Day 5 / The Daze Between ... Monday, April 25


The three days between the two weekends of Jazz Fest, which everyone refers to as the Daze Between, are a time to do some exploring, catch up with life in the outside world, do chores like laundry and replenishing provisions, enjoy some more of the excellent eating establishments in New Orleans, and take in some street music and evening shows. All of this takes place at a more relaxed pace than on the Jazz Fest days. It's one of the best parts of the trip.

Today I was still on my own. It was another magnificent day, with a high temperature of 84 under partly cloudy skies. It was more humid than on any of the previous days, though, and the breeze was light to nonexistent. So it was pretty warm downtown and in the French Quarter, where I spent the day.

Another advantage of the Daze Between is that you can get your day off to a, let's say, more leisurely start. 

I finally ventured out of the Staybridge around 11 a.m. (temperature 78 degrees) and walked over to the P.J.'s Coffee in the Doubletree Hotel. I got the biggest coffee they could sell me, after which I parked myself at one of their outdoor tables along South Peters Street, across from Harrah's Casino. This is a nice shady spot, which they could make a lot more inviting if they would green it up a bit. Nonetheless, I lingered there for quite awhile, sipping my coffee, checking in at home, and frankly just watching the world go by. The lingering effects of last week's flu were almost gone but I didn't want to overdo it on these three days of rest.

   

After I finished the coffee I began to roam, first along the river, then on Decatur Street and down to the French Market. Musicians were all over the place. A saxophone player was along the river walk, and a blues guitar player was in front of Café Du Monde. A bit further down the street the traditional New Orleans jazz band at the Market Café was playing. You just can't beat this city early on a beautiful day (early here meaning noontime), and the tourist areas were busy but not crowded.

I spent a few minutes browsing around in the French Market, I don't know why because nothing there has ever really interested me. I walked up Governor Nicholls Street, past the mansion formerly owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, rather unassuming from the outside, but sold for $4.9 million. Check out the listing and you'll see why! All of these French Quarter homes were built to accentuate the interior and the courtyard behind. This one really does that, even including a guest house. 

Brad Pitt became interested in New Orleans and helping its less fortunate citizens recover from the Federal floods when he was filming "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" on location in the city in 2006 and 2007. He has been particularly involved in helping to return people to the Lower Ninth Ward area through the Make It Right Foundation. The Foundation is one of several building sustainable, energy-efficient, and essentially storm-proof homes in this area, which was totally devastated in 2005.

After a block, I turned onto to Chartres Street (by the way, in New Orleans it is pronounced "Charters") and headed back toward Jackson Square, passing Saint Mary's Catholic Church and the Old Ursuline Convent on the way. 

               

The church was built in 1845, but the convent dates back to 1753 and is the oldest structure in the Mississippi Valley. Over the centuries, this building has been a convent for the Ursuline nuns, a school, an archbishop's residence, an archdiocesan central office, and a meeting place for the Louisiana Legislature. Today, the convent, St. Mary's Church, and St. Louis Cathedral make up the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

The Old Ursuline Convent’s facade is simple, with twelve bays, two floors, and an attic level with dormers. The structure uses brick-between-post construction covered by a white plaster, simulating stone on the corners and central bay. The doors and windows use simple molding while a pediment underscores the main entrance. Having many doors and windows available and across from each other is a feature that was developed specifically for this climate as a way to battle the oppressive heat and humidity. Placing the doors and windows parallel creates a cross ventilation, forcing warm interior air out and cool outside air in. According to the National Park Service, it is the finest surviving example of French Colonial public architecture in the country, and as such it is a National Historic Landmark.

Jackson Square was quiet, so I headed back to the river to sit a spell and ponder what I would be having for lunch. Here are a couple of videos I took of the mighty Mississippi as it flows by New Orleans.  


I decided to try Johnny's Po-Boys for lunch. When it comes to sandwiches, this place is a New Orleans institution. It's on St. Louis Street in the same block as Emeril's NOLA restaurant. It's been in business since 1950 and it has what is probably the widest selection of po-boys in the city. Check out the menu here.

Johnny’s is open for breakfast and lunch, closing at 4:30 in the afternoon. If you go, you need to bring cash, because they don't fool around with credit cards. You walk into a room with tables full of people eating (there is another dining area in the back) and you can find a pretty long line, which is OK because that gives you time to peruse the huge menu. The line today wasn't all that bad. I placed my order, having decided on the fried oyster po-boy, paid, and waited for a while because everything at Johnny's is prepared to order. I got my po-boy dressed, meaning the fried oysters would be on a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, with mayonaise on the bread.

I found the service at Johnny's to be really nice considering how busy the place was. When my number was called (for the record it was 979), I went back to the counter to get my sandwich and cup for a drink to go. The sandwich was really good. The oysters were fried very nicely and the bread was light and crusty but not at all dry. Bread really makes a po-boy, and here it was pretty close to perfect.

Here's a video with the Johnny's folks talking about their place and their food.


