AKA Abraham Bacoln

Jazzfest is upon us
April 25, 2009, 8:31 pm
Filed under: tidbit

For the past two days our neighborhood has been so vibrant that I’m left unable to accurately express how it makes me feel – but you know me, I’m gonna try.

We live one block away from the fence to the Fair Grounds, which (in case you didn’t know) is where the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival aka Jazzfest is held every year. Jazzfest is as far as I know second only to Mardi Gras in terms of a grand tourist influx into our fair city. It’s massive – seven days worth of music at twelve different stages spread over two weekends. It also happens only one block away from here.

When we first looked at renting this house I was reluctant to take it for exactly that reason – the only time I had ever been in this neighborhood before was for Jazzfest and I knew how crowded and crazy it seemed. I was really unsure whether or not I wanted to live in the middle of all that, even if it is only two weekends a year. The house was simply too incredible to pass up, though, so I was left with only a nagging wonder as to how bad the fest season was going to be.

The answer today, after the first two days, is: it’s going to be totally fine and totally fun.

There are people that live in our neighborhood that throw massive parties this time of year, and I’m convinced they live here just for that reason. Some of them don’t even bother to go inside the gates anymore, they just have parties every night.

Last night, for example, Casey and I went to a crawfish boil just one block away. There were well over 100 people there, all sitting around long tables covered with red spicy crawfish, lemons, new potatoes, all that. We went in, got food, sat, ate, socialized, and not once did we ever have any idea at whose house we were feasting. It was just a neighborhood party.

We live at the intersection of two one-way streets, and it’s amazing to me how many cars go the wrong way down the lesser of the two. That number has been doubled this weekend – apparently in the drivers’ minds it’s the last place to turn around before getting too deep into the neighborhood.

Cars come from everywhere to park around here, and we (the residents of the neighborhood) have to be careful about preserving our parking. Fortunately the traffic enforcement is out in great numbers. I’ve seen several cars ticketed and booted already for parking in the wrong places. We’ve also seen what feels like hundreds of patrol cars, and several times the mounted officers (you know, on horseback) have clopped their way down the street. Well, the horses clopped, not the officers, but you know what I meant.

Casey and I just sit on our front porch and watch the flow of people. During the day they’re all headed into the gates, but it’s a constant and slow stream. Around 7:00 PM the majority of the stages are shutting down, and the outflow is intense. We have the most amazing people-watchable parade just sliding down the street right past our porch – close enough to give someone a high-five if we so desired.

It’s strange because I associate huge numbers of tourists with Mardi Gras and the amazing disrespect for cleanliness we all have during that time. Jazzfest crowds are far more respectful, for which I am grateful. We’re using our big trash can as part of our parking spot retainer, and today when I went to put out a bag of trash there were at least a dozen bottles or cans in there. Some people have looked guilty as they throw the trash in, and I tell them not to be – I’m just thankful they’re keeping things clean.

The weather has been fantastic the past two days, and I’m hoping it holds for next weekend as well. This afternoon I stood just off a neighbor’s front stoop and listened to a few talented musicians play just for the hell of it.

Neighborhood music

Today while biking to Parkway for our lunch we stopped at a lemonade stand set up by the neighborhood kids. Yesterday we attended a neighbor’s art show-slash-sale set up in the front room of their house, also just for the hell of it. The sale, not our attendance. We’re going back over there tonight for a live band and some jambalaya, why not?

Casey’s happy because from our front porch she has heard bits of the show of not only Spoon but Wilco, two of her favorites. I’m not saying it’s clear as day here, but it’s obvious which bands are which, and that alone is fascinating – to live that close to all of it.

We’re having a great time, in case it’s not obvious, and I think I’ve learned quickly that I love this neighborhood during Jazzfest.

Oh, and in case you were wondering – no, we haven’t actually gone in. We might … but we might not. We apparently have enough to keep us busy as it stands.

Understanding unintentional plagiarism
April 14, 2009, 10:19 am
Filed under: tidbit

I’m sure you’ve all read the stories about someone caught touting a tune or turning a phrase that wasn’t theirs in the first place, and the guilty party says, when confronted with the evidence, “I must have seen or heard it before but I have no memory it.”

Over a year ago I wrote in my notebook what I thought was an original observation: What’s the point of remembering anything? You’re just going to forget it eventually. Not particularly witty or inspiring, but it seemed specific and appropriate to how I myself function.

About a month back I was re-reading some book from my collection and I came across the same sentiment with almost exactly the same wording. It became immediately apparent that I myself had performed an act of unintentional plagiarism on a small scale. I finally recognized that some of those people featured in copyright fiascos or lyrical lawsuits may not have been lying about being unaware of what they were doing.

I would love to tell you the name of the book in which this quote was featured but … I … ah, I’ve kind of forgotten which one it was.

