a year ago. Amazingly enough, he was also born on the same day as Lennon, Oct 9. He was a musician, too, a double major, engineering and performance music. He played the bassoon and was awarded a full scholarship to Univ of Colorado, Boulder. An amazing kid. A day that will live in infamy for me.
Before I went to bed, I sprinkled some birdseed on the ground and left some peanuts. In the morning, the yard was filled with chirping and feeding birds and a squirrel cashing in on the free food. After breakfast and the morning show, I hoped on the mountain bike and cruised the park. I enjoyed the privacy of the place. I rode along and explored the different offerings and not a person or car around. I ended up at a marsh walk that had a tower in it. I walk the boardwalk above the marsh watching the stilt legged birds walk the water for food. Varieties of birds I know not the name and then those that I did know. They were feasting. I climbed the tower and stayed up there for an hour or more. I watched the birds, the water ripple, the far side toward the Gulf. I asked a ranger about that land later on my ride and he told me it was the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Assateague I thought immediately. As I rode to the tower I saw hundreds of pinecones along the road. I also knew there was a boardwalk from a few campsites from mine, that’s why I chose it, that came out right in a prime place for the precious cones. As it happened that was a seven mile bike ride and on the old mountain bike, different from my road bike. I showered and took a ride in the car to the gulf road. I went over the bridge I saw from the tower and found the road to the National Seashore. It was probably a six or seven mile road like AI. I decided I’d come back with the mountain bike and ride the road and spend a couple of hours on the beach. I left and drove down Rt 182 through Perdido Beach. It reminded me of South Florida with all the tall 30 plus story towers for snowbirds. This went on for miles into Alabama where it got even more flagrant and over the top beach bum like condos and beach houses. Al of them on stilts, but still with that opulence we have grown to love from South Beach. The colors, the architecture, the variety and all of these houses were on stilts. It was so bizarre. Some of the stilts were wrapped in brick to provide a proper foundation for the shingle edifice or the southern plantation above the brick. I reached the dead end and turned around and went home for lunch, a grilled ham and cheese and rum and tonic. I dressed for the beach and put the MB bake on the car and drove over to the seashore. I parked in the lot and took the bike down and saddled up for a ride to the end of the road and a walk on the beach and a swim. It was a glorious time as found an empty beach and a hot day. I took a swim and it was wonderful. Not warm water, like the Lakes in Michigan in the summer.  I languished for a couple of hours and rode back to the car and then drove back to camp. I took another shower and split some wood. Dinner tonight was fresh caught red snapper, succotash, and my onion-mushroom-spinach fry up. I looked at the weather in New Orleans and discovered the weather was going to go south on Sunday evening, the day I was planning on arriving. Upon further reading, I saw rain and high winds in the forecast for the rest of the week. Bummer!! I decided that I would go directly to NO tomorrow and enjoy four days before the rains come. In fact the drive home was altered from a Rt 40 way home through Memphis and Nashville and then the mountains to a more southern route on Rt 20 to 85 to 58 and home by way of Chesapeake Bridge and Tunnel instead of Bay Bridge. If this rain is snow up there, yikes. I had a grand fire and finished the Rye from Props.
I woke at 6:15 and got up and broke camp after breakfast and then showered for my four-hour drive to New Orleans the fast way. I stopped at Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Kiln, MS before heading to St Bernard SP a half hour from NO in the SE direction on the Mississippi River. I set camp and headed into Nawlins on Rt 39 because that was where the shops were. I found a Chase and a great market, Beaux Mart and got some local catfish, which I’m grilling for dinner with some asparagus.
After dinner, I took on NO per Tim’s suggestions. Tim is my friend from Berlin who loves New Orleans. I found a parking spot easily enough on Elysian Fields Ave between Burgundy and Dauphine and walked around Washington Square to Frenchmen and the Spotted Cat Music Club. I walked in just as the band was taking a break. So I went across the street to DBA and a country western quintet, Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Review were ripping up the place. A female vocal and drummer and three dudes on lead, bull bass, and rhythm, all with cowboy hats. They were fabulous. At their break I went back to the Spotted Cat and that sextet, a female vocal, two trumpets, a guitar, piano, and bull bass was getting back to it. They opened with blue skies and took off from there with some lovely and soulful jazz. After the set I strolled Frenchmen and found Vaso, which was pushing some fabulous blues out the door, and it drew me in. I ordered some jambalaya and enjoyed my third musical treat, a simple trio of guitar, bass, and drums and the night was still young. I was planning on being at Vaughan’s lounge by 10:30 to hear another band Tim told me about. Vaughan’s is very funky and the group that night was all funk. The lead played trombone and was accompanied by a violin, alto and tenor sax, trumpet, drums, piano, guitar and various singers and others from the audience. It was a happening place and the sets of funk were mind blowing. I didn’t get home until 2 AM. Four fabulous music shows and all different styles in such a small area. Amazing is too calm to say about the experience. And there is dancing, fabulous dancing in all these places. I have to thank Tim for the start on my adventure in NO.
