new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Exploratary New Orleans Expedition

Monday, August 04, 2008

Exploratary New Orleans Expedition

Back from an exploratory expedition to New Orleans.

I will be attending Tulane University in the fall, and it was high time to head down and find a place for me to live so I might successfully avoid residing in a box. Although I've committed to Tulane, I haven't been to New Orleans in a very long time, and I was looking forward to restarting my acquaintance with this bizarre and gorgeous city.

Why New Orleans?

First: New Orleans is a complex town, not easy to approach or to understand. Katrina absolutely broke my heart: something about our government's epic, ostentatious betrayal and the suffering of one of our country's most distinctive cities wormed its way into my head. The hurricane, in a funny way, made me more inclined to move to New Orleans and take a chance. I have essentially no useful skills, but I can think of few more interesting places to be in America right now then in New Orleans. The city is hanging on a razors edge: it will either rebuild itself, bigger and better and stronger, or it will fall apart and all the terrible predictions will come true. No matter which way it goes, it'd be a unique experience to be smack-dab in the middle of it.

Second: I am Southern and my family on both sides is Southern as well - as much as it gets. My grandfather's family came down to New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase and were members of the French Creole culture that developed in the city thereafter. The South and New Orleans by proxy are about all the culture identity I have, as I have moved often and rather drastically about the country all my life: I would like to know a little bit more about my own families background.

Third:: New Orleans is often considered a lost cause. When I tell people I am moving to New Orleans, I often am told that I will: get shot, mugged, drowned, burned, looted, molested, or suffer from various other horrible and creative fates. To people who do not hail from the South or do not have an emotional connection to the city, who have not visited before, New Orleans (far as I can tell) evokes images of of a slowly-sinking Sodom: site of faded glory but not really worth saving anymore, overrun by criminals and rapists and slippery politicians and god knows what. I would like to live there, succeed and perhaps convince those people I know that the South and New Orleans are good places, that they are not bastions of Neanderthal behavior, crushing poverty, and vicious and unstoppable crime. They are not (and really, California shouldn't be commenting too much on the poverty, crime, and stupidity fronts either.)

New Orleans also features a deeply committed party culture, excellent jazz music, and mind-blowingly delicious food, which were other factors in my choice. I am not dense.

We arrived into hot and humid NOLA, checked into the Hilton, and immediately began cruising about for dinner since that is how we roll.

John Besh's new restaurant, Luke, was rather handily located inside the Hilton, so we punted and ate there. Besh's menu focuses on heavy and rustic French food and it was definitely an enjoyable if bacon-laden experience. We began with roasted oysters with wild mushrooms and bacon, which were smoky, rich, and briney. I chose the slightly insane choucroûte maison of housemade sausages and slow cooked Berkshire
pork belly, cochon de lait, and knuckles,
which was a veritable meat explosion and really quite unacountably delicious, in a willfully perverse way. It's the sort of thing that will harden your arteries and induce early death, but pleasant, honest early death. If that makes any sense. The grainy, strong mustard served on the side really made things perfect.

Then we wandered down to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. I haven't been to New Orleans since I was five, and encountering it again as a quasi-grown up with some partying under my belt was rather nice. Bourbon Street is a rather perverse Disney Land of sin, full of drunken frat boys clutching cheap to-go cocktails, but it does retain a sort of joyful energy that is just what the city needs. The puritan impulses that rein in many other American cities aren't on display here: strippers, booze, and over-eating are all on full display for your perusal. Personally, I find it refreshing and rather pleasant, but I admittedly have no taste.

Of course, the Quarter is at its best in the side streets, where actual locals hang out in smokey bars and bitch about the tourists, or where ancient antiques dealers peddle ungodly, odd junk from the 1700's on, or where tropical, mouldering gardens spill out from behind old brick walls - but that should be obvious to anyone. I hope to get to know it better.

I feel good about moving here. It will be different, a huge departure from the politically correct bastions of Northern California and Massachusetts I have frequented in the past few years, and I think it will be very good for me. As my grandfather said, "New Orleans will do more to turn you into a real person then California could," and I do believe he's right.

I'll post about John Besh's August, my new apartment, and other NOLA related items of interest whenever I get around to it, which could be Not Soon.


nancy said...

BEFORE the Louisiana purchase actually...

Faine said...


i should really stop posting about all the south american drug rings i run from the house when you think i'm messing around on the computer

seriously, i'm really sneaky