Fantastic Food and Jazz in the American South
23.10.2014 - 28.10.2014 75 °F
Although our first anniversary was in America's finest City, San Diego, we decided to venture a bit further afield for our second anniversary. We were both interested in exploring New Orleans, and we decided to make the Mardi Gras capital our next destination. Our mission was to explore the bayou, eat as much Cajun food as possible, and see the famous haunted sites. I typically post these updates as we're traveling, but we only had four days in the area so I wanted to get in as much culture as we could in the short trip.
Captain Brian was the guide for our swamp boat adventure in the Louisiana Bayou. In the Summer and Fall, he gave airboat tours, but in the winter he mainly hunted in order to provide for his family, typically selling meat of duck, alligators, and deer that he had hunted. He also collected government-honored bounties on a particularly interesting creature called nutria.
In the early 19th century, hunters would trap muscrat for their fur. However, the female muscrats only had one litter a year, and the fur trade was so lucrative at the time that the rate of killing from hunting exceeded the replacement rate for the species. Within a few decades, there were no more muscrat to hunt, but their fur still fetched a high price from trappers. When there's still demand, but no supply, the logical thing to do is bring in more supply.
Using this rationale, an individual from Louisiana had the idea to bring in a similar animal called a "nutria" from the swamps of South America. They are between 10 and 30 pounds in weight and have a long round tail, closely resembling a New York rat.
However, the nutria had a shorter gestation period than the muscrat and could have up to 4 litters per year - they can literally have a litter and then become pregnant the next day! Once the fur trade collapsed, the state of Louisiana found itself overrun with nutria and decided to implement a bounty program year-round to "eliminate" the species.
This program was put in place too late, and species elimination is all but impossible with their reproduction rate. However, nutria hunting still provides a bounty and livelihood for many hunters. The bounty is $5 for every tail you cut off (i.e., the tail is proof of kill, the carcas is typically left for the alligators), and the limit is 36,000 PER YEAR. 36,000! Our guide said that the year he turned 17, he killed 10,000. That would mean that he would have had to kill an average of about 27 nutria a day. It seems a bit far-fetched, but he was definitely passionate about what he did and I slowly started to believe the claim.
He also had told us about hunting alligators, and the process of farm-raising the species. Every year, he has a quota to find 1,100 alligator eggs and deliver them to a farmer in Western Louisiana. He only gets paid $20 an egg, and he's only paid for the roughly 80% of eggs that actually hatch. The process can be laborious and usually comes at a loss since he has to rent a helicopter to spot the nests. The advantage for him comes in the form of 15% of the alligators that are raised get released into the swamp after four years, providing him and his crew an ample supply to hunt.
Captain Brian was truly a hunter at heart, and he conveyed an unquestionable passion for what he did. His son at 5 years old had just killed his first alligator, and you could see the father's pride in his eyes as he recounted the story to our small group. I am not a hunter myself, but I definitely understand the love for the sport based on my many conversations with Chris, Al and Marlee on the pursuit of wild game.
Not only did Brian have a hunter's spirit, but he had a textbook like knowledge of animal lifespan, territory, behavior and co-habitating. American media likes to depict the "dumb hick" mentality, but this man could have easily become a scientist in a different situation given his work ethic, attention to detail and passion for learning. In a way, the only thing that differs is what we hunt for: I hunt for answers and he hunts for food, hides and bounties.
Here we go on the airboat
Captain Brian giving a talk on the local wildlife
Captain Brian with a baby alligator
Tempting an alligator affectionally called "Captain Hook" for her hooked tail with a marshmellow (I just got that, it's a food that makes creatures "mellow" in the "marsh")
Another resident watches our movements
Once we got done with the swamps, we decided to try many of the culinary hotspots on our To Do list. In the first 24 hours, we ate at FIVE different places. We had a wonderful shrimp roll at Peche, a rich dish of cajun biscuits and gravy at the Cake Company, homemade root beer, fried alligator and wood-fired Muscles at Cochon, begnets at Cafe de Monde, and a hearty hot sausage at We've Got Soul. Pictures speak louder than words on this one:
Shrimp roll at Peche
New Orleans has the best bread in the country
Fried alligator bites with cajun mayo
Pork belly roll at Killer Poboys
We loved these chips!
