Culinary Trinity or Aroma Anchors
The closest "Culinary Buddha" Louisiana's cooking has ever had was a Chef named Paul Prudhomme, who dispatched wisdom, passion, and a world of flavors to the known world in his lifetime and beyond. Gate Gate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha (gone on to the further shore of enlightenment).
As a guru, he taught us many things: that water tastes better when you drink it from your hands, how the magic of our food here is "twelve ingredients done twenty different ways," how it's okay to burn (blacken) your food, and how onions, celery, and bell peppers are the "holy trinity" of our cooking ingredients (with garlic as the Pope). Also, rumor has it, he was quoted as saying that "food is not adequately seasoned unless it hurts to eat it."
Having three bedrock ingredients (or trinities) are not unusual: Spanish Cuisine has sofritto (tomatoes, peppers, and onions), the French have their mirepoix (onions, celery, and carrots), Greece, China, Italy, and India cooking all have a 'trinity' of sorts.
Define this 'trinity' thing? Consider it a recurrent flavor combination—a center of gravity in profile cooking. Even barbecue, with its myriad of interpretations has a 'trinity' of its own (pepper, vinegar, smoke).
So let's examine this Creole/Cajun trinity thing—what we know and what we don't know. Onions came over on the Mayflower. Garlic came up from the Southwest via Spanish Conquistadors. Peppers are native to the Americas, and that brings us into the seventeenth century. And now there's the question of celery. Culinary celery probably began being cultivated in Italy and France in the 1600s. Before that it was used medicinally. Celery was farmed commercially in the late 1800s in the north (Kalamazoo, Michigan), and it grows in cooler climates, as do carrots.
And somehow, all of these forces came together in Southern Louisiana as the foundation of all that is considered to be present in our cooking-—our defining culinary personality. When did this happen? Were they all out hitchhiking across the country and wound up in Louisiana together? Did they meet in a bar and start hanging out?
In perusing the Picayune Creole Cookbook, originally published in 1901, there is little mention of celery or bell peppers—certainly none in nine different gumbos, three jambalayas or even their Creole sauce recipe. Celery is used as a vegetable and in boiled shrimp and/or boiled crab, a lot is used to season the water used to cook. Certainly Cajuns who lived off the land most likely couldn't afford the luxury of celery until middle twentieth century.
We know the French settlers in Louisiana may have been used to their mirepoix but likely would have had to get carrots from the north. Celery may have come down during the Civil War and possibly been grown here in the cooler months of November-December, but then what?
Logic tells us that without adequate refrigeration, only what could be grown and harvested in season and in proximity would make its way into our pots—onions, peppers (both mild and hot), parsley, watercress, and greens come to mind. Creoles would have had herbs as well: thyme, oregano, and bay leaves. Cajuns had all that and swamp insects, which deprived them of ingredients like tomatoes and wheat flour.
In the 1960s, when I migrated here, the "seasoning vegetables" (that which we now call the 'trinity') was ensconced in the local cooking. Celery was readily available as were potatoes (sweet and Irish), cabbage, carrots, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and little else as far as fresh vegetable staples went. There was plenty of fruit: avocados, pineapples, and bananas. Fruits and vegetables in season came and went. And coffee (and chicory)… lots of coffee.
At that time, the French Market was servicing over 3,000 people a day. There were meat markets and fresh seafood stalls along Decatur Street where tourists now shop for made-in-China souvenirs. There was a big super market just outside the Quarter (Schwegmann's) that had, inside, a pharmacy, savings bank and a bar. Outside, they pumped gas for your car if you had one (lots of folks didn't). It was a blue collar world then, and you could listen to the women as they made their groceries discussing what noodles to put in the Ya Ka Mein—whether to put pickle meat in their beans or: "First I make me my roux, good and brown, then I add me my seasoning vegi-tables, then my okree, crabs and swimps." I miss those days.
Then the oil jobs moved to Houston, the shipping industry went to deeper ports, the bohemians were replaced by hippies and the whole culcha went to pot. Spanish sailor bars and Greek belly dancing joints started closing and just when it looked its worst for us. The tourists came like locusts and bailed us out. Ella Brennan bought Commanders Palace and took a chance on trading a German chef for a Cajun named Paul Prudhomme and suddenly we have a 'trinity' of vegetables.
It's a good thing we didn't have an HR back then, or they might have said that comparing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to an onion, celery, and bell pepper motif was religiously derogatory—especially if you libel the Blessed Pope (who lives in Rome) to a head of garlic. We're all gonna burn in Hell like a blackened red fish left too long in the pan.
In conclusion, the only thing that we know about the 'trinity' is that the combination occurred before the name was given, and once the name was given, it stuck like a cheap suit on a used car salesman, like ugly on an ape, like white on rice.
Come to think about it, here's the next thing to ponder If a machine that polished rice into those little non-nutritional specks we consume didn't occur until the late 1800s (1861, Sampson Moore), did the original settlers here eat brown rice with their red beans?
Love and Death or M*A*S*H
Humor me. Think about yourself and your life as a pair of lovers (even if it's just you and yourself) holding hands and walking through Armageddon, seeing each other in each other's eyes, and picking your way through the rubble of destroyed buildings and broken bodies, heedless of cries for help and succor, as you make your way to sanctuary—a place to make gentle love. Life is like that if you're lucky enough to see the turmoil happening around you from an unscathed vantage point. Happy Valentine's Day. You deserve it.
Death and destruction around us is viewed either subjectively or objectively, and we can watch and read the news of hell on earth and either be touched deeply by it or be impatient for the next feel good story. We can be callous because of our need for self protection. No one needs to be empathetic and live. That much pain would be unbearable.
