Last weekend was certainly enjoyable. I went to New Orleans for a wedding and left having done my share to deplete the seas of their fauna. I don’t think I eat as much seafood in a year as I did during four days in that city– oysters (raw and scrumptiously seasoned and grilled), crawfish (the hallmark, with a special technique to clean %u218em and eat %u218em fast), crab, drumfish, shrimp, and who knows whatever else was in the gumbo (an African rooted word, as I learned from doing a crossword puzzle!).
While we’re on food, the etouff?e (a gumbo-like dish), beans, veal, grits– prepared VERY yummily), beignet– New Orleans’ answer to the doughnut– is a square piece of deep fried dough served with enough powdered sugar to use for a beach restoration, moufaletta– essentially a hoagie/sub/grinder/po-boy with ground up olives in it, duck po-boy, alligator burger, crawfish sausage, and a litany of other foods were all delectable. Truly, New Orleans is a place for gourmets and gourman’s.
The alcohol consumption was also extreme. Open containers on the streets are no problem, day or night. This environment of glee and gluttony is a great counterbalance to the ridiculous Puritanism that insidiously pervades the American scene. Unfortunately, that disease was also on display. As we got on the streetcar, I noticed a bunch of anti-abortion loonies picketing a clinic. It was interesting since I’d never seen that idiocy in person.
The streetcars are quite old, with various glitches. But they’re airy and charming, with real wood seats! Only one interstate intrudes on New Orleans, I-10, and the locals are complaining of its increasing cloggedness. However, arriving from LA, I saw nothing that resembled serious traffic. The streets are in pretty rough shape in many places, and it didn’t seem to me that was a result of Katrina, but negligence. Most people seem to be very ill-disposed toward the current mayor, Nagin. One old guy on the streetcar even claimed Nagin got elected only because of a tacit, unholy alliance between the black community and the Ku Klux Klan. Allegedly, the latter supported Nagin because he best exemplifies what the Klan finds objectionable, and is therefore a preferred target.
On the racial front, the circle I was in was essential lily-white with a smattering of Armenian, East Asian, and Latino. Sadly, I didn’t get a first hand feel for how those relations stood in a city driven by the consequences of unequal reconstruction after a huge hurricane. The only place I interacted with Africans was in a service-industry capacity. However, the friend with whom I was staying refused to go to the Ninth Ward and like areas where Katrina’s havoc is reportedly unabatedly evident. Why? He claimed the only way he’d go was if properly armed. His roommate concurred.
My friend also introduced me to a member of the local Armenian community, standing at some 200 families strong. It is evidently somewhat organized, exhibiting some Genocide resolution activism and local community building efforts. Otherwise, this was a trip largely bereft of Armenianness, though we did get a significant number of the revelers at the wedding to join and learn a shoorch-bar.
The wedding festivities were truly extensive and located in the Old French Quarter. From a meal with just friends on Thursday night to a brunch on Sunday the fun never ended. The hospitality suite’s balcony (facing Bourbon Street) allowed us to participate in the tradition of throwing bead necklaces to walkers in the street below. It was the French Quarter Festival that weekend so that many of the streets were closed to automotive traffic and very pedestrian friendly. The Friday night rehearsal dinner– complete with the “coins” tossed by paraders during Mardi Gras, Saturday’s wedding ceremony and reception were all held in historic buildings, including a bank and colonial governor’s residence. The ceremony itself was the Armenian rite. It was amusing to watch as the poor priest struggled to juggle his cross, book, and microphone as he conducted the service largely in English, with a bit of a sore throat. Throughout, the music was pleasant and largely local-flavored, sounding like Satchmo was still around. Sunday’s singer in particular had that raspy voice. The wedding ceremony’s band was incredibly energetic, right down to the very end where we danced waving napkins, another tradition I learned. We’d also walked, along the street, from the ceremony to the reception following musicians with some people doing the same waving and lookers-on joining the procession at times.
It was good to see how much of the old has been retained in the city. But, that was just the French Quarter. I didn’t see much else. What I did see suggested that many of the ills plaguing other American cities were all too present in New Orleans too. With some wisdom, smart re-building, and good intentions not succumbing to money grubbing monster corporations’ pressure, New Orleans could become exemplary.
As with all good things, this trip came to an end. But, it had an interesting twist. My ride from the airport had also been to a wedding that weekend. An Armenian one, Protestant inspired, where one of the families had to struggle mightily just to have music at the reception. Alcohol was completely absent. What a contrast with my weekend! I didn’t realize that ludicrous degree of primitive Protestantism still existed among us. C’mon folks, loosen up and re-humanize. No one, certainly not I, advocates debauchery. But forbidding booze and dance at a festive gathering speaks to the insecurity of the morals-police. Let you Protestant friends know how you feel about this.