SUPER SUNDAY OF SLOTH (THE 8TH DEADLY SIN WHEN IT’S YOUR PROFESSION TO PARTY!)
My Mardi Gras ailment had run smack into allergy season which, driving back and forth between Jacksonville and New Orleans, was compounded by completely different pollen potions. On February 9th the health insurance from my old job had terminated. On February 10th I had awoken sick, struggling on and off ever since. My religious notions are based more on irony and coincidence than faith. Some greater consciousness with a sadistic sense of humor seems to be pulling the strings, for such ironic juxtaposition occurs much too frequently in my life to dismiss as random chance.
On Thursday I had finally visited a Walgreens clinic to throw cash at a Nurse Practitioner for an Rx of ‘cheap’ antibiotics. I hadn’t been deathly ill since just after Mardi Gras but couldn’t shake ebbing and flowing congestion as well as bouts of achy exhaustion once or twice a week. I only mention this because March 17th was not only St. Patrick’s Day–the climax of four days of celebration–but also ‘Super Sunday’ for Mardi Gras Indians–the one day when they all converge in daylight to show off their costumes and march together. My antibiotics apparently hadn’t worked their magic yet, however, and I woke up once again feeling spent. Instead of chasing Indians and leprechauns, I spend the morning lazily watching TV and reading for the first time since returning to town (though I did get a blog post completed!)
When you have made it your profession to party, you feel a strange mixture of guilt and foolishness when you can’t rise to the occasion. I missed Super Sunday completely as well as the big parade in Metairie, but the block party would go into the evening and the Downtown Irish Club’s walking parade from the far end of Bywater to the French Quarter didn’t start until 6pm. Fortunately my body only demanded 1/2 day to rest and recoup so I headed out in late afternoon, taking my truck this time rather than walking.
HEAD OF MEDICINE? TRY THE BEARDED LADY!
The party in the Irish Channel was already raging when I arrived and the crowd was more talkative today. (Though perhaps I was just more engaging after my morning of rest.) Although it was only my second day in the neighborhood, I was already running into familiar faces outside of Tracey’s such as the bearded lady who had done a naughty pool table dance at Balcony Bar last night. Turns out she was a Tulane grad student in some form of medical administration. I’d love to see that picture hanging in her office when she’s running Salt Lake City Memorial Hospital. Explain that to the Mormons.
As I chatted and snapped pictures, I slowly made my way toward Parasol’s, finding that today there was no break in the crowd in the block and a half in between.
THE TRINITY OF HARDCORE: SCIENCE, HISTORY, & DRINKING
Arriving outside Parasol’s, I approached a group guys in tuxedos accessorized with emerald-green bow ties and cummerbunds to inquire about their attire. It turns out they were from Virginia–my old stomping ground–and this was an annual tradition. interestingly, they were all former reporters from a local newspaper, although they had all moved on to make actual money. For example Alex, who lived here now, was a lawyer, and Tim, who visited every year for the holiday, was a publicist and promoter for a non-profit. When I meet new people I often discover, especially amongst artists and free-spirits, a genuine envious interest in learning about my project (which is nice since I’m always afraid I’m going to bore people to tears with my rambling) and these former reporters were particularly keen to question me. This is a flattering phenomenon but increases the pressure I put on myself, for I don’t want to run into all these people in a year and have to admit to falling flat on my face and going broke chasing waterfalls!
As I continued to circulate, I was startled by a man shouting right by my ear: “She’s f#@%ing hard core!” while pointing to the woman accompanying him. I, of course, had to stop and shake the hand of anyone worthy of this declaration. Allie, a scientist who analyzes lake and ocean sediment, had apparently just declared that she was going to drink all night and still be at the gym by 5am, ready for work. As I complemented her on her gusto, she told me she had grown up in New Orleans and now lived on the north shore of the Pontchartrain. I usually find that most New Orleans history enthusiasts are transplants–locals tend to just accept all the crazy traditions and rituals as alpha and omega–but Allie was a fountain of information. Her enthusiasm and curiosity was so genuine she had, just for fun, taken a community college course in New Orleans history designed to help local tour guides acquire their license. Running around $200 for 6 to 8 once-weekly classes and free tours every weekend, she encouraged me to sign up, declaring it a bargain and treasure trove of information covering everything from the French Quarter to outlying plantations. I mentally filed this away for when festival season wound down, and she continued eagerly sharing her backlog of knowledge until her party literally dragged her away.
