Five Days in New Orleans

by Daphne Churbuck

I just returned from five days in New Orleans — my first visit to the city — and wanted to share some random experiences and photos from a very condensed and exhausting introduction to one of the coolest places I’ve been anywhere. Period.

I stayed with my wife in the French Quarter in a nice three-star hotel on Royal Street — the Andrew Jackson. Immediately upon arriving she dragged me out into the Vieux Carre (it being her second visit) and introduced me the Cafe du Monde for chicory coffee and beignets covered with powdered sugar, so covered with powdered sugar that I left the place looking like Tony Montana. Then to Antoine’s Hermes Bar for a Sazerac (rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud bitters chilled in a glass rinsed with Herbsaint and garnished with a twist), Arnaud’s for gumbo, shrimp and grits, and a table-side serenade of “I Only Have Eyes For You” by a banjo, trumpet and bass trio who talked about playing My Father’s Moustache on Cape Cod and the late Dave McKenna of Yarmouth, arguably the peninsula’s most famous jazz musician.

Then down Bourbon Street and its crazed chaos of Giant Ass Beers, Larry Flynt’s Underaged Strippers, the cloying miasma of upchucked stomach contents, and a louche doorman who told me, as I walked hand-in-hand with my wife of 30 years that he could show me “Lots of Ho’s in No Clothes”

That was night one.

Day two — more beignets and coffee and then a cab ride out to the Garden District and Commander’s Palace, the foodie mecca that lists Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme among its ranks of alumni chefs. I cannot argue with $0.25 lunch time martinis (and a perfectly made Ramos Fizz, the drink that always eluded me as a bartender), and some of the most exquisite cooking I’ve ever tasted. A poky, langorous street car ride back down St. Charles to the city center, a walk back through the French Quarter, teeming with pre-St. Patrick’s day revelers, then a brief rest before an evening at the Rock N’Bowl — a combination bowling alley/hamburger joint/bar/music venue off of Carrolton Avenue where we saw (or is it “heard?)  Bonearama, a wild jazz-funk bank fronted by three trombone players who killed the best cover of the Beatles’ Hey Bulldog I’ve ever heard.

Day Three was mostly spent on the banks of the Mississippi, sitting on a park bench watching the barges and tankers and jazz boats go by while eating a muffaletta from Central Grocery and washing it down with a Barq’s and a bag of Zapp’s potato chips.  Bluebird skies, clement breezes and the amazing spectacle of humanity that marched before us on the riverside Moon Walk (named after former New Orleans mayor “Moon” Landrieu). Between the bells of the St. Louis cathedral (the oldest continuous church in the USA), the cartoonish sounding calliope on the decks of the sternwheeler Natchez, and snatches of buskers’ music floating over the levee from Jackson Square came the sound of a Second Line, that wonderful New Orleans tradition of a brass band marching along, followed by a dancing and jiving mob of umbrella-pumping, hanky-waving fans. As it got louder and crossed the street car tracks, it became apparent it would proceed down the promenade past our bench. This is what we saw:

I managed to completely fry my face sitting in the sun all day, and spent the rest of the trip looking like a suppurating lemur with bright red cheeks and forehead and pale Cape Cod white eyes. That didn’t deter me from doing my best to damage my liver and fail my pending cholesterol test with too many Abita Ambers and boatloads of steamed shrimp.

Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day, I attended the 9 am Mass at St. Louis cathedral in an attempt to revive my somewhat moribund “52 Churches” project of 2008-09.  Other than looking like I was suffering from an incipient case of lupus, with my blistered cheeks and nose, I sat through the service marking the fifth Sunday in Lent, listened to the deacon’s reading and interpretation of the story of Lazarus, and as always, slipped out the back  during Communion due to the first rule of 52 Churches which is not to participate in any rites or reading foreign to my non-denominational, ecumenical, atheistic beliefs. Nice church, packed with tourists and locals, again the oldest continuously used church in the country, declared a “minor basilica” by the Pope during his visit in 1987. At night, from Bourbon street, an immense shadow of Christ is projected onto the back of the nave by a spotlight silhouetting a statue of Jesus, arms outstretched. The incongruity of sinner/saint is, I suppose, quintessentially New Orleans.

Later that morning we headed out to Central City and the A.L. Davis Park for Super Sunday — the annual gathering of the Mardi Gras Indians on the Sunday nearest St. Joseph’s Day. This was mind blowing to say the least. As a fan of the HBO series Treme, I’ve been fascinated by the Indian culture through the great portrayal of a “tribal Chief” by Clarke Peters as Big Chief Lambreaux. Sunday I got to experience about twenty of the tribes as they marched with their contingent of be-feathered warriors around the streets of the Central City.

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Indians were followed by Po’ Boys at the Parkway Bakery and Tavern. I did my level best to kill myself with a large “surf & turf” which combined roast beef and gravy with fried shrimp. This was frightening and will drive all pentinence post-trip.

St. Patrick’s Day in New Orleans puts St. Patrick’s Day in Boston to shame. The city has a big Irish immigrant population, but the degree to which a holiday centered around alcohol is taken by Bourbon Street is beyond crazy. From bodypainted 60-year old ladies to frat boys shouting at their shoes on the side streets, it was a scene out of out of some demented painting of post-apocalyptic hell. So we took refuge in the oh-so-classy French 75 bar, and wheezed back a couple Sazeracs before calling it a night.