Oh, we're not apathetic, by any means. It's called psychic numbing. Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows (Melanie Joy, Ph.D.) cites that our system works this way. We love animals (insert people), and we don't want to see them suffer. We have three choices (insert when we witness or participate in misery and/or cruelty). We can change our values to match our behavior, change our behavior to match our values, or we can change our perceptions of our behavior so that we appear to match our values. The third option is the way our system works when we can love on our pets but allow ourselves to rationalize forty million turkeys being slaughtered for our holiday dinners.
I've been watching a lot of M*A*S*H lately; actually I've just finished all of the eleven seasons. I've taken away two things from M*A*S*H besides the terrific acting. One is that Hawkeye, Radar, Klinger, and Hot Lips (and the rest of the cast) are some funny, funny people. The second is that the underscoring their antics from virtually the first episode is they view the war as senseless, but their view cannot stop the bodies that continually wind up coming in, necessitating them to repair them (when they can), and, if they're well enough, send these unfortunates back to fight in this senseless war. All through the mud and the blood and the beer, there's the senseless war.
That's what we have here.
People are dying senselessly all around us, and we, as individuals, can do nothing to stop this from occurring and continuing; paying attention to this only brings me a feeling of impotence, yet I cannot turn away. It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
Here's a quick quiz. I'll give you the situation, and you fill out the location:
Starvation in ___? War in_____? Hurricane____? Earthquake___? Tornados___? Environmental disasters ___? Mass shootings____ ? Homelessness ___? Poverty ___? Prejudice ___? Greed?
That last one's a ringer and the answer to that one is "everywhere." You might consider that some of the conditions of those other quiz questions can be due to greed.
It works due to your greedy politicians being given campaign money by a greedy polluter, manufacturer, real estate developer, and/or power-hungry wealthy donor. The politicos use that money to further their ambitions for power (a type of greed) while getting legislations passed that perpetuate the businesses and ambitions of the donors and/or turn a blind eye on their inhumanity, or, simply put, money talks.
Who takes it in the shorts? The answer to that is really simple—the whole world. What can we do about it? Nothing. It's too overwhelming. It's frigging crushing to even think about it. How do we, as a society, create enough Mackenzie Scotts to counteract all of the you-know-who's?
Well, Hawkeye Pierce and B.J. Hunnicut would know the answer: be kind, sarcastic, a pain in the ass, and complain, point out discrepancies in the system, and refuse to participate in its inequities, as well as vote, get involved, do something useful for no reward or recognition, and pay attention. Be better.
Sure, on M*A*S*H most everybody's getting laid (or trying to), playing practical jokes on each other, getting drunk, eating lousy food, and living in lousy conditions, but, in spite of all that, when the wounded come in and the broken bodies get to the operating room, there's no monkeying around. It's all business. That's another lesson to learn—put people's welfare and wellness ahead of our selfish convenience. Which would you rather see: a pig drinking beer or a hog getting its throat cut (or a dog, a horse, or a person)?
Valentine's for me is not only a celebration of love, but a time for pre-spring evaluation of my habits and behavior. Say what you want about January 1st, my new year starts with the Vernal Equinox (that's my story and I'm stickin' with it). So I think this year I'll adopt the Hippocratic tradition and think of myself as a person who will conduct their life by "[f]irst, do no harm," and second, refusing to support anyone who does harm.
That's a tall order and a noble thought. It's gonna take a lot of will power and strength. Therefore, I will go to another source of courage, fortitude, wisdom, and instruction. I am now committing myself to watching all the episodes of Golden Girls. After that maybe Frank's Place, and then maybe Will and Grace and so on.
A joyous Valentine's to you. May you, by day, enjoy nature and, by night, take life lessons from Sophia Petrillo.
Hope Fiend Or I Don't Get It
"Breaking away to the other side.
I wanna make sense of why we live and die.
I don't get it. I don't get it."
Cowboy Junkies "I Don't Get It"
When I hear that, my mind also wails, twenty-two percent of the time or 4.5%.
We've become a society of facts, figures, and statistics adrift, seeking to find a foothold in our collective semi-conscious mental states of ennui: 45 million people affected by a cold front; 50% chance of an earthquake; Senator Fancy Pants has an approval rating of 42%; the interest rate has gone up again ¾ of a point; Aaron Judge (Jersey #99) hits home run number 62 this season (making 220 career) and makes history, but Barry Bonds (#s 24, 25) still holds the record of 762; the Dow Jones has slipped; the S&P has fallen; "and the race is on and here comes pride on the outside."
Somalia car bomb kills 100, wounds 400; Seoul, Korea stampede kills 150 injures hundreds; a bridge collapses in India and kills 141; the Palestinians fight the Jews—16 dead; Ukraine staves off another invasion and people are dying by the thousands; a gunman opens fire in an elementary school and slaughters in double digits; millions are starving in Africa; and hurricane Ian is the hardest to hit Florida since 1935.
And we head into 2023 with the same hope as 2022: "Dear Lord, please make this a better year," as the Devil chuckles.
The Book of Revelations lists the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. It seems that there is a Fifth Horseman. It is us, and, for no apparent reason, we still hope for better times. Sometimes it makes me want to throw up. The odds are against us—eight to five and climbing.
Buddha's brain wants us to practice the science of happiness, peace, and wisdom, and still we raise animals to slaughter. We poison our bodies, minds, and environment. We send our children into harm's way and for no apparent reason, we hope for the best in our lives and for our loved ones. I don't get it.
We believe and follow leaders that only serve themselves, and the highest bidders keep them in office by voting for the loudest voice, or someone who talks as smooth as cream cheese on a bagel. We know the names of the players on our local football team better than those of our representatives in congress. Our attention span and reading levels are—what was I gonna say?
