Friday, June 12, 2009

New Orleans Part Doh!

Subtitled, "The Garden District."

Ever since I had read Anne Rice's "The Witching Hour" I have been dying to see the famous "Garden District" of New Orleans, which is where the rich Americans built their homes. Visiting the Garden District was a High Priority for me. And it was All That AND a Bag of Chips. I could have walked for hours, up and down every single block, just looking at the beautiful mansions. We had hoped to find an Open House so that we could actually go in one of these incredible homes but alas, denied. Sigh. I would have gladly made a "donation." The architecture of these mansions varied from Italianate to Greek Revival. I loved how many of them had the roofs of their porches painted a bright blue. I want to do that to the porch roof of my 1950's California Ranch house so that passers-by will ask themselves, "Am I in the Garden District of New Orleans or Long Beach, CA? I can't tell!" I think it'll work.

This is the most famous house in the Garden District. This is the house author Anne Rice lived in and was the setting for her book "The Witching Hour" (one of my absolute favorites!) After the death of her husband, Anne sold this house, became a born-again Christian, moved to Rancho Mirage and turned her back on the books that made her famous. She now only writes books with a religious theme. Yawn. Fans from her "Interview With a Vampire" and "Witching Hour" books still make pilgrimages to her former home. And you too can live in this famous Garden District mansion for the low, low price of $3.7 million. Check it out on The address is 1239 First Street.

Sadly, the battery on my camera started gasping for breath and I had left the battery charger at home because I am an idiot. At this point, Jamie & Tracie were tired so after stocking up on reading material at the Garden District Bookstore, where I purchased "New Orleans Architecture Volume III: The Cemeteries" (Duh), we headed for the St. Chuck's Streetcar and returned to our hotel for lunch and siestas. And more Masters Golf.

So after we get back from the Garden District and hitting the Cemetery Jackpot at Lafayette Number One, we were STARVING. Finding an open tomb with the coffin still inside works up an appetite, doncha know. We really didn't feel like eating at Cafe Adelaide again and we didn't want anything fancy, either. While looking out the window of our room, we see the brick building at the lower right. You can't see it but since around 10:00am, there had been a non-stop line out the door. Obviously, this was something work checking out.

This was Mothers, a soul food cafeteria that claimed to have the World's Best Baked Ham. This was a no-frills, don't give the staff any lip because they'll cut ya type of joint. Awesome red beans and rice, Po' Boy sammiches, World's Best Baked Ham sammiches, Gumbo, etouffee, shrimp, crawfish, fried chicken and lots more nummy food. And "cost-effective" too. Check out the menu at But don't read it if you're hungry, I'm just saying.

After resting up (and watching The Masters...again. I hate golf. I'd rather watch Curling. At least they use brooms.) we once again headed to the French Quarter and enjoyed the local color:

I had made a list of specific places in the Quarter that are supposed to be haunted (you know me and my ghost stories). One of them was the Lalaurie Mansion, supposed to be one of the most haunted locales in New Orleans. Madame Lalaurie was a high-falutin' Creole Society lady who, it seemed, had a sadistic streak and liked to torture and kill her slaves. Witnesses saw her chasing and whipping a terrified young slave girl who leaped to her death from the roof. Her body is alleged to be buried in the courtyard garden. One day the cook, who was kept chained to the stove, couldn't take it any longer and started a fire in the kitchen. When people came to put out the fire, they discovered several slaves chained in the attic. They had been tortured in all sorts of gruesome ways. Madame Lalaurie escaped the enraged mob that gathered but her house is said to still be haunted by the slaves she tortured and murdered.

We stopped to watch a performance of street breakdancers and they put on one helluva show. You can check them out at They got Bippy in on their act but I don't they they expected her to just jump right in. They and the crowd loved her!

As it got dark, we headed back to Bourbon Street, which was a little more active on this Saturday night. One memory that sticks out was getting a "Go Cup" of beer at a bar and the bartender was watching "The Ten Commandments" with closed captioning. THAT was surreal. And the NCAA Hockey Championship game was that night and I kept stopping at every bar that had the game on to check the score. One of the locations that was showing the game in the doorway was one of the strip joints. Yes, I loitered outside the door of the titty bar so I could find out the hockey score. Too bad my camera didn't work so I could get a picture of the ho slouching in the doorway.

