Talking to Your Neighbors

A lot of New Orleanians know their neighbors. It’s a stereotype that people are friendlier in the South, but it feels true to me.  Here, it’s rude not to smile and say hello when you walk past people.

I also believe that the city’s architectural style and weather attribute to more people sitting on their porch. Before most houses had air conditioning, many people sat outside to catch the breeze. Additionally, the porches of our pervasive shot-gun houses are aligned in such a way that when you walk out to the front door and look to the left or right, you are staring directly at your neighbor. It’s more awkward not to acknowledge someone.

Inner Conflict Over Neighbor Chats
I live next door to a set of brothers. I’ve spoken at length with two of them. One Saturday, I brought my computer out front to do some work and the youngest brother talked to me for an hour. He was really nice and entertaining, but part of me kept thinking “Dude, I got work to do.” Similarly, a few weeks ago I brought a chair onto my porch. I had an Abita Strawberry in one hand and my cell phone in the other. I was going to call my dad and catch up, but the oldest  brother was outside. And he wanted to talk. Casual conversation ended twisted into an hour-long saga about this man’s nasty divorce, his crazy ex-wife and his concerns about raising his children. Was it interesting? Hell yeah! Did I talk to my dad? Nope.

The view onto other porches, from my porch. Lagniappe: Banks the Cat, who lives two porches down.

Overall, I’m grateful to know my neighbors and it feels genuine to say hi and ask about the day as I enter my house. I love that about the culture here: the warmth and slower pace– the sense that you ain’t got no where to be, let’s just chat. But what if I have to go somewhere?! Or I’m doing something? I have an anxious tendency to overfill my life, so I’m nearly always on my way to do something. Is this me having a “northerner” attitude?  Perhaps this aspect of New Orleans living will help me to embrace new relationships and teach me to the joy of the laissez-faire lifestyle.

Stray thoughts:

  • I do have a little green space in my backyard. I guess I can go back there if I want to be outside, on my own.
  • I’m a little bit shy (which is hard to believe for those who know me.) Although one set of neighbors take care of the talking for me, I keel over in awkward when encountering my other neighbor– and he’s actually my landlord!
  • My chatty neighbors are also really chatty with their neighbor. I can nearly hear everything they say when I’m in my front room. I can’t ask them to be quiet… right?

What about you? Do you know your neighbors? Do you want to know your neighbors?

A Visit to Mardi Gras World

My best friend was in town this past week and because torrential rains thwarted her plan to get a sunburn that would eventually settle into a tan, I suggested we visit Mardi Gras World. Previous I considered MGW a tacky trap, but watching the parades this year left me eager for a behind the scenes look. My friend has never been to Mardi Gras and has always painted and sculpted, so I hoped that the museum would give her a taste of the revelry and artistry of Carnival.

A view of the Crescent City Connection from the east bank warehouse

The tour begins with a 15-minute video that was a decent Mardi Gras crash course and it dispelled the myths that Mardi Gras is a one-day parade and that it’s a boob fest. After the video came my favorite tour touches: our guide treated us to a piece of Gambino’s king cake and invited us to sample CC’s coffee. (Bigger pieces next time, please! Some of us are piggies.)

Theme Submission
MGW builds floats for 40 out of the 52 krewes that parade during Mari Gras.  According to our tour guide, the float structures start around $50,000 and having a float built starts at $10,000. Krewes generally submit their themes for the following the day after Mardi Gras, which surprised me. I knew it had to be ahead of time, and I guess it’s just about sending an email, but I can’t imagine already thinking about next year’s parade when you’re sobering up on Ash Wednesday.

Following theme submissions, MGW artists work with the krewes to create a sketch of the floats in their parade. As we walked past the work stations we could see the pictures of the floats, but the names of the krewe and themes were redacted. The Tchoupitoulas-adjacent site largely houses Bacchus and Orpheus floats, so all the Nancy Drews and Encyclopedia Browns out there already have some clues for their sleuthing.