After a few more laps where I spotted the guitarist for Bonerama but never found an opportunity to approach without feeling like a total interrupting dork, I figured I’d mined the block party for all it was worth and decided to head to Irish House. Whereas Parasol’s and Tracey’s are small pubs focusing on bar grub, Irish House is New Orleans‘ most authentic full-menu Irish destination, residing in a large house off St. Charles with an open, polished wood and brass interior.
SAVVY IN SEATTLE
I snagged street parking just outside Irish House and headed in to find it remarkably empty. There were diners and drinkers, sure, but it wasn’t packed to the hilt as I’d expect at 5 o’clock on March 17. I walked out back where there was a stage set up to find all the tables filled. The parking lot, which had been gated off for pedestrians, was littered with evidence of an earlier crowd. Apparently the New Orleanian Irish are an early to bed, early to rise, early to drink, early to depart crowd. I grabbed a Smithwick’s from a vending booth and searched for a spot from which I could order grub. I approached a trio sitting at a long folding table set apart from the regular outdoor seating and, though they intended to stay and order, they offered to share their ample space.
I keep meeting such damn nice people on this journey, as this trio was no exception. In town from Seattle, this wasn’t their first rodeo but they had the good sense to try New Orleans in different seasons. It’s easy to come to Jazzfest, or French Quarter Fest, or Mardi Gras, or St. Patrick’s Day, or Essence Fest, or Voodoo Fest, or Tuesday September 23rd and have a blast, thus returning every year at the same time; yet this city changes from minute to minute. I myself mined Jazzfest for years before branching out and eventually moving here to embrace the smorgasboard. I instantly admired these folks for having foresight to embrace the buffet from the start.
As we chatted, they too were intrigued by my dive off the deep end and I eagerly offered suggestions on food and music in addition to passing on some of my historical knowledge. They in turn shared their stories from Super Sunday. St. Joseph’s Day, falling on March 19, is a holiday celebrated by not only Sicilian Catholics (who are strongly represented in town), but Mardi Gras Indians who always mask St. Joseph’s night; however, they gather on the closest Sunday to March 19, Super Sunday, to show off their magnificent costumes en masse by daylight, posing for pictures and laying out old costumes for admirers to gawk. “Did you go?” Lorraine asked as her husband, Kevin, showed me a stunning slide show on his camera. I nodded yes, embarrassed to admit I’d been hobbled in bed.
BUBBLE & SQUEAK AND FUTURE IRISH ELEVATOR MUSIC IN THE PARKING LOT
The Crescent City Celtic Band soon took the stage and began playing a mix traditional Irish folks tunes and modern Celtic inflected songs such as a number by the Decemberists. They kept teasing the lead singer who also played lead on guitar and mandolin because he was moving to Boston the next day, and he played along saying he had been fired. Since he did most of the vocals as well as lead instrumentation, I quietly wondered where the Crescent City Celtic Band would go from here? Irish elevator music?
Lorraine had immigrated to Seattle from Ireland and she and her friend Monica called out requests–“Irish Rover!” “Whiskey in the Jar!”–while clapping along enthusiastically. Service was slow as business was picking but finally we flagged down a waitress. Lorraine was gracious and the waitress patient as they comically deconstructed the menu looking for a gluten-free option. It struck me as the Irish equivalent of ordering vegetarian in your average Cajun joint: “Why sure this is vegetarian. It’s just chicken and crawfish in a lard and cream sauce.”
I cautiously inquired about the ‘Shaved Corned Beef with Bubble & Squeak,’ fearing lavishly dressed pig entrails. The waitress explained, though, that this was mashed potatoes with boiled cabbage mixed in, apparently named for the sound made when adding cabbage to the bubbling potatoes. Corned beef and cabbage was what I was hoping for, and when it arrived it was the most expertly prepared I’ve had outside of Culhane’s, an other-worldly Irish Pub in Jacksonville whose match I’ve yet to find. I’ve never had corned beef shaved razor thin like this–this was fresh from a roast, not compressed lunch meat–and it was full of flavor. It was actually quite ingenious for someone trying to eat moderately healthy. It conveyed all the flavor with a third of the fatty meat.
It was around 7pm by the time we wound up with nothing but compliments all around. My new friends were taking a taxi to Frenchman Street to catch the tail end of the walking parade, but it was time for me to set off on foot. I wanted to walk down Decatur and observe the Quarter scene, but I assured them I’d run into them again on the short span of Frenchman. As we said our farewells, they insisted on supporting my efforts by picking up the tab. I heartily thanked them, glad to know what I had always heard was true: Seattle supports the arts!!!
I stopped by my truck to get a jacket and then walked through the Central Business District to the French Quarter to catch a parade.