But I was able to get some crappy shots of Bourbon Street with my BlackBerry:

I really, really wish this picture would have come out better. It's hard to tell but this gentleman was wearing a wedding gown with a cathedral length train and he looked like he had put on his makeup on an airplane that was experiencing extreme turbulence. He was a drunken mess, staggering along and tripping over his train and he yelled at me for taking his picture without paying. You can't make this shit up.

A few nights earlier, we saw this gentleman performing. His "tap shoes" appeared to be crushed beer cans attached to the bottom of his shoes. He would dance on top of the manhole cover and clap along with his tapping. We think he had a touch of the kookoo but he was quite talented and had good rhythm.

We got hungry around 9:00pm and had a bite to eat at a little seafood joint on Bourbon Street. I had the gumbo which, once again, I could have gone swimming in because it was so good! We walked around a little longer and then headed back to our hotel to finish watching the Campiest Movie of All Time: The Ten Commandments. The line, "God parted the seas with a blast from his nostrils" sent me into spasms of hysterical laughter. I'm so going to hell in a bucket.

Final Day (Easter)

On Sunday, Easter Sunday, our final day in New Orleans, we had reservations for Easter Brunch at the World Famous Commander's Palace restaurant, the Flagship of the Brennan Family restaurants:

We got all dressed up quite colorfully (it was Easter! In New Orleans!) and headed for the St. Charles Streetcar to take us back to the Garden District. There was storms a-brewing and, in fact, tornado warnings were in full effect. It was pretty windy and the weather was not kind to our coiffures.

Commander's Palace was oh-so elegant and everybody was dressed up in their Easter best. Seeing all those ladies in their silk dresses, I felt like a country bumpkin and my hair-don't didn't help. Our hairs all look like crap but aren't we colorful?

We had a dee-licious meal (more turtle soup! Yummm-meeeee) and a trio played us a song. And there was a lady there who could have been Ruth Gordon, or her twin sister. Jamie named her "Maybelle". She was all dolled up with lots of heavy eyeliner and blue eyeshadow and had a satin "headache" bandeau on her head. Quite a character, she was. After brunch, we headed back to the streetcar stop only to have a dude walking by inform us that the streetcars were stopped because of the St. Charles Easter Parade(s). So back to Commander's Palace where the valet hailed us a cab and we headed back to the hotel to pack up and check out.

We had a couple of hours between checkout and airport so we decided to walk over to the National World War II Museum, which was several blocks away. Some friends of mine had suggested it but it was one of those places that wasn't real high on my list of things to see while in New Orleans. Well! I am SO glad we took the time to visit it. It was incredible and awesome and moving and fabulous and emotional. We didn't have enough time to see everything or watch any of the movies and personal narratives and Jamie had to leave before we did but we got to see enough. I would suggest putting tissues throughout the exhibit rooms because it's so emotional. All I can say is thank goodness for waterproof mascara.

Bippy and I headed back to the hotel to claim our luggage and got into a taxi to take us back to Louis Armstrong Airport and our flight home, which was interesting thanks to the people who changed their kids shitty diapers in their seat and then threw the soiled diapers on the floor, letting the stench permeate the cabin. Nice.

While I'm not a big traveler, I have been to a city or two in my lifetime: Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Rapid City, Waterloo, International Falls AND Fort Frances but I have never, ever fallen head over heals in love with a city the way I did with New Orleans. It's a city I had always dreamed of seeing and I had worried that it would fall short of my expectations but from the moment Bippy and I stepped outside our hotel for our first walk around town, that was it. It was everything beyond what I had hoped for.

I loved walking everywhere (my feet did not share my feelings) and seeing all the people: the drunk but happy guy on Bourbon Street who asked if I would be so kind as to share some of my beer with him (of course I did!), the guy loitering outside a Bourbon Street bar who told us that we "wuz lookin' mighty fine, ladies!" the not-quite-sure-of-the-gender bartender who served me a beer and Jamie & Tracie their virgin daquiris in Go-cups (and Jamie got brain-freeze), the gentleman in the Gumbo-YaYa Gift shop next to the Larry Flynt strip club who had such a thick Cajun accent it was hard to understand him, the hilarious guys of Dragonmaster Showcase who just kept the one-liners coming fast and furious and literally picked up Bippy and brought her in to their act.

