...For Tomorrow We Die
Among people "in the know" (mostly conspiratorial Jewish cabals), it is widely accepted that life is a meaningless and needlessly lengthy death march of chaos, misery, and unrequited love. However, local Acadian lore has it that there are certain simple pleasures that allow one to endure and even (for the spiritually advanced) find a modicum of contentment until destiny does its part. These are said to include dining (notably on fried chicken, duck, and bread pudding), divorcing oneself from sobriety (Chartreuse anyone?), and not having to watch your hometown being wiped off the face of the map by weather stupidly mimicking the book of Genesis.
Alas, into each life some rain must fall. It is therefore particularly joyful for the unbowed citizens of this retrenched metropolis to watch their old bars and restaurants spring back up like beautiful, blooming perrenials. Our neighborhood alone has seen the rebirth of Parasol's, Cafe Reconcile, The Circle Bar, The Saint, Le Petite Grocery, The Half Moon, The Ugly Dog Saloon and plenty others.
Over the past couple of days I've had the deep pleasure of eating with my friend, Bebe- a uniquely beautiful woman, endlessly engaging conversationalist, sympathetic ear, reasonable negotiator (important for splitting appetizers and desserts), and all around delightful dining partner.
Jordan, Bebe, and I went to dinner Friday night at Casamento's, the classic oyster house on Magazine St. and Napolean. The floor and walls are all tiled, the service is pleasantly taciturn (at least they were avant le deluge; we had this chatty little thing wait on us this night), and the food is consistently delectable. Of course, the big question was: "If we eat the raw oysters now, what is going to happen to our bodies?"
We ordered a couple dozen, made our cocktail sauce, and waited with some trepidation. The oysters were really not up par- most were reasonably tasty, but a handful were rather sickly looking. The good news is that we didn't vomit the whole night. Jordan got the crab claws which were great. Bebe and I each got half an oyster loaf which was very good, but I think a little smaller than they used to be. The coffee was very refreshing, especially after drinking the swill they serve in New York City for two months.
The next day Bebe took me for a wonderful lunch at Lilette, where I never had been. Our mutual friend, Kate, was our waitress. Before the storm, Kate worked as a nursing home administrator tending to old jewish women who accused her of stealing their dresses. Despite pulling down some nice money at Lilette, she hopes to return to her alta kockers soon- to each his own. In any case, if she's still there you should sit in Kate's section. Otherwise, you can request our other friend who works there, Will, who can and will turn anything you say into a double entendre (just don't order the pork belly from him).
We started with some good cocktails- a sidecar for Bebe, and a Makers, Ricard, Lemon-Lime thing for me. We shared the gnocchi in brown butter sauce for an appetizer. Bebe got a very tasty pulled pork sandwich with fries for her entree. I moved on to a roasted eggplant on focaccia sandwich and a glass of white wine. Then for dessert we split a chocolate bread pudding which met my high bread pudding standards. The coffee was great. Bebe paid for lunch. It don't get better than that. Everything just digests so nicely.
We spent the evening on Julia St., where all the galleries were having their openings for the first time since the hurricane, including The Lemieux Gallery where Jordan works. Art Openings on Julia are not usually my thing- too crowded, among other complaints. But seeing a bunch of people out walking the streets going from gallery to gallery was a nice piece of vivacity, and another sign of reemergence. Also, every place had free wine.
I ended the evening by joining the neighorhood congregation for midnight services at Parasol's. The parishioners were all filled with some holy spirit by the time I arrived, and some were speaking in tongues. The sanctuary was packed, so I took my Abita Restoration Ale (highly recommended) from Father Frankie and stood in back of the pews with local hero, Justin Gricus.
The Irish Channel is not the Garden District, so the less fortunate often gather around the bar at Parasol's. Actually, we are just a block away from the Garden District and there are a lot of coked-up lawyers in the bar (good people and epic drinkers, they are), but the point is this: whether you're down on your luck or just too strung out on blow, everybody runs out of cigarettes sometimes. And just when you need him most, like the footprints in the sand, Justin Gricus is there for you. Gricus- who will cook you up a mean po-boy back in Parasol's kitchen (so long as the Red Sox game is not on)- has been bumming out Marlboro Lights to those in need, like Jesus with the fish and loaves, for years now.
But why, you ask me, is this night different from all other nights?
On this night, unlike all other nights, I had packs of cigarettes for Gricus.
Earlier in the day I had received my yearly free carton from Amercan Spirit. I proudly handed a couple of packs to Gricus, who was utterly confused by the transaction, but I think grateful nonetheless.
Carrying my last beer out the door with me at the end of the night, I saw one of my fellow drinkers vainly trying to mount his bicycle. He would put one foot on a pedal, try to raise himself up, and immediately fall off. He looked frustrated and forlorn. I offered my help and, despite his sheepish protests, grabbed the back of his seat and steadied the bike.
"Go ahead and give it a try," I instructed.
He managed to gingerly lift himself on the bike and started to pedal a bit.
"You still got it?" he asked, unsure of his balance.
"I got it," I said reassuringly as I began trotting to keep pace.
Halfway down the block I let go.
"You still got it?" he asked again.
"No man. You're doin' it! You're doin' it by yourself!"
He rode off into the night, cruising across Magazine Street with reckless abandon. I like to think he made it home alright.
We look out for each other here in The Channel.