Oh! just this: We're acting like we're stupid, and we know it.
Renouncing ego seems the way to go; however, in this dog-eat-dog rat race, where we work like beavers just to keep our head above water, when we're up to our asses in alligators, it's hard to remember that our goal was to join in the Peace River Freedom Swim.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? What's to keep us from going emotionally comatose when it all seems to be an uphill battle? How are we to maintain a positive outlook on life? Hope.
Hope; the way we view life, the universe, and everything; not taking our quality of life for granted is how. Realizing that everything is relative like the sun, the moon, and the stars, and how we react to a beautiful sunset or the tiniest of flowers could possibly bring about world peace.
Some wise guy said, "I will tell you the truth. Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven," implying that the way that we're living should not be our default state. Chew on that for a moment.
Here's the point: In the quest to relieve the adverse effects that bring about disappointment, disillusionment, heartache, misery, and soul-sucking pain in our lives because of greed and ego, we collectively are advised to follow these three simple steps to achieve a happy and forever existence: right thought, right speech, and right action (a practical guideline for ethical and mental development designed to free us from attachments and delusions).
Think about it: If you don't have anything good to say, shut the pie hole, swallow that negativity, and, eventually, you'll begin to stop your negative thoughts (not as simple as it sounds, and it takes a lot of practice). Once you've gone beyond keeping your mouth shut and follow up with thinking pleasanter thoughts, you'll find your outlook on life changing and indeed—your very life and actions.
Listen, you don't just wake up with a hangover, in a strange bed, with a three-legged dog, an empty bourbon bottle, and a mouth that tastes like a garbage truck has emptied itself on you with your tongue asleep, itchy teeth, and remembering that, not only are you still living with your mother, but you vaguely recall calling up your employer last night and telling them to stick your job and salary where the sun don't shine. When that happens to you, you may want to consider the concept of cause and effect.
You don't just happen to wake up naked across the hood of your car with the ignition key stuck in your butt without it. These situations start somewhere. The exact wrong decision that you've made before but refused to learn from because you didn't think, thought that it was gonna be fun, or this time you hoped the outcome would be different.
You don't get it, do you? Hope is not enough. It's 2023, folks. It's time to wake ourselves, and the world, up and get our act together. Because this world, with you in it, is going to hell in a handbasket, and no one can save it but you (and you, and you, and me). Get it? Got it? Good.
I Restauranti Morti or Dead Cafés
March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 a pandemic. On March 15, 2020, states began to implement shutdowns in order to prevent the spread. The shutdowns included schools, commerce, the service industry, trade, and other retail businesses considered "inessential". About two years later, one million Americans were dead and so was food and beverage ("from farm to tombstone", as they say). In the country in general and in New Orleans specifically, the thin line between effort and reward was quickly erased.
Immediately, if not sooner, the government began a program called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, The American Rescue Plan Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which put money into the pockets of workers affected by not having any work to go to. Forty-three agencies took part in giving nearly $4 trillion to keep folks in food, clothing, and shelter. The Paycheck Protection Program gave away no-cost loans to "essential" businesses that needed to remain open so that folks could spend that gravy from the government train. Unfortunately, with the pandemic worldwide, the supply chain came off the rails and "essential" goods and services came to a standstill along with wholesale household, food, electronic, and repair supplies. Rent, mortgage, insurance, and utility bills did keep coming and restaurants in New Orleans fell like circus clowns in a mud pool rope-pulling contest.
Just when light appeared at the end of a long dark tunnel, along came Hurricane Ida and every eatery ate dirt. Multiple closings (and re-openings) during erratic/sporadic COVID lockdown periods took a financial toll everywhere. Some restaurants never got back to their knees, let alone their feet. As one owner put it, "I've reopened, shut down, reopened, and shut down again and lost entire inventories and staff four times, and (sigh) I just can't do it anymore. I'm throwing in the towel."
Some managed to hang on for six or eight months. However, many eateries are not many payrolls away from bankruptcy. Many an entrepreneur will tell you that the best way to go broke is to open a restaurant. The mortality rate is one of the highest of endeavors. For large and (especially) small eateries, the prognosis was obvious: if the supply chain, labor shortages, pandemic restrictions, electrical outages, and spotty trash pickups didn't get you, the hurricane (Ida) will take the grim and ironic humor (the usual attitude of a New Orleanian, if there ever was one) out of desperate and hopeless situations. We watched some of our favorite restaurants' tail lights gleam and there wasn't a dry eye in the house; some just walked and others ran away. One owner said it was like watching your childhood dreams die. Yes, it was that bad.
People who did not experience Katrina do not get visceral feelings when that subject comes up. Likewise, Newer Orleanians will not wax nostalgic when someone plays that 'ain't dere no more' game: Cake Café, Meauxbar, Emeril's Delmonico, Upperline, Arrow Café, or Saint Charles Tavern.
Some stalwarts tried comebacks. L'il Dizzy's Café on Esplanade died and was reborn, as was Couvant. Kebab on Saint Claude made a go with new ownership. Mimi's in the Marigny is still MIA. The last Semolina finally bit the dust. Nine Roses in the Quarter called it quits on the Eastbank. Nacho Mama's, Sammy's, Polly's, The Bordeaux, The Standard. And you know more than I do, which isn't where it was and ought to be. Kingfish is just gaining ground after its hiatus. Is Mahoney's open yet? It's a shame, sad, and downright unfair for this to happen to us. As they say: "It ain't ought to be like this; it's like being erased."