I woke late and drag myself out of bed at 8:30. After breakfast I took a great bike ride along the levee of the Mississippi on Rt 39 from the park. I was on a road below the water line. This was terrible during Katrina.  The rebuilds were similar to the Gulf Coast, everything on stilts. I walked up to the top at the ten-mile mark and was amazed that the river was right there and I’d be in water over my head. It was weird that folks lived like this. The ride was fabulous and now I’ve passed over the river in Minnesota and down here as well in other places along its long journey. More to come as I plan on driving it up to Memphis on my home or I may do Rt 20 across Mississippi and Alabama on a southern route home and save that other trip fro warmer days. Decisions, decisions, decisions. After the ride I split all the wood and took a shower. I headed into town on a brewery tour. My first stop was Lafitte Brewing Company. It didn’t exist. My next stop was Nola Brewing Company, which gives everyone two free beers from 2-3 every Friday. I gave my chits away and got a flight of beers not available with the chit. I tasted two collaborations, which came in 750 bottles, a beet wheat, and a brown ale. I ordered a pulled pork and had a curry brown ale. I took a growler of the beet wheat and got one each of the two collaborations. My next stop was a dud, like the first, it didn’t exist. I moved on to the fourth brewery Courtyard Brewery, which only had five of their own beers but some great beers mainly from California. I knew them but was interested in Courtyards stock. All were good and I took the Hibiscus Wheat home. I had toured a part of NO, that the tour buses don’t go to. I saw mansions, Tulane, poverty, the docks, and the inner city as I used Rt 10 to and from. I went by the WWII museum, the Superdome, and many other tourist sites. Beer is good; you see so much finding the breweries. It is so weird getting home at 5:30 and it is dark. I hate it.
Another fabulous night in NOLA. I arrived at Chickie Wah Wah in time to hear Susan Cowsill and the band do the rod Stewart tribute. She had good guitars, but a superb fiddle player who brought the house down each time he played. I got a taste of Second Line Brewery IPA while listening to the tunes. Second Line is on the roster for tomorrow. I’m meeting then most interesting people in these venues here in The Big Easy, they are so friendly. When the band stopped I headed off to The Maple Leaf to hear Bonerama. Now this is a unique band. A sextet: a drummer, a lead guitar, a bass player who doubles on the Tuba, and three, yes three trombones; hence Bonerama. They sing, too. They produce such a unique sound and make funk a cultural event. They of course in all their purity, called the Tuba the sousaphone. I didn’t home until 2:30 and in bed by 3 after consuming a ham and cheese sandwich. I woke five hours later to the beauty of the birds. I put out birdseed to attract them and to provide me with their music. This is a wonderful campground. One thing I have noticed as I am traveling at this time of year, the camps are empty and I can find the best sites and keep them in mind for next time. I hope there will be many next times for me here in Nawlins. I spent a lazy morning at the site planning the day.
I drove into town to go to two breweries and spend some time on a Saturday in the French Quarter. I know, crazy, but it has to be done. I know how to get to and from Big Easy without GPS. I find a good parking spot Esplanade Ave and walked down Royal through the heart of the Quarter. I was heading for Crescent City Brewing and lunch. Royal is a very fancy street south of Bourbon and is filled with fancy shops and art galleries. A street fair was about to happen and the streets were blocked off. When I got to St Louis, I ran into Usher, what a surprise. He was climbing out of his huge SUV with two bodyguards and of course everyone around was going crazy and snapping pictures. I’m a NYCer, what’ the big deal, haha. I got down to Decatur St, which is so commercial and jammed with great Mardi Gras shops. I found  a place at the bar at Crescent City and ordered a flight of five beers and a half dozen oysters followed by fried alligator. The food was grand and different from what I have had before, definitely a creole attitude. The beers were German primarily with a very good Belgium Bock as the month special. I took a growler of the Bock home. While there, a father and son bellied up next to me and we got to chatting. They are on a field trip and Asheville wasn’t on their itinerary. They were not familiar with Asheville breweries and so I showed them on my Brewery maps App and the son’s jaw fell open. I did some explaining and they rerouted their trip to Asheville. They also were