A postcard from New Orleans: beautiful, baby

by Brian Clarey

Something happens when you fly over Louisiana’s swamps and Lake Pontchartrain comes into view through the tiny airplane windows on your way into New Orleans.

Your spirit lifts. Your heart slows down. Your head gets a little lighter. At least, that’s what happens to me. It happens every time. My wife and I left this place nine years ago, before the floodwaters ravaged the city and its people. It’s where we came of age, where we fell in love, where our first child was born. We’re here to celebrate the nuptials of Atom and Nat’ly, who for a short time were Greensboro’s favorite Katrina refugees. They went back to the Crescent City after about six months and now live in a modern cottage on the West Bank, which locals call the “Best Bank,” both with and without irony. We have other plans, too, of course. This is our city, and we plan to drink deeply from its chalice. We take our lodgings in the Uptown home of the former Webster St. Germain, three floors in the shotgun style. Webby, a former artist’s model, has covered the walls with artwork and sculpture sits on every available surface. It takes days to catalog all the art, some of which depicts Web herself, clearly created by one of the men she has smitten in her life. Over the days, I count eight chandeliers hanging from her ceilings. Uptown New Orleans was my haunt from 1988 until 1993, when I graduated from Loyola University — which, by the way, still sits like a gem on the St. Charles streetcar line. Later I moved to the Garden District and then, thrillingly, to a back street in the French Quarter, the finest years of my youth. Jill and I hit some of the bars where I used to work on our first day on town. We have bloody marys at Madigan’s on the riverbend; we eat shucked oysters, crawfish pies and shrimp po-boys at Cooter Brown’s, where I worked the door as a 19-year-old, my first bar job. We roll on the streetcar to the Garden District to Igor’s, where I worked the graveyard shift from 1995 until 2000, my own form of grad school. Our pictures still adorn the wall of Igor’s even all these years later, and there are a couple of our firstborn son in the days after he was hatched. Scottish Brian was behind the bar and Brandi was out on the sidewalk. They have not forgotten us. Want to hear more about the food? We eat crawfish cheesecake and fried-oyster salad. We drink beer made with fresh strawberries from Pontchatoula and many cups of very good coffee. I devour the greatest roast beef po-boy in the world at my friend Jeff’s Irish Channel bar Parasol’s, and I take down another roast beef po-boy, this one soaked in gravy, dipped in batter and then deepfried at Jacque-Imo’s. I eat the whole thing with a knife and fork. And the night before the wedding, Atom cooks a cochon du fowl, which is a duck stuffed inside a chicken stuffed inside a turkey stuffed inside a sucking pig. As for music, we catch the Tin Men at dba down in the Marigny, Kermit Ruffins blowing his horn at Vaughn’s in the 9th Ward while Walter “Wolfman” Washington sat at the bar and tapped his feet (oh yes, he later sat in with some mesmerizing licks.) We wander into the Maple Leaf on Oak Street and find Robert Mercurio and Jeff Raines of Galactic holding court on the stage and my old editor from Where Y’At? magazine tending bar. The cover charge: four bucks. The entire city of New Orleans is a work of art. But the greatest thing about it, I believe, are the beautiful people who live there. Jill and I may have forgotten how many friends we have down there, but we are reminded within minutes of touching down: José and the Doc, Georgie Boy and Jen, Tremmell and Big Tiny, Mark and Myron, Gutshot Steve, Newcastle Dave (who made the trip on from San Francisco after leaving New Orleans five years ago), Big Bald Glen, F&M Deb and Jeremy, Jan and Scottish Sharon… and on and on and on. The wedding goes down in the rose garden at City Park, tranquil and serene, surrounded by thriving blooms. In the pond sits a vaguely pornographic sculpture of a woman riding a dolphin among the lily pads, and red-throated geckos scamper along the shrubbery. Bruce Daigrepont and his band play a slow Cajun waltz and Atom and Nat’ly, newly married, blissful, step and turn, step and turn. The clouds hang low in the blue, blue sky and a balmy breeze ruffles the fronds of the date palms. We drink to the bride and groom. We smell the sweet air. We laugh and we love. We are in New Orleans, and everything is right.