Sunday, December 22, 2013

Moments of Gold and Flashes of Light

What is time, anyway? It can give order and regularity to the workings of nature, but it can be arbitrary and artificial. Perhaps its most important quality is that it can be (and is) relative. However, as Lost taught us, we need a constant frame of reference in order for our minds to make sense of this strangest aspect of time.

Lately, I’ve struggled to find my constant. Spending all my daylight hours for weeks hold up inside the law library, immersed in the intricacies of the Erie doctrine or comparative fault, the natural and relative aspects of time faded away. This has manifest in some bizarre ways: Last Sunday I came home and turned on the TV, genuinely shocked that there had been football games played that day – I was sure it had been Monday. The next day, by the time I turned in for the night, the exam I had taken that morning, before returning to my library to begin preparations for the next one, felt like ancient history. Indeed, for a time, people would reference events and things I had done only a few days or even hours earlier, and they legitimately felt to me as if they had happened months in the past.

Today, while I had no trouble seeing the natural cycles that give rise to our conception of time (I did see the sky brighten in the morning and darken at night, after all), I had another Endless Day that seemed to contain the entirety of human history between wake-up and lights-out.

Waking before the cock crowed (actually, I’m not sure there are any cocks left in central New Jersey), we rushed to the airport, blew through security in record time, and arrived at our gate the requisite 90 minutes prior to departure, whereupon we were immediately informed that the pilot was running late, so we’d be there until forever. Apparently, therefore, “forever” is how long it takes to make all the pieces of a crocheted bunny hat (although for my joint adventurers, it was how long it took to take a nap). By this point the sun was up. After spending a few bumpy hours in a plane significantly smaller than Donald Trump’s (wherein I had more time for crocheting. reflection. and reminiscing on my new state of affairs in the world – and wherein my joint adventurers napped), we arrived near the Crescent City (I’m still working on where that name comes from). Fortunately, I finally chose the correct window seat that would give me a view of Manhattan as we took off and, as luck would have it, New Orleans as we landed:

I’m glad the camera captured something interesting onboard, because the Unending Thunderstorm that bore down on the city all day (I’m sure there’s a tasteless joke in there, but you can find it yourself) precluded its departure from my backpack for most of the balance of the day. This is not to say the day was a loss – far from it. If not for the associated wetness, thunderstorms would be my favorite weather (in fact, they probably are my favorite, so long as I don’t have to be outside during them). While winter in Boston is great for a lot of things, seeing a good bolt of lightning is not one of them. The weather also gave me a chance to try out my camera’s new lightning trigger – a little light-sensitive box that triggers the shutter whenever it detects a sudden flash of light – allowing you to take pictures of lightning much more easily than with my old “open shutter for a while and pray” method. Although it didn’t really produce any noteworthy results from my hotel window, I think that’s the fault of the kind of lightning this storm produced, and not of anything the camera or I did.

Although it was difficult to get to know the character of this famously charismatic city in a single evening through the downpours, one of its main attractions was completely unaffected by the weather – the food. Every excursion today was made for the express purpose of acquiring said consumables, and New Orleans has not yet disappointed.

Cape Cod smells like salt water. New York smells like urine and cigarettes (sorry guys, but come on. It totally does.). New Orleans smells like food. And this is not just your standard something-good-is-cooking-in-this-building smell – it’s the Disney World of food aroma. On Disney’s It’s A Small World, the creators made sure that the music would blend even as the languages changed while guests traveled along the river, or whatever it is. Here, as soon as you get out of range of one tantalizing fragrance, another one immediately takes its place. Even the airport terminal smelled better than most places I’ve ever been.

After a half mile of walking through the French Quarter, we arrived at the aroma of which we would partake. Before I get to that, though, we need to talk about this French Quarter place. I’ve seen so many poor, kitschy, and over-the-top impersonations of this place that when I finally saw the real thing for the first time, I thought that was what I was seeing again. But after 10 blocks of 3-story row houses, each with balconies adorned with Christmas lights and facades carved into intricate marble reliefs, I decided this place was the real thing. At times it was hard to tell what was authentic and what was a tourist trap (there’s definitely a strong Jersey shore element here – consisting largely of t-shirt shops, other souvenir purveyors, and a slight undertone of Drunken Frat Boy at all hours), but much of it seemed to be the real thing. And even if it wasn’t, I passed 3 kitchen supply stores within 15 minutes. That, alone, would be enough to convince me that this city is doing something right.

As for that food – we should talk about that. I started out easy today with a big ol’ plate o’ seafood lunch. Of course, it’s almost impossible to go wrong with seafood (and I did get to try my first oyster – albeit fried), and I did use some Creole mustard with it, but I feel like I still haven’t gotten a true New Orleans entrée experience. Fortunately, I still have tomorrow’s lunch and some time after the boat comes back to find me some jambalaya and/or gumbo.

After walking back through the deluge to the hotel to sleep off lunch, we roused ourselves again – so that we could go back out for dessert. For this we headed to the famous Café Du Monde. Literally, every person I’ve told about this trip has told me that I needed to go there for the quintessential New Orleans dessert experience. It’s one of those places that’s famous for one item, and so that one item is basically all they sell. So tonight I had my first (four) ever beignets. I’m told that the floor of the dining room is usually caked with powdered sugar by the end of the day, but due to the maelstrom it had washed itself clean. So, something somewhere along the storm drain must caked with powdered sugar. Just don’t ask BP where it might be – when things enter the Mississippi River watershed they magically become very bad at finding those things.

After a walk down a relatively quiet Bourbon Street (maybe because it was so early, but probably because even the drunkest drunks usually apparently have enough sense to come in out of the rain), with a quick stop for an interestingly spooky view of the back of Jackson Square, we were in for the night.

I feel like I still haven’t “done” New Orleans. Perhaps a family vacation here isn’t the best way to see the full range of appeals the place has to offer, though. Oh well. We’ll always have seafood.

Looking ahead, by this time tomorrow I’ll be on a boat somewhere in the outer reaches of the US’s Exclusive Economic Zone, on the way to what the Knoxville news anchors would call “a whole ‘nother country.” If, in 24 hours, I’m not in some degree of food coma, something will have gone terribly wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I know, RIGHT?! Louisiana had the best food on our entire 2 week road trip! I'm glad you got the beignets from Du Monde and that you got a fried oyster, but I'm really hoping that in the next post I read that you tried some crawfish/jumbalaya/po' boy/etc. Uber jealous and hungry right now.