I've been in New Orleans on and off over 40 years and I can count on all the fingers of the Saints Cheer Krewe how many businesses that served my soul, spirit, and appetite have shut down, closed, but still remain a topic of conversation when like minded friends gather over a glass and recount the food that made us fall in love again and again (and again) with New Orleans.
The good news is that eateries are like phoenixes that rise from ashes, newly transformed for the new days here and ahead. Wide-eyed innocents and business-savvy veterans will take that "FOR RENT" sign down, add a coat of fresh paint, and open a new venture that will face all of the time-worn challenges of their predecessors with the same faith and optimism: Bisutoro, Pomelo, Queen Trini-Lis, Cru, Jamaican Jerk House, Leo's Bakery, Zee's Pizzeria, and Margot's all vying for a place in your favor, attention, and love. And what's not to love?
The sad news is that there will never be another K-Paul's Restaurant, and sadder still is that any of our most welcome newbies will look at us as if we are some kind of weird to be obsessed with recalling flavors and foods that have passed into the otherworld of gestation and olfactory memory. Someday, someone will open a restaurant called Orpheus that will bring back those memorable dishes. Do you remember Buster Holmes' red beans, Kolb's sauerbraten, Morrison's deluxe cornbread pecan dressing, the stuffed pepper and potato salad that came with the chicken platter at Chez Helene, the bread pudding with whiskey sauce at the Bon Ton Café? What was the name of that little place in the French Quarter that served a fried oyster and roast beef with gravy combo po-boy and called it a Bear Sandwich or what was that joint on Broad Street that deep-fried (breaded) their dressed po-boy? You see what I started?
Three things I've learned: cherish (and support) your favorite eateries for they also may fade someday, try new places to add more favorites to your memories, and The Wu Tang Clan ain't nuthin' to @#$%&!* with!
Disambiguation or Unfulfilled Closure
This is not about that 1993 film that starred Bill Murray entitled Groundhog Day, in which he relived the same day over and over and over again. It is about platitudes and the Kleine-Levin Syndrome.
"Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together," Elizabeth Taylor once advised.
Is it telling that we cremate loved ones and put them up on shelves instead of burying them? "So there's good ol' whatshisname (in the box/jar/urn), up there next to the San Marzano canned tomatoes." Or maybe the ashes are "over by the window (the better for them to enjoy the sunrise/set) atop their copy of Kahil Gibran's The Prophet," or perhaps they have their own shelf—an altar, if you will. Possibly, it has a battery-operated, perpetual candle, a bell, a book, maybe some plastic flowers, seashells—a chance for us to grieve in little increments as we get on with our busy life. A chance for us to look back and then a chance to back away and say, "What's done is done."
The alternative, of course, would have been a hole in the ground or an upper berth in a corner mausoleum where we could've wailed, tore our hair, wrent at our clothing, and maybe thrown ourselves despondently on top of the casket before it was lowered (or raised). A visit now and then would be in order. A chat, perhaps some freshening of the site, throw pillows, more flowers, saying, "Boohoo, I miss you," as time marches on.
Face it, nobody's perfect. We're somnambulating through most of our lives and are roused by reminders of what we missed, times we had, and situations we have left unresolved. There are also some that we have buried (or left unburied). And then hellishly, we try to catch up. We wake to find that time has passed, years maybe. The kids have grown, we're no longer young, it was just there the other day, and suddenly, "it ain't dere no more." Who knows where the time goes?
As Harry Chapin once lamented, "The cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon / little boy blue and the man in the moon." We can only do what we can do.
Gurus tell you to "be here now," an alcoholic says, "One day at a time," yogis recommend "meditation and repetition of your mantra," your bartender will tell you to "have another one," your shrink asks, "How you feel about it?" and your family will pose, "What the hell is wrong with you?" Grandma offers cookies. Your BFF takes you to lunch. Meher Baba says, "Don't worry, be happy".
We are so ahead of ourselves that ourselves are the ones left behind. We sometimes meet ourselves coming back from where we were going and may become momentarily discombobulated, flummoxed, and impulse in full power—boomeranged and deranged. I'm so confused that "[t]here's someone in my head but it's not me" makes too much sense (Brain Damage 1973).
Are we asleep at the wheel as life passes us by? Not quite. It's more like we're paying so much attention to the bumps, potholes, road debris, reckless drivers, stop signs, and school zones that it's all detours on our life's highways. So much to do, so little of it getting done and there it all is in the rear view mirror. I'm coming up on things that I need to do now. I'm overloaded, and I need a nap.
Okay, so now let's examine the Kleine-Levin Syndrome, sometimes called the Sleeping Beauty Sickness. It's not common enough to be in our faces, except that it can appear in varying functional degrees. Sleeping 20-22 hours a day—sometimes for weeks, months, and, in some cases, up to a year—getting up to gorge, exercise bodily functions (such as bowel movements and/or increased sexual impulses), while suffering from confusion, befuddlement, anxiousness, sometimes exhibiting violent behavior, and then going back to sleep. At times having to be told what went on in the world and life while unconscious. I posit that there is a distinct possibility that we all have it in some measure.
You close your eyes for a moment. Perhaps you feel like napping in the afternoon. You fall asleep on a bus, in a car, at a movie, and time marches on. Where did you go when the world went on without you? Away? Where is "away," anyway?
When one door closes…
I often think that if I wasn't reminded by the environment and familiarity of people present when I wake in the morning that I wouldn't know who I am, where I am, and what the hell I was doing in this place. Then I rouse, recognize some stuff, and I'm back to being who I am in this reality.
"If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow why can't I?" Dorothy once asked.
Where do I go in my daydreams, in my nightmares? And there I am remembering that I'm late with a bill or birthday card. As Alice once noted, it's "[c]uriouser and curiouser."