Prop Materials

Orpheus flowers made of cardboard and wire

Our tour guide referred to all the objects on the floats as “props.” MGW makes said props from fiberglass or styrofoam and paper mache. The styrofoam props are cheaper and easier to repurpose. Our tour guide showed us a Marilyn Monroe that once was a baseball player. “Look at how her hands hold up her skirt. That used to be a baseball player gripping a bat,” he explained. My best friend commented on the size of Marilyn’s arms. There’s a Mardi Gras World location on the West Bank that handles the construction of the fiberglass accessories. There were some fiberglass props around the facility and our tour guide hinted that you could tell a prop was made from fiberglass because it was affixed to a metal stand. (Or you could tap it and feel it was really hard.)

To form the shape of the props, MGW artists cut slices of styrofoam and assemble them like a sandwich. These assemblages are then paper mached, painted white and then painted to resemble anything from a bee to Tina Turner.
Bathrooms
Something I didn’t realize is that the floats are equipped with bathrooms– port a potties tucked away inside the float. “Of course!” I thought. Riders need to go to the bathroom! However, when I relayed this to my boyfriend he said mentioned that he had Krewe members get off the float and use the bathroom. The tour guide also showed us a seat belt contraption that riders can hook into so they don’t fall off the float. I’m not sure how effective it is– can anyone comment?

Squint and you'll see the port a potty.

A Mardi Gras leash

The Chick Fil A Cows
Mardi Gras World gets about 20 percent of their business from creating props for other parades and businesses– LIKE CHICK FIL A. THEY MAKE THE COWS FOR CHICK FIL A.

I LOVE CHICK FIL A.

Verdict: Add it to your itinerary for visitors

It was a really delightful and interesting trip– one of those really touristy places you wouldn’t visit unless you had a friend in town. The price is a bit above my pay grade– $19 for an adults– so maybe next time I’ll ask for a bigger piece of king cake.

Living in a Tourist City

A scene from the basketball obstacle course. I went through it once. I was horrible.

Last week, I volunteered with the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation during the SEC basketball tournament. The volunteers were stationed in an open area outside the Superdome,called Champions Square. There, amidst games and activities hosted by several different organizations and sponsors, the GNOSF volunteers helped facilitate what were deemed “interactives,” — a marketing word for basketball activities: free throw contests, dunking contest, etc. I co-ran a little obstacle course, in which participants tipped the ball out of some sort of basketball-holding-contraption, dribbled a basketball around some poles, threw the ball off a taught net and then took a lay up. The woman co-running the obstacle course with me was a chatty, bright spot on a cloudy day. I was also eager to be very accommodating to the families, making conversation with moms and dads as their kids were occupied. “Where are you staying? Need any recommendations?”

Kentucky fans spill out of the Dome, after beating LSU.

Most of the people we encountered were Kentucky fans. In fact, all last week blue shirts clogged up downtown.  I heard a few people complain about their presence, mostly about traffic they caused, but I  surprised myself with how much I wanted to play a good host. (A rival SEC fan base!) I kept thinking, “OHH I hope they have a good time, spend money and come back.”

My volunteering experience got me thinking about what’s it’s like to live in a city that attracts tourists regularly. Tourists in D.C. annoyed me constantly. I encountered them on the metro where they disrupted Washingtonian metro protocol: stand on the right of the escalator; walk on the left. MOVE TO THE CENTER OF THE METRO CAR. Peace be with you if you are stuck behind someone attempting to feed their paper metro cards into the machine.

My beloved Gators, pulling out a close one over Alabama. (Not pictured: losing to Kentucky the next day.)

