New Orleans: Part 3

The following evening, we explored the nightlife a little more in New Orleans. No, not Bourbon Street. Instead, we checked out some classy bars and then Frenchmen Street. The day started a little interesting because we were notified by the hotel that there was a boil order, which meant we should not use tap water without boiling it first. You know it’s serious when they shut down the Starbucks! We had instructions on how to do laundry and shower. Craziness. But we decided to enjoy New Orleans despite this new development.

We started off at the Carousel Bar that is an actual working carousel. The bar itself revolves every 14 minutes. It’s a little faster than you’d expect. I could feel the movement in my stomach but it eventually subsided. I ordered a wonderful cocktail, I think the French 007. And it was superb. It was sweet enough for me but not sickeningly so. I was quite pleased. Then again, it’s hard to destroy champagne based drinks.

Carousel Bar

We decided to find a good seafood restaurant. My quest for fresh seafood had not ended. We ended up at Bourbon House. I ordered Alligator Boudin as an appetizer. I wanted to try alligator again and see if I did like it. It reminded me of the Sicilian dish of fried rice balls. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t love fried things. It wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m not sure I could recognize the taste of alligator but I don’t think I love the way it is prepared.

But I got my fresh seafood. I had oysters and homemade caviar as my entree. It was wondrous. They were fresh and untouched. It was everything I could have wanted. A touch of lemon was all that was needed!  Dessert was a peach cheesecake, which was okay.

And then it was time for some jazz. We walked to Frenchmen street, which was slightly out of the French Quarter. We knew we were in the right place when we found a brass band just playing on the street corner. It was wonderful. We headed to the Spotted Cat since that is where our tour guide recommended. NExt door, however, was a street market of artisans selling paintings, earrings, clothing and much more. The market was open until 1am!

After browsing and posing with the giant ART lights, we went into the jazz club. It was small, cramped, and hot. It was perfect. The first band was washboard, harmonica and percussion. It was quite bluesy, which was nice. Even though I love the blues and live in Chicago, I don’t seek it out much. This bar had a one drink minimum too but the prices were more reasonable. No $5 waters here! Then the next band, the Cotton Mouth Jazz Band, came on. They were everything I wanted. The instrumentation was trumpet, violin (!), tenor sax, double bass and percussion.  They played covers of classic jazz songs. I couldn’t stop by feet from tapping to the music. And I love the band’s character. During one solo for violin, the trumpet player and sax player started playing their instruments like violins!

The Cotton Mouth Jazz Club

Then we decided to see what else was in store for us on the street. Then we had a quandary. We wandered from club to club but all of them had rock, pop, or electronica. We wanted jazz, or even folk. Eventually, the doors swung open at BMC Music Club where two women, who may be Hyperphlyy according to the BMC Facebook page, were singing a series of pop/hip hop/rock melodies. Their music was infectious. We got waters, sat down as they did a 15 minute continuous song of popular 90s music. They were stupendous.

We decided to give it one more try to find a club with music we liked. We ended up settling on the initial brass band on the street. It wasn’t exactly jazz or blues but it was in the style we liked. They did a brassy cover of “Sexual Healing.” It was kinda crazy. People kept lining up in front of them into the street. I was getting concerned that I’d watch someone get hit by a car. Thankfully no one did. While I was standing on the sidewalk across the street, some guys started setting up a BBQ stand right next to me. What a wondrous place. I highly recommend Frenchmen Street. I just wish there were more jazz clubs there. But it’s definitely less gaudy than Bourbon Street.

That’s all for now!

New Orleans: Part 2

After the Voodoo Museum visit (as outlined in Part 1), I decided to wander around the French Quarter before dinner. I loved walking through those tiny streets lined with balconies. And as always. the live music would emerge from every corner.

Before dinner and a testament to a balanced diet, I had my first praline. I had been to New Orleans many years ago, at least fifteen years. I remember two things: Bourbon Street and pralines. I chose a random shop, tried some samples, and chose a rum flavored praline. Quite tasty. If you like sweet, this is probably not the treat for you. It’s like a cookie made entirely of sugar; it’s sorta like solid caramel but I think it has a pecan base. I was quite pleased with this decision.

