The Serendipity of Travel

Buddha at Jungle Gardens, Avery Island
Buddha at Jungle Gardens, Avery Island

Things happen on the road. Small miracles that could go unnoticed in daily life. But when you travel you look at everything with a different awareness. You look for signs, literal and figurative. Travel offers answers and also asks questions. It gives you moments that you might never quite understand, but you revisit for years afterward, like a 65mph koan.

I thought nothing of the older couple taking careful steps around the Buddha at Jungle Gardens on Avery Island. The wife asked about the flowers and I answered that I thought the flowers were spider lilies, but I wasn’t exactly sure. A little while later I was walking the path to Bird City and slowed because an older gentleman using a cane was ahead of me. Instead of hurrying past him (as I might normally), I said hello. He reminded me that we had just met at the Buddha. I kept pace with him as we walked toward the observation platform. He was traveling with his wife because their house in Pensacola, FL had been destroyed in the flooding on April 30th. They were waiting for it to be rebuilt. He looked sad and angry all at once, but was making the most of his exile. We watched the snowy egrets for a bit and eventually he left to continue his journey.

The rest of the day held an unexpected level of magic for me. I wanted to see a raccoon in Louisiana (for my own ridiculous reasons) and one appeared for me. Baby peacocks and supermodel lizards happened too. It was a day where I held a consistent level of joy and lived in the moment – something I’m not always very good at doing. We drove out to the Gulf of Mexico and eventually returned to our cottage in New Iberia to freshen up. We decided to go to Lafayette (about 20 miles away) for dinner. We went to a small Thai restaurant in a strip mall that was inexplicably perfect. As we finished our meal a couple approached our table. It was the older gentleman and his wife. He said with a smile, “I’m not sure who is following who.”

After they left I looked at Patrick and asked, “Was that future us?” How did they end up there? How did we? Avery Island was about an hour away from Lafayette. What are the odds?

When I begin editing photos a few days later I found a photo of the older gentleman. I had completely forgotten taking it. I seldom take photos of strangers, but I just liked how he looked amid the huge trees and verdant landscape.

These unexpected intersections are part of the appeal of travel that is impossible to explain. I hope I see them on the road again.

Path to Bird City at Jungle Gardens, Avery Island
Path to Bird City at Jungle Gardens, Avery Island

Napoleon House

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

Following their final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte on the plains of Waterloo, Belgium, in 1815, the British sent the former French Emperor into permanent exile on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena. But even a remotely imprisoned Napoleon remained the best bet going for many with a bone to pick with the Brits (and there were many).

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

Among these was one Nicholas Girod, a former New Orleans mayor whose cooperation with Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 had as much to do with his hatred of the British as any pro-American sentiment. In 1821, Girod went so far as to offer his house at 500 Chartres Street in the city’s French Quarter as a residence for Napoleon pending the success of an alleged plot to break the exiled emperor off the rock and bring him back to New Orleans.  However, Bonaparte died before any such effort could take place.

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

But his would-be association with the house at the corner of Chartres and St. Louis Streets lived on; nearly a century later, in 1914, the Impastato family opened the Napoleon House Bar and Café in Girod’s former home. Today, Napoleon House remains a throwback to a twice-bygone era, where the white bust of the former French ruler that stands behind the bar holds court over the locals and tourists alike who are drawn to its decayed old-world ambiance.

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

The café serves Euro-Creole-inspired cuisine such as muffuletta, boudin, and a variety of salads. But the real draw, for me, is the bar’s house drink, the Pimm’s Cup. The concoction’s base ingredient is a gin-based, herb-infused liqueur that can be mixed with anything from lemonade and club soda to ginger ale or champagne, and typically served in a Collins glass garnished with a cucumber slice. It’s a most refreshing libation in the paint-warping heat and humidity of a New Orleans summer; to be sure, meted out, one might drink it all night long to maintain a pleasant buzz without ever feeling any adverse effect.

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

If you’ve never had a Pimm’s Cup, Napoleon House is a great place to acquaint yourself. Indeed, over the years, it has become ritual for me, upon arriving in New Orleans, to drop my bags wherever I may be staying and head straight for Napoleon House to plot my next move over a Pimm’s (or three) within the peeling walls that once might have housed the man who first sold the city to America.

Napoleon House Bar and Café
Address: 500 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
Phone: (504) 524-9752
Email: info@napoleonhouse.com
Website: http://napoleonhouse.com/

Hours: Monday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday – Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: Closed
Bar Hours: Bar open till.

