Monday, November 8, 2010

Soaking up atmosphere in N’Awlins

Yesterday morning, I walked from my hotel in New Orleans – where I’m covering the 79th annual General Assembly of Jewish Federations – to Café du Monde, the place to go here for coffee and beignets.

Not that I’m a fan of deep-fried dough, but the pastries are a virtual icon for the city, and I wanted to soak up some atmosphere sitting in the open-air café. If I did nothing else non-work-related, I would go to Café du Monde, I decided.

A long line-up almost made me change my mind about staying, but the extra hour we had just gained with the end of Daylight Savings Time tipped the balance the other way. As it turned out, the line moved quickly while a busker played a medley of tunes on his guitar, including Alley Cat, a staple at bar mitzvah parties in the late 1960, and the Beatles’ When I’m 64.

But jazz is the real staple here. Bourbon Street – raucous even during the day – is the home of the city’s signature music, although Preservation Hall, a 260-year-old building that’s been a jazz venue since 1961, is actually located around the corner on St. Peter Street.

I recorded these jazz buskers on Royal Street – a block over from Bourbon – and wandered the shops and galleries on my way to and from Café du Monde, admiring the cast-iron railings on upper balconies reflecting the city’s Spanish heritage. I happened on a small grocery store that sold local treats like pecan beer and Aunt Sally’s pralines, pronounced here with a short “a.”

Praw-leens – who knew? Then again, New Orleanians have a distinctive southern drawl. At the airport in Toronto, a U.S. immigration officer corrected me on my pronunciation of the city’s name. N’Awlins. That’s how they say it here, I think.

At Café du Monde, I heard a customer tell her waiter, “Thank you, darlin’,” as sweet as the generous portion of icing sugar that covers the beignets.

At the end of a French Quarter walking tour I took – I had time for that too! – the guide thanked us for travelling here, and told us that every dollar we spend helps the local economy and the many people still affected by Hurricane Katrina.

But he didn’t call us “darlins.” I’ll have to visit again.

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