High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Stimulation: The Big Easy, Day 5

On Thursday, it was imperative that we shop. There was only one paper in the morning that looked even mildly interesting if you squinted at it. We were firm in our determination to avoid the convention center that morning. And then we had to go there anyway.

You see, the crackhead meeting organizers had determined that posters needed to be taken down by 1:30 PM on Thursday. That is deeply stupid, given there was an entire additional day toe the conference. Furthermore, it must have sucked for the "Group C" presenters, who were on from 11:30 to 1:30 that day, trying to talk to people about while the rapidly emptying bulletin boards around and behind them shook and wavered as people attempted to liberate the posters by coming between the true love so dear to pushpins and crappy, flimsy boards.

Anyway, we obtained our posters while AKS was taming Cave!Slayer. On our way back to the hotel, we ran into the animé character colleague of J's, whom AKS had very much wanted me to see. We had been tentatively referring to him as "Speed Racer," on the basis of his truly unique chin, but going on overall cranial shape (and don't think visions of calipers weren't dancing through my head), I diagnosed him as "Hunk from Voltron."

I think I've forgotten to mention up until now that I caused unusually warm, sunny weather in New Orleans (while it was snowing everywhere else) by buying myself a new leather jacket and bringing it to the Big Easy? Thursday was the pinnacle of that phenomenon. While we walked on toward Cafe Du Monde to meet up with AMB and KJ, we were relatively comfortable in the shade, but the sun, she burned us. Burned us like elven rope.

By the time we arrived at Cafe Du Monde, AMB was sporting a beautiful balloon flower (meant for her wrist, but she is so PURSE obsessed that she attached it to the strap of her new PURSE). AKS and I were both desperately in need of both coffee and something cool. Du Monde had been reading the Morning Rage Diaries of Morning!Matilda and Cave!Slayer, apparently, because their Iced Cafe Au Lait was pretty much made for us. We sat in the cool shade on a stone wall at the back of the cafe and girded our loins for some serious shopping.

We started at the stores on Jackson Square that had caught our eye the previous day. The very first one, which had a t-shirt in the window that AKS seriously needed to own, was tragically closed. We were brave, though, and soldiered on to the highly superior store next door (which, I believe is called Jackie's, but they sadly don't have a website). This was one of those boutique-y places that actually has clothes and accessories that you don't see over and over again in every store. And as a giant bonus to distinguish it from such stores, the price tags were not heart-attack inducing.

Upon entering this store, it became clear that I had been made by the merchants of New Orleans. Seeing that bag, I began to tremble, but said to myself, "Self, that bag is awesome, 'tis true, but there's far too much overlap with your shit hot Lexie Barnes bag." Before I could breathe a sigh of relief, the merchants of New Orleans collectively said, "Too much overlap? Nae problemo!" That bag definitely does NOT have too much overlap with Lexie, and is ideal for toting larger knitting projects and, as it turns out, the endless series of student papers under which I am forever to be buried. And it is mine. Oh yes, it is mine.

Not satisfied with making me their bag bitch, the merchants of New Orleans turned my attention to this t-shirt (which looks better with boobies in it, if I do say so myself. And just when I thought I was going to escape, they had really cute reversible headbands at the counter, so I grabbed a couple of those. My compatriots also fared well (for wallet-emptying values of "well"), with AMB scoring an awesome MONKEYBAG, and AKS a fantastic shirt and classic, faux-wrap, polka-dot dress that stuns and disorients in the best possible way.

Also along this stretch of shops, we visited a Tea Shoppe, which was somewhat overly scented and featured the world's most extended Muzack remix of "Norwegian Wood." Nonetheless, it had some pretty things, including some jewelry that very nearly needed to be mine. KJ was trying to be his usual helpful self with regard to the jewelry that badly wanted to come home with me when he tragically misread the price tag, making it seem much more reasonably priced that I had feared. Fortunately (?), it was too rich for my blood (not TLBO "too rich" you understand, just more than I can justify given that I only wear jewelry sporadically).

We moved on to the 1850 House Museum, which smelled like Kampsville. AMB and I only just barely avoided having olfactorally induced nervous breakdowns before we beat it out of there. I did see this cookbook, and the title cracked me up.

We turned Esplanade-ward on Chartres and made our way into Trashy Diva where it looked like AKS was the primary target. While she tried on a number of beautiful, vintagey things. AMB was a dark horse mark and wound up with a
very pretty cameo. Sadly, it seemed that none of AKS's items were quite right, and we soldiered onward. (I definitely was not casting a final, wistful look at the wrap that wanted to be mine and only mine. Nossir, not I.)