I loved how the French Quarter can be so seedy, with the smell of stale beer, vomit and urine and the bars and strip clubs (Hello, Big Daddy's Love Show!), yet so beautiful and elegant at the same time. I wish we would have had more time to visit some of the museums in the French Quarter, such as Gallier House and the Beauregard-Keyes Mansion (Haunted!! and a helluva lot bigger than it looks in photos, by the way) as well as the antique shops that were closed by the time we got to the Quarter in the late afternoon/early evening. I would have loved to have hung out in a French Quarter bar, listening to zydeco and just people watching.

If we had had more time, I could have walked every single block in the Garden District, taken the St. Charles Streetcar all the way to the end of St. Charles, rode on the Canal St. Streetcar, done a 2 hour Mississippi River tour on the Natchez Queen and taken a Swamp tour.

And I would remember to bring my camera battery charger!

Since I've been home, I've had several dreams of being back in New Orleans. I miss it. Alot. I miss the food, the food, the incredible food! I miss walking everywhere (something we don't do here at home), the friendliness of the people, the history and just the all-around atmosphere. Would I want to live there? Hell to the NO! Did you see how bad my hair looked???? But I will go back, as soon as I a non-summer month of course. I think this line from a book I once read sums it up: "Everybody that gots a soul in 'em loves New Orleans."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Orleans Trip

My sisters and I took a trip to New Orleans over Easter weekend. This is Our Story:

Day 1:
Arrived in New Orleans Thursday afternoon. Bippy and I checked in and then decided to take a walk down to the Riverfront and then over to the French Quarter for a quick look. Then Jamie called from the hotel and we headed back. Quick freshening up and headed back to the French Quarter for some eats and atmosphere. Dinner was at Mr. B's Bistro (a Brennan restaurant). Dee-licious. The vodka gimlet I had with dinner just about knocked my socks off. It packed a punch! After dinner, we cruised Bourbon Street. Interesting place, Bourbon Street is. Strip joints next to gift shops next to bars. And the ho's hanging in the doorways, wearing nothing but G-strings, pasties and 5 inch lucite stripper shoes. And then there was this place:

Yep. Live sex show. Even better were the photos around the doorway showing exactly what happens on the stage at Big Daddy's. And no blurring of the naughty parts. I think my jaw dropped and I felt Since it was Thursday, Bourbon Street wasn't all that crowded and we were approached by a "representative" of a bar, inviting us up on their balcony along with some complimentary cocktails. I guess being invited up to a balcony is supposed to be an honor. The club must have been desperate for customers: "Cougars approaching! Cougars approaching! Head 'em off at the pass!" Especially since the occupants of the balcony at that time were several 60-something men. We graciously declined the generous invitation and continued on.

We headed back to the hotel around 10:00pm (Party Animals are We!) since we had to be ready to go on our Plantation Tour very early in the morning.

Day 2. Woke up at the buttcrack of dawn in order to be ready for our 7:45am pickup for our Plantation Tours. We had breakfast at the hotel's Cafe Adelaide (a Brennan Family restaurant). I had worried that I would be having withdrawals from not having my daily Del Taco Bacon & Egg Quesadilla, aka "Crack" but Cafe Adelaide had a worthy substitute: Bacon, egg and cheese biscuit. Whoo-hoo! Best damn biscuits I've EVER had, I'm just saying.

We were picked up at our hotel by a charming gentleman named Elmore, who kept up a running narrative on the history of New Orleans for the entire drive. Learned lots of trivia and history. Anyhoo, our first stop is the famous Oak Alley Plantation:

where one could sip on a Mint Julep while enjoying the tour of the house. You couldn’t take photos but you could carry a cup o’ bourbon to slop around. Go figure. Our tour guide for Oak Alley was this adorable tiny girl in a huge hoopskirt. Beautiful property and the oaks are actually at least 100 years older than the house itself. Nobody knows who actually planted them. Oak Alley is allegedly haunted and at one point, our group got locked out of the house while out on the rear upper gallery and our guide said, a bit exasperated, that it's usually the ghost that loves to shut doors and lock them. After Oak Alley, we continued on to Laura Plantation, which we did not actually plan on visiting but I'm so glad we did. I preferred it to Oak Alley. Laura was a "Raised Creole" plantation house with all the rooms on the upper level and was painted in traditional Creole colors. It was the Americans (not the French Creoles) who had the big white plantation houses.

