Sunday, February 8, 2009

Where Y'at Restaurants in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
La Phire Restaurant
Here We Go Again
My childhood began in the late 1960’s in New Orleans in my late 20’s. At that time there was an epidemic of young people, I don’t know what happened to most of them since then; but, in those days the inmates ran the asylum. The New Orleans young folks dressed strange, thought differently from their elders and were not afraid to speak their mind. The city was one big tribe. For the most part we had all decided to stop working for ‘the Man’ and had told Kemo Sabe to kiss our asses.
The tribe was broken up into smaller groups; singles and couples, twos and threes and twelve and up. These of the latter (12+) were called communes. Communes were loosely based around an ideal, philosophy, art or business venture. There were groups of people concentrating on free clinics, newspapers (called ‘Underground Newspapers’) food distribution, publishing houses, religion and of course those brave souls that kept body and soul together by keeping us supplied with hallucinogens (bless their hearts). I was part of a commune; we had a restaurant.
Sundays were particularly pleasant because the tribe would get together in the park for what we called The Celebration of Life. Naturally the ‘establishment ‘ hated us. Imagine a thousand young people on public land, setting up one geeenormuss picnic on a Sunday afternoon. Bands would perform for no cost, children would run and play, love would be in the air and many of us would be exploring astral planes. Our tribes would meet with other tribes at venues called Rainbow Gatherings---- you had to be there.
For a time, our group lived in a crumbling plantation house on Chippewa Street. Our restaurant, after humble beginnings on Conti Street moved (with us) to a four-story warehouse on Barracks Street. The conditions were more than primitive.
We carved out a theater on the first floor, restaurant on the second and living spaces on the third and fourth. The rent was $500.00 a month, and we were rarely on time in paying it. It was a simpler time; computers were but a rumor, dress codes were non issue and hand held communication devices were the stuff of science fiction. We drank water from the tap, ‘there was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air’.
We took in any visitors for three days at a time, after that (with approval) they were welcomed to move in or out. One of our better additions happened when we took in four refugees from a situation up north at Kent State University who decided to stick around. You have to realize that we were living a Never-never land existence, we had a hierarchy, we a cohesion, we had 12-20 of us to keep fed and a business to run. It appears to me now that it is more than a possibility that not one of us knew what we were doing. Sonya was a mother to us all; luckily for us she had a young child and had some practice. There are too many names to mention and each with a story.
If you were lucky enough to come and dine, you would sit at a homemade table in found chairs, the settings were mismatched and the food was simple, nutritious and very inexpensive. We served food that we had learned to cook without the advantage of modern equipment and everything we cooked was in season. We were a block away from, what was then, a fully functional produce market that stretched for blocks and blocks. We lived above the restaurant and we cooked all the time, we baked our own bread and what was good for one of us was good for all of us or it wasn’t good at all. Our lawyer rode his bicycle to cut down on air pollution. We did a lot of shopping at Schwegmann’s; we called ourselves a family.
There was (and still is) a big parking lot next to us that generally had the comings and goings of young nomads and one semi permanent fixture was a mini school bus that had the emblazoned placard reading “Why Not?” And that was just the way it was.
Many times one or more of us would take an outside job to help out financially. One job that I had taken was with the French Market Corporation as a street sweeper. I swept from Jackson Square to Barracks Street from eleven at night until seven in the morning. We worked in teams. I worked with a man named Ely.
At times, produce vendors would put out fruits and vegetables that had become too ripe to sell: tomatoes, squashes, citrus and I would bring them home to be prepped. There was a big shrimp warehouse that trucks of shrimp would come in to, to be unloaded by men with snow shovels. What spilled was mine, usually between five and eight pounds at a time. I once saw a man skin a possum on the dock to take home for dinner.
I’ve seen a dozen sweating blacks offload an open-bed semi of watermelons, tossing them with silent rhythm, glistening like ebony gods of the underworld under an indigo sky. I’ve seen country folk sleeping in beds of corn or onions waiting for the market to open. Feral cats keeping the rodent population down and mating among the smells of the roasting coffee and Old Man River. On the right breeze you could smell the potatoes frying at the chip factory on Elysian Fields.
