Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The New Orleans That I Know

The last Mardi Gras I saw in New Orleans was the first after Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped New Orleans off the map. It was also the first for my Atlanta granddaughters. It was easy navigating the streets, as there were very few folks in town. The locals had not yet been able to get re-established, and the tourists were unsure that there was anything to see outside of the destruction.

We were able to position ourselves at front and center for every parade, with our granddaughters having little competition for the treasures thrown by the many maskers on the Mardi Gras floats. Although it was sad to see the city so sparsely populated, it was a grand way to introduce these Bible Belt Babes to the pre-Lenten Catholic Craziness called Mardi Gras.

This was four years ago; this year, New Orleans is back! And we have the best seat in the house for reigning like royalty over the city of soul.

Mark and Susan, as did we, lost their home in Katrina. They relocated to Florida, and again to Louisville, leaving their flooded home to their son who wanted to reclaim it. They also left behind a French Quarter building that had been in Mark’s family for decades. I knew they had French Quarter property, but I’d never heard anything about it other than that it housed a touristy t-shirt shop. As I pined for New Orleans, I don’t know what made me ask Susan if they still had the property, but I did ask.

I was informed that, above the t-shirt shop, was an apartment that had been vacant for some time. Susan also let me know that they hadn’t seen the property for many years, and it was probably in bad shape. The main reason I had continued interest in seeing if the apartment had short-term parade rental potential was its location at the corner where all the downtown Mardi Gras parades pass.

As the realtor opened the dirty street-level door to a dingy hallway containing a set of very steep stairs, I was not encouraged. But, I still figured that even a roach motel could be useful as a safe family parade viewing stand – as long as it had a working flush toilet. When the key was turned in the lock at the head of the stairs, I stepped into the French Quarter version of apartment paradise.

The whole front and side of the building is made of windows looking out on the Canal Street parade route on one side and Royal Street on the other. The floor plan is mostly open space, perfect for partying. There are two buffet bars, one in the parade viewing room and one adjacent to the fully equipped kitchen. The immense master bedroom connects to a beautifully appointed bath, and the miracle of all French Quarter miracles, a laundry room with washer, dryer and mud sink.

For five days we’ve hosted friends, family, and their friends and families. We’ve feasted on regional delicacies of Rachel’s chicken and sausage gumbo, Buffy’s red beans and rice, French bread, king cake, stuffed artichokes, and my shrimp and ham stuffed mirliton, and dirty rice. We’re also sharing our summer bounty from our mountain home freezer: field peas with snaps, mixed greens, chicken and cornbread dressing, beef and barley soup.

All of this and barrels of beads -- It don’t get no better than this.

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