All in all, an amazing place that I had to experience to get beyond the usual cliches of mardi gras beads, masks, and gumbo.

Dead Neck/Sampson’s Dredging Hearing Tonight

The Barnstable Conservation Commission will return to the application by Massachusetts Audubon and Three Bays Preservation to dredge 800 feet off of the west end of Sampson’s tonight at the hearing room at town hall beginning at 6:30 pm.

I’ve heard some interesting rumors about the project over the past few weeks, so tonight’s meeting is probably going to be as lively as the last one was in terms of participation by foes and proponents. I’m planning on attending and may speak my mind on the project. I’ll post any remarks if I make them.

To that end I’ve been asked to post the following statements from a proponent and opponent to the project:

In favor is Andrew “Oggie” Pesek,  an officer of Three Bays and director of the Wianno Yacht Club, who forwarded this letter asking the membership of the Wianno Yacht Club in Osterville  for their support for the project. (disclosure: my family were briefly members of the WYC in the 1970s): DNSI_WYC_Letter

Opposed is Brad Wheelwright, a Cotuit resident, member of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club (more disclosure, I am a lifelong member of the CMYC and former president of its association), and ace Cotuit Skiff racer. Brad sent the following:

“I am writing to express my views on the proposed Sampson’s Island dredging project.

I am strongly opposed to the project, mainly because I’m convinced that it would constitute inappropriate use of public funds and resources. An undertaking of this magnitude and expense should be easily justified from every perspective, not widely controversial and based upon questionable assumptions, as this proposal is proving to be.

However, even if dislodging, moving, and placing 11 acres of land wasn’t going to cost a great deal of money and require great quantities of labor, fuel, and machinery, I would still be firmly opposed to this project. First of all, moving that much sediment will cause dirty, disrupted water conditions for quite some time, undoubtedly harming the ecosystem of Cotuit Bay and West Bay. Shellfishing is a longstanding source of recreation, subsistence, and commerce for the residents of the count and should not be compromised without clear justification.

Secondly, I do not think there is a valid boating safety concern, as some proponents have indicated. I use those waters frequently and there is plenty of room for safe navigation as the geography stands. I believe my point of view on this matter is supported by a lack of any alarming history of accidents at the site. In fact the only fatality (or injury, for that matter) that I know of occurred nearly thirty years ago, when the distance from Reilly’s Beach to Sampson’s Island was much greater.

In addition, careful study (conducted by those in the hire of the project’s proponents) has demonstrated that widening the entrance will not in any significant way increase the Bay system’s tidal flushing or lead to cleaner water in the more inland connected waterways. The root of that problem clearly lies with septic inputs and fertilizer pressure, and it is of some concern to me that members of the public seem not to know how thoroughly the coastal engineering studies prove that dredging will not begin to address the issue.
The part of Sampson’s Island that is proposed to be removed is a heavily used recreational resource. Crowding is already a problem, and the destruction of many hundreds of yards of beach will only compound it (and perhaps also lead to unanticipated and unwelcome water safety concerns).

While it has been pointed out that several vacation houses on Grand Island and the navigability of the Seapuit River are at risk without the addition of sediment at the eastern end of Dead Neck, I do not think this justifies the proposed dredging project. Neither protection for the private residences or the easy availability of a Seapuit channel are publicly necessary; private funding could and should secure the former, and there are two very reliable alternative water routes between West Bay and Cotuit Bay, one of which is entirely protected.

Finally, I would like to bring attention to the worst case scenario associated with such intensive dredging of a protective barrier island. Typically, the failure of a coastal engineering project is marked by a return to the status quo (witness the Rushy Marsh Pond debacle). However, the dynamics of a bay entrance are beyond complex, and I believe there is potential for catastrophe here that very few people have considered. It is possible that this project could lead to dramatic, unanticipated changes to the area. Bluff Point, without protection, could be destroyed. The Cotuit entrance channel could become too shallow for conventional navigation. The balance that has allowed for a viable Bay entrance could be upset beyond all hope of repair.

Why do I think this could happen? Strikingly, the sea level has risen approximately four inches in the last sixty years, and according to some science, may rise twelve inches or more in the next sixty. There is reason to think that coastal storms will become stronger and more frequent. In so many ways, our climate is not the climate of the mid 20th century.

Some proponents believe that because the dredging will return the outline of Sampson’s to a former state, it is inherently a good thing. First of all, with the sea level four inches higher, and a catastrophic worst-case scenario accordingly possible, there is absolutely no reason to think that such an outline is sustainable now. Furthermore, this argument represents a flawed method of consideration; the historical proportions of Cotuit Bay once included a shipping channel where Cupid’s Cove now exists. Should we engineer THIS alteration, simply because it once was? (It’s really no more outlandish than the present proposal, in terms of scope and the amount of sediment that would need to be moved.)

Finally, I would like to point out that Three Bays Preservation has continually implied that dredging projects in the system improve water quality significantly, something that is not backed up by any of the data. Just as one example, their website mentions improvement and prospects for improvement, but on the very same website one can find evidence that eel grass existed within the three bays in 1995 but not in 2002, a timeframe that spans their first two dredging projects. Furthermore, the anticipated improvement in water quality (as estimated by their own engineers) is minimal enough that it doesn’t even appear within proposal documents as part of the list of expected benefits.”

I am “cautiously” in favor of the project with some modifications. I’ll post my points for and against later.