We would catch breaks at Morning Call, the stand that was in competition with CafĂ© Du Monde that still had a ‘Colored’ serving room and what a juke box! After, we would turn on the hydrants just to watch the street flood in the moonlight. We would tell inquirers that we were lowering the level of the river.
I’ve been with members of the tribe as we watched the sun rise in the East over the West Bank and trundled home to the smell of Ray, our baker, getting out the first loaves. To a four story warehouse on Barracks Street that was a restaurant named La Phire.
And you need an article for a Restaurant Issue?

Old And In The Way in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Po Mouf
Old And In The way
I came across an old photo in a book the other day; it was a young guy, a thin guy and he didn’t wear glasses with which to be able to see. Now, this sounds like the beginning of a country western song and I guess you know the next line: “yes, that young guy was me…”
Although I’m still young for a geezer and definitely have some tread left, I seem to be seeing more people around me that are younger and, if I might add…. younger.
Whoo Boy Howdy!!; I could have raised some hackles by ending that sentence with words like cuter, dumber, brighter, weaker or any other adjective that someone long in the tooth says, on a regular basis, about those that they don’t understand that are just plain………. younger.
‘When I was your age’, another phrase of boredom usually begins with, I didn’t give a shit about what someone older than I had to say. Now that I’m older, I don’t listen, any more than casually, to anyone older ---or younger--- about anything. I can usually get by best with my peer group; those folks that when they say: “they told me that I’d get older, they just didn’t tell me that it would hurt” I literally feel them.
I have a very good friend that I worked along side of, as we elders say, back in the day. We were, and still are to some degree, chefs; but we referred to ourselves as “line cookin’ dogs”. Between the two of us, it is safe to say that, we have forgotten more about cooking than the average chef knows today. He’s in Costa Rica and I have a cookbook shop; a tale best saved for much more space and time. Anyway, David and I communicate regularly by email and under the subject space (you know, that little window at the top of the message?) we generally put in the words to songs (of our day) that we knew and could recite easily. We also sign on and off in fictitious names; our beginnings and sign offs take forms such as to: Florenz from: Ziegfeld or Jackie to Gleason, Philip to Morris, Ben from Dover and generally have a grand old time busting each others chops and commiserating on the times that we’re in, the aches that we’ve accumulated and, of course, sex, drugs and Rock n’ Roll. We generally agree that older people didn’t smoke enough dope when they were younger and, younger people haven’t smoked enough yet to talk about. We consider ourselves of a blessed generation. We know Jack.
But wait, it gets better. Back in the day (there I go again) and in a time that not many people remember there was a man named Mel Lyman. He was an avatar and prophet; some said he was god and some said that he was the devil. I know that he was a teacher and the main thing that he taught me was, coincidentally the same thing that Ernie K. Doe taught: “pay attention to your intentions”. I’m trying. It gets confusing.
I don’t want my shoes made by children or my chocolate from slave labor. I don’t want to have the evidence of my existence wind up in a landfill and I want a say in what goes on in my life. By the same token, I want those nouns that are around me (people, places and things) to look further than their noses as to what is really best for all of us collectively, to live with an inquiring and a questioning set of ethics and awareness. And this means you; is that too much to ask? I wonder how would George Carlin would put it?
I was at the corner of Broad and Esplanade waiting for the Shame Train (bus) along with other denizens of my hood. It is a lesson in humility, civility and patience to wait on the Shame Train, I recommend that everyone stay in touch with that school of soft knocks. Folks are reluctant to have conversation with one another; and for good reason. Only those who can’t afford to drive or are incompetent, invalid or indigent have the nerve and reason to bus it. Only those traveling far a field from home bus it.
For me it takes a real steeling to ride the Shame Train and there are times when, frankly, I’ll go on the ‘shoe leather express’ rather than take that ‘humbling’; it’s healthier for mind and body anyway.