 

Louisiana Wildlife

I was blown away by the lushness of southern Louisiana. There were birds everywhere and the animal encounters were frequent and amazing. My favorite spots were along the Bayou Teche early in the morning – Muscovy ducks, nutria, turtles, spiders, and birds singing high in the tree canopy. For bird watching, Bird City at Jungle Gardens on Avery Island and the small island just outside of Rip Van Winkle Gardens in Jefferson Island were unmatched. There were hundreds (thousands?) of nesting snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, ibis, herons, and egrets, plus gators, water snakes, and turtles. Within Rip Van Winkle Gardens we saw a mother raccoon and a mother peahen with her young. Out on Lake Martin we saw all ages of alligators, cormorants, herons, a whistling duck, anhingas, wood ducks, turtles, and swarms of dragonflies and damselflies. For me, Louisiana was wild and magical.

Click on the images to make them larger.

Spider along the banks of the Bayou Teche
Spider along the banks of the Bayou Teche
Snowy Egrets at Bird City, Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, LA
Snowy Egrets at Bird City, Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, LA
Bird City, Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, LA
Bird City, Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, LA
Gallinule among the elephant ears at Bird City, Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, LA
Gallinule among the elephant ears at Bird City, Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, LA
Penchicks with peahen at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Penchicks with peahen at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Penchicks with peahen at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Penchicks with peahen at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Mother raccoon at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Mother raccoon at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Mother raccoon near her nest at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Mother raccoon near her nest at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Green anole at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Green anole at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Dragonfly on lotus at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Dragonfly on lotus at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Huge rookery just outside of Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Huge rookery just outside of Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Jefferson Island, LA
Alligator at Lake Martin, LA
Alligator at Lake Martin, LA
Wood ducks at Lake Martin, LA
Wood ducks at Lake Martin, LA
Dragonfly and baby turtle at Lake Martin, LA
Dragonfly and baby turtle at Lake Martin, LA
Great blue heron at Lake Martin, LA
Great blue heron at Lake Martin, LA
Alligator at Lake Martin, LA
Alligator at Lake Martin, LA
Leech in the pirogue, Bayou Teche, New Iberia, LA
Leech in the pirogue, Bayou Teche, New Iberia, LA
Damselfly at Lake Martin, LA
Damselfly at Lake Martin, LA
Anhinga at Lake Martin, LA
Anhinga at Lake Martin, LA
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Lake Martin, LA
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Lake Martin, LA

Tips for Going to Drag Shows

Photos were taken at Lucky Pierre’s on Bourbon Street. Performers are Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas, Kookie Baker, and Nicole Lynn Foxx.

Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas performing at Lucky Pierre's
Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Do not go expecting to be a voyeur. Drag shows are participatory live art/theater and no two shows are alike. You may end up on stage. Personally, I can’t sing or dance worth a shit, but just looking like you are having a good time contributes to the vibe. And if you aren’t having a good time, leave. That’s right, I’m looking at you, scowling middle-aged guy; when you do that we all just think you are having stirrings in your loins you can’t control. If you are there to mock or be an asshole it is like blood in the water and you will leave humiliated.

Nicole Lynn Foxx performing at Lucky Pierre's
Nicole Lynn Foxx performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Bring plenty of $1s and $5s. You are expected to tip the performers and the waitstaff. Respect them; this is how they make a living. But remember, your sweaty $1 does not entitle you to a grab the tits or the tackle (or both), unless of course you are encouraged to do so.

Kookie Baker performing at Lucky Pierre's
Kookie Baker performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Do not make assumptions about the crowd. People are always surprising.

Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas performing at Lucky Pierre's
Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Ladies, do not spent the whole show making deliberate physical contact with your boyfriend/spouse. You will not somehow keep him from liking boys dressed like girls this way. You look silly.

Kookie Baker performing at Lucky Pierre's
Kookie Baker performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Show some respect and it will be shown to you.

Nicole Lynn Foxx performing at Lucky Pierre's
Nicole Lynn Foxx performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Wear clean underwear. That is always a useful tip. Sometimes especially useful.

Proud Mary performed by Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas, Kookie Baker, and Nicole Lynn Foxx  at Lucky Pierre's
Proud Mary performed by Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas, Kookie Baker, and Nicole Lynn Foxx at Lucky Pierre’s

Above all, have fun. That’s what it is all about.

SOUNDTRACK: Southern Louisiana

The best music will evoke the most cinematic qualities from any landscape. The musical gumbo of southern Louisiana is infused with a variety of cultures, including French, Spanish, English, and Afro-Caribbean, to name just a few. Rock and roll, jazz, zydeco, New Orleans rhythm and blues – each speaks to the syncopated rhythm of life in a particular time and place.