Dinner time finally came. We ended up at a little place on Royal Street. I was keen for fresh seafood, preferably not fried. I can’t really eat a lot of fried food without feeling ill. We ended up with a lovely peach and plum salad. It was light and airy. Not overly sweet. And then we each had gulf fish tacos. Sadly, it was not very good. The fish wasn’t very tasty and it had a lot of tiny sharp bones that proved a little daunting to eat. Oh well!

After dinner, we headed to a sponsored party at Antoine’s, a classic New Orleans restaurant. They are known for their fried oysters. When we got there, we went into a room and was immediately handed one of those legendary oysters. However, our greeters mentioned that “there were bankers all around the room.” I then realized we had accidentally crashed a party. I made our apologies and went to find our party. There, I finished my stolen oyster. It was fine but I’m not sure why you’d fry a perfectly good oyster!

Then it was time for the ghost tour. Readers of this blog know that I can’t resist a ghost tour. We ran several blocks to find the tour with Haunted History Tours since we were running a bit late. However, we caught it just as it began. Our guide was named Drew in a bowler hat (!), a vest, and a cane. This was most auspicious. For the next two hours, he lead us all over the French Quarter, telling us stories about New Orleans, its inhabitants and ghosts, of course. He was a great storyteller, making the city come alive for us. I highly recommend him.

Of course, the loudest screams came from a palmetto bug from another group…

Back of the Cathedral

When the tour was over, it was time for jazz! We went to Fritzel’s on Bourbon street since it was nearby and I didn’t want to deal with Preservation Hall lines. Fritzel’s was the only place our tour guide would recommend on Bourbon Street. He told us to go to Frenchmen Street (our next evening). And it was everything I wanted. The music was amazing. The instrumentation was a clarinet, banjo, double bass and drum set. It was fantastic. They played covers including “Hello Dolly” and “Ain’t She Sweet.” I was super happy about the last song since I had only heard recordings of it from the amazing Annette Hanshaw. The cover was 1 drink minimum per set, which was a little annoying since water cost $5. But it was well worth it!

Fritzel's

Tomorrow, we’ll continue our adventures in the great city of New Orleans! That’s all for now!

New Orleans: Part 1

This past week, I had the opportunity to go to New Orleans for my profession’s annual conference. It was magnificent. It was great fun to see friends, explore the city, and learn from my peers. The next couple of days I’ll write about the adventures we had.

The first evening was spent walking around the French Quarter where the conference was located. We decided to walk up Bourbon street, which was neat. Neon sign followed neon sign, men in tshirts and tuxes tried to hustle you into the various bars and strip clubs. Music of all sorts wafted out into the humid evening air. It reminded me of Las Vegas or better yet, what Las Vegas was trying to achieve.

Then we went to dinner at a place off Bourbon Street, which proved a bit of an unexpected adventure. I had my first taste of jambalaya with rabbit and alligator (i think). It wasn’t bad. It was a little heavier than I really wanted with the heat and humidity. However, I’m glad that I finally had some since I’ve always loved the song “Jambalaya.” However, before the meal came, a mouse appeared from the ceiling as it crawled down a pipe behind the bench we were sitting at. It was so unexpected. Never had I seen anything like it in my life! But it didn’t phase me at all. I enjoyed my food. All in all it was a nice evening.

The following afternoon, on lunch break, I decided that I had to make a mad dash for Cafe de Monte. It’s one of the classic cafes known for their coffee and beignets. It’s where I realized the magic of the beignet, a French powdered donut. I hadn’t remembered having one before so I was very keen to try one. I took it to go since I didn’t have the time to sit down. It took 20 minutes to get through the short line, which was a bit frustrating. It was hot and humid at midday. I finally got my order, sweating profusely in the humidity. With one bite, the powdered sugar rained down on my shirt. But it was everything I could have wanted. The heat, the mess, the beignet made it a sublime experience. It wouldn’t have tasted as good any other way.