Our tour guide for Laura was a local guy named Jay who would sometimes start chattering away in Cajun French. I loved it! Laura was a working Creole plantation that was deliberately modestly built so that the family did not appear too wealthy to customers. In Creole society, it wasn't always the eldest son who would inherit but whichever child appeared the most intelligent, which in the case of Laura, was the females in the family. There were still slave cabins standing at Laura along with other buildings and the "Maison d'Respite" which is where the Dowager President of Laura moved to after stepping down and handing the reins over to her granddaughter.

It was very, very warm that day. And muggy so we were pretty pooped and were glad to see Elmore and the air-conditioned bus come pick us up. We got back to the hotel absolutely STARVING and headed to Cafe Adelaide for lunch. Many people had told me I HAD to try the turtle soup and lemme tell you, I could swim in that stuff it's that good. And I was so glad I had the hot soup because the room was so icy cold that Bippy ran up to our room and brought back sweaters and jackets. After lunch, we headed to our room for an afternoon siesta and so Bippy could watch The Masters on TV (snore). We headed back to the French Quarter around 5:00pm.

After our siesta, we headed back to the Quarter and walked around for hours, just taking in the sights. Talk about Elegance:

And Decadence:

I just loved the Creole Cottages:

We had coffee and beignets at the Cafe DuMonde, across from the St. Louis Cathedral:

Bippy was jonesing big time for oysters at the Acme Oyster House but there was always a massive line outside so we ended up having dinner at the Redfish Grille (another Brennan Family restaurant). Our waiter, Perry was his name, was rocking a serious gold grill across his front teeth, too. I don't remember what I had but whatever it was, it was damn good. We walked around Bourbon Street again and then were back in our room by 10:00pm, thoroughly exhausted from the day's events.

Day 3: Saturday morning and we got to sleep in! We took our time reading the newspaper (the Times-Picayune) and headed down to Cafe Adelaide for their breakfast buffet. More biscuits! Yay! Our plan for the day was to take the St. Charles Streetcar (I'm pissed I forgot to take a picture of the streetcar) uptown to the Garden District. One of our planned stops was to be the Lafayette Cemetery #1. We were taking our time when Jamie discovered that Lafayette would close at Noon and not be open again until Monday so we hauled butt to the Streetcar.

Now as you may know, as the Official Caretaker of Gramma's House at 2002 Petaluma, one of my obligations to Gramma is to hit the cemeteries in her honor. We struck Gold with Lafayette:

As Bippy described it, Lafayette Cemetery is "High Creep." Most of the "inhabitants" are German and Irish victims of the many yellow fever epidemics. This one looks like it belongs at Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. If you look closely, you can see that there are about 20 occupants of this particular plot:

Many of the tombs are very neglected and some of the tombs are open and empty.

We started to make our way to the gate since it was closing time when I saw this:

I stuck my camera in this opening:

She Shoots, She Scores!!!!!!

My work here was done. I had fulfilled my obligation to the memory of Gramma.

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Open Houses and Home Tours

I love going into the homes of complete strangers. I love it so much that I will happily fork over cash money to go into the homes of complete strangers. If there's a Home Tour, I'm THERE! And since Home Tours are almost always for some charitable organization, I can be giving AND catty at the same time.

I doubt I will be asked to open my house for a Home Tour as my house, Casa de Gramma, has no historical or architectural significance and we don't plan on moving anytime in this millenium. As my offspring are the Fourth Generation of my family to live in Casa de Gramma, the plan is for one of them to continue living here after I've joined the rest of my ancestors in my curio cabinet/columbarium and just keep passing the house, along with the original phone number and locks, down to THEIR offspring and so on and so forth and scooby dooby dooby.

But if I were to open my home for a Home Tour, I would do my bestest to show my home in the best light possible, unlike some homes I've seen. There was the house that had lovely architectural details. Every room was beautifully decorated and furnished according to the era the house was built. Except the Master Bedroom. All it contained was an old, saggy looking bed covered with a ratty old bedspread. No accessories. Personally, I would have been embarrassed to have people seeing my pathetic, depressing bedroom.

And then there are the homeowners who don't bother to clean their Open to the Paying Public homes. I've seen houses with stains on the counters and dishes in the sink and it was obvious the words "dust rag" was not in their vocabulary.

