Friday, April 29, 2011

Just a Quick Note....

The only exciting thing I did in New Orleans this week, besides eat and visit relatives, was make a visit to the sculpture garden behind the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park. I've been to similar gardens in Dallas and DC, and this was by far the best, I think.

Pictures of many of the sculptures on display are posted in my on-line photo album, City Park, New Orleans.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Best Breakfast Ever!

Ruby Slipper Café
139 South Cortez Street
   (one block off Canal Street, in Mid-City)

OMG! This place was fantastic!

A really good breakfast place is one that you can enjoy and relax in with friends; a great place is one you can enjoy and relax in alone. Being on my own in New Orleans, I really lucked out coming here. 

I picked it because of its Mid-City location, since I planned to spend the morning at the Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park. Cortez Street is almost on the way there. It's an old neighbourhood, even by local standards, just off Esplanade Ridge, and despite ongoing gentrification it still exudes that dignified yet slightly degenerate charm that infuses all of this city.

Step into the Ruby Slipper and you feel immediately part of the neighbourhood. On your left is a small bar, lining the first small dining room. I got no further, having the good fortune to get a table with a view of both the street and the kitchen. The other people around me were clearly locals, if not neighbourhood residents: their accents would have told me that, had their mannerisms not done. 

Community garden
I started off with coffee. Locally roasted, the menu told me, as if I would care; like coffee beans lose significant attributes when they travel. Distance doesn't matter; time barely matters. Roasting technique matters, and having it done "in town" as opposed to elsewhere is irrelevant, just a passing fad in this Starbucks-laced society. (Of more interest to me was the fact that the Ruby Slippers coffee grounds go into the community garden on the corner opposite.) If any flavour remains in those grounds, then surely the veggies produced there are some of the best available, because the coffee I had was probably the best I've had in donkey's years. Seriously, it was. And they're not stingy with it either, although the $2 price tag might have more to do with that.

I was torn. On the blackboard was the day's special, peanut-butter-chocolate pancakes. Pancakes are a little-heralded specialty in New Orleans. The city is famous for its po-boys and seafood and creole food and all kinds of other things to tempt the palate, but it lives on pancakes. Big, fluffy pancakes. To combine that tradition with two great tastes that taste great together makes for an almost irresistable combination. But then, the menu lists other house specialties that are similarly drool-inducing. Having narrowed down that list to Bananas Foster Pain Perdu and Eggs Blackstone, I eliminated the pain perdu on the basis of having had Bananas Foster Ice Cream Cake last night. As good a rationale as any, at that point. And when I mentioned my dilemma to the cheerful, attentive waitress, Lindsay, she immediately assured me I could get the Eggs Blackstone with one peanut-butter-chocolate pancake. Which I did.
(Thanks, Irving.)

The pancake was the size of the dinner plate on which it was served. It was overcooked ever so slightly, a pardonable sin, given the perfection that awaited me in everything else. The peanut butter flavour was subtle, and it's my own fault for ruining it half-way through, when I had the wild notion that maple syrup might somehow add something to this culinary treasure. Still, the chocolate flavour was in no way impeded by my rashness, and it carried me through to the pancake's proud end.

Not to be outdone, the Eggs Blackstone were a marvel. Poached eggs on a small (poached-egg size, coincidentally) English muffin, with a slice of tomato and some Applewood-smoked bacon, and just enough of the house's delicious sauce Hollandaise to satisfy the gourmand in me. The presentation was enhanced by a delectable mix of ripe, fresh fruit in bite-sized pieces, providing an outstanding sweet complement to the luxuriant Hollandaise. 

What's that mean?
I had bought a local newspaper from the box outside the restaurant just to have an excuse to linger over my meal, and I almost followed up the meal with a mimosa (which the house tarts up with a splash of pomegranate juice). I could have done without the paper. Just sitting in that small room, contemplating the marvels on my table and listening to the howzyamama din around me would have been enough. 

The Ruby Slipper Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fine Diner. Giggle.

City Diner
3116 I-10 Service Road East
Old Metairie

Before starting for New Orleans this week, I spent some time poring over the list of the top restaurants in the city, hoping to pick maybe half a dozen places to try. I ended up with 19 on my list, including this place, which I found nestled into the parking lot of my hotel.

The customer comments that got this place onto my list mentioned things like crawfish and andouille sausage, blackened chicken sandwich, duck and sausage gumbo ... things you'd find in a diner only in South Louisiana. Having now been here, my first take on the place isn't particularly favourable. 

I went around 8pm; the place was all but empty when I arrived at this converted Denny's. (I assume it was a Denny's, because it's in a La Quinta parking lot; and everybody knows "La Quinta" is Spanish for "Next to Denny's.") The place is clean, and simply decorated. The seats are in good repair, always a concern at places like this, where maintenance tends to get put off when money gets short, and the walls have a few good, nicely framed photos of typically Orleanian subjects, to make City Diner feel a little more like New Orleans and less like ... well, Denny's. (There's also an LED sign at the far end of the dining room, advertising specials and features, and occasionally flashing blindingly and disturbingly bright.)