Liquid history
April 2, 2009, 10:03 am
Filed under: tidbit

Most of you who read this blog know my history, but for those of you who don’t, allow me to get you up to speed.

In February of 2002 I started work as a stockguy at Martin Wine Cellar down here in New Orleans. I had zero understanding of wine, other than some was red, some was white, and I had heard the words ‘Cabernet’ and ‘Chardonnay’ but didn’t know what they meant other that which one was which color. Putting those bottles on the shelves all day long and having my managers’ patient tolerance for my questions quickly increased my wine knowledge. One area that remained mysterious a bit longer was the liquors and liqueurs section – a side aisle filled with oddly-shaped bottles with incomprehensible flavors and fascinating foreign names. Unlike wine, these weren’t sampled out to customers every day. No one openly debated the merits of one cachaça over the other, or which kirsch would add the best flavor to a fondue. Sure I knew what whiskey, tequila, vodka, and gin were, but cream made from the fruit of the Marula tree? I thought chartreuse was a color, not something that would be bottled and sold.

I wish I could claim that the first time I saw a bottle of Ojen it caught my eye and I was spellbound – I had to buy it that very day and taste it that very night … but had that happened I wouldn’t be writing this, so you know it’s not true.

A glass of disappearing history

Ojen sat on the top shelf at the Uptown store right next to the Herbsaint, Pernod, and all the other absinthe substitutes. I hardly noticed it, because I didn’t have to restock it very often (if at all). It did get my attention somewhat because of its interesting bottle shape but in an aisle of interesting bottle shapes it didn’t stand out that much. During the only Mardi Gras I worked as a stockguy it got pushed to the front of the store as a floor stack or maybe just a front door display. I asked about it and was told, “Some of the guys in one of the parade krewes use it in their drinks” or something to that effect. I learned that it was an anise liqueur not because it was sitting beside the other absinthe substitutes but instead from the day that a customer dropped (and broke) a bottle at the front of the store and almost instantly the entire place was flooded with the intense rich smell of licorice. The mop continued to smell of licorice for days afterward.

After moving to the inventory department I heard the story about how the distillery in Spain that had produced Ojen had shut down years ago, but right before they closed up shop we asked for one last run. Therefore sitting in our warehouse was the last of it, all the Ojen that was or would ever be. That one last stack of cases seemed a bit sad.

I moved away from New Orleans.

Three years and two months later I came back to New Orleans.

In that time I’ve come to appreciate the city a bit more. I’ve also learned to enjoy the history of this crazy place, especially that of Mardi Gras. One of the things I’ve realized is that it wasn’t just “some krewe” that was buying Ojen for their parade cocktails, it was the Krewe of Rex, the big krewe that rolls on Mardi Gras day itself. Rex was founded in 1872, over forty years after the production of Ojen began. The cocktail had been popular in New Orleans at the turn of the century and perhaps longer, maybe even as long as this venerated krewe has been parading.

Still it didn’t sink in what I was looking at. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re at the cusp of change until the corner has been turned.

The lightbulb moment for me happened last Saturday. Casey and I went to the Absinthe Museum to watch Jeff Hollinger talk about – and pour – absinthe cocktails (in case you haven’t heard, absinthe is legal again). He is the general manager of Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco and had come to town more or less to do this appearance. While he was mixing and talking someone in the audience asked him, “What all are you going to do while you’re down here? Anything in particular you’re looking for?” and his reply was, “Well, I plan to eat at such-and-such restaurant, and also I hope to pick up a bottle of Ojen.”

That made me realize that this man, a man who is involved in all things absinthe and absinthe-related, didn’t even have his own bottle. I’m sure he’s had an Ojen frappé at some point, I’m sure he’s tasted it at the very least, but this guy doesn’t have his own bottle – and hopes to find one. That realization solidified in my mind the idea that Ojen was not a nation-wide product. Hell, it’s not even regional. It is, as far as I know, only available in New Orleans itself. I talked to Jeff and told him where to pick up a bottle, and then Casey and I went on our way to go enjoy the rest of our day.

My mind was churning, though, processing all this information. I looked at the numbers and we have very few bottles left on the shelves, probably less than twenty-five. It made me realize that this cocktail has been a New Orleans institution for decades and now it’s on the verge of dying out because of unavailability. Past that it made me realize that I would be a fool not to buy a bottle for myself and enjoy it – but never hoard it, or dole it out in drips and drabs. Just occasionally have a glass of this Spanish “aguardiente anisado”, this tiny New Orleanian tradition, and if worse comes to worst in the upcoming years at least I’ll know I had my time enjoying it.

I would hate to have seen it mentioned in a book on the history of New Orleans or Mardi Gras and been saddened because I had missed my chance to own and consume a part of that Ojen history.