The fact that you don't get to use the limitless potential of your brain and intelligence doesn't mean that it doesn't strive to be used; that goes for your emotions, feelings, and spiritual development. Your brain goes into overdrive and for no apparent reason, you're drained of energy. It's a call to digress, digest, regroup, recharge, relax, but you say, "There's so much more that needs to get done."
I say to go easy on yourself. Sometimes you have to "[d]rink some coffee, put on some gangster rap, and handle it," as Martina Simonova observed. Other times, though, just sit back and let things work themselves out. Remember, this ain't no contest; you're doing better than you think, literally.
"Long you live and high you fly / Smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry / And all you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be" was put forth in the Pink Floyd song "Breathe (in the Air)."
Keep doin' whatcha doin'. You got this.
Dead End or Six Feet Above
For sure, there are forty-two cemeteries in the New Orleans area, and daily, people are dying to get into them, but, as you can imagine, it's still first come first served. Even considering the fact that death is such an inconvenience and, in my thoughts, a grave mistake, folks keep doin' it and we keep burying them. Or we burn them into ashes and send them home in an urn or a box to be shelved with the canned tomatoes.
Some will say, "In New Orleans, we don't just bury our dead, we send them off with a party, music, and dancing in the streets." That's kinda true. In a traditional jazz funeral here, the dearly departed are accompanied to their final rest with a brass band, the family in the front line, and the well wishers in the second line; the music is at a slow cadence until the body is laid to rest and then the band breaks into celebratory music as the soul is set free of its earthly bonds and the party moves on to the proper wake. There's dancing and drinking and so much carrying on that folks here almost look forward to Old Aunt Rose kicking the bucket—or not.
Cemeteries here are class-conscious to be sure. The higher classes go to Metairie where there's higher ground and they can be buried under it. The notorious and the famous prefer St. Louis Cemetery #1 where, although they're buried above ground, at least they are among their peers. The indigent get kicked to the curb in another place and make due as they can. I have one friend who says she'd rather be buried "in Holt cemetery with them hookers and homeless than there with them muckity-mucks in town."
Despite the fact that some people only rent tombs and some single burial plots can have upwards of twenty or more family members interred, it's a tradition to dress someone in their finest so they can be laid out to rot. I can't figure that one out. The rental plots are those iconic two level affairs where the casket is allowed to repose for a year and a day; after that time, a worker with a long pole pushes that which has not disintegrated with time and the tropic climate down a hole in the back of the second floor into the space below, giving rise to the adage of derision, "I wouldn't touch you with a ten foot pole" (or so the story goes).
You can't swing a cat here without hitting a cemetery and all the best folk are spread around like gossip: Marie Laveau (the Voodoo Queen) and Doctor John are night trippin' in Saint Louis Cemetery #1 outside the French Quarter along with Homer Plessy, Etienne de Bore (the sugar king), and the-not-yet-dead-but-has-a-tomb, Nicholas Cage. Saint Louis #2 has Ernie K. Doe (but not his mother-in-law), and Paul Prudhomme is buried largely in Saint Louis #3.
Mount Olivet near Dillard University is swingin' with Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, and rapper Soulja Slim. Pete Fountain and Al Hirt are backing up Mahalia Jackson, and Gram Parsons' charred remains in Metairie along with the "Queen of the Storyville Madams," Josie Arlington, looking fondly on. If you're into rather large prosthetic limbs, crutches, and eyeglasses displayed, visit the gothic revival chapel at Saint Roch Cemetery #1.
Unlike at the more ornate "Cities of the Dead," Holt Cemetery has most of their inhabitants buried underground. Filled to capacity with New Orleans indigent, homeless and fringe society one-time denizens, it can be depressing and haunting until you consider the probable devil-may-care lives led by those that wind up there. And among the wooden crosses, hand-lettered planks and even unmarked mounds of earth, Babe Stovall, Buddy Bolden, Jack Working, Jessie Hill, Robert Charles, and countless "ladies of the evening" are cavorting with, at last count, at least 1,400 military veterans and don't really give a rat's whisker what you think of them. As a side note, Huey P. Long is buried in Baton Rouge and New Orleans' favorite son, Louis Armstrong, decided he'd rather go underground in Queens, New York.
We take an almost morbid fascination here with our cemeteries, films are shot in them, tours are given of them, rituals and macabre rites are performed in them and not one person I know doesn't believe that spirits will rise in them at any given moment. When I read Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, I considered it not so much as a piece of fiction, but a documentary.
Dying isn't enough for a person here; it's never the end. Anyone who has ever "gotten" New Orleans will believe that when it's time to shuffle off this mortal coil, their last thoughts will be "I ain't goin' nowhere," and will find themselves as another of the myriad of ghosts, spirits, and phantasmagoria here that share the spaces of those still weighed down with human flesh. Don't believe it if you don't want to, but come sit a spell in one of our "cities of the dead" and bring a lunch. I guarantee you'll feel a tap on your shoulder, an unlikely bit of breeze, or get the feeling of being watched—especially if that meal is some Brother's fried chicken, and you can leave the bones for the myriad of felines that cohabitate with our dearly not so departed.
I read the obituaries daily to see if I'm in them; it would just be like my friends not to let me know that I've gone over my own Rainbow Bridge. Will I be united with all the people from my past? Maybe not. Could I possibly reconnect with all the critters that I've shared my life with? I'm counting on it.
Bon Appétit or Soup's On!
Long before the advent of the Celebrity Chef, the hands that stirred the pots in New Orleans restaurants were black and people were fed well. Curiously, the business' names are generally synonymous with the names of the (white) restaurateurs Antoine's, Galatoire's, Arnaud's, Tujaques, and Kolbs.