I took my sandwich and soft drink down to Jackson Square, found a shady spot on a bench near the statue in the center so I could do some people watching and listening to the traditional brass band that I enjoyed on Thursday (and for that matter we have enjoyed every year).

After I ate I headed over to Royal Street to listen to some more street musicians, including a guy with an old, beat-up piano that he wheeled around. That's him at the top of today's report. 

I walked on Royal Street down to Barracks Street, then back down to the French Market and eventually back to the walk along the river. When I reached the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, I decided to take in their IMAX move "Hurricane on the Bayou," which tells the story of the swamplands that have defended New Orleans from hurricanes and how their recent depletion left the city extremely vulnerable.

In the film, narrator Meryl Streep introduces the audience to four charismatic New Orleans musicians, three of whom I've introduced previously: the legendary singer, songwriter, pianist, and producer Allen Toussaint; the impassioned Cajun blues guitarist and wetlands activist Tab Benoit; the 14-year-old fiddling prodigy and rising teen sensation Amanda Shaw; and the man who discovered Amanda and helped produce her first album, the high-energy zydeco accordion master Chubby Carrier. (The links go to interviews about thir participation in the film.) Each has an incredible story to tell about their love for Louisiana and their loss during Katrina. Benoit allowed the film crew to accompany him as he returned to what was left of his home after the storm in a particularly moving segment.  

As is usually the case with an IMAX film, the photography is spectacular. The film begins in the bayou itself, showing a family of alligators. The story then explores how New Orleans rose up hundreds of years ago out of an untamed swampland and became the city where a feeling of joyful freedom permeates the music, the food, and life in general, where a spicy gumbo of African, Native American, Cajun, Creole, and Southern influences forged a completely unique culture. 

Louisiana's coastal location (the state contains 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the continental United States according to the National Wetland and Aquatic Research Center) was both a boon and a bane to the city. New Orleans evolved into the busiest port in the country, prompting engineers to divert the Mississippi River, depleting the delta wetlands and leaving the city increasingly vulnerable to the killer winds and rising waters of seasonal hurricanes.  

Setting out for the bayous on an airboat with Benoit and Shaw, the movie reveals how in the last 50 years, the natural coastal buffer that once sheltered New Orleans from severe storms has drastically deteriorated, endangering many unique animal and plant species and leaving the city wide open to nature's forces. Spectacular flights over the Gulf of Mexico reveal the shocking reality that every half hour, Louisiana loses a section of wetlands the size of a football field. Benoit explains that hope for the future of New Orleans will lie in concerted efforts to not only preserve but restore these wetlands by redirecting the Mississippi River's silt and replanting vital foliage.

Ultimately, the story builds to the monster storm that was Katrina and the crisis it brought to New Orleans, causing families to be separated, homes to be lost, and 100 square miles of wetlands and marshes to be destroyed by saltwater (including damage caused by Hurricane Rita, which followed only a month after Katrina). When the filming started, the producers had intended to use special effects to depict the damage that could be done by a major hurricane. Katrina allowed them to produce haunting 70-mm footage of a very real storm's aftermath, providing a shocking reminder of just how vast the storm's devastation really was.  

Finally, returning to New Orleans in the bittersweet 2006 Mardi Gras season, the film reveals a city beginning to recover and reunites the musicians and gospel singer Marva Wright for a passionate performance in St. Louis Cathedral. However, the film is more than the moving story of how these musicians survived Katrina and are facing the future, nor it is just the story of how the destruction of the wetlands is wreaking devastation for both humans and animals. It demonstrates the tremendous value of New Orleans and Louisiana to our nation. It shows what a treasure this city is and how losing it would be an unthinkable tragedy.

When I left the theater I headed back over to Jackson Square to relax and reflect, enjoying the late afternoon sun and listening to the afternoon brass band, the younger one which plays with a lot more energy than the more traditional group that plays in the early afternoon. It was a real pick-me-up. In a peaceful setting like that on a beautiful day like today, it is difficult to image the troubled recent past and the constant peril this city faces.

By now the afternoon was turning into evening. I thought I had just been leisurely strolling around, but my phone told me I had walked a total of 9 miles. Once I saw that I began to feel a bit worn out, so I decided to head back to the Staybridge and call it a day. 

On the way back I stopped at Mother's, which as you know by now (you do, don't you) is directly across the street from the Staybridge. You can read all about this one-of-a-kind establishment on Day 2 in the 2013 report. I've been there enough that I know the drill there and have even gotten to the point where I can talk to the host, the guy who helps those intimidated folks who are coming in for the first time. 

My choice was a baked ham dinner. Mother's purportedly makes the world's best baked ham. I have no idea how anyone would know this, but who am I to doubt them? It is incredibly moist and has a hint of seasoning that does make it taste very good. 

With the baked ham dinner, Mother's gives you not one, not two, but three side dishes. I chose red beans and rice with andouille, potato salad, and green beans with tomatoes. Seriously, it was enough food for three meals.

This day was a very relaxing, just what the doctor ordered. And the Daze Between can only get better tomorrow. 

© Jeff Mangold 2012