28 July 2006

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: Gaiety at Galatoire's

Do people have fun in restaurants? I know, they seem to have fun, they say they have fun, they go with the aim to have fun. But is it really a party atmosphere? Not in my experience. Manhattan's high-end eateries are mainly tension-making hives where everyone is worrying if the waiter likes them; if they've got a good table; if they've ordered right; if people are watching them in approval. Ugh.

I have never seen people have as much carefree fun in an eating establishment as I did at Galatoire's, the 100-year-old restaurant on Bourbon Street, where jackets are required, and so is a good attitude. I went on a Friday night, which I discovered later is party night at Galatoire's. All night, as I sat at my table for one with my Sazerac, turtle soup and pompano, I witnessed toasts being made (loudly) and birthdays being celebrated. Men in seersucker delighted in picking up the check, and well-dressed kiddies seemed genuinely grateful, smiling and kissing their elders. Ladies of a Certain Age happily gossiped. Mirrored walls meant you could easily witness the ebullience in total.

My waiter, who seemed to have a Brooklyn accent, led me through the menu, seeing I was a N'awlins newbie. ("Let's stick to what I like," he said. We did, and it was good.) The owner actually stopped by my table to see how I was doing. Imagine if you could go to such a place on a regular basis—how much more fun life would be. And imagine if were denied its delights—how dejected you would feel. No wonder old folks died of broken hearts when displaced by Katrina.

Come Back When You Can't Stay So Long

Not only has the quality of life in New York gone steadily down in recent years; so has the quality of tourists.

Used to be, folks you knew would give you weeks, nay months, advance notice of a visit, and invite you to spend as much time with them as possible. These days, I find visiting friends and relatives try to sandwich you into a brief slot like you're a job applicant or something. I had a friend from far off come to the city a few weeks back. Hadn't seen her in a year. She gave me about 48 hours notice or her arrival and then offered to meet me between 2 PM and 4 PM on a Wednesday. How convenient. Now, she knows I'm a working a stiff, but this is the option I was given. I said, impossible on such short notice; are their other times? No, was the answer. So, we didn't meet. Thousands of miles, and we didn't meet.

Another recent visitor expressed a desire to meet me and my wife, but at 8 PM or so in Manhattan. This pal knows good and well that we live in Brooklyn and have a young son. If that brain of his was working, he should have understood that a night in Manhattan was a no-go. Kids don't have bedtimes of midnight, and they don't much enjoy nightspots. But, again, this was the only option offered. And God forbid that anyone should have to go...all...the....way...to.....(pant)....Brooklyn! (There is no match for insensitivity in this world than the carefree childless when confronted with the demands and needs of the parents with children. Unless, of course, it's the carefree childless on holiday.)

What's going on here? Now, before you think me oversensitive, keep in mind that these are people on vacation. They are free and easy, with no pressing engagements. I, meanwhile, am still a functional drone in my native city, with working hours and other sundry responsibilities. Yet, THEY are the ones with no flexibility. It's like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

Perhaps there is no such thing as a good tourist. Even if you know 'em.

27 July 2006

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: Sazerac, Mon Amour

Within minutes of checking in at the Hotel Monteleone on Rue Royale in the French Quarter, I made it my mission to visit the lodge's Carousel Bar as my Stop One. The Carousel is actually a carousel, and a more appropriate symbol for a bar to adopt in a merry-go-round town like New Orleans there never was. You perch on one of the stools surrounding the circular bar, and it will take you round the world once every 15 minutes. This means: good people watching; mild disorientation; and more disorientation, once you'd had a refreshment or two.

I found my seat fairly easily—quite a trick, as the Carousel is a popular joint among locals and tourists alike. The critical question of What to Order was answered quickly. New Orleans has birthed many a cocktail; perhaps more than any other city, save New York. One of these is the Sazerac. I had never tried this ancient concoction, which some say is the oldest cocktail on record. I wasn't about to let another hour pass in Crescent City without knowing its taste. So I put in my order. A rocks glass held its ingredients: Bourbon, Pernod licorice liqueur, sugar, Angostura bitters and lemon peel. A lovely look it has; a sort of burnt orange, accented by the yellow lemon peel. I took a sip.

Now, where has this drink been all my life? Some old cocktails—a Sidecar, say, or a Rusty Nail—take some getting used to. You don't wonder why they've gone out of style; instead, you wonder why they ever WERE in style. A Sazarac bewitches from the first. Some sweet, some sour, some tang, some fruit, and refreshing in a way many cocktails aren't. (I would soon find out that, to survive in New Orleans, a cocktail must be both potent and refreshingly light. The Pimm's Cup and the Hurricane also fit this description. They are stealth drinks: all lemonade going down, with a blackjack hidden inside.)

Encouraged and delighted, I ordered that other famous Big Easy cocktail, the Hurricane. Once again, I was ignorant of the drink. I only knew that folks in college drank it when they wanted to get drunk, and fast. Another revelation. Pure enjoyment in a tall, hourglass vessel. Story goes that inventor Pat O'Brien came up with it in order to move a lot a rum sitting around in his store room. The drink still moves a lot of rum—both light and dark—plus plenty of fruit juice, ranging from passion fruit to grapefruit to pineapple, lotsa ice, and various fruit garnishes.

The Carousel served a superior Hurricane. The next night, I dropped by Pat O'Brien's proper to taste the original. Not nearly as good. I later discovered that Pat O'Brien sells its own "Hurricane Mix," which just makes me go "ick." I have to believe the mix is swilled by barrelful at the bar, explaining the commonness of their Hurricanes.