Still, these tourists brought money and attention to the capital city. Why did they annoy me more than tourists to the Crescent City? Is it because tourism is the number 1 source of income to the New Orleans economy and GNOSF’s mission is “to attract and manage sporting events that have a positive economic impact on the Greater New Orleans area.” They make it clear that attracting sporting events to the city creates a windfall of financial beneficiaries. The complaints I’ve heard (thus far) about tourists in New Orleans is that they cause traffic and that they make drunken spectacles. (However, it’s hard to argue that New Orleanians themselves don’t do the latter.) Am I a victim of southern hospitality, or am I just grateful for the cash these people bring in?

What about you? Do you live in a city that receives thousands of tourists? Do you welcome them?

Tshirts: K&B Drugstores in New Orleans Culture

Since Katrina, a cottage industry of New Orleans-inspired goods and tshirts has sprouted. These are not the “I Got Bourbon-Faced on Shit Street” shirts that you see in the French Quarter. Rather, these are a collection of inside jokes and local references that make New Orleanians smile. Explaining these jokes to out of towners is a reminder of how much in speak  and shared knowledge there is in this city.

Since this blog tries to explain what it’s like to live in New Orleans and acclimate those new to the city, I’m kicking off an occasional series of posts that explains the stories behind the shirts. I’ve already written about the The Trinity shirt at Dirty Coast. Today, we’re going to talk about K&B Drugstores.

“More than just a just a drugstore”
K&B was a drugstore chain that opened its first store in the late 1890s. The drugstores inspired fierce customer loyalty, as detailed in this article on NOLA.com. By the 1990s the Katz & Besthoff company had 50 stores in NOLA, and nearly 200 stores in six states. K&B was known for its house brands, including ice cream, beer and vodka!

K&B vodka

K&B ice cream

The company was sold to Rite Aid in 1997. K&B was headquartered in Lee Circle, and you can see KB written on the side of the building to this day.

K&B Plaza Near Lee Circle

K&B on 732 Canal Street.

K&B on Carrollton and Oak. It is now a Rite Aid.

K&B Purple

Storyville's K&B shirt, in K&B Purple

Anytime I’ve spoken with New Orleanians about K&B they always mention “K&B purple,”  which was the signature color of the company. This great post about K&B from GoNola.com details the back story. “A local paper products company had a cancelled order from a different store, leaving them stuck with several rolls of purple wrapping paper. K and B bought that paper at a discount, and the color caught on! Soon it became the main color of the drugstore’s “double-check” logo.”

Now you can buy K&B shirts from both Fleurty Girl and Storyville, in K&B Purple.

The K&B Jingle:

Look at almost every corner
And what do you see
A big purple sign that says
Friendly K&B
Variety, value and reliability
That’s what you get at your friendly K&B
K&B Drugstores

Fleurty Girl's K&B tshirt

K&B in Art

Nights of Drunk Driving in the Days of K&B, by Jimmy Descant

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art (where I’m a docent) has an exhibition of the work of Jimmy Descant, a self-taught assemblage artist who glues, staples and nails all sorts of found objects to wood to create his artistic statements. I urge everyone to go view the exhibition before it closes on April 8. One of pieces I really responded to is called “Nights of Drunk Driving in the Days of K&B.” The piece resembles a cross-section of an automobile, with cans of K&B beer strewn about the sides, as if they came flying out in a crash (there are even K&B pencils inside the car.) Unlike most of the K&B nostalgia I’ve seen that idealizes a simpler time, this ode to the past is filled with regret for reckless behavior.

Sweet Oranges, Bro

The Mid-City Farmers market, in front of The American Can building on Orleans Ave.

I’ve been visiting the Mid-City Farmer’s Market most Thursdays for a few months. In the past, I’ve not been good about knowing when fruit is in season.* In DC I was an on/off member of Arganica, a home-delivery, local-source food club that I’d recommend to any Washingtonians. I was slowly learning the time of year that produce was available  when I moved down here.

Example: I had to ask my boyfriend why I never see apples at the farmers markets in New Orleans. After all, there were a number of varieties at all the markets in D.C. “Apples grow well in colder climates,” he explained.