But for real fun, nothing beats realtor Open Houses. I really need to start bringing my camera with me when I attend Open Houses because I've seen alot in my career as a Professional Open House Attendee. I've seen houses that haven't been updated decor-wise since the Eisenhower administration, which can be charmingly "retro." I've seen houses where almost every surface was covered in brick. Front walkway, porches, floors, walls, counters. There was both real brick and faux, painted-to-look-like-brick everywhere the eye could see. I've seen homes decorated as shrines to Elvis. I've seen homes decorated in a style we like to call "Tuscan Tijuana."

But the best of the worst was a million dollar listing in a neighborhood of lovely million dollar homes. I'm still kicking myself for not whipping out my BlackBerry for photographic proof. Proof of what, you ask? Proof of the filth, I say. The kitchen hadn't been cleaned in days, weeks, months. There were greasy dishes piled in the sink. The living room was a dark, yet garishly painted room with lots of fake foliage that hadn't seen a dust rag in years. The many bedrooms had not seen a good cleaning in forever. The stale stench of cigarettes hung in the air, along with the full ashtrays in various rooms. The homeowners had cats and/or dogs with bladder control problems. The pool and spa were breeding grounds for the West Nile Virus. But the piece de resistance was the large, industrial size cans of Roach spray sitting in plain view in every room of the house. Along with the dead roaches. Not surprisingly, after almost two years on the market, this house still has yet to sell.

I'd like to thank everyone who opens their home to the public for giving me fodder for this here blog. Now, if I could only remember to take pictures.

Hula Hooping Update

I still can't do it.

That's it.

That's the list.

Monday, June 8, 2009

No Particular Place to Go

In March of 2008, it became necessary to say Goodbye to my beloved 2001 9 passenger Ford Excursion with the 7.3 Liter Powerstroke Turbo Diesel because diesel prices had hit $5.00 a gallon and with a 40 gallon tank (that's right folks, 40 GALLONS!) we just couldn't afford to fill it with fuel and drive it anywhere.

So after deciding I wanted one of them new-fangled "crossover" SUV type of vee-hickles, we chose the Saturn Vue. I had wanted silver or gold but after seeing the floor model all shiny and pretty and tricked out, we ended up with this color:

Black. Because it's so EASY to keep clean, doncha know. Especially when you aren't able to park in your garage because it's filled with ten thousand billion dirt bikes (ok, 4 or 5 but still) in various stages of repair and maintenance. But I digress.

And, because it was more affordable, we decided to lease instead of buy (Big mistake right there). And the 12,000 miles a year allowance is more than enough because I don't work outside the house (Some may say I don't work AT ALL but that's just a matter of perception) and I would just be doing local, errand-type of driving. Heck, we only chose the 12,000 mile plan over the 10,000 mile plan just to Be Safe. Just In Case.

So imagine my surprise when in the first 12 months of my 39 month lease I had put a whopping 15,000 miles on my car. What the hell??!!! How, I asked, did I put 15,000 miles on my car when I don't go anywhere? I take Thing 2 to and from school, which is only a 5 mile round trip. The grocery store is a 4 mile round trip. Something just wasn't adding up, except the mileage.

So, for one week, I decided to keep a driving log to see just where I and/or TheManTheMyth was driving. And then I could complain to Saturn that the odometer on my not-as-fuel-efficient-as-I-thought-it-would-be vehicle (this thing gets slightly better mileage as my diesel Excursion got, believe it or not) was messed up big time and they better fix it pronto!

Ok, school runs, including a stop at the park in the afternoon add up to 10.7 miles a week. No problem there. Taking Thing 2 to hockey every Tuesday adds 15.6 miles, 31.2 if there's practice. Hmmm. Club meetings every Monday adds 21.2 miles. Twice a month meetings in Brea add another large chunk of change to the mileage. A trip or 2 to Palm Springs. And this doesn't even count driving to the store, post office, bank, gas station, etc. If I keep up this rate, by the time I turn my car in (I'm so over my car now) I will have put 50,000 miles on a car with a 39,000 mile limit. And with each additional mile costing .28, that's $3080.00 I will owe.

Looks like I may have to start driving Thing 1's truck, The Famous Red Rocket:

(Lovingly "Giftwrapped" by friends) on my afterschool errands.

For someone who doesn't "Go Anywhere" I sure do a helluva lot of driving. Just like the Chuck Berry song, "Cruising and playing the radio, with no particular place to go."