The Monteleone, by the way, is a literary landmark. Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway hung out at the Carousel. Capote claimed to have been born at the Monteleone. In truth, he was born at a nearby hospital, but his mother stayed at the hotel until it was time to give birth. Truman was a good little liar, and a romantic one, too.

Neglect, Mine and Con Ed's

I have been neglecting the Web Site during the last couple weeks, but I have a couple good excuses.

One: I work in one of the areas recently afflicted by the impotence of Con Ed and its sad excuse for a power grid. I have been working from home off and on since July 18, and have been one hot boy both here and there. And hot boys don't feel much like blogging. They just want to get cool, or find that next glass of chilled rose. (Con Ed's underground cables are not, by the way, one of the aspects of Olde New York that I cherish or wish to preserve.)

Excuse number two: I was in New Orleans from July 20 to July 23 and far to busy soaking up culture, food and drink to be running my hands over some prosaic keyboard. However, since New Orleans most certainly ranks as a city of historical and cultural treasures in danger of being wiped off the face of the planet, I will be spending the next few days relating it's wonders, as recorded by yours truly.

So, let us begin (keep in mind I am still very hot) with...

14 July 2006

McClellan the Great

I was trolling about Battery Park looking for the water taxi that goes to Red Hook when I noticed the city had slapped on a handsome new paint job on the 1909 Battery Marine Terminal. A hideous cast-iron relic as recently as 2004 when I entered it to board a ferry to Governor's Island, it now looks fine in colors of army green and umber. A not easily seen plaque inside the building reminded me it was dedicated by then mayor George B. McClellan Jr.

McClennan's name has cropped up regularly in recent years, making me wonder if this now completely forgotten politico might have actually been one of the most significant Hizzoners the city ever had. Everything seemed to have happened during his six years in office from 1903 to 1909. He was there to inaugurate the New York City subway system, and officially renamed Longacre Square as Times Square. He oversaw the building of the Queensboro and Manhattan bridges, Chelsea Piers, the Municipal Building, and the Catskill water system. On the darker side, he was Mayor during the horrid tragedy of the General Slocum, a touring boat that caught fire in the East River, killing more than 1,000 people, making it worst loss of life in NYC until 9/11. He battled William Randolph Hearst and won, and willingly committed political suicide by challenging Tammany Hall.

Certainly a better man than his dithering father, the Civil War general who could never find a good enough reason to fight Johnny Reb. And a better politician than any George we've got these days.

11 July 2006

Lonely Town

I often have occasion to pace the streets of this town while running errands or killing time between work and evening engagements. Lately, as I've executed these aimless, self-made trails, I've wondered: is New York the best place in the world to be lonely, or the worst.

Favoring Gotham as a home base for the lonesome is the fact that you can be alone in the crowd—solitary but not isolated. This presents you with the (perhaps fictitious) possibility that you could engage the throng at any moment you choose. Another plus is that the city gives your ample license to be down; no one's going to upbraid you with asinine comments like "Turn that frown upsidedown!" or "Cheer up! It may never happen!" New York embraces unhappiness, understands it's part of the cycle of emotions.

The flip side of the above is the fact that if you choose to wallow in your loneliness, no one's going to try and snap you out of it. In a small town or smaller city, some friend or workmate might express concern. New York is pitiless. No one really cares how you feel, and the surest way to earn contempt is to complain, show weakness or—worse!—ask for help. (I've always said, the best way to get rid of somebody in NYC is to ask them for something.) So when you're alone in New York, you better like it that way to some extent, because you're REALLY alone, bub.

Another numbing consideration is the knowledge that if you cross city lines, no one will notice. When you're gone, you're gone. Your apartment's been rented. You job is filled. Your table reserved. The Deathless City moves on in an instant. Leave a village and at least someone will wonder, "What happened to him?" Here, if they think anything, it's "Poor bastard—couldn't hack it." I think this is one of the main reasons people remain in New York long after their love affair with the place has died—they'll be damned if they give any of their fellow New Yorkers the satisfaction of seeing them in retreat.

10 July 2006

Sand, Surf, Strikes

I attended my first Brooklyn Cyclones game last night, and though the team is of only a few seasons' standing, the experience had the feeling of age-old tradition. The pairing of Brooklyn and Baseball goes back a long time after all, as does Coney Island, the honkytonk neighborhood that gives the stadium a home, its name (after the famed nearly rollercoaster) and a certain raffish character which only adds to the sportive fun. (You can "Shoot the Geek" on the way to the game, while munching on your funnel cake.)

Attending this smallish stadium, one can get an inkling of the homey, intimate pastime baseball once was, as well as the slat-air-and-neon appeal Coney Island used to hold. The worst seat in the stadium will afford you a fine view of the ocean and the neighboring attractions The Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone itself—as well as bountiful ocean breezes. Charming, too, are the low-tech advertisements for local exterminators and waste disposal outfits that adorn the big screen beside the scoreboard.

Unfortunately, the Cyclones stunk up the place on this particular day, in an error-filled game against State College's Spikes. I wanted to wait until the sky was sufficiently dark to witness the illumination of the long-dormant Parachute Jump, of which the stadium has a commanding view. This tradition began on July 8. But, by the middle of the ninth inning, the towering metal structure remained a shadow, so we left. Curse Daylight Savings Time.