I felt really dumb after he told me this. (My boyfriend is from California and as a teenager his mom had a job packaging plums, so I believe he is a produce expert.)

So my seasons ignorance set me up for a nasty surprise today. I’ve been buying a particular orange from the orange guy at the Mid-City market. They’re called Sweet Oranges cos they are very, very sweet. (Or at least he calls them that.) They are the most awesome oranges I’ve ever had– and I’m from Florida, famous for its oranges! (Although don’t ask me when they are in season.)

The orange man. (Not to be confused with someone who went to the Syracuse-- zing!)

These sweet oranges have been a lifesaver. I’ve gained a lot of weight living in NOLA (more on that in an upcoming post) and I have found it at least somewhat easy to opt out of dessert at home with these oranges around. Well, the orange man told me today that this is the last week he’ll have them.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooOOOoooOoooooOOOOOOOOooooo

He corrected himself and said that his wife will have the last round of oranges this Saturday, at the farmer’s market at in the Warehouse District. Well, I don’t get up early enough for that, but perhaps one of you dear readers will take advantage of this opportunity.

This is the day some sweet oranges broke my heart.

(And that was going to be the title of this blog post until my boyfriend suggested the title above.)

(Two boyfriend references! I judge myself.)

To remember for all eternity:

SWEET ORANGES ARE AVAILABLE DECEMBER-BEGINNING OF MARCH IN NEW ORLEANS

Until next year, my sweet sweet orange.

*(if this was a more different blog I’d write about how our America is so removed from its agrarian roots that people don’t know when fruits/vegetables are fresh. Or I could write about any number of environmental movements. I would probably sound more self-righteous than I do normally, so I’m glad that’s not my baileywick.)

UPDATE 3/8/2012, about 20 minutes after original post
A commenter who may-or-may-not be someone I date posted that my apple information was incorrect. According to Apple Facts from the University of Illinois, apples are grown in all 50 states.

Home-Cooked Red Beans and Rice (with caveats)

Caveats:

– I didn’t cook the red beans and rice, my boyfriend did.
– It was vegetarian
– My boyfriend did not make it on a Monday night.

He used a recipe from the cookbook Cooking up a Storm. From the Amazon book description:

“After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, thousands of people lost their keepsakes and family treasures forever. As residents started to rebuild their lives, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans became a post-hurricane swapping place for old recipes that were washed away in the storm. The newspaper has compiled 250 of these delicious, authentic recipes along with the stories about how they came to be and who created them. Cooking Up a Storm includes the very best of classic and contemporary New Orleans cuisine, from seafood and meat to desserts and cocktails. But it also tells the story, recipe by recipe, of one of the great food cities in the world, and the determination of its citizens to preserve and safeguard their culinary legacy.”

Some Red Beans and Rice History

Red beans and rice is an inexpensive meal and red beans grow very well in the Louisiana swamps. Back in “the day” (unspecified time before now) Monday was the traditional washing and cleaning day, so women would leave the pot of red beans boiling while they tended to their chores. Louis Armstrong loved red beans and rice and used to sign his name “Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong.” (I’ve seen some people do this down here with their email signatures.)

Bars that Serve Red Beans and Rice (and not always on Mondays!)
– Pals (Monday)
– Micks (Monday)
– Candlelight Lounge (Wednesday)

– Vaughns (Thursday)

The Trinity
Red beans and rice calls for what is known as “the holy trinity”: onions, bell peppers and celery. These three ingredients are a staple of so many Louisianan recipes and the name pokes fun of the Catholic influence of the region.

Dirty Coast, one of the many tshirt shops that has popped up since Katrina, sells a design (available as a tshirt, a poster or bag) celebrating the trinity in Louisiana culture.
What do you put on your Red Beans and Rice?
I just found out today that my friend adds relish to hers. “Is that weird?” she asked. I didn’t know. What does everyone add to theirs?

