It all started the morning after the night before. At the unearthly hour of 5-something, potentially still having a measure of bubbly in my system, I was incredibly fortunate to find myself in the best of company who a) was partially responsible for said bubbly, but b) as a great friend had kindly driven across this vast empire called Los Angeles to collect me and ensure my ‘on time’ arrival at LAX – for my very first visit to Louisiana.
Though it may not have been obvious under the massive sunglasses and über comfy pashmina, I was incredibly excited. I was embarking on a journey to the legendary New Orleans… the French Quarter… incubator to many of the greatest jazz and blues musicians and of course, home of Mardi Gras…
The flight was an adventure unto itself, from the would-be rockstars giving air performances in preparation for their festival, to the fleet of young military men heading to their command… to the lovely bank owners preparing for a convention… we were quite the melee.
Unusually, I had a window seat as I’m generally one who prefers aisles… and from it, could appreciate what is clearly an extraordinary architectural/engineering marvel, which I later learned is called The Causeway, or, properly, The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Over 23 miles (MILES) long, until 2011 it was the longest bridge over water in the world.
My first sensory perception of NOLA was the humidity. Compared to the dry heat of Los Angeles, I was melting. Doffing my togs down to t-shirt and jeans simply didn’t make a difference… I was still melting. Thankfully a moment later, my compatriot in mischief, Ms. Jessica Kill roared up in the little black production car that we affectionately dubbed Jelly Bean. The air conditioning left something to be greatly desired… but we were mobile, and with the windows wide open, the temperature was gorgeous and the French Quarter was calling.
Maneuvering Jelly Bean like a native, Jessica whipped through the city and in what seemed a moment we were parked in front of the Steamboat… it was the quintessential scene of my mind.
The sun was in the heart of a stunning setting, sounds of home spun jazz filled the air and there were people of all walks of life perched upon the artfully crafted embankment of the Mississippi River… simply soaking it up.
Behind us lay the infamous streets we were due to explore: Bourbon, Royal, Toulouse (named after the city I visited as a child), Dauphine – which if it includes an accent aigu changes what one is referring to dramatically… but I digress.
First, we made the all but mandatory stop: Café du Monde for the warm beignets and café au lait. All thoughts of diet now abandoned, soaring on our sugar/caffeine appetizer, we took to the streets and began our journey through the district.
Stealing a phrase from the movie, “A Good Year” the entire space is imbued with a ‘patina of a bygone era’… balconies soar high above the narrow streets, with the most elaborate ironwork, many with cascading flowers and delicately woven ivy… cobblestones and bricks meld with massive entry doors whose cracked facades give wistful fantasy to the secret courtyards and gardens hidden within. As we traipsed from one street to the next, of course, in search of where we were going to dine… it astounded us that the deafening noise from the countless bars on Bourbon Street is absent – simply one block over…
So completely entranced were we, time slipped by without any notice. Suddenly it was late, and we had yet to eat. The recommendation came to try the Orleans Grapevine, which we did. Some maneuvering by Ms. Kill and we were seated at a little outdoor table indulging in baked brie with a warm strawberry coulis, hot bread straight out of the oven and a perfectly paired glass of wine… delicious. We languished for over two hours in the balmy air and managed some how to withstand the temptation of dessert, opting instead to waddle back to Jelly Bean and set forth for the town of many tales… the legendary Baton Rouge.
The drive was quick and effortless. We pulled into the hotel by 1am, when it dawned on me that I had failed to pack a few key necessities. Of course there are stores open at that hour, silly me to question such a thing, and off we went. As seems to be the case with many of the American cities I have had the fortune to visit, perhaps with the only exception being Manhattan, there is a WalMart somewhere near by. If you have never been in a WalMart, think of it as a maze that is nearly the size of a city district. I was lost for at least 30 minutes, fell prey to buying a litany of things I neither needed, nor will ever use… though triumphantly emerged, bags in hand.
Monday morning came sharp and early. The true purpose of our visit was close at hand and we were on a mission to accomplish something of significance. Jessica had actually arrived two weeks earlier to support one of her best friends and award winning producer, Sian McArthur. Sian is a producer for Gold Circle Entertainment, a company that produces a significant number of shows in Louisiana and it’s owner, Scott Niemeyer who also wears the cap of the Director of Communications for the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association had been called to action to help off set a threat to the industry at large… so they planned what all good entertainment folk do: an event.
We were short of time and with much to do. Jessica was a warrior producer, she simply didn’t stop, meanwhile I was tasked with reiterating the invitation to the Senate and Legislative Representatives.
First, I have to say, Louisiana has some of the most gracious legislators I have ever met. Moreover, it also has the best looking ones. So much so, I simply had to post it on my Facebook wall. Not that I intended to single out Senator Norbért “Norby” Chabert, but as my posting immediately received an endless stream of incredibly complimentary responses, it was clear that I was not entirely off the mark.
The day passed far quicker than we had wished and despite the ‘yet to do’ list, we took time out for dinner with our very dear friend and super producer Jason Hewitt. “The Chimes” is where he introduced us to the world of southern food. It was a night of many firsts: eating my first blackened alligator, my first raw oyster, my first boudin balls and my first hush puppies – which I am now obsessed with – and meeting my first NASCAR driver, Jason’s great friend Stanton Barrett (who I warn you, coyly masquerades as a stunt actor).