Once back out on the street, we immediately saw the Trashy Diva lingerie shop, which was in a "back in 5 minutes" state. We wandered up toward Royal in search of Diet Coke. There was some meandering into various parfumeries, The Idea Factory, and so on, where I saw yet more jewelry that wanted to be mine. When a Diet Coke-specific venue failed to materialize, we decided that it might actually be time to eat again, despite protestations the night before that it would NEVER AGAIN be time to eat.

We wound up at a beautiful table on the corner of Royal and St. Ann. We sat in the shade, enjoyed the architecture and the world passing by, and realized that the place we were in had a menu that was more or less identical to that at the River's Edge Cafe. Not that this was a bad thing, mind you. I had to have me a Half Muff, and I had no regrets on that score (in fact, I pretty desperately want a Half Muff right now). There were Catfish Po' Boys, a sausage Po' Boy, and I really can't tell what else.

Restored and revivified, we headed back out for more shopping, popping into a couple of antique-cum-second-hand stores and the parfumerie on which Jitterbug Perfume is based. (I didn't know this until I'd already headed back out on to the street, but AKS had a conversation with the owner, and we both lamented that we had no beet homage with us.)

Our next dangerous stop was the La Mina Sterling Silver jewelry shop on Royal. I don't think any of us escaped from there unscathed. I know that I got a lovely ring, but I can't be arsed to find either the ring or the camera at the moment. It's a filigreed rectangular design with an aquamarine set in the center. Very Deco and very delicious. I also very nearly walked out with the Kewlist Viking Head ring for M, but he has since proved himself scornful of it, so I'm glad I didn't bother. Humph. AKS scored a lovely pair of flowy earrings with dangly silver discs (also for stunning and disorienting purposes). I cannot recall what AMB and KJ obtained, if anything (although I really thought we all bought something there), and J began laying the groundwork for reparations to be paid to chicagowench for going to NO without her.

Continuing along Royal, we got sucked into Fifi Mahony's, where I got some awesome, midsized hammered metal hoops and green hair die. I resisted the sweet, sweet, black skull-and-hearts foldover leather clutch on the grounds that I needed to give some serious thought to the question of whether or not one can have too many skull-themed bags. (Sadly, I think the answer is yes if one almost never carries a traditional purse.)

I guess that we turned riverward at St. Phillip, because the folks at New Orleans Gem & Lapidary had definitely gotten the memo about us. The proprietor was narratively loaded for bear. I had been looking at an awesome bloodstone (not very bloodstone-y looking, as the stone was almost jade colored, but I liked it) ring in a kind of rough-hewn setting with geometric designs, but then I spotted a tourmaline ring in a much more delicate setting.

As I called in my team of advisors to help me choose (tourmaline won), he informed me that I should buy both so that he could continue to feed his dogs, a rottweiler and two miniature dachshunds. My lower lip set to quivering when he also mentioned a chihuahua. I told him he'd lost me on the last not!dog. He looked me in the eye and said, "Ah, but you see, my grandmother died recently, and he was the light of her life. No one else would take him, so he came to whip the rottie into shape." Dirty pool, sir. Dirty pool. The weeping of my credit card helped me to stand firm, and Ieft with only the tourmaline ring. KJ got a cool agate ring (having very nearly attached a hematite ring to himself permanently); AMB got a bracelet; and AKS bought a ring with a large piece of amber that she had to leave to be sized (I wouldn't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure she gave the precious a parting lick before handing it over).

We were back to Decatur before long and on the way to Dutch Alley (hmm, I'm not sure what's going on with that website, which is listed on their literature, but quite clearly seems not to be the gallery's site). We stopped along the way so that AKS could obtain a pirate lunch box as her new handbag. This was fortunate, because I'd forgotten that the gallery was actually on the street behind Decatur, and I spied the gallery through the toy shop's window.

Once again, we did remarkably well from the perspective the economy of New Orleans. I was in love with this lovely straw hat by Tracy Thompson in soothing green, but dazed as I was, I still knew it was just too damned impractical. No such charge could be levied against the jaunty red skull–bandana print beret (can't find a picture of it on her website, tragically), and I had to have it. One of the artists similarly felt that I should have it, but kept trying to arrange it in a cheese-eating-surrender-monkey configuration on my head, which was a little irritating.

Of course, one of the main things that I wanted to see at the gallery was what Ric Rolston was up to (he of the King of All Sweet Potatoes painting). He had a new label painting in his section of the gallery, and sadly very few of the tables for which I had lust in my heart back in '04. He has a new series called "July Nights" that is absolutely haunting and beautiful. I'd hoped to run into either him or to someone who might tell me more about them, but no such luck.