So, there I was waiting with my ‘rounds (those that live ‘round me) and abruptly, a couple of young girls started signifying to a couple of young dudes in a pick-me-up truck, talking “bitch this and bitch that and mother f*cker that and N***** the other”. As they spotted me and a like aged black woman they apologized for “dis-‘specting” us “elders”. “Okay, fine, don’t worry”.
I turned to the woman and asked: “did you see that special on television on Petey Greene?” Well, you know a conversation can only go so far when the person that you’re talking to doesn’t understand who or what you’re talking about, and we got no further. Going no further sucks.
Where am I going with this? Just this: this is the year of the teacher and the student, and time is a terrible thing to waste. This Spring can be a new awakening; primavera means Spring: the first truth (and not a pasta dish), it’s time to shake out the cobwebs from the winters of our discontent and be positive influences on our lives and in the lives of others.
Going… going…
And, as this is one of the tougher pieces that I’ve written. I’ve read it over and over again trying to get my point and it turns out that my point is, quite frankly, purely subjective. There is way too much bullshit in our lives and I’ve been taking it in and dishing it out and not listening to my Teachers as I should. However; Spring is a good time to make changes, isn’t it?
River Deep—Mountain High

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Day Trips from New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Vacationing At The Beginning Of The World
Lafayette, We Are Here
The train pulls in like a tired, wet mule; breathing slow and hard, unable to shake the same wet and heat off that any junkyard cur has the inherent gift and liberty of doing, and sitting patiently achuffing as a group of passengers get off ahuddling under yesterday’s newspapers and dime store umbrellas to take a cigarette smoke break under the lone oak that plays depot to the town that is on the verge of realizing its own potential pure yet dormant, The year is 2002 but it could be a scene from a hundred years ago, rain is falling steadily, unaffected by, and not affecting, the heat. The precipitation feels like humidity personified. (Forgive the first paragraph-I is reading Faulkner)
We pick around the mud and start walking toward what appears to be ‘town’. We share three canvas bags and no umbrella. The rain is slowing and it’s four blocks before we find someone to ask directions from. We're headed the right way, but for sure, we’re not in the French Quarter any more.
Five blocks further and we reach The Blue Moon Hostel. As described, it IS right across from the Borden’s Ice Cream Parlor. Three kids (read: any adult at least half our ages) stand, beaming at us as if we were the village idiots who had finally found their way home. Two are male and that’s as much as I notice about them except that they are apparently unarmed (there’s the New Orleans coming out in me), the third is a charming woman, worthy of every positive adjective I can think of.
Anyway, with a smile that could charm puppets, paupers, pirates, poets, pawns and Kings (that’s life!) she says “looking for a room?” she’s actually grinning and on her it’s the grin of a window being raised in a stuffy room. The very air became lighter and fresher.
“No, I think we already have one” Debbie starts, “We’re looking for…”
and in unison three of us say “…Catherine!” and share a laugh. Sounds stupid, felt great.
“Welcome and welcome howareya jahavagoodtrip and I’ll show you in and we’ll be back in twenty minutes we’re goin’ for ice cream make yourselves at home”. Yes we were really not in the French Quarter, ice cream indeed!
It’s been like going to Grammy’s house. Living room, dining room, big kitchen, bedrooms, bunk rooms, back yard, front yard. Cozy, spacious, hospitable and definitely ‘Home’ (with a capital ‘H’) and more about this later.
To make a long story longer: we dropped off our bags and went to find ‘town’. After all it was only mid day Monday and we were anxious to see the sights.
Armed with a McDonald’s map of the downtown we found Jefferson St. and walked its length, about twelve of their blocks. We passed about four people. We found some businesses. They were all closed. We found some bars. They were closed except for the one (Chips) that we had a drink at that was closing in an hour. The most action we found was at Circle K.