disappointed in Bourbon St. I told them about Frenchmen St and all the clubs, thanks Tim. Satiated, I walked down Bourbon for kicks and oh how it has changed and so trashy compared to what I remember from years ago before Katrina. Anyway, got to the car and moved on to my second brewery, Second Line. This is a new brewery, open for only four months. They had a neat outside area and the bar. No toilets yet, so they had those outside toilets, they didn’t have glasses for beer or flights. Definitely in their infancy. I couldn’t even get a growler because they are not producing enough for that. They are in some restaurants in town, because I had it in a club. I hope they make it because it seems about half the breweries I sought were closed. Crescent City, NOLA, and Abita seem to have the market here. Done for the day I arrived home just as the sun was setting. I took a short nap for energy tonight. I made a chopped salad and headed in about 8:30 heading Frenchmen. Again parking was easy on Elysian Fields Ave again as the other night. When I got to Spotted Cat and DBA, I texted Tim about the venues and he suggested the Cat all night, so I paid the $5 cover and entered as Panorama was beginning their second set. They were featured in the December Offbeat magazine. A fun group with a a very animated clarinet player, who quite frankly reminded me of Pee Wee Herman. The accordion player gave the old time jazz band a polka or WWII European version of American Jazz. At the end of the set, I headed down Frenchmen to people watch and take it all in. I felt like I was on Duval St in Key West, it was wild and crazy with some of the most bizarre sightings of bizarre behavior. The tourists and young kids were enthralled. I headed back to the Cat and the place was packed. I saw one of the three trombone players from Bonerama on stage. I went and said hello and we got to talk. As the other players assembled to hear Jazz Viper, I found a seat on the piano bench next to a young lady and her friend on a stool. The seat was available so I sat. Front row seats!! The band was killer. The young lady next to me was intrigued by the dancers and asked one of the guys to show her the dance steps. She was fabulous. As it turned out these two young women were teachers in San Diego in NO for an IB Conference. The dancer, Danielle, was a first grade teacher and the other one, Katie, was a third grade teacher. During the second set and the place was still packed, when four sharply dressed women walked in. They all wore tails and fancy decorated hats and all had moustaches painted on. They were Chaplin. And then they started to dance and they were incredible. First the four danced with each other and then paired up with the better dancing men. What a show and the band responded perfectly.  Danielle was intrigued with one Chaplin who stylized well and she went and spoke with her. Suddenly they were dancing and she was learning. The ladies left after the second set as they had conferencing in the morning. I had given them tips on Sunday venues, thanks Tim, which they planned on for their last night in NO. I, too, left soon after that after paying respects to the band, knowing I was going to see them again on Monday night, since they are regulars at the Cat on Mondays. The ride home was easy and I was in bed by 1:30. An early night, which was muchly needed after my first two nights here.
On Sunday, I woke at 8 and did some cleaning up. Stripped the bed and hung linens on line to freshen up in the stiff and steady breezes. Did some stowing away of souvenirs and general reordering of things. Since the park has Wi-Fi and I’m the only one in my area and only about five other campers in a 50-campsite area, the streaming is good so I watched the Spurs tragically drop one to Newcastle. It is their first loss since opening day and when they are doing so well in the Europa league. I took a twenty-mile bike ride. I altered the route a bit and went around the famous English Corner. It is said that in 1699 a Frenchmen convinced an Englishman to turn around and leave the area as it was French. The Brit left without a fight. I can feel the rain coming and am glad for it and to get in a ride before hand. The Scamp could use it too. I grilled some catfish and made some succotash for lunch before an early start into town. That was the plan. After dinner I lay down for a sec and ended up waking at 8. Missed the two ladies Tim suggested I see sing. The rain woke me. It rained all night and so I listened to the last part of The Big Broadcast and heard It’s a Wonderful Life done with Jimmy and Donna. Fell asleep after it and slept until 8:30 when the sun sent its rays into the Scamp to wake me up. I must have been exhausted to have slept so much. I’ll see them next time.
