Two weeks in New Orleans. Our time here is about to end. We will leave for Texas on Sunday, and I am really not sure what sort of mental state I will find myself when I go in to “work” on Monday. Honestly, I will feel like I have “moved” away again from New Orleans. Killeen is the place where I work. Then again, I am sure I will be asking Kat, Cheryl and Alicia over for dinner. I need to cook some gumbo and some red beans and rice and I’ll have way too much food just for me. Cooking brings me back home to New Orleans all the time. That, and listening to WWOZ on the internet.
Friday morning began with breakfast with my father, Mr. Bob French. We meet at Li’l Dizzy’s, the great restaurant in the Treme. It was also featured quite a bit in the series “Treme.” Bob commands a large presence, and everyone greets him like a king at Dizzy’s. Everyone also asks when he will be back on the air—they miss his honest “on-the-air” commentary that they say is lacking on radio these days. Bob chuckles and says he’s done with radio. Still, people come by the table and practically beg Bob to come back on the air.
I am not going to go into any detail as to why Bob is not on the air, though I know why. After talking with Bob often after the April incident, I am convinced he is relishing his time off the air. I believe him when he says he doesn’t want to go back. I’ve talked with others who are close to Bob while here the past two weeks and opinions are mixed. Some say that he “needs” to be back on the air for his career’s sake. Others say that Bob is agonizing over the fact that he is not on the air. Still others concur with me that they believe he is happier off the radio. He tells me that he enjoys his free mornings, and he’s actually getting more things done now.
Cece begins the interview with Bob and he tells of his evacuation out of the city to Washington, D.C. He had a room at a hotel for the storm because he had a gig the night before downtown. He decided against staying, though, when he realized the severity of the storm. He remembers Betsy very well—he and his whole family got caught behind with Betsy and nearly lost all their lives in that storm. Modest as ever, Bob believes the “best bite” in New Orleans is at his house—he makes the best gumbo in the whole city. I’ve had it before—it’s pretty damn good. He doesn’t believe things have changed all that much in the last five years, and I concur with this observation. Physically, I believe the city is seeing some progress in rebuilding, though I have observed often over the past two weeks blocks of communities still devastated after the storm. There is no beauty in whole neighborhoods dressed in “decay and neglect.”
When Cece asks the question about Ray Nagin, Bob let’s out a big and loud laugh and says he can’t say what comes to mind first because Cece is only 16. When pressed, he says “stupid.” He also says that he hates Ray Nagin. Bob is one who doesn’t mince his words. When asked to complete the sentence “New Orleans will….”—Bob replies “New Orleans will survive.” It always has—it’s been around for a long time, survived many other calamities, and will be around long after we are all dead and gone.
As we end the interview, we see our friends Bill and Pat taking their morning run through the block. They are friends with Bob as well. Bill and Pat live in Galveston, but have a house in New Orleans that they come back to every other weekend. Bill and Pat’s nephew went to school with Cece in Houston. This world is truly small. They’re here to attend a friend’s wedding. They invite all of us to Chickie-Wah-Wah later tonight where the wonderful Paul Sanchez holds court every Friday. We all say we might attend, though I am not likely to be locked into any plan for our last two days here in New Orleans.
We say our goodbyes to Bill, Pat and Bob and head to Cece’s work. With her interviews complete, she will download all the information to Blake’s computer. I head out to Magazine Street—I need to get to Aiden Gill to pick up some cologne and a fleur-de-lis bow tie. It’s a tradition with me—I buy one bow tie at the beginning of every school year. My “costume” as a professor is completed with the bow tie. I’ve been looking for some new cologne as well, and I know that Aiden Gill carries great lines for men. Once I make my purchase, I grab an late morning margarita from Juan’s Flying Burrito (it is, after all, 5 O’Clock somewhere) and wander aimlessly down Magazine to Jackson Street. Before too long, I find myself all the way to Pop-City Uptown. I chat a bit with Dave and Rhonda, who are having their morning coffee at Roux de la Course, and I thank Rhonda specifically for her hospitality and for providing me the chance to spend two weeks with my daughter. This has been a great time for Cece and I to fully reconnect.