I also found my way to Jackson Square, which was alive with art and music. Artist sold their paintings by hanging them on the wrought iron fence surrounding the park. I also happened upon a brass band, playing their wondrous music. It’s funny how easy it was to find live music here. I once started following the sounds of a trumpet and found a man just walking along with his trumpet. This constant music reminded me a little of Istanbul.

Brass BandJackson Park, view of the Cathedral

After sessions let out for the day, I made a beeline for the Voodoo Museum. I had read about it years ago and I really wanted to go. Plus I had loved the recent exhibition at the Field on Voodoo so I wanted to learn more. Of course, that exhibition focused on Haitian Voodoo and this museum was about New Orleans voodoo.

I enjoyed it very much. It’s a small museum, practically a storefront, with two major rooms. Just as I entered the museum, I felt something crawling on my arm, which startled me. It was a cricket! It felt like a great start (and I’m not being sarcastic here) to the museum. The rooms had numerous shrines to several gods and other religious items. One room had various figures made from skeletons, alligator, and much more. The shrines were definitely being visited; people put coins and other offerings all over them.There were also cases of voodoo dolls and potion packets. It was wonderful to see that the museum was a living and used space. I learned about some of the big names in Voodoo, specifically Marie Catherine Laveau, the Voodoo Queen. That was super cool. I’m pleased that I took the time to go!

Voodoo Museum

That’s all for now!

Carron Little and the Queen of Luxuria

Check out my interview with Carron Little: https://elisa-shoenberger.squarespace.com/blog/2015/7/14/carron-little-and-the-queen-of-luxuria

This upcoming week, she will be performing as Queen of Luxuria in LOVE over MONEY at Buttercup Park Uptown at 4901 N. Sheridan from 2 to 4 on Saturday July 18th.

The following week marks the beginning of performance art series Out of Site 2015, curated by Carron Little. In its fifth year, Out of Site is a public performance art series where performers from all over Chicago and the world will be performing for the next couple months in public spaces. It’s a truly magnificent series. The first performances are Sheryl Oring’s “I Wish to Say” and Ballenarca on July 25th from 1 -4 at Milwaukee and Evergreen. Duff Norris will perform “The Wisdom Box”  from 5 to 6 on July 25th as one of the first performances for the Wicker Park Fest.”

Washington DC in July: Part 4

On our final day of our trip, we spent the day in Alexandria, VA. We had several hours before the wedding so we decided to check out some of the historic sites.

We started off the day with a wonderful brunch on King Street. I had a seafood omelette which had lobster, shrimp, and crab with a wonderful glass of champagne and strawberries. The omelette was tasty though I ended up eating all the seafood and half the egg. And anything with champagne is wonderful.

Then we decided to check out the facts of the Female Stranger ghost story. So we decided to head out to the cemetery and see if she really was buried under the pseudonym. Well, this proved a little adventurous. The websites about the story said she is buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery. Mere blocks from King Street is St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. However, when we walked there, we didn’t find any sign of a cemetery. So we decided to go to the Alexandria National Cemetery, which was a small jaunt away. When we got there, we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. We found a gamekeeper’s house, which had a sign encouraging guns (awkward). I called the hotel to see if they knew but they thought the Church nearby was the place. Then we saw signs for several named cemeteries including St. Paul’s.

When we found the lot, I looked for tabletop graves because the guide had mentioned that was what they used to memorialize her. With that, I quickly found it. And yes, she is buried under “Female Stranger.” So bizarre! I’ve seen many anonymous graves for “the Unknown Soldier” etc. but never for a person whose identity was known beforehand. Crazy. I’d believe she’d be around haunting people for that fact alone. Apparently, these tabletop graves were actually used for picnics back in the day.

Female StrangerTabletop Gravestone

Then we decided to check out Gadsby’s Tavern, which would close the entire story of the Female Stranger. We actually had a late lunch in the restaurant , where they tried to recreate the founding era of the tavern. All the waitstaff were wearing period costumes. It was quite nice. And the brie/apple french toast was really good.

