Grub in New Orleans

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by a native Louisianian, Jami, on my journey to New Orleans. I hit her up for recommendations on everything from bars to local delicacies, and her knowledge did not disappoint. My only regret is that we didn’t have time for the drag queen brunch in the quarter.

A lot of New Orleans’ culinary triumphs involve meat (muffalettas, po boys, etc.), but I still managed to eat well in this city (at least half the time). I had fabulous meals at Bacco, Slim Goodies, and Sukho Thai.

The one signature N’awlins treat I was able to try was beignets, fried donut-like thingies that come hidden under buckets of powdered sugar. My parents (who came down to see me for the weekend) and I gave them a try at Cafe du Monde.

This is what they look like, served with iced coffee.

This is the plate of powdered sugar you are left with after you have eaten your beignets.

And this is what your leg (or rather, my mom’s leg) looks like after you’ve eaten your beignets.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, there was a lot of powdered sugar involved. And I liked it.

In which I fall victim to Swiss hairdryer wind disease

This morning when I woke up, I didn’t feel quite right. It wasn’t a headache, or nausea, or anything I could really put my finger on, but something was wrong. By this afternoon, I still wasn’t feeling better, but I headed out to meet some friends for drinks anyway. On the walk there I felt a little dizzy, and wondered what in the world was wrong with me.

I arrived safely at the café (Corazon in Niederdorf – nice place) and tried to explain to my friends the weird way my day was going. After I described my nebulous symptoms, Laurie proudly shouted her diagnosis: “It’s the Föhn!”

Allow me to explain a little something about this culture. German-speaking Europeans are constantly complaining about made-up illnesses. Like their ubiquitous Kreislauf problems (“Ow, my circulation!”). Or the mysterious diseases brought on by moving air or cold kidneys. So when I heard about how the Swiss think that the Föhn causes them to have wacky symptoms, I wasn’t exactly surprised.

Föhn (which is similar to the German word for hairdryer) is the name of certain warm winds that come over the Alps and cause temperatures to rise drastically. Given that we were having a big snowstorm a couple days ago, but are now back to sitting outdoors at sidewalk cafes, I’m guessing the Föhn might actually be blowing these days. But is it actually responsible for my symptoms? I’m guessing no. Unless you think I’ve been acting a wee bit more psychotic than usual lately? Wait, don’t answer that.

Gutting New Orleans

During my recent trip I had the privilege of spending an afternoon working on a service project with Hands On New Orleans. This amazing group organizes volunteers day in and day out to help rebuild a city which seems to have been forgotten by almost everyone. Volunteers (and voluntourists) from around the country and beyond are housed in bunk beds in a local church and eat communally. Many of the leaders here started out as week-long volunteers, but were so touched by the need that they have stayed on for a year or more.

On this particular afternoon, the 40 of us were gutting a house that was made unusable by floodwaters during Katrina. About half of the group worked in the backyard, pulling out the overgrown ivy and a rusted fence, and tearing down a lean-to structure.

In order to work inside, we had to don white jumpsuits (complete with footies), particle filters, safety goggles, and hard hats. The particle filters were for the mold and asbestos, and made you feel a little bit like Darth Vader. We used crowbars to knock through and pull down the sheet rock and insulation from the walls, leaving just the studs and the outer siding of the building. Yep, that’s all that houses are made of in a lot of the US.

Looking at what was left of the building after we were done, it was amazing that it could be salvaged at all. We were told that in ‘normal’ situations such buildings would not be salvaged, but in a disaster zone like New Orleans, you save what you can by treating the structure for mold and sealing it before rebuilding the interior. It’s expensive to knock a house down.

This is what we had left by the side of the road by the end of the day. As of now, the city still picks up trash form building sites such as this, although it is threatening to stop sometime soon. Debris from houses finally being rebuilt is a huge problem in the state.

With government funds tied up in bureaucracy and many insurance companies refusing to pay, volunteer groups such as Hands On New Orleans are often the only hope for homeowners who would like to move back into their houses someday soon. To learn how you can help, see their website.

How long until the mall rats move in?

The long-awaited Sihlcity is finally open. The heralded new structure is large and contains retail shops, eateries, AND a cinema. All under one roof. How wacky is that? This article in SwissInfo gives us the inside scoop:

Zurich’s tourist board has already hailed the complex as a unique entertainment concept and expects it to be a magnet for foreign visitors.