There were two people in the kitchen and two on the floor when I arrived. Since I was the only person there you'd think I could have gotten quick, attentive service. I did, until another guy walked in and ordered toast and milk to go. I kid you not. This episode absorbed all the attention of the wait staff. Fortunately, the interchange with this new customer was sufficiently entertaining to keep me amused, and only then did the waitress bring my drink.  ("Do you have sweet rolls? How about muffins? No, not English muffins. Cake? No, not ice-cream cake." I finally called out to the waitress that she should sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar on buttered toast for the guy. He settled for plain buttered wheat toast.) And a couple of other groups came in later, to keep me company.

I went for the evening's special: red beans and rice with sausage. It was exactly the same order I'd had back home, at the Big Easy Café, three days ago, so I thought it'd be an excellent opportunity to compare New Orleans' signature dish in Old Metairie with what I'd gotten from a family of Katrina refugees. The dish at the City Diner comes with sausage or pork chop. When I asked the waitress (who is from New Jersey and has only been here two months) if it was andouille sausage, she didn't know. It was smoked sausage, or I could have spicy sausage patties, or the grilled pork chop. I took my chances with the smoked sausage, and yes, it was andouille, and moderately good andouille at that. (She also didn't know what swamp water was, but mixed up a pretty good one when I told her how.)

Louisiana restaurant inspections have been
removed from the State's web site
for "technical reasons."
While I was waiting for my order, I had the chance to listen to the repartee going on between the employees. Without going into detail, I will say that it reminded me of why I moved away from New Orleans after only a few months, last time I came to live here.

You know how everybody thinks New Yorkers are rude? They're actually not, they're regular people, but their ways grate on my Southern sensibilities, and after a little while I grow uncomfortable in their continued company. This little group of Orleanians impressed me the same way. From their reactions, I could tell that they were all perfectly at ease with each other; but the words that come to my mind to describe their way of dealing are "attitude" and "lip." It was exactly that way when I lived here, as an adult, back in the mid-80s, and I thank God I had the good fortune to move away as a child, in time to learn a less sarcastic and caustic way of dealing, even if I don't always use it. These restaurant employees were all perfectly polite in dealing with me and the other customers, but if I'd've worked there I'd've popped somebody in the mouth before too long. Probably that smart-ass blond guy in the kitchen.

Once I was finished with the red beans and rice (which, by the way, was better than at The Big Easy Cafe -- much more like what I remember from my youth, with a creamy thick sauce), I decided to try the bananas Foster ice cream cake that had been offered to the guy with the toast. A sign on the diner's door advertises Blue Bell Ice Cream, so I expected it to be pretty good. There was banana ice cream and pecan chunks topped with whipped cream and served over a sliver of generic cake and what appeared to be pie crust. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good as it looked, nor was it as good as I'd hoped.

To be entirely fair, the City Diner seems to have built its reputation as a top restaurant largely on the strength of its breakfast fare. So maybe I'll come back one morning before I leave, and check that out.

Accustomed as I am to prices back home, I expect that the prices at City Diner are considered low by the locals. They're not bad. Maybe they're good enough to get excited about, if you live in a place like Metairie.

City Diner on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Where's My Equal Protection?

Lindsay Lohan, the celebrity famous for being famous, is getting "an opportunity." On probation for ... oh, who knows what? ... she was brought before a California judge this past week for the fourth time in a year. This time it was for felony theft, following her walking out of a Los Angeles jewelry store with the goods around her neck. The necklace she took was priced at somewhere north of $2,000.

The judge in the case chose to assign the wholesale value to the necklace, making the matter a misdemeanor, with significant consequences to Lohan's probation. Now she can be put back on the street to do her important work in movies; word is, according to Associated Press, that the non-star is to portray the wife of mafia don John Gotti in some upcoming schlockbuster.

It's not like this judge has done Lohan any favours. All she gets now is a few hundred hours of community service, which will allow her to bring a camera crew into the county morgue and the women's shelter to document her ordeal. We will be treated to carefully scripted and rehearsed scenes of Lohan talking soulfully to the camera about how the dead bodies and abused women around her have affected her outlook on life, how their troubles have redounded to her own maturing understanding of herself. Kind of like those semi-celebrities on Dancing With The Stars when they talk about the obstacles they've surmounted to dance with Tony Dovolani or Chelsie Hightower.

See, if the judge had sent Lohan to prison for more than the few hours that her last three arrests have earned her, think of how that would drive up the box-office value of Lohan's name. What an imaginative advertising department could do with that!

