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Turning the Page

January 2, 2017

I love New Years.  Not the pressure to be at the best party, though the champagne is certainly a draw, but the renewal of it.  I really believe, every year, that by turning the page on the calendar, I’m starting fresh and can continue the good, but am somehow cleansed of the bad of the past year and that possibilities abound.

I set out early on New Year’s eve toward the New Orleans classic Cafe Du Monde.  The French Quarter was empty at in the minutes before 9am and walking past the boarded houses painted in pastels and the brick manors with wrought iron balconies it was easy to imaging it being 1916 or 1816 (but with better sanitation).  The spell was broken as I turned on to Bourbon Street and a half naked 20-something, his beer belly covered in orange paint and beads covering his bare chest came stumbling towards me.  By the time I got to Jackson Sq, the city was waking, musicians were setting up on corners with beat up brass instruments and tourists were easing out of hotel rooms.

The line at Cafe Du Monde wound down the street, but moved quickly.  I got a seat just as my friend Allison arrived.  Pregnant with twins, Allison was simultaneously glowing and exhausted.  We drank cafe au laits (decaf for her) and ate beignets and caught up on several months of not seeing each other.  Allison felt guilty for her amazing  2016 (a new fiance, home, and twins to come), but not really.  We compared notes on previous big easy trips and shares our excitement about changes to come.  Then we walked.  And walked. Through the French Quarter and out the other side.  In the French Market we paused to watch music and for me to have some oysters.

A couple hours later we stopped a Cochon, a restaurant that had just opened on my last visit to New Orleans and one that my food world friends had recommended then.  We ate enough pork to feed Allison, her twins, me, and a small army.  I brought some ribs in a to go bag, kissed Allison goodbye, and headed back towards Siobhan’s, through the Quarter, already buzzing for the party that night.  A quick change of cloths and a dinner of leftovers, I met another friend in a nearby bar for sanctuary from the rain as we waited for midnight.   Celebrants paraded up and down the streets, oblivious to the deluge.  At midnight we could see a corner of the fireworks above the houses, had a midnight kiss and headed home.

I woke early on New Year’s day for my 10 am cemetery tour.  You can only go to cemeteries in New Orleans now if you are on a tour or related to one of the interred.  Centuries of vandals have put the monuments at risk.  Among those vandals were Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, who cut the hand and head off statues of the virgin whilst filming Easy Rider.  Meeting my group at the Reverand Zombie’s Voodoo Shop, our ragtag group was going by our guide Daphne.  Daphne, in a long black skirt and Haunted Tours t-shirt was quick to inform us that she was not a tour guide, she was a storyteller.  My enthusiasm for the trip diminished significantly, but as we walked towards the cemetery and she acted out bis of the history of the city, my affection for her grew.  In the cemetery, we learned about the internment process in the early day of the city (it was gross) and the system of packing bodies in monuments.  We visited the grave of voodoo queen Marie Laveau, which was marked with xs.  In the 1920s a tradition arose of marking the grave and making a wish.  It is now illegal to do so, but I touched someone’s x and secretly made my own wish for the year.  There are only about 7 plots left for purchase in Saint Louis Number One, but one recent purchaser was Nicholas Cage, who’s pyramid mausoleum is a sore, but humorous thumb in the middle of the decaying tombs.

Leaving the cemetery and the group, I went to the nearby church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, to light a candle commemorating the 10th anniversary of my dad’s death, January 1, 2007. I’d forgotten that it was Sunday and Mass was underway.  I sat in on the remainder of the mass, which was unlike any catholic mass of my childhood, with raucous jazz and a swinging choir.  During the passing of the peace, I teared up as worshipers hugged me and chatted rather than quickly shaking hands and turning away.  The sanctuary was filled with joyous singing and it energized me.

My next stop was the New Orleans School of Cooking, where I learned how to make crab and corn soup, chicken etouffee and pralines (which are too sweet for me).  Pat, our charismatic instructor led off with her own history of New Orleans which was sometimes in conflict with Daphne’s but was no less entertaining.

Siobhan arrived home with whiskey and feather fascinators and we compared holidays and went out to Seaworthy, said to be the best restaurant of the moment in NOLA.  The food was amazing, the service less so, but the drinks flamed and the oysters went down easy.

This morning we spent hours talking about the past and the future and planned a project.  We’re motivating for lunch and an afternoon indulging the city.

I like 2017!

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