Waiting patiently for our begnets at Cafe de Monde - isn't she lovely?
Beignets at Cafe de Monde
Danielle making a funny face with her Beignet
Delicious French Toast Bananas Foster
Coolest ice tea machine ever
We also got a chance to walk around the French Quarter and take in some of the sites. From Jackson Square (named after former Governor and President, Andrew Jackson) to the riverfront walkway. We also visited the site where most of the Mardi Gras floats are made. Artists take large pieces of styrofoam and then meticulously cover the pieces with paper which is then painted in order to complete the beautiful floats. We saw everything from dinosaurs to strange depictions of Native Americans. The museum was a bit of a tourist trap, but it was fun nonetheless!
Catholic cathedral at the end of Jackson square
Jackson Square with the cathedral in the background
The Mighty Mississippi
A float mid-construction
We have a T-rex!
Another cool float
Besides the food, New Orleans is famous for it's amazing Jazz scene. We first saw Jazz at the famous Preservation Hall, but I unfortunately didn't get an photos of that performance. It was just as you would imagine, a full Jazz band sitting in wooden chairs with the audiences on benches listening intently.
We also got treated to two performances on the famous Natchez, the first was a performance on a steam calliope and the second was from a Dixieland Jazz band that was actually nominated for a Grammy. The last was at a club on Frenchmen street which had an amazing blues band. All dressed in Saints jerseys and playing during the Packers-Saints game, they would play a great tune and all their heads would simultaneously turn to the TV in the bar once each song was done in order to check the score. The Packers unfortunately lost the game, but it was a great set and a wonderful environment for music.
An unconventional performance on the calliope
You really have to listen to it to appreciate the novelty
Live jazz on the Natchez
Live blues at Vaso
After the food and music, New Orleans is also renowned for its hauntings. It was the home of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau as well as serial killer and socialite Daphine LaLaurie. If you've seen "American Horror Story: Coven," you may remember Marie Laveau (played by Angela Bassett) and Daphine LaLaurie (played by Kathy Bates) as characters in the show. We were able to not only see their respective houses, but we were also shown where Jessica Lange was living for both "Coven" and "Freak Show."
The Nicholas Cage Masoleum
Homer Plessy's masoleum
Restoring Marie Laveau's masoleum
Delphine LaLaurie's mansion in the French Quarter
Glare in the Photo
If you look closely in the last three pictures, you can see what look like rain drops on the lens. It was a completely dry night, but every time I took pictures I would get this circular glare in the photos. I kept cleaning the lens because I thought the camera was dirty, but no matter what I did to the camera, I kept getting the glare. When I showed the tour guide the photos, he slowly smiled and asked me to email him the photos.
He described that the glare is hypothesized to actually be spirits that haunt the buildings in the area where terrible things have happened. The house in the above three photos is the site where numerous slaves were tortured and murdered by New Orleans socialite and serial killer Madame Delphine LaLaurie. These slaves were only discovered when a fire broke out at the mansion and screams were heard from the attic where they were imprisoned. An angry mob eventually ran her out of town, and she's believed to have died somewhere in Paris.
I'm not saying that I believe in spirits necessarily, but I am definitely open-minded enough to allow for the possibility that such things exist. Occam's Razor dictates that these are simply just dust particles. I'm admittedly very skeptical, but it's an interesting hypothesis nonetheless. The rest of our pictures were some random pictures that we saw as we trekked on foot from one place to another.
Slow food movement?
A portrait that I felt was oddly captivating
We need this sign in LA
Found the gayborhood!
Although our stay was short, we learned that the people of New Orleans truly love their city. From the second line parades to the "Who dat?" greetings throughout the city to the amazing food, their really is no other city quite like it. People often talk about Bourbon Street, but if you've been to Patpong in Bangkok or Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, it's the same thing - idiotic tourists getting drunk and leaving an absolute mess. I took what I consider the most accurate picture of Bourbon Street (below) complete with cigarette butts, beads and stale beer, but this street is NOT New Orleans at all. As our nice cab-driver Nancy said, "please don't judge our city by that street."
I've all but forgotten about Bourbon street, but I will remember and treasure the music on Frenchmen Street, the food on Louisiana Avenue and the horrors on Royal Street for many years to come.
Bourbon Street - Just another tourist trap
This town loves their team
Indian wedding - New Orleans style!