Notes from New Orleans: Part 6

The world doesn’t need another wanna-be writer penning a paean to the city of New Orleans. So I’m bringing together a mish-mash of notes, memories, scenes, vignettes, stories, and quotes from my trip to the Crescent City. The sixth in a series:

I’ve heard good things about the Mardi Gras exhibit at the Presbytere, one of five buildings that make up the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans. With nothing else going on Easter Sunday, I stroll into the French Quarter and head to the museum.

The aforementioned Mardi Gras exhibit is on the second floor. But before I get there, I check out the first floor exhibit. It’s dedicated to Hurricane Katrina — the environmental problems that helped make the devastation possible, the lead-up to the storm, and the chaotic aftermath.

It’s positively heart-wrenching; the exhibit’s centerpiece is a video — silent, save for the sounds of rain and wind — playing on three large screens. The scenes are familiar — trees knocked over, flooded streets, rain-drenched windshields, flooding staircases. It’s the same video on all three screens, only they’re not synced. Each screen is about five seconds off from the others. The result? A disorienting mess. Confusion reigns. It takes a few seconds to get my bearings in order.

One of the exhibit’s highlights, oddly enough, is a man’s makeshift diary. Before, during, and after Katrina, this New Orleanian kept a diary by writing a few thoughts and sentences each day for more than two months on his house’s wall. I snap a photo of my favorite entry.

Upstairs, the Mardi Gras exhibit is fascinating. It explains the parades, the krewes, the balls, the pageantry, the Cajun traditions, and so on. It’s a shocking contrast to the horror downstairs. It couldn’t be more different in tone or spirit. All that good, so close to and wrapped up in all that bad. New Orleans in a nutshell right there.

———

Two locals have recommended the jambalaya at Coop’s. Figuring they’re onto something, I stop by for dinner after the bike tour. I order an Abita Purple Haze and the Jambalaya Supreme. It’s a mish-mash of tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, seasonings, rabbit, smoked pork sausage, shrimp, crawfish, and tasso.

And it just might be the best thing I’ve eaten all trip. The rabbit is tender and sweet. It’s an odd contrast to the spicy sausage and the fishy shrimp taste. I savor every bite, maybe more than any meal I’ve ever eaten.

Midway through the meal, the bar’s jukebox plays “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on”

At least half the bar — including yours truly — sings along. None of us know all the words, so the collective voice fades in and out throughout the song. It’s an imperfect moment, but it’s beautiful.

Outside, drunken revelers are getting an early start on the night in the French Quarter. Back home, my friends and colleagues are heading into the home stretch of their workday. Inside the dimly lit Coop’s, I’m singing and eating rabbit. Life is good.

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