Naturally delighted (not), we returned to the warmth of Blue Moon, made our dinner in the communal kitchen, opened our bottle of wine (word: never travel to unexplored territory without at least two bottles of a familiar wine, corkscrew and enough snacks for a family of four per person), sat in the back yard for a spell and then went inside, cuddled up on the couch and read our respective books (never go anywhere without a book. Never. Anywhere.) Miles Davis was playing softly and the City Rats (us) finally started to chill. I think that’s when we got it.
Believe it or not, what we consider our fair city; our Big Easy, to be: laid back; can only be true when we compare ourselves to other cities much larger than ourselves, like New York or Chicago. It seems, from even my limited perspective, that even a blind person could see that we’re all running around like lunatics here. We (in New Orleans) don’t take a walk on the wild side, we go at it like we’re keepin’ score on how much we can get accomplished, and you know what? Other people don’t do that! Not even other people a hundred or so miles from here that say that they live in a city called Lafayette, Louisiana.
Listen, we were on the Amtrak, snackin’ down, curlin’ up, happy as clams, watching the world go by, and two women whom we couldn’t help but notice came through the car, jouncing around, and as they pass us one says to the other “I’m gonna go slam back some Jack, this is soooo boring!” Huh? Well, it seems like this particular train didn’t have a designated smoking area and, have you ever seen a smoker going through a nicotine jones? Of course not. A smoker here can smoke pretty much wherever and whenever they want. Same with drinkers, gamblers and any other kind of stimulus junky. We don’t have to, but the point is we can.
Heads up! What did you do on your day off? Answer: you did too much!
The next morning, we looked at Lafayette through different eyes. The place is sweet. They have an Arcadiana Fest each September, they’re building a Planetarium, have a Children’s Craft Center, buildings 150-200 years old, antique shops and was the capitol of French Louisiana. Bring your car, there’s a lot to see outside of it as well. The place is et up with culture. They give tours fer Chrissakes!
We went to Don’s Seafood Restaurant; it was like a dinner from a time capsule, circa 1965. Lost in space and time and free of the !@#$%^&*( pretensions that we seek here.
Upon reading the brochure, at the Greyhound Bus terminal (the train was running eight hours behind, but they are building a terminal for it to stop at. I’ll miss that tree), I found out that the full name of our lodgings is The Blue Moon Guest House and Saloon. They have music on the weekends, guests from around the world, the most affordable prices and co-op type atmosphere. Except for the convenience of computers (they have a website too), you would think that you just stepped back in time, and, yes; I did go out for ice cream!

New Orleans Tennessee Williams Literary Festival 2009

Guide to The 23rd Annual Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival
March 25-29, 2009

Debbie Lindsey and Phil LaMancusa

By now, every adult resident of New Orleans that draws an occasional sober breath knows about the annual Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival (TW/NOLF), or by Gad, should. Unfortunately, most folks forget about it until the last minute or more likely after it has come and gone. Sound like you? This need not be the case and our editors agree; so, heads up, you’re reading this, you’ve got time. Up, up, up!
First, there are those that know that this is a cool thing to do but it’s a matter of… “yeah, I hear that’s pretty cool… what is it again?” For them, let’s start with explanations preceded by theorems and maybe a few axioms thrown in. Whatever… let’s start as if you’re as dumb as I look.
Okay, who doesn’t like to read (raise your tentacle)? Who doesn’t love to lose themselves in a book by a great author with a good story line and a tale with a smashing finish. And who, after reading that book, does not just scream out: how do they do that (write)? where does it come from? or I could do this! Okay, maybe you’re not a screamer, so I’ll tell you who: all readers do with few exceptions. Scratch the surface of any great reader and you’ll find a great writer longing to put pen to paper. You can tell who readers are because they’re pretty much the folks worth talking to. You’ll know non-readers too, because they aint got snot for conversation and because they can’t write except for text shorthand. Easy for me to say, I may just be more attracted to the informed.