AMB and KJ were torn in two directions, artistically speaking. They wound up with a couple of large prints by Dan Fuller (in fact, from the surreal "Treehouse" series mentioned in that article). They also need—really and truly need—the large cypress tree painting for which they lusted. It's really frustrating that the website for the co-op seems to be defunct. There are so many terrific artists whose work is represented there, but I can remember every single name, and that breaks my heart.

I'll try as much as I can to recall what else was there that we needed to have. There was a rack of brightly colored metalwork jewelry, including the best. pair. of. earrings. EVAR: One was godzilla, the other was a Tokyo Building. Ah ha! I have dredged the line and the artist's name from memory! It's the "Glamour Trash" line by James Jensen, who seems to get mentioned a lot, but doesn't have a web presence of his own, which is a shame. M's much-loved King of Lake Pontchartrain (which, I think, was by Shakor) was not in evidence, and we both fervently hope that this is because it found a good home. J obtained yet more bakshish for chicagowench in the form of a beautiful piece of glass by Teri Walker. I think it was also Walker's black-and-white sculpture and prints that almost tagged AMB once again before we left.

Having stimulated the economy, we repaired to a stone wall to ponder our next move. We wound up meandering (if any group can meander in the confines of a cab, it's us) back to the Marriott to try to decide on dinner. This was not the highlight of the trip. M had planned to go to K-Paul's for lunch. He'd gone so far as to walk there in the heat, only to discover that they're not open for lunch. Despite the fact that we both really, really needed to go to K-Paul's and this was the last opportunity, we wound up at Arnaud's Remoulade, which is fine and all, and does have the spicy meat pie and turtle soup (and, as it happens, good hurricanes), but is not K-Paul's.

Postdinner, we wandered down Bourbon Street, stopping for frozen drinks and to-go Tigers by the Tail. Earlier in the day, some of the crazy extroverts in the group had gotten into a conversation with an embittered local who denied that anything good ever came out of Bourbon Street. He advised a trip to Frenchman's Street for "real music." We headed down Bourbon Street (and discovered that the bar at which M had first watched Bryan Lee had become a generic pop bar, despite its continued claims to be a Blues Club) and passed by a band with not one, but two guys out front of washboard. M and I, at least, noted this in the event that we didn't find Frenchman street, which seemed quite possible.

We hit Esplanade and still saw no sign of Frenchman. Fortunately, we ran into helpful natives who directed us to go left at Decatur. We did and viola! We found Snug Harbor (which proved to be too crowded, too small, [and for my purposes, too filled with Matilda-killing cigar smoke] and had musicians who'd just ended their set) and a much-needed bathroom. Given the down sides, we headed further up Frenchman and passed a very lush-looking hookah bar (also Matilda killing, alas) and wound up at D.B.A. New Orleans.

The bar (or bars, rather, as there are two, back to back in the center of the structure, separated by a wall with two doorways to permit servers to move freely between them) is quite cool. On the side with the stage for music, there were old theatre seats in the front along the walls. And, most importantly, they had a huge selection of good-to-great beers, both on tap and in bottles.

Although we'd scored seats at the bar, it was hard for us all to talk. We adjourned to an alcove at the front, which made it easier to talk. These also allowed us to watch life on Frenchman Street go by. Despite the Tiger by the Tail, I was well on the sober side of the alcohol-intake line, so I was confused when I seemed to be hallucinating a huge cart, completely covered by musical instruments, making its way up the street. Um, I don't know how else to describe it, but it was like something hatched in the mind of Caro & Jeunet . People seemed to come up and play things at random. It was . . . odd. Good, but odd.

One big downside to our alcove was that J and AKS had, for some reason, thought it was too small for six, so we were separated for much of our final evening together sadly. Also, the fact that the place filled in in front of us made it impossible to watch the band, which sucks, because the Palmetto Bug Stompers were awesome. I picked up their CD between sets, and I've been loving it, but it doesn't seem easy to get, sadly.

When I took advantage of one of the few nonweird bathrooms in New Orleans (I have refrained from including a Bathroom!Watch sidebar in these reports, but the unisex bathroom, complete with urinal at Maison Bourbon made for some of the wackier moments on the trip), I also learned that we'd missed seeing Bryan Lee there by one week, exactly.

So, anyway, a cool place, even if it is a New York knockoff, rather than a New Orleans original. We called it a relatively early night because M needed to work and we were determined to make it to Brennan's for breakfast in the morning.

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