And so it was that, still haunted by the first season of the HBO series TRUE DETECTIVE, we fled the Crescent City for the swamplands of Iberia Parish, the brassy strut of urban jazz soon yielding to dusty folk rhythms and the lonesome twang of a blues guitar…

The New Orleans Bingo! Show – “New Orleans”

 

Huey “Piano” Smith & His Clowns – “Little Chickee Wah Wah”

 

Ernie K-Doe – “T’aint It the Truth”

 

Earl King – “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights”

 

Ike & Tina Turner – “Too Many Tears in My Eyes”

 

The Handsome Family – “Far From Any Road”

 

Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks – “Southern Love”

 

Brian Tyler – “The King’s Highway” (BUBBA HO-TEP soundtrack)

 

Trailer Bride – “Porch Song”

 

Luna – “Bonnie & Clyde” (Serge Gainsbourg cover)

 

John Lee Hooker – “Unfriendly Woman”

 

Jo-El Sonnier – “Evangeline Special”

 

Boozoo Chavis – “Paper in My Shoe”

 

James McMurtry – “Hurricane Party”

 

Ray Wylie Hubbard – “Snake Farm”

 

The Rock*A*Teens – “Never Really Had It”

 

Kris Kristofferson – “Casey’s Last Ride”

 

Dr. C.J. Johnson – “You Better Run to the City of Refuge”

 

Gary U.S. Bonds – “New Orleans”

 

 

Best Meals: Louisiana Smells like Rain and Tastes Like Potatoes

Louisiana offered up multiple variations of two of the things I like best: potatoes and spicy food. The start of the trip was a work conference and the banquet and luncheon meals were everything I’ve come to expect as a vegan who cannot eat wheat. Apparently, this translates to, “OMG, she has no tastebuds, let’s give her the lukewarm roasted sawdust special!” Thankfully the rest of the trip did not seek to deaden my senses.

HERMES BAR

Soufflé potatoes at Hermes Bar
Soufflé potatoes at Hermes Bar

At Hermes Bar, a local friend introduced me to soufflé potatoes and a new friend introduced me to Chartreuse. Chartreuse is both powerful and beautiful and the only color to be named after a drink. As for the soufflé potatoes, my friend inquired of our lovely, southern gentleman waiter as to the vegan status of the dish before we ordered:

Friend: Excuse me, where are the soufflé potatoes prepared?
Waiter: Why, in the kitchen, of course.*

It was the perfect answer. Upon further clarification, we learned that Hermes cooks them in peanut oil alone. Soufflé potatoes are sublime puffed potato pillows and three plates were devoured in a matter of minutes.

*May not be exactly verbatim, I had already had a Pimm’s Cup and a chartreuse.

13 BAR AND RESTAURANT
In search of a decent dinner after a conference lunch of leaves and flavorless root vegetables, we found ourselves at 13 Bar and Restaurant. Their signature dishes include “tachos.” What are tachos you ask? They are the genius idea of tater tot nachos. They are served with or without cheese, vegan chili, jalapenos, and salsa. The red beans and rice was also vegan.

3 POTATO 4

3 Potato 4
3 Potato 4

On our way out of New Orleans we stopped at 3 Potato 4, which I had read about online prior to the trip. All vegan, gluten-free, and devoted to potatoes. This was close to a religious experience. The menu offers three kinds of baked French fries and a bunch of all-vegan sauces. I tried the Garlic Ketchup, Garlic Pepper Mayo, and Wasabi Ginger Mayo, as well as the vegetable soup. I would have had some coconut ice cream had I not snarfed up all of my fries and some of Patrick’s. Highly recommended.

COTTAGE ALONG THE BAYOU TECHE

Cottage on the Bayou Teche
Cottage on the Bayou Teche

We bought a few supplies at Whole Foods in Metairie before we drove out to southwest Louisiana. Among the items was a jalapeno-cilantro nut-based pesto. Damn, that was good. We had dinner and listened to the sounds of live oaks swaying and birds going to bed. While no potatoes were directly involved in the pasta, I was noshing on Earth Balance Cheddar Kettle Chips and Patrick had Haunted Ghost Pepper Tortilla Chips that made him cry.

THAI CUISINE

Singapore Slings at Thai Cuisine
Singapore Slings at Thai Cuisine

We drove 45 minutes in rush hour in the pouring rain and arrived at a most underwhelming strip mall in Lafayette, LA housing our destination: Thai Cuisine. I had found the place online and once we asked for the vegetarian menu we were set. The Singapore slings were perfect. The lemongrass soup was among the best I have ever had. They really know how to add heat without losing flavor. I know you are thinking, “Where are the potatoes???” Fear not, the garlic tofu came with several roasted potatoes that were cooked to perfection. The garlic tofu was somehow both moist and crispy. It was so good we went back the next day for lunch.

Culture, Nature, and the Strange