About the annual TW/NOLF : here’s the quote: “The five day fete (don’t you adore that word?) which celebrates the life and legacy of Tennessee Williams in the adopted city that he called his ‘spiritual home’ offers two days of master classes; a roster of lively discussions among blue chip panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music events; a scholars’ conference; short fiction and one act play competitions; a breakfast book club; literary and other French Quarter walking tours; a book fair; and an Opening Night Fundraising Gala”. It’s kind of the literary equivalent of Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show--- ‘pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes’.
No kidding, we’ve been covering this thing for twelve of their years and one of the things I have to point out here is this:
You know that great big storm that we had, and how, at the time we didn’t know if anything that’s New Orleans was ever, ever going to come back for us -- for us that braved a sad and poignant homecoming? Remember what it was like back in the day when we had no mail service, we swept our own streets and counted each familiar face as a long lost family member? Remember the joy when carnival came back and Jazz Fest? Well, that year the TW/NOLF came back for their twentieth anniversary year and didn’t miss a beat. THAT’S how much of a part of the city this event is.
Anyway, it takes all year to put this festival together and at the time of the event the ball rolls smoothly with hundreds of volunteers coordinated by three staff members and a few contract guns. Our favorites of course are Ellen Johnson and Karissa Kary who can be found just about everywhere with band aids, extinguishers and directions for the fledgling gophers (“you go fer this and YOU go fer that.”) and empty handed pilots (“pick it up here… pilot over there.”) all while smartly frocked and accessorized.
Just about all of the events happen in the French Quarter which makes it an easy escape for that lost weekend that you’ve been promising yourself. A Festival Panel Pass is $60.00 ($50.00 for students); a One-day Pass at $25.00 is hard to beat and special events/theater are ten bucks and up, also Master Classes and Walking Tours reasonably priced and if you want information call the Festival office 504-581-1144 or go to yes, there are group rates in case you want to bring your posse of wannabes and word nuts.
I’ve got the info in front of me and it includes words like: noted thespians, Broadway legends, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, acclaimed poet and memoirist, and also Tony Award winning…. Somebodys! (a plural of Somebody that my spell check doesn’t want to accept). There’s a bunch of theater and the shouting contest on the last day; that’s right, your favorite couple Stanley and Stella, is a must. Aren’t you glad that the Kowalskis didn’t have a dog or cat?
You know, or you should have read by now, all the reasons that we go to this event religiously. It is candy for the brain, it’s the uber people watching weekend and it’s informative to us writers that need to put information in their back pockets about real situations that effect us: character development, scoring an editor, finding your ‘voice’, self publishing, what kinds of things are selling and the comfort of knowing how many of us are really out there… and still attending.
Believe it or not, there are a lot of writers that are full blown bat pucky crazy and can make (and have made) a living with the written word, and you learn about that as well.
Word up! Once this thing (TW/NOLF) gets rolling, you’re going to find that some events will be sold out and, as we do, you’ll be the worse for not planning ahead for tickets to events, classes, theater and panels.
Also: be aware that there is little to purchase, as far as eating, at the Festival. You’ll need to time and coordinate your sustenance. Feel free to bring a samich or noshes (avoid littering) for the parks and al fresco dining. Quarterites usually find the best and quickest food in grocery stores and although we have some fine restaurants, it is really important that if you are to stop to dine and have a time constraint that you let that be known on the onset of service. Our local establishments will welcome your hard earned and, the servers are depending on your gratuities, but are not mind readers….yet.
The weather is usually perfect and the folks around you are of the highest caliber. This is the event (the other being the Faulkner bash) that you will come away from with a head full of ideas, questions, interests and a definitively revised reading list. See you there.

Pleasant people in New Orleans

Po-Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Master Thespian
According To Me
I was told today that the simplest things are the most complex to achieve. I’ve also been told that it takes a really smart person to know how stupid that they are. Compounding that, an ex-con of my acquaintance who had found solace in the prison library, laid this one on me: “read a book--- get a clue”. Or, as I find, read a newspaper and have absolutely no clue whatsoever!