It was the same in most major cities that became famous for food. An enterprising person put out tables, called it a café or restaurant and started serving food. Someone placed a wooden board across two barrels, called it a bar and served drinks. They stood in the way of hungry and thirsty traffic and worked and built and served and took in money and raised their children to do the same. Eventually staff was added and the owners became managers and handled the money, the clients, and their employees; then, their reputations grew.
Sometimes they began as a grocery store and shoehorned in space for a kitchen as takeout food became a source of income and by and large the kitchens were cramped, hot, sweaty, noisy, dirty, and a hard, thankless place to work. The hours were long, the pay was small, and the staff was readily expendable. There was no training curriculum except being told what to do and becoming trusted to know and do more. Workers, and those in charge of them, were invisible to the public. That was then and this is now.
Fast forward to the twentieth century where our food Mecca is comprised of restaurant museums, factories, and little mom and pop places that carved out niches and anchored neighborhoods. Any cook or culinarian with any ambition left town for training (and generally did not come back) and any ambitious restaurateur fished outside of this small pond for talent. The food here was mostly popular with locals.
In the 1970s a forward-thinking Ella Brennan hired, outside of the box, a magician of flavor named Paul Prudhomme who put Creole and Cajun food not only on the map, but in actuality, splashed our food and flavors into the world's faces (and the world lapped every scrap and wiped their plates clean). Culinary classes, per se, had barely started emerging as curriculum and endeavors; however, no real full time structured education for aspiring chefs took root and dared face the world, worthy of the name "school."
In 2017 after three years of negotiations, a location at 725 Howard Avenue, a space of 94,000 square feet, quietly began construction of what would become the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute or NOCHI. At that time the hospitality industry was the region's largest employer with a workforce of 88,000 people, and it was clear to anyone with the sense of a goat that a lack of education was the one thing seriously holding so many employees back. Several New Orleans culinary and business heavy hitters including Ti Martin of Commander's Palace and Dickie Brennan backed the foundling enterprise with energy, financial astuteness, fancy footwork, and all-around audacity. NOCHI opened for its first class in January 2019.
We all know what the last three years have been like and can probably imagine what any business in New Orleans has been through; it's been like that at NOCHI— squared. The economy, the pandemic, the hurricane, the pandemic again, and the recession have bent, but not broken, the spirit of NOCHI which is like a proud ship sailing rough seas. As captain and executive director of that ship, Chef Leah Sarris, RD, LDN holds fast to the vision and purpose.
I started at the location with World Central Kitchen during Hurricane Ida where NOCHI turned the building into a machine that put over half a million meals into the stomachs of New Orleanians along with four surrounding parishes. I stayed on and became Executive Events Chef and part of a cadre of professionals dedicated to making NOCHI look sharp and stand tall.
NOCHI is skilling the chefs of New Orleans and the world (pun intended); the 650 hours' course of instruction in the culinary arts as well as baking and pastry is taught by instructors who could work anywhere in the world but have chosen NOCHI. The support staff consisting of directors of admissions, educations, finance, promotions, and dining are second to none that I've ever seen and there is real NOCHI pride that comes to work each day. NOCHI pride is an inspiration and shines through the students (called cohorts) that are basically given an immersion into the arts, sciences, and execution of the culinary disciplines—none of which is available in on the job training.
When a cohort finishes the 100-day course of instruction, they are on the fast track to becoming chefs, managers and owners; with this knowledge, paired with focus and dedication, the sky virtually is the limit.
Imagine, if you will, the arrival of a new class of cohorts; they're in their fresh white chef's jackets, have new knife kits, are freshly scrubbed and more than a little intimidated by what lies ahead: being thrown into the deep end of the culinary pool. Slowly, they gain their footing and take on the rhythm of learning: knife skills, protein fabrication, bread baking, basic desserts both fancy and fancier, breakfast and lunch standard dishes, as well as the preparation of meals in twelve nationalities. They gain visible confidence.
At the close of each course the cohorts "pop up" a simulated restaurant in the third floor dining lab where the public (by reservation) gets to sample what their capabilities have become. Don't miss out on a magical mystery meal; there may be one coming up before you know it.
New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute, 725 Howard Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130. 504-891-4060. This article came to you spontaneously and unsolicited from NOCHI's biggest fan: me. Thank you.
Dreamer or What's Goin' On?
It seems that these days are some of the darkest that we've seen, that wherever we turn, things are not turning out righteous. Still we hope and pray that whenever one person stands up and says, Wait a minute, this is wrong," it will help other people to do the same" (Anon). And yet no one will admit the Emperor has
How old am I? I was old when groups like the Raspberries, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and The 1910 Fruitgum Company were making money with bad beats and childish lyrics. I was old when the Doors, the Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin) made my head explode. I was still older when industrial, heavy metal, electronic, hip hop, rap, and woke music snuck their way into my aural aura. I digested folk music at an early age, I swooned over progressive jazz in my formative years, and I still get misty on classical and symphonic music. I am at peace with that Eastern Raga, and I jump up and kiss reggae tunes. Country and western music and rhythm and blues really can get me going, and I can sing along with Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke 'til the train rolls in. All of which makes me a well rounded and dedicated revolutionary. Who better equipped to rail against the machine?
Add to that that I am an insatiable reader of just as many genres as the music that I listen to. I disappeared into books when I was young like someone running into the woods and have not returned yet. I was born old and have only gotten younger and more energetic with each trip around the sun—my getting younger does not mean that I've gotten naive, quite the opposite. I have seen and have an aversion to cruelty, injustice, and the self-serving hypocrisy, misogyny, and the mendacity of people who, through no consent of mine, believe themselves fit and in charge of the health and well being of more than themselves, bastards all.