But instead, she'll just have to limp along with her "opportunity" to be filmed doing meaningful work slopping out the autopsy tables.

Of course, we're all equal before the law; I know I read that somewhere. I suppose some would say it's just an aspirational statement, but suppose it actually is the law. That means that wholesale value, or some other lesser value, should be the scale by which such things are measured when thieves make off with your stereo and your iPad, not the exorbitant price you paid Best Buy and Apple for the goods.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

And Another Thing

Adding to my little rant about immigration a while back, another point about immigration:

We Americans ought to have the right to presume that government is doing its job. One of its jobs — in a fundamental sense, one of its primary jobs — is to keep our borders secure. That's part of "providing for the common defense." We ought to be able to presume that anyone walking around on the streets of our towns has the right to be there, and that anyone presenting themselves for work in our shops has the right to do so. Absent some reason to be suspicious of that person's status, we ought not to have to do government's job of ferreting out illegal foreigners. Absent some reason to overcome that presumption, we ought not to have to check their immigration or citizenship status, any more than we ought to be checking to make sure that drivers have licenses to operate a vehicle. 

That's just part of being a free society, even if other people don't like it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Immature Fun: Hanna

directed by 
Joe Wright;
Saoirse Ronan, 
Eric Bana, and
Cate Blanchett

The film starts with Hanna stalking an elk in the snow and shooting it with an arrow. While she guts it, we hear a man's voice say, "You're dead. I've killed you." The next hour and forty-five minutes are taken up with chase scenes, fight scenes, and flash-backs with the emphasis on the flash. We learn that the man, Erik, is by way of being Hanna's father, that he has brought her up in an arctic wasteland to be a sort of teen Terminator, with all the skills of a ninja and the empathy of, well, a Terminator. We follow her through the seamy underside of Morocco and western Europe, chased by cartoon cut-outs of evil American (naturally) government agents and their sleazy minions.

Some of those cartoon cut-outs might have been interesting, had they been given any chance to develop themselves on screen: Marissa, lightly played by Cate Blanchett slipping in and out of a Southern accent; Isaacs, intensely played by Tom Hollander channeling Elton John and Amon Göth; and Erik himself, played by Eric Bana, who gets just enough screen time to be The Good Guy, but not enough to make us care.  We also meet Sebastian (Jason Flemyng) and Rachel (Olivia Williams), ditzy post-modern hippies who go some way toward justifying forced sterilization; and their daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden), who is still young enough not to have yet proven her unworthiness to live. Not that it matters: she falls into Marissa's hands, and Marissa kills just everybody she meets.

As an action-adventure film, Hanna gets a top grade. It's all action, and stays far enough this side of science-fiction to keep our eyes from rolling. The adventure is sort of two-dimensional, largely because none of the characters get developed, not even Hanna (Saoirse Ronan). The script doesn't get bogged down in explaining how a slight teenaged girl could have the strength of Schwarzenegger and Mr Data combined. But it's put out on the screen artfully enough that the question is an idle, passing wonder instead of the obstacle it might have been in the hands of a less relentless director. It doesn't distract.

The sad thing is, I guess, that you just know that a lot of fascinating development of Marissa, Isaacs and Eric got cut, partly because it came down to a choice between characters and action, and partly (in the case of Isaacs) to preserve a PG-13 rating (which apparently stands for "Pretty Gruesome"). Isaacs could get an NC-17 on his own. As a result, we are left with a fully enjoyable movie and an immature, formulaic script, beautifully filmed from bookend-beginning to bookend-finish.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On Comments

I wish I knew why some of my blog posts have a link for people to leave comments, and some don't. I've been through the settings for this thing half a dozen times, looking for something that will put that link in, and keep it in. Apparently I have not succeeded.

So -- I don't expect this to do any good, but what the hell, I'll give it a shot -- if you should feel the whimsical desire to leave a comment, for a post that has no link, you can email it to me at Just tell me which blog post it goes to, and I'll see if I can attach it somehow. If I can't, I'll make a separate post for it.

Unless, of course, it's vituperative, ungrammatical, internally inconsistent, jejune, or irrational. I might still publish it, just for laughs, but won't feel obliged to.

Terri Hendrix's Comment, and Response

Some months ago, I went to, and reviewed, a concert by Terri Hendrix at the Carver Center in San Antonio. As I said in the review, I wasn't there as an avid fan of her music, I'm just married to one. But I enjoyed the show for the most part, and the thrust of my review was that, while Ms Hendrix is no Paul Simon, she has succeeded at two art forms, songwriting and performing. About the worst thing I said was that I wished she wouldn't give away the ending of the upcoming song while she and her band tuned their instruments. 

