Quotes: “Hardees should have a Robin Thickburger with a douchebag in it.”
Woke up and went straight back to the Stray Dog Hash House and then back to the antique mall. I figured since we had the awesome city of New Orleans ahead of us we’d get on the road quickly, but that was erroneous. Doesn’t someone holy say that expectations lead to suffering? Well, expectations of timely departures has certainly never made me any happier. So I went walking. I found the Old City Cemetery where they had buried victims of Yellow Fever. I think this is a good time to talk about the architecture and culture of the city. In a nutshell it’s very similar to New Orleans. Lots of balconies atop beautiful wrought-iron backed by weathered brick buildings. The feel of French influence although I don’t know if that’s actually accurate. I was told that there is an ongoing disagreement between Mobile and NOLA about who really started the Mardi Gras celebrations. Regardless they take it seriously in Mobile too. It’s seems a wonderful, quiet town, like the kind of town if someday I wanted to be the next John Grisham or Flannery O’Connor, I’d spend my winters there sitting in the parks, practicing my declarative sentences while wearing a slouch hat and plaid pants. I think I would hate to be there during the beads and frat bullshit that follows Mardi Gras like a plague.
So back to the cemetery. There were lots of raised graves and a few tombs once again reminiscent of New Orleans. It was smaller, humbler in scale, and in such a state of gentle but very real decline that what with the old, heavy, flowering trees and overgrown grass, it felt more gothic than the big touristy cemeteries down the coast. I was the only one there other than the man with a rolling suitcase relieving himself off in the corner. I kept walking, my feet hurting so much that I would go from bench to bench just to give them some relief. I decided to go into the huge Catholic Church called saint something or other, right next to one of the innumerable squares that pop up every couple of blocks in Mobile.* I don't know, I'm sure it's on the internet. It was just stunning inside, the ceiling a beautiful red and gold pattern, really outstanding stained glass windows, and a tasteful floating touchdown Jesus above the altar. I sat in the cool gloom and prayed for the strength to accept that which I cannot hurry.
I was able to squeeze in a quick visit to the Center for the Living Arts. A small, apparently non-collecting museum with just a few high-ceilinged rooms that they use for big-scale exhibits. It only took about ten minutes to go through but the exhibits were cool and modern.
And then we were off on the fairly short drive to NOLA. On the way we spent a few minutes at the John C. Stennis Space Center – looked at some rocket engines and bought some souvenirs. I mention this not because you need to know everything we did but because I did not know they did rocket testing there, or that there was space center. I mean that’s like finding out you have a nipple on your back that produces enough force to reach escape velocity. And candy.
I’m starting to feel self-conscious that I’m going into an excruciating level of detail because I’ve got 15 hours riding in the van spread over two days. I apologize. I’m my own worst editor. I’m not going to stop mind you, I just feel bad about it.
We got to the city around 5:00 and the meat eaters, i.e. everyone else, were going to some fancy place to get charred oysters, broiled bivalves, and macerated mollusks. I shook my head sadly and thought to myself with my mind of all the mercury they’d be ingesting. No one likes the bearer of bad news however, so we’ll just let them assume the dementia and muscular weakness had many contributing factors. New Orleans remains one of the best food cities in the world for everyone but vegetarians. I had found a place that served veggie red beans and rice in the French Market, so I strapped on my goddamned Teva’s and started walk the mile and a half to the restaurant. Which closed 15 minutes before I got there. Yeah, the French Market closes at 6:00, so fuck me pretty much. While shuffling along in as defeated a pose as one can have on a beautiful evening in New Orleans, I stumbled upon the 14th Annual Satchmo Summer Fest and saw that it was free, and that the Dirty Dozen Brass Band was about to go on. Boom. A block away I found that savior of the righteous, a Mediterranean restaurant. Not exactly classic NOLA fare but well done. Plus, all the employees were wearing “Free Pakistan” shirts that said, “We Stand With Gaza” on the back, which seemed like an unusually political stance for a business in the tourist district. I saw two of them running in and out of the restaurant and not seemingly engaged in restaurant activity when I saw they were either selling or giving away the same t-shirts from out of a mini-van parked out front. The van can be a bubble no doubt. It's too easy to forget there's a real world going on outside of it.
The DDBB were phenomenal. I sat on a curb, drank an Abita, watched people dance and hang on the fence so they could see the band, the older locals in their lawn chairs eating plates with a mess of greens and beans on it, and just felt pretty damned grateful. I started the long walk back and wondered about the balance New Orleans has to strike between the money and energy all the visitors bring with the sheer numbers of them packed into a relatively small space, and all the weekend warriors who treat it like the first floor of their frat house. There’s got to be a little bittersweetness thrown in there, because there really is a kind of magic in the light down there. It's a town like no other.
*It’s one of the town’s best features.