You see, basically, you cannot have all that stuff running around in your veins and gray cells without thinking that there should be something done to end this madness and insanity in the day-to-day living on this planet that only gets weirder and more hurtful as months and years pass. I can give you so many examples; however, good taste has me avoiding topics in my rants that include sex, politics, and religion. You, as astute as you are, can read between the lines and put context with my content to your heart's delight.
The average age of our readership is well below half my lifetime, and I wonder if experience and exposure hath not made my little outlook less rosy and/or sanguine. Youngsters might consider that I, as well as other geezers, have been witness to events and conditions that are possibly unimaginable to a younger generation: abject racism, sexism, fires, floods, storms, wars, assassinations, civil liberties fought for and won (or lost), earthquakes, devastations, and defeats of all stripes. That that might tend to drizzle a bit on an oldster's current outlook, but know that under it all, I maintain a quixotic sense that good will triumph over evil, no matter the scars that we must carry forth for our efforts, no matter how many times "heaven calls in sick on me and let hell's claws bust through these doors. Love still lives here," as Robert J. Sherrah says. Amen.
So this month will be full of storms, and as I live and breathe, I can assure you that at times, it will seem like "cheer up things could be worse" is only an assurance that even when you cheer up, things get worse. If you've been paying attention at all and are not so busy trying to keep your life from falling apart physically, mentally, and emotionally, you'll have seen the clouds on the horizon looking like the storm of your existence is about to blow this house to the Kingdom of L. Frank Baum where your spirit will be risked at great expense. There will be times when someone will tell you, "you ain't seen nuthin' yet" and have it sound like an omen. Of course it is, but they only say that because their memory has not let go of their experiences—good or not good.
The only challenge with that is they are not you—you are the warrior, no matter your age. In essence, we're all living with our own battle of good versus evil, and it's up to us to keep up the fight. The powers that have taken it upon themselves to make decisions about our health and welfare need to be kept challenged on a constant basis, no matter how tiring and frustrating it may be. The bastards need that power taken away from them.
I say, pay attention to that person behind the curtain. Would you have tea, buy a car, take a pill, or vote with confidence for them? Would you invite them into your house, share a meal or a bed with them, trust your children or your money with them, trust and let them tell you what's best for you and not what they can benefit from?
Listen, there's a story going around about a small country that has been invaded by and is at war with a power far superior in assets and weaponry than they, and yet they fight for their land, freedom and dignity. The world watches and tries to support their efforts, and still they're getting their asses kicked royally. And still they fight. How could you let complacency allow you to be less than them in your personal life? And yes, I said that this piece would avoid discourse on sex, politics and religion. I lied—he is naked.
Ball of Confusion or Kiss My Assets
"I wanna learn patience, and I wanna learn it right now." That's right, that's my friggin' mantra: "Patience: right now."
I mean, how many things in my/your/our everyday life conspire—yes conspire—to keep us from obtaining spiritual growth, peace, harmony, and all the other crap that it will take for us to be able to settle damn down and be simply "happy." It's like a conspiracy: from your phone alarm thinking that it's tomorrow (or yesterday), to spell-check thinking you said f**k instead of flock, or your phone fielding a call from someone who wants to give your car "one more chance to renew its service warranty," or the password that you've been using for six years being deemed invalid, so you need a new one with twelve or more letters including, but not limited to: "one upper case, one lower case, one numerical symbol, one weird at the top of the keyboard symbol, one of your pet's names, the numerical equivalent of the last blood pressure that you had taken, and your mother's maiden name" (now, "prove that you're not a robot by picking out the telephone poles in this photo").
You misplace your car keys, your Amazon package is porch lifted, you get a notice for jury duty, your favorite place to get coffee is closed (suddenly) on Mondays, and your new route to work includes three School Zones and two construction detours. Is the universe really trying to piss you off? Yes, it is.
Listen, the entire universe is locked in a battle of good against evil; it's beside the point that evil is kicking our asses. We, as heroes, are being distracted from joining the struggle by forces that continue to distract us from participating in the conflict. Your landlord is selling the house that you've been renting, the air conditioning in the car just quit, your co-worker just came down with COVID, and/or your actions at work have now been considered "micro-aggressive" because you called someone an "a-hole" (because they are), and you've been sent by HR to a "sensitivity training" seminar.
In the normal, dysfunctional world, the way things work is that the boss gives the man a bad time, the man comes home and gives the wife grief, she then takes it out on the kid, the kid kicks the dog, and the dog bites a neighbor (me). The universe works the same way, but you're above that—you've found a 'happy place" that helps you to reconnect with your center—your spirit, your calm, your patience.
There's conflict in the world: there's war, real people are dying and displaced, and there's hunger, disease, disruption, and despair. People are hurting, evil rides rampant, children are being gunned down, the government doesn't care to, or is just too impotent to act. Hunger, injustice, civil liberties, and so-called rights are being trampled on, and unnatural disasters that are mowing down people's lives and property have become commonplace—global frickin' warming. Name it, we got it.
We've had a choice, and we've taken it. We can take mud up to our chins and, then, either swallow it or spit it out, and we've chosen to spit it out. We speak out, we vote, we act out, and we're vocal in our views. We have values. Evil does not care. Peace, love, and understanding are fodder to be mowed down like the idealists before us, to be worn down, to be tested and bested. What do we do? We recharge and move the needle forward.