My friend is in the Krewe of Nyx and made this red beans and rice decorated purse.

Update, 3/8/2012
The same friend who adds relish to her red beans and rice pointed me to Fleurty Girl‘s facebook page. Fleurty Girl will soon sell a locally made red beans and rice ring!

And who is Fleurty Girl? She is one of the many purveyors of NOLA-inspired tshirts and goods that has opened since Katrina. Soon I’m going to begin a series where I’ll break down some of the inside jokes featured on these shirts (just as I did with the Dirty Coast Trinity shirt above.)

Additionally, my dear friend asked an important question in the comments section of this post: “How did the food taste?” It was SO good! I think it got better after a night in the refrigerator. (It should be noted that this friend is an amazing chef. It should also be noted that I’m a bad New Orleanian for not thinking to comment on the food earlier!)

Lagniappe: A Monster in Mid-City

(or Bayou St. John, if you prefer. I prefer alliteration.)

Look who I saw on the bridge that leads to City Park!
As we learned in the post A Monster in the Warehouse District, this Monster is the work of Parse Gallery‘s Ricardo Barba. If you wade through the slideshow here, you can you can see IKIL in better days. It seems that the Monster is digesting a lot of trash. I blame Mardi Gras, but who knows, really?

The Monster from behind, at the corner of Carrollton and Esplanade.

The Monster is locked up good and tight!

Previously in Lagniappe:

Don’t Lick the Busstop
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Swim at Your Own Risk
Eaten Alive
Beeracuda
Mardi Gras Float Storage

Is there a Jazzfest “Season?”

On my bike the other morning I noticed a house with a Jazzfast flag flying. Behind Rouses, a Miller Lite truck proclaimed itself “The Official Drink of Jazzfest.” (Granted, that sign could’ve been on the truck all year) With Carnival Season parading off into storage units does that mean we’re in Jazzfest season? And is there such a thing? Carnival Season involves costumes, king cakes, parties and parades. In the months leading up to Jazzfest are there related celebrations? (I should note that some years Mardi Gras Day is later in the calendar, so the time between Mardi Gras and Jazzfest is truncated.)

The Seasons of New Orleans
I’ve written about how I miss the changing weather of D.C. Growing up, I found the eternal spring-summer cycle in my hometown of Miami dulling. However, New Orleans makes a slightly more differentiated spring-summer cycle by creating seasons of its own, marked by festivals and extended holiday celebrations. My blog-post hypothesis is that these festivals and celebrations create a rhythm to the year and mark time in a way that the city’s slightly colder winter and brutal summers do not.

Fall through start of Winter: Football and Christmas
September in New Orleans reminds me of living in a college town in that the whole city is galvanized by a sporting event. People here are nuts about LSU and the SEC. As a Gator I am always ruffled by LSU-ness of the celebration around here, but am grateful to be around a community that enjoys college football (and the SEC!). It’s a welcome reprise from living in D.C., which is more of a pro-sports town.

I’ve written about the Saints excitement many, many, many, many, many, many times. But this year marked the first time I watched a LOT of the NFL. It feels like you have to here, or you’re left out of cultural conversation and references. I used to only spend Saturdays at the bar to catch my college team. Now it’s all bar, all weekend… and I guess that’s New Orleans in a microcosm.

New Orleans also does a great job creating a festive Christmas atmosphere. The French Quarter Festival and The New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation organize Christmas New Orleans Style, an annual citywide celebration of New Orleans holiday activities. The festival started 27 years ago, as way to attract visitors to the city at a time when tourism traditionally dips. Throughout the month there are events around the city that remind you of the season. And even though we have had a mild winter, walking through the French Quarter in December felt like Christmas.

January-February/March
Carnival Season

March-May
March is marked by St. Patrick’s Day, April by the French Quarter Festival and then Jazzfest in April/May. That’s more than enough, but I point you back to my hypothesis: Is there something that unites the season?