Cece finally calls, and I get in the car to go pick her up. I get a chance to chat with Blake about events for the weekend, and he mentions the Friday Night Fights on Freret Street. I’m not one for “fights”, but the topic of organized fighting events on Freret Street intrigues me. Blake tells me that it would be a great photographic event. I agree, though I am not sure I will make it out there. Throughout the rest of the day, I will roll around in my mind the possibility of going out there for the fights. In the end, Cece and I choose to stay in the Quarter.
Cece and I head out to Hansen’s for quite possibly our last Hot Rod for the visit, though there’s always a chance we’ll get another one on Saturday. It’s damn hot these days, and nothing better to survive the heat than a Hansen’s SnowBliz. We get there as they open at 1pm. There is already a line out the door when we get there. As we place our order, the woman behind the counter relays to Cece the message that Ashley was really impressed with Cece’s interview. Ashley’s been interviewed by many people since the storm, but Cece impressed Ashley with the way she delivered her questions and with the fact that she presented so much maturity for a 16-year-old. Cece is very thankful. I am extremely proud. I am sure that Ashley will remember Cece every time she comes back to visit Hansen’s.
Outside of Hansen’s, we say hello to a group of tourists who I’ve noticed not only here at Hansen’s but earlier in the morning at Li’l Dizzy’s. I tell them that I’m impressed that they’ve strayed from the “usual” tourist places and find themselves in neighborhood gems. They explain to me that they are from Chicago, but have a condo here in New Orleans. They have brought their sister and nephews from Colorado to New Orleans for a visit. Yeah you right—showing them the “real” New Orleans. Somehow the discussion comes around to the Storm, how I’m in Texas, and when will I come back.
I have heard that question over and over on this trip….
We say goodbye to the tourists and make our way back to the house for a short rest. We may need the rest to handle the rest of the night.
Friday Night Fights doesn’t materialize for us, though I continue to be intrigued by the idea. Cece and I find ourselves once again in the Quarter, walking down Royal Street with no particular place to go. Shops are still open, though they are getting ready to close. We walk all the way to Iberville, and then make our way back down Chartres. I pick up a Sazerac at the Chart Room, and Cece picks up an antique book from the bookstore. Another slow walk through the Plaza de Armes, and we see Bike Guy getting ready to head out with a whole pack of bikers for Friday’s “Critical Mass” ride. The organizer tells us that they are going to ride out to the East so that others can see the closeness of the oil damage in the region. I am not sure if I will see Bike Guy again, but I have promised him once again he can rest at our house in Killeen if he makes it up that far during his Austin leg of his travels.
The only other place outside of Hansen’s where we eat for a second time is Fiorella’s. After all of their changes and turmoil since the Storm, they really have their cooking act together. Cece has the angel hair pasta, and I have (once again) the three-piece dark. Once again, I am fully satisfied. It’s all good.
We head out to hear the street music on Frenchman Street, and once again I find myself on the corner of Frenchman and Royal listening to the brass band playing great second-line music. There is a convention of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority taking place in town, and it seems quite a few have found themselves to Frenchman. The brass band commands their interest and respect, as they should. There are deep roots in brass band music, and many Delta’s realize this. I’m happy to see this interaction taking place on the street.
Though Kermit Ruffins is going on stage at the Blue Nile at 11, Cece and I are both tired from a long day. We head back to the house and relax. We don’t actually fall asleep for a while, but I am once again content knowing that the city is alive all around us, and I close my eyes knowing that I am more alive with this reality.
This is probably my last long blog chronicling this visit until late Sunday night when I return to Texas. I now that Saturday brings us an early morning visit to the Quarter to take pictures, and then lunch with Miss Lee, Devin’s former nanny and our former next-door neighbor in the Broadmoor. I am not sure what the rest of the day holds for us, but one never plans for things in New Orleans. One let’s New Orleans happen.
I am honestly getting emotional right now about the thought of leaving Sunday. I had better let this go for now.
Eh La Bas!!!