One thing was suddenly very apparent… I must learn the Southerners’ secret: how do they stay so svelte when they eat like this?!
Senator Chabert proved to be the tip of the iceberg. If the participation of these luminaries is any indication as to the commitment elected officials have to their state, it stands as a powerful testament that one should consider moving to Louisiana.
I was immeasurably impressed to say the least. Senator AG Crowe personally rang my mobile to confirm his attendance; Senators Danny Martiny, Robert Adley, Dan Claitor, Rick Gallot, Elbert Guillory, David Heitmeier, Bob Kostelka, Jean-Paul Morrell, Ben Nevers, Gary Smith, Mike Walsworth and State Representatives Austin Badon, Regina Barrow, Wesley Bishop, Chris Broadwater, Jared Brossett, Terry Brown, Henry Burns, Thomas Carmody, Steve Carter, Greg Cromer, Dalton Honore, Ted James, Barry Ivey, Gregory Miller, Barbara Norton, Kevin Pearson, Erich Ponti, Rob Shadoin, Scott Simon, Julie Stokes and Jeff Thompson all made an appearance, despite having five to seven other demands on their evening’s schedule, and yet more officials sent emails regretting their non-attendance.
Scott, Sian, Jessica and Emily out did themselves. They truly threw a landmark event, in fact, they did such an amazing job everyone is asking that they make it an annual fete. The team converted Studio 6 at the Celtic Media Center to a multifaceted movie homage… from a red carpet that would rival the Emmy’s, to a death defying stunt performance, celebrity guest musicians, a complete wardrobe/make-up and hair department; to some of the best known picture vehicles from Bonnie & Clyde and Back to the Future; to a live alligator who posed all night on his own red carpet. Of course, they included that little bit of the pixie dust of stardom, which made everyone feel they were part of something very special.
By 10pm over 800 people had stopped by and walked the red carpet or just slipped in for a discrete cocktail and it was without question, a measurable success. The team was flushed with elation (slash) exhaustion, particularly knowing that they had to be on set first thing in the morning. As the production crew started to strike the sets, we segued to the ‘after party’ at The Cove.
Stopping/sitting down was definitely the wrong thing to do. Movement after a night on cement, even in the most amazing of stilettos, is still a task I challenge any man to graciously endure. But a moment later, all pain was forgotten, and we were rapt in conversation, sharing tales of the evening that were both vivacious and colorful — Scott had met many of the leading influencers to Sian finding the producers trailer… ‘otherwise engaged’… and Jessica was astounded at the sheer volume of guests.
The bewitching hour nigh, we said our good byes and peeled off in Jelly Bean to make one last stop for the night: the Waffle House. Oh-my-garden, if you have not experienced this new food I discovered called “grits” – particularly in the wee hours, you are seriously missing out.
The next morning we commenced follow-up, said our good byes to the production team, and went to see Scott and Sian on set. We spent much of the day discussing what was next, reviewing the house photographers’ images, and recapping the event for press. As we left, in honor of Louisiana’s finest, we made a special detour to see the Capital Building, which proved to be a massive, elegant promontory against the amber and crimson hues of the falling light.
Jelly Bean and Jessica drove us safely into New Orleans where we spent our final night. At the gracious hospitality of Mr. Niemeyer, we had the perfect balcony rooms in the Four Points Sheraton over top of Bourbon Street, which permitted a safe yet clear scope of the very vivacious activities below. Much to my horror, I was then advised on what it means to ‘get beads’ and to set the record straight, we did not collect any! Armed with a beverage, as you can walk and consume concurrently in said location, we set off to window shop and hunt for the true taste of the French Quarter.
Somewhere near the end of the remarkably quiet Royal Street, Jessica encountered a man on a balcony who offered us guidance and a glass of wine. We opted for the guidance and found our way to Verti Mart, a vintage market packed with the ultra hip, bohemian street artist-types where Jessica indeed elicited an extraordinary sandwich. We then sauntered to his second recommendation, Yo’ Mamma’s, and ordered their peanut butter hamburger… which was good, though the onions should have been glacéd and it could have used a dab of maple syrup… I must thank those who have patiently educated and expanded my somewhat unadventurous palate… I’m learning and it is getting to be much more enjoyable.
Back on our balcony, snacks in tow, we nimbly waved at the serenading passersby. It was a cacophony of noise… truly as it’s defined, a meaningless mixture of sounds, which coupled with a healthy dosage of neon and set against a palate of the untouched late 1800’s, in the new land of America is a sight to behold. There is only one place I have ever experienced this, and it is New Orleans. I am already longing to return.
My only regrets are that I did not get to experience the true “Bayou,” nor spend countless moments listening to astounding music in some barely standing edifice upon which the legends honed their craft. They say some of the best musicians in the world, whom no one save those in the know, know, are in “the Marigny” or Fauburg Marigny and Frenchmen Street… Thankfully Jessica reminded me, one does not have to do everything at once, with which I completely agreed.
So for the moment, my wishes abide as delectable treasures in my mind and no doubt they will be just a few of the many things which I will savor on my next visit to the Child of the Mississippi… the Bayou State…. Louisiana.
PS… a special nod to Jack Cazir for his “Guide to being a Southern Gentleman”… loved it! Men: 12 easy rules… you absolutely have the ability to master this! http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/a-guide-to-being-a-southern-gentleman/