Everyone who believes in freedom and justice needs to recharge. My advice is to find your happy place and visit as often as possible. Early on, my happy place was wearing myself out with drugs, alcohol, and rocking 'n' rolling until I couldn't see straight. But one quiet night, in a strange place, I looked up and saw a sky full of stars and found a real "happy place." Now, when I feel disconnected from my patience and peace, I go to one of my happy places. I realize that I will never solve the world's challenges and can only do my small part by being a good person, an example, and a revolution/evolution of one.
A happy place is not a place of distraction; it is a place where you find peace and strength within yourself returning to its normal high functioning level. Here are a few examples:
Take a long walk or hike, by yourself; speak to no one. Read a book about some protagonist's adventures—one who uses wit to overcome malice. Go sit under a tree. Go for a swim. Make a pot of spaghetti sauce (enough for twelve). Go to a big store and peruse the aisles and wonder at the things people buy. Put on some quiet music and listen or sit still, let the crazy horses' band of thoughts gallop wildly until they're exhausted. Get down on your hands and knees and visit the small flowers that grow unnoticed. Watch bees and butterflies. Commune with your cat. Roam a museum and don't analyze the works found there—just enjoy looking. Go to a coffee house where you know nobody and have a tasty pastry. Take a nap. Recharge.
Sound simple? It's not. Most times we're being knocked about like a pinball in an arcade game, and it almost becomes reflex to keep thinking on our feet, nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, tacking into the wind, racing with the rats, and runnin' with the devil. Go easy on yourself and everything will get done eventually. Concentrate your energy on the challenge of the moment. Namaste and all that nonsense, and, as Mister Natural says, "keep your sunny side up."
Randall or Paradise Lost
Randy has gone into "assisted living," which to me, means into a purgatory between independence and invalidation. He's at one of the better facilities, one with a high falutin religious moniker and we can go visit. He doesn't get around much anymore so we will have to go to him. The word is that he's "adjusting quite nicely." That's not the Randy that I met nearly twenty-five years ago. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "and so it goes," but not quite.
Randall Garland was a gin and tonic drinker, he was an artist/painter, had served in the Army overseas, raised a family, was on good terms with his former wife, and was loved by his daughters and grandkids. His apartment is now empty. No longer will I walk by and hear the strains of classical music from his record player, and I'm sure that his season tickets to the opera are no longer valid. He will no longer hold court on his porch during Jazz Fest and tell interesting and funny stories about the life he had led, was leading, and was also looking forward to pursuing.
I met Randy at a time when we all were younger, when literary salons and raconteurs in the French Quarter were de rigueur, when drinking in bars was an adult occupation and conversation about life, the universe and everything was an art to be polished and pursued, and when patrons would rather commiserate than watch mind-numbing HD screens. Randall was a master. At one time Randall had lived above the Napoleon House and painted; he had a bevy of women and men that adored him. He could be relied on to know local geographical history, current events, and topics of art and literature. He wrote and published a book. He was a member of the city museum and voted religiously.
He was raised in the Ninth Ward, had a career, owned property, and could be relied on to have a shine on his shoes and a smile on his face. He was kind, and it's not like he's passed away—only passed on to a place that will assist him in his everyday life and make sure that he's comfortable and taken care of, which is something that he did quite well into his eighth decade on his own terms and in his own time. Randy never was, as Shakespeare said, "a walking shadow, a poor player who strutted and fretted his hour on the stage." To those of us who have known Randall Garland, he is a god.
His fishing camp on the Gulf Coast, where he had sleepovers and fish fries for "the gang," who was blown away by Katrina. He took an apartment further down the road and drove there weekly. I wonder what they did with his car… Obviously, he no longer drives. I wonder if the new place knows how much he likes his gumbo and fried shrimp po-boys. I wonder if there's someone there to listen to his conversation, if he's still on his computer, and if he's sleeping well. I wonder what he's thinking.
And now I wonder if you too have a Randall in a "facility," if you too will go visiting, if you too know that someday you, too, will be in Randall's shoes, in Randall's place, "assisted" in your living.
I think these places where people are housed seem like book depositories where tomes are sent, having been handicapped by age or infirmary, each with stories that have been written but never published. Some are in libraries; some are in warehouses depending on their value to others. They are cared for in their fashion until some future expiration date finally closes them, and their stories are lost or only remembered by someone who once was a part.
Denmark instituted a Human Library Organization, which is now available in eighty countries. The idea is to check out a person and learn about them and from them. It helps you and it helps them; it's like reading a book-a book about them. What an idea, huh? Its mission is to build spaces in the community for personal dialogue about issues that are often difficult, challenging or stigmatizing. They publish people like open books on a given subject and "readers" ask questions and get answers from "their book." It's win-win.
Facilities for the elderly and less-than-mobile would be the perfect place to gain some insight to our outlooks, wouldn't you say? These places are occupied by folks that have lived through good and bad times: teachers, poets, parents, and the ordinary and the extraordinary people that have gone through hell, high water, and high and low times. These are books that need to be read and understood-how to get along with a partner/mate, how to keep from lighting my hair on fire every time that I feel stressed, how the hell do you make tough choices, and why does the meringue on my lemon pie not stand up?
There are people in those places that are worth listening to, and they also need perspective. As I get older, and the lemons that I'm used to throwing back at life no longer can be ignored. I want to reiterate to someone how I believe that my life was worth living still and how I have loved, lost, fought and overcome challenges that have made me a worthwhile person.
At that stage of his life, I want Randall to have dialogue with someone who wants to know about the time he was fishing in Claremont Harbor and had to warn a swimmer that there was a six foot alligator heading their way and that maybe they should think about heading back to shore; about how to hold a lantern above your head at night when you wade in the gulf in search of flounder and how high you need to roll your pants legs up.
Consider Randall Garland worth considering.