Wednesday, February 15, 2012

At the Carnival

Carnival Season starts on January 6 and ends on Mardi Gras. You might know that already but I didn’t, not until I went to New Orleans on vacation. There I was, smack in the middle of Carnival Season on a guided tour. That’s almost a conflict in terms, carnival and guided tour.

The Hubs and I tend to go on unguided tours. In fact, we tend to get lost at least a couple of times no matter where we go. Even last weekend we had trouble just getting into the car. We hopped into Larry, our trusty VW Jetta named for the patron saint of good parking places. At least that’s what John says. Larry is starting to resemble a couple of Larry’s we knew who weren’t cars who grew pretty cranky in their old age; Larry the car is starting to talk back a little too. Well, then, I remembered I needed to get something in the house and dashed back in, saw a couple of letters I meant to mail and grabbed them, and dashed downstairs and hopped in again. John saw the letters and realized he had something to mail, then he went back into the house. Well, you can imagine if this was a simple shopping trip, meeting the deadlines set by a tour guide, who obviously synchronizes daily with that atomic clock in Colorado that’s supposed to be the most accurate, was challenging to say the least.

Make that worse, those people, well, heck the whole city of New Orleans is in a different time zone from California and when they get up want you downstairs at breakfast at 8 am, that’s, like, 6 am for me. At 6 am unless something extraordinary is going on, I’m California dreaming. This was my first time in New Orleans, so this was pretty extraordinary. So we did actually make it to breakfast almost on time every morning and certainly to our first class in the morning completely on time. Not that we didn’t suffer.

There were a lot of people arriving about the time we did the afternoon before our Road Scholar program started.

“Oh, are you going on a cruise, too?” Apparently, the Holiday Inn Downtown Superdome is a popular jumping off spot for cruises.

“No, we’re with Road Scholar,” which of course sounds like a very elite group. It is, only it’s not the Rhodes Scholar thing people put on their resumes. “It’s like a cruise without a boat,” I explain further. The cruisers’ smiles turn glassy trying to picture that, pretty sure it’s something like having a life preserver and a bed sheet instead of the luxury thing they had paid for.

Instead of the big boat on the sparkling seas, we were treated to a variety of classes, tours and meals all about the arts, history and culture of New Orleans. It’s been a while since I was in an 8:30 am class. I remember being a lot younger and in the right time zone for my sleep patterns then. John is such a great guy, though that during the morning sessions when I started to doze, which is short for the noise a bulldozer makes, he would nudge me before I got up to full throttle. The girls on the ferry were right; I did get the only good one. It seems like there may be something to that sleep-learning thing because I really did get a kick out of the classes and could actually quote some of the lines from the teachers.

We had lectures in the mornings, then tours in the afternoon, then dinner, then an evening class. We did this every night. After a few days of this being on time thing, John and I were getting a little worn. About that time, though, the program leader gave us some unstructured time.
At Cafe Beignet with the Rels

What a relief! John decided to take the rental car back early to save money since it was clear we weren’t going to have a chance to use it again on our own. I hopped the tour bus to the French Quarter.

Ah, the French Quarter! It’s some of the highest land in New Orleans so it wasn’t damaged as much as other areas of the city. We saw plenty of scars from Katrina (the hurricane) elsewhere on tour. The French Quarter however was less affected by flood. That doesn’t mean it didn’t suffer. A lot of people who took refuge in cities away from New Orleans never came back. You can tell. But the French Quarter and New Orleans in general is all about the bounce back.

I ducked down a side street and stumbled into a voodoo shop. What could be more fun in New Orleans? John found me and met me there. So they did have a privately published tarot deck there after all, just not in stock. It will be here soon. We headed towards Royal where the antique shops are and gave an offering to the buskers. I tired of antiques—hard to imagine, I know—and we headed for a place recommended by one of the entertaining speakers in our program, Anne Leonhard. Anne said that everyone knows that Café du Mond is famous for their beignets but the place to go, if only for a hair’s breadth of difference, was Café Beignet. Anne’s no dummy, either. Those deep-fried squares drenched in the finest powdered sugar were heaven. While we snorted confectioner’s sugar all over ourselves, John’s cousins who were also on the tour with us came in and we all snuffled beignets together.

Ah, this, this was the unstructured time I craved. A sleepy cat in the open air café allowed us to approach her Royal presence while she snoozed on one of the heart-backed wire chairs, long since over the newness of tourists making a fuss over her. Time seemed to stand still for us in Café Beignet and the layers of time between 2012 and the 1800’s seemed to shimmer for a moment.

We went so many places, like the city park, the Sculpture Garden, the Art Museum, the National Parks Jazz preservation, the Golden Feather with its Mardi Gras Indians, the architectural tour, a dinner at Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s. But my favorite part was Cooking School. 
Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
Anne Leonhard was our teacher at The New Orleans School of Cooking. John volunteered to be her assistant. Together in the teaching kitchen they made gumbo, shrimp etouffe and pralines. It was the best food in New Orleans, bar none.

The 6 of Cups is the card of memory. In Tarot it is often portrayed with children giving gifts. Memories can be like that. They can be triggered by gestures and be colored like crayons with broad strokes. The most effective memory triggers are actually smells. The memories they evoke are feelings. So, as soon as I got home and adjusted back to my own time zone, I made my gumbo soup recipe, this time with improved roux the way Anne showed us. Oh, that taste! That smell! It smells like a memory of a carnival of delight!

Best wishes!

1 comment:

  1. Here in Brazil, Carnaval is huge! What I have been noticing is that people are looking for tarot readings before Lent. I don't mind, since I don't believe in lent, lol, or people are doing so because they have more time. Truth is, I am working during Carnaval!