Psst… tourist board, c’mere a minute. Let me let you in on a little secret… it’s called a “mall” and there are about a gazillion of them already in existence, hidden away in this little country called the USA.

“It will be a key part of Zurich tourism as it offers new depth and richness to the existing attractions of Bahnhofstrasse and the old town. It brings everything together, shopping and entertainment, in one area so people don’t really have to move to enjoy it,” tourist board head of operations Markus Salzmann told swissinfo.

Right, so if you haven’t noticed, the lack of movement is kind of what’s getting Americans in trouble. That and all those Sbarro pizza slices and giant frosted cookies. Really, not as good of an idea as it sounds.

Actually there is one aspect of Sihlcity which is definitely different from American malls – its Roman Catholic chapel. Now I’m sure Americans have come up with the chapel-in-the-mall concept, too, or are about to any day now. But the reasoning behind the placement is altogether different: “Some people may just want a quiet refuge to get away from the bustle, but others like the anonymity of a shopping centre. They can visit the chapel without being seen by people they know who may ask what they are doing here.” Where I grew up, being seen was the number one reason TO go to church. Funny that people here might actually want to hide it…

Anyway, you’re not going to find much privacy anywhere in Sihlcity these days, because the place is jammed packed with at least half the population of Switzerland, all crowding into stores that are basically the same as the ones on Bahnhofstrasse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such long lines to get on an escalator in my life. Ah, consumerism.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Quarter

My trip to New Orleans happened to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, and thus the St. Patrick’s Day parade. This holiday in the French Quarter is much like it is in other cities in the US, with green beer, green clothing, green kilts, and green drunks.

The parade is nowhere near the grand scale of the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations, but it does include the all-important Distribution Of Beads By Parading Drunk People. Apparently tit-showing is not a requirement during this particular parade, but be prepared to receive many kisses on the cheek along with those green and white necklaces.

The music was fabulous, with many floats transporting entire bands. This was one of the more practical floats, with a beer tap in front and port-a-potty in the back – everything you need for an all-night party…

This guy was so thrilled I took his picture that he did a little dance that involved wiggling his butt a lot for me and the crowd. And of course, I got me some beads as a reward for watching said dance.

Overall it was a really fun, lighthearted atmosphere, at least until around midnight or so when I headed to bed. I have a feeling it was a good idea to cut out before the jolly good-natured drinkers morphed into less-jolly drunks…

Home, with jetlag

I arrived back in Zurich this morning after an overnight flight from Atlanta. I’m happy to be back in the land of sparkling water, public transportation, and most importantly, my own bed. Oh yeah, and it’s good to see the husband again, too.

Now I am faced with the daunting task of keeping myself awake until at least 9pm or so, since I am convinced that is the best way to beat jetlag when traveling east. Tomorrow I will be golden, but today I will be a zombie. I cannot sleep on planes. I have tons of stuff to blog about from this trip, but I’m thinking if I want it to actually be presented in coherent sentences, I’m going to have to wait until tomorrow to write it.

If you ever happen to be flying between Zurich and Atlanta, check out the daily Delta flight. All four times I have been on it, the plane has been virtually empty and I have had more than one seat to stretch out in. The main drawback is that it is an old plane, with no in-seat entertainment centers in coach class. And the movie on the way there was Rocky. Now I’ll watch almost anything on a plane (my standards for entertainment get really low when I’m trapped in a tiny seat for 8+ hours), but that’s just a line I couldn’t cross…

A few more New Orleans neighborhoods

The Garden District

I hear that Brad and Angelina recently purchased a house in this area (which, like the French Quarter, stands on high ground and wasn’t flooded).


This picture is of a relatively new neighborhood. Designed by FEMA.

Edgewater Park

Those aren’t out-of-town guests living in those trailers.

Some of the many blue roofs of New Orleans – FEMA tarps distributed after Katrina (which was a year and a half ago, for those who have lost track)

The lower 9th

This neighborhood was right next to the levy breach. Many houses were simply washed away.

More later.

A stroll through the French Quarter

The heart of New Orleans is still alive, populated with more drunken tourists than you can shake a stick at, although I can’t really compare it with what it was like before. There are several places that have closed down, and many beautiful old buildings for sale.

I have no intention of even trying

Greetings from New Orleans.

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