So, I’m sitting here, trying to sidetrack a cold by eating a quart of Hot and Sour soup, wishing that I could be home in my jammys… coloring. Instead, I’m at the shop, waiting for and on customers and I’ve got…the newspaper. One thing for sure; there is so much hullabaloo going on outside my little world that I just want to go home, get into my jammys and …. Color. Newspapers are generally the repositories of misery, anguish, defeat and death unless you read the reports on how we are striving to overcome the inevitable hardships that as humans we are destined to live in and with; that or unbearably bear witness to and I can barely do that and maintain a normal blood pressure.
How do you like your unemployment statistics? What do you think about whose war, where and ‘we don’t really think that the killing will stop until we have reached a peace accord’ baloney; and, ‘the floggings will continue until morale improves’ philosophy?
Read the newspaper. Are we still thinking that a march on City Hall will stop us from being the murder capital of the free world? Or: ‘another un-armed man shot by police’--- whew--- at least this time it’s in California--- NIMBY to the rescue on that potential meltdown.
Really, have you read the rags lately? Gloom and doom, riots and rebellions, fear and loathing, the economy has tanked, the Dow is like a moving target and into the fray has waded “The Black Guy With The Worst Job On The Planet” doing everything but knocking heads together to get stuff done.
I doubt if I’m in shape for the Crescent City Classic and I’m finagling time off for the Tennessee Williams Festival (see next month for a feature from Deb and me) and what’s a fellow to do but find solace in faith, fellowship, fun, fantasy and food and thank heavens that I have that in abundance here, or at least where I live--- in my own little world.
No kidding, last night I dreamt that the mayor had issued an executive order that all establishments in this city serve gumbo at dinner time… no exceptions. In my dream I witnessed a man getting pulled over for speeding by the cops and pleading what had become known as the ‘Gumbo Defense’. “I’m sorry officer, but I wasn’t offered gumbo tonight….”
I’m a big believer in dreams, make believe and sleight of hand. I’m still fooled by magic tricks, mesmerized by song lyrics and a sucker for a smile from a pretty woman (especially if she’s handing me a cold beer). And I think that living in my own world is the main factor that gives my sanity any equilibrium; or as the man said: “if I wasn’t crazy, I’d probably go nuts!”
The most pleasant people I know are the ones who can let life wash over them and filter out the noise and hear mainly the celestial music of life. Their smiles are genuine, their laughter clean and their eyes clear and when they’re not feeling up to par it’s usually nobody’s bizness but they’re own.
You know people like that. The ones who very seldom resort to profanity to make a point, the ones who defer to others and still maintain their true identities, the ones who you would seek out with a problem for logic and intelligence. I want to be like that when I grow up, when they feel the sniffles coming on they stay home in their jammys and color.
If you were an ice cream flavor what would you be? Name your favorite color, cookie and curiosity. A lot of times I dis-remember the simpler things that keep me happy: how much I love my home, my job (yes, I do), my neighbors and my life. And when I remember, I swear that I’m never going to let that go and then those little and big things start to hem me in again: the news, the sniffles… money money money money.
It’s not easy to keep track of the simpler things and It is the simpler things that let us be happy and allow ourselves, as we define ourselves, to be ourselves. Having food, clothing and shelter is a biggie and once that is taken care of what on this earth more can you possibly ask for? Me? A LOT!!! And that’s where the trouble starts. Patience flies out the window and I want things… NOW! Things and stuff and there I go again forgetting what I have that is my happiness.
So, from the beginning: I was told today that the simplest things are the most complex to achieve. I’ve also been told that it takes a really smart person to know how stupid that they are. A very smart person that I know noticed that a lot of times we forget to breathe properly. Could it be as simple as that? I mean, when you get upset doesn’t someone suggest to take a breath and count to ten? That seems simple.
And dreaming.
And reminding yourself how good your life is.
And letting that special person know how very happy that they let you be, just by the way that they treat you. Let them know that you love them and care.
And believe that you will get … everything that you deserve.
And love. And I can’t recommend this enough: and love.
And live. If not you…who? If not now…when?
And laugh. You have power above anything that you can laugh at.
Now go color.