Some weeks later, I received a comment from Ms Hendrix. (It came, for no-doubt-technological reasons I don't understand, on a review of a taco house on my other blog.) This is what she wrote:
Dear "Other Curmudgeon," I discovered what you wrote about my show at the Carver by accident. I've done music for over twenty years. I've performed and recorded long enough to know how I sound, and to know that when I talk my speaking voice sounds shaky from time to time. The is due to both a neurological condition and the medication I take to control my seizures. I was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1989. I took intensive vocal training to be able to continue to sing. This is why the "wobble" is there when I speak — but not when I sing. Flaws aside, what saddens me, is that people like you, the ... ahem, "Curmudgeon" are out there taking the seat of someone who should have been there in your place. The show was sold out. You took the seat of someone that does not thrive on seeking someone or something to put down. Had you done your research, you would know that I only play listening rooms. I'm most known for how at ease I am on stage. And I am at ease. I'm myself — naked in song. For the record, I have not played Gruene Hall as a "real" gig since 2003. It's a bar. I make my living playing university arts centers and performance arts centers all over the world. Most are all slightly bigger than the Little Carver. Your blog was not meant to be cruel. Nor did I find it as such. It was honest. But you are uneducated in my music and what I do and who I am, nor did you bother to research me or even sign YOUR REAL NAME to it before you posted. And that's just plain rotten. Please attempt to find less to pick at and a little more to pick up. With Respect, Terri Hendrix
My first thought, on reading this, was that Ms Hendrix had mis-read my review, and had responded in anger, without reflection. Having no way to contact her (her comment had no reply-to address, nor did I find one on her web site), I posted a notice on this blog asking her if she would read it again and confirm her understanding of it. 

Enough time has now passed in silence for me to think that she has either not stumbled across my second post, or has chosen not to respond. A part of me thinks that maybe I should remain silent as well, and not publish her comment. But three things prompt me to publish it, and respond to it. First is the simple view that to hide uncomplimentary commentary is a form of deceit; my self-respect demands that I acknowledge it. Second was her suggestion that only proper students of her work are entitled to attend one of her concerts. And third was the suggestion that there is something unscrupulous, or deceitful, or, in her words, "just plain rotten" about my guarding my anonymity in this blog.

Regarding the first part of her comment, she refers, probably ironically, to her tremulous speaking voice as a "flaw"; I thought it was a charming, even endearing attribute, because I thought it showed that she was extremely nervous about performing but had overcome that. Turns out it's just a neurological condition, and a side-effect of treatment medications. Overcoming serious illness is certainly a good thing, something to be pleased with; just ask anyone who's had any kind of serious illness and lived. But to my mind, overcoming the paralyzing fear that I imagined she must have suffered would have been a much greater personal achievement, with all the romance and glory of a protagonist who faces, and overmasters, fear. Well, it turns out I gave Ms Hendrix too much credit.

As for the comments about her chosen venues, I stand by what I said: the setting for the concert I attended seemed stifled and overly formal for a show such as hers; why she would implicitly denigrate a venue like Gruene Hall, I don't know.

In the next part of her comment, she criticizes me for daring to buy a ticket to her show, when it could have gone to some more deserving acolyte. How dare she suggest such a thing. I find that comment arrogant in the extreme, and as anyone who knows me will attest, I know arrogance. I hope it is just her misplaced anger talking. Her performances are open to the public, and no one has a greater right to attend than me or anyone else. If she wishes to restrict her audiences to people who can pass her muster for being deserving, she ought to require some kind of test, instead of taking money from any undeserving gift-giver who would dare to intrude on her worship service. (That's my anger talking.) And she compounds this by suggesting that, in order to attend her shows, I must first do some kind of research about her and her music.  I gave my reason for attending at the beginning of my review: I went because someone I care about likes her music, and I hoped to be lucky enough to be entertained myself. I don't think I'm under any obligation to delve into her musical history or philosophy, and if Ms Hendrix really thinks I am, then she's just way too full of herself.

Finally, she says that because I don't hold my identity out publicly, there's something rotten about me. I sense a small irony in this, coming as it does from someone who herself hides from the public when off stage. I can easily imagine good reasons for her to keep her contact information private. She, apparently, hasn't imagined mine, but assumes I guard my identity in this forum for nefarious reasons.

Well: I know my reasons, and that they are sufficient. I feel no need to justify my choice in this matter to her, or anyone else. Yes, I know that a lot of sleazy people do mean things under the easy cover of anonymity afforded by the internet. But there are also lots of other reasons for keeping one's identity private, not the least being the same reason she keeps her address and phone number hidden. It's not just stage performers who would deter cranks and crackpots. She has no right to impugn my integrity on the strength of her ignorant assumption. 

And notice that I say "private," not "secret." Who I am is known to many people, people whose views I respect and whose good opinion I covet. I rely on them, as well as my own sense of right and wrong, to keep me honest in my comments on my blogs.