Summer
Now that I’ve nearly lived here a year, I recognize summer as the city’s downtime. The summer, like the spring,  is punctuated by festivals and regular events, some of which I’ve blogged about here: 610 Stompers, Satchmo Fest and White Linen Night, but there doesn’t seem to be one element that captures the city’s excitement.

Update: Seasonal Beers 3/1/12
Upon relaying this post’s topic to my boyfriend, he reminded me of seasonal beers. We are lucky to have a number of great local breweries, including LA 31, Covington Brewhouse, Tin Roof and Lazy Magnolia. However, Abita is the line I’m really familiar with, and the release of their seasonal brews always mark the season for me.

January-March: Mardi Gras Bock
Spring: Strawberry Harvest
March-May: Red Ale
May-September: Wheat
Summer: Satsuma Harvest Wit
Fall: Pecan Harvest
September-November: Fall Fest
November-December: Christmas Ale

When my boyfriend and I moved into our Uptown sublet in June, our summer landlord was kind enough to leave us some Strawberry ale in the fridge. When we moved out we bought a pack of Satsuma ale for her– a remnant of the New Orleans summer she had missed.

NOLA Brewery also releases seasonal beer, but I’m not as certain about the seasons they’re out because they’re a relatively new brewery. As far as I can tell:

Fall: Smoky Mary
Winter: Irish Channel Stout
January-March: Flambeau Red Ale (for Mardi Gras)
Spring: Hurricane Saison

Recycling in NOLA Update: Abita Cans Arrive this Weekend

Updates
I’ve got more information about topics I’ve written about here on the blog

Back in July I wrote about the state of recycling in NOLA. In the post, I mentioned that Abita, the most well-known local beer, only come in glass bottles, which you cannot recycle in New Orleans. That’s all in the past, now! This Saturday, Abita is hosting a bar crawl in celebration of the release of cans of Amber, Purple Haze and Jockamo IPA– just in time for Mardi Gras!

NOLA Brewery, which I toured last XX, released cans of its awesome NOLA Blond last October. On February 15, their Brown Ale will debut in can form.

Baton Rouge’s Tin Roof beer is also available in cans.

NOLA Blonde in cans, purchased for research purposes only.

The plastic rings are also recyclable!

The Krewe of Muses M Flags


You may have seen this flag, which represents the Krewe of Muses. My New Orleanian was a little rusty when Carnival season began and for a moment I wondered if the M stood for Mardi Gras.

There are so many M flags flying–I’ve seen about six on neighboring streets–but wiki says Muses has 2,000 members. Are all of these flag fliers members of the Krewe? Or are they simply fans of the parade? I don’t think I’d feel comfortable flying a Muses flag unless I was involved– but that’s just me. What is the customary around here?

UPDATE, 2/2/12: The M flag represents the home of a Muse. However, as you’ll see in the comments of this post, not all Krewe members actually participate in the parade.

Mardi Gras Terms

What is a Krewe?
A Krewe is an organization that puts on a Mardi Gras parade, walks in a parade and/or organizes a ball. Some of the groups do all three and some just hold a ball.

How do you join a Krewe?
Some are invite only. Some krewes allow you to join if you just pay the dues. The dues cover parade costs, float-building costs, and the costs of throws. Apparently, Muses is not accepting new members.

What is Muses?
Muses is an all-female Krewe that started in 2001. Their parade is always the Thursday before Mardi Gras Day. Muses is known for their signature throw– an elaborately hand-decorated high heeled shoes, often covered in glitter.

Here is a blog post where a Muses rider answers  more questions about the krewe.

What is a throw?
A “throw” is a slang for the trinkets thrown to the crowds during during Mardi  Gras parade. I believe the only krewe that does not actually throw their hand outs is Zulu, because they hand out coconuts and some dumb dumb got hit in the head with a coconut and sued.

From Go NOLA.com: The Top 5 Mardi Gras Throws