I did some chores: Post office for more stamps; Beaux Mart for more food; and Chase for more cash. After putting the groceries away, I took off down Rt 39 the other way, down the peninsula into the bayou. This is rural, rural, rural. The levee on one side and the other side is the Mississippi. The stark difference between those who rebuilt and those who didn’t is amazing. The junk still from the flooding is evident. The new stuff is up on stilts or on more cinder blocks I would suspect. All the mobile homes are new. Then I would turn a corner and see the remnants of what was destroyed as it sat there as testament to the disaster. The most amazing sight was the Phoenix High School built on stilts. It was absolutely stunning and otherworldly. I discovered that the ferry will take me across for free and bring me back for a buck. I will check this out next time as I want to explore that other side and drive further down into the Gulf and the Bayou. I went back into town to get postcards and just to walk around the same streets that were wild and crazy on Saturday to see them in a more calm and empty state. I sat in a couple of cafes writing postcards, listening to jazz, and sipping a beer. I could have been in Paris. I heard French from quite a few couples walking by me. After posting the cards in a mailbox at the corner of Royal and Esplanade, I retrieved my car on Elysian Fields, my favorite parking place, and drove home to make dinner: grilled steak, fried mushroom-onion-spinach, and steamed carrots in a butter and maple syrup sauce. As dinner was being readied I decided to eat outside and have a fire. I haven’t had a fire since I’ve been here. Since it gets dark so early and I will be done with dinner early and won’t be going into town until 8ish, why not have a good fire. I’ve got the wood. As the fire roars; I ate, cleaned up, and got dressed for the night, it is a bit chilly. I get my favorite parking place on Elysian Field Ave by the park. I walk around the corner to Frenchmen and start with the Cat and work my way down Frenchmen until I arrive at Maison and hear a melodious sound wafting from the establishment and stop, look in and see a brassy band wailing, so I enter said establishment and see a spot right at the bar in front of the band. It’s available so I belly up to the bar and again I’m in a prime place to see and hear music. The place is packed, so that’s a good sign. The group is Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses and they are kicking it. She is fabulous on soprano sax and as I look at her I recognize her from Panorama, where she played tenor sax. Tonight she has the soprano and alto Saxes with her. They are very fluid and have an odd and enjoyable discordance about them that is always smoothly brought back to the familiar refrain. What a lovely surprise. At their break, I walk back towards the Cat and listen to the sounds exiting each establishment as I stroll and it seems every band is on break, except the band in the Cat. I enter and again find a place behind the pole facing the band of two Saxes, two trumpets, Tuba, drums, and guitar; they are Dominic Grillo and the Frenchmen St All-Stars. Knowing I have to be at my next place, Sydney’s Lounge to meet up with Tim’s friends Carol and Terry to hear King James and the Special Men, at 10:30; I can sit and enjoy this new sound and group. Since it is only a six-minute drive to Sydney’s I relax and enjoy this group until they finish. Perfect, I will be at Sydney’s by 10:15 to find Carol and Terry. As it happens that is just what happens. As I walk in there is carol at the bar and we meet. I recognize her from a photo she sent. As we sit at a window overlooking the band and the dance floor, in walks Dominic Grillo, who was the lead in the last band I just saw at cat. Terry tells me these guys play in four or five bands and two or three times a night just to make enough to live. That explains why I’m starting to see familiar faces in different bands. This band has a following and the dance floor is undulating all night long. The three of us really can’t talk, but then we are there to listen to the music. They leave early as well, after the first set. I hang in a comfortable couch during the break and enjoy the last set from my perch, as the mosh pit is alive and swarming. Another successful night in the Big Easy.
My last day here. I start it off with a good twenty-mile bike ride. I decide to take the ferry to the other side and follow Rt 23 to Venice. I get the 12:45 and am on the other side in the time it takes to listen to Stairway. Immediately I know this side is different from the east side. Here a four lane road; there a two lane road. Speed limit is 55 here; there it is 45. The houses are land dwellers; not on stilts.  Perhaps one reason for this difference is the damning being put up by Corps of Engineers. This side is much more peopled. There are lots of schools. At first it is very suburban and then instantly it is rural with all of the agriculture. This was followed by industrial parks with oil refineries and helipads for service to the platforms out in the gulf. The parking lots were filled with the trucks and cars of the folks working out there. At first I thought it might be a car depot or a used car sales, but then saw signs indicating otherwise. When I finally got to Venice, I was introduced to hundreds of shrimp boats. This west bank of the Mississippi River south of New Orleans is the industrial backbone for the state. I like the other side, the east side better. I make it back for the 4:45. Dinner is started by 5:30. I have the last catfish fillet, which I grill, some baked beans and my mushroom-onion-spinach concoction. I’m rushing cause I need to get to the St Louis Cathedral for the “Oh shit it’s Christmas” concert, which is given every year now for seven. As luck would have it, Terry and I meet outside the Cathedral where at least a thousand people listened to the splendid Christmas concert with the NOLA accent. We walked over to Coops, on Decatur, where we had a beer and he some chicken, which is great at this eatery. We walked and talked awhile when he got on his bike and I headed down Royal into the belly of the beast. I stroll around the FQ for ¾ of an hour or so before I refreshed at the car and went to the Cat. The early group was on and I settled in to listen. After half an hour they took a break and I strolled up Frenchmen and discovered a good blues band and stayed for a set or the set being played. At the break, I headed to the Cat to hear Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses. It was a good send off for me from NOLA and good memory in anticipation of my next visit. Off to Natchez.

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