The tour of the Tavern was not very long but it was neat to see all the various rooms. We learned that when you stayed at a tavern, you paid for a place to sleep, not a bed or your own room. People would share beds. No wonder travel was a pain. If you were wealthier, you might get your own bed in a separate room. We also saw the room where the Female Stranger died and supposedly haunts. And we got to see the ballroom where the annual Birthnight ball that George Washington attended a few times. Very neat. This is a facsimile since the Met has the original room (what is up with the Met having entire rooms!) Quite neat. Sadly, the building had a pipe burst in January so they are trying to repair damage from then.

Female Stranger's windowBirthnight Ballroom

That’s all for the trip!

Just a note for constant readers, I’m going to be scaling back each week on posts with all the madness in the upcoming months. So I’ll likely post at least once a week or more depending on the insanity of wedding planning. But I’ll still march on with my bowler hat!

Washington, DC in July: Part 3

Now I’ll talk about the second half of the museums we enjoyed on July 4th in DC. OUr next stop was the National Museum of American Indian.I had never been to this museum before. In front there was a Peruvian folk festival that had food, music, and artisanal crafts. It was really neat to see it up and running on July 4th. We ate lunch there but it wasn’t terribly good. (I should have held out for someone who sold ceviche!)

In the museum, we headed upstairs to the top floor to check out two exhibitions. The first was “Our Universes: Traditional Knowledge Shapes Our World.” It was one of the most breathtaking exhibitions I’ve been to. The main hall of it had a ceiling mimicking the night sky. So many stars. The exhibition looked at how different indigenous groups viewed the world. There were these little offset rooms that were dedicated to different tribes like the Mapuche. It was a wonderful way to present the philosophy/theology of various groups. My only complaint was that I was not sure where some of the groups were located. But it’s well worth a visit.

Night sky in ExhibitionAwesome skull from Mexico (i think)

Next we went to “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations.” It reviewed eight treaties that the US eventually (or quickly) broke. It’s a very important exhibition. I liked how it gave two perspectives in each display. One for the American Indian Nation involved and one for the US. While I have some knowledge of Native American history, it was astonishing to see the same pattern: treaty is made, kept for a time, and then broken. Century after century. THere was one exhibit that talked about how a treaty was better than no treaty as in the case of California where things were even worse for the various tribes without a treaty. It’s really a very important exhibition and well worth checking out.

Then we decided to check out the Natural History Museum. Because dinosaurs. This was the first museum that we had to wait in line outside for more than 5 minutes. The parade was over and everyone was heading to the popular museums like Air and Space. But once we got inside, we made a beeline for the dinosaurs. We did walk through an incredible exhibition of National Geographic photos of Africa. What incredible shots! It made me yearn to go back there again! One shot was a lizard with an extended tongue catching a fly. What an incredible shot! We finally found the dinosaurs, which was much smaller than either of us remembered. We said hi to the T-Rex and Triceratops and got the heck out of dodge. So crowded!

T-Rex

Our last two museums were the Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum, both housed in the same building. Unsurprisingly, there was no line to get into the museum. There was an awesome exhibit of photographs of current celebrities. There was a truly spectacular shot of Renee Fleming, luxurious and free. I got to see a little exhibition on Dolores Huerta, Latina leader in the California farm workers movement of the 1960s and 70s. I hadn’t really heard of her before but she was co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers. Very cool. My fiance was keen to check out the photos of generals from the Civil War. I spent some time contemplating an awesome shot of Busby Berkeley and another photo of Nat King Cole. We also wandered through the presidential portraits as my fiance tried to come up with jokes for each one.

Our visit to the American Art Museum was quick. We saw this impressive piece with all 50 states license plates with the Preamble of the Constitution. There was also this magnificent shrine made of tin foil and other similar materials in the folk section. (I think it was:James Hampton’s spiritual sculpture, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millenium General Assembly of the Nations’ Millenium General Assembly) And there were some lovely Hoppers.

License Plates and the Preamble Tin foil Shrine

That’s all for now! Next we’ll talk about our adventures in Alexandria, VA.

Washington DC in July: Part 2

On our first full day in DC area, we decided to do all the Smithsonians. Okay, maybe not all. Just eight. And we managed to do all the Smithsonians (save the Postal Museum and closed buildings) in our two trips. Woohoo! So below, I’ll talk about our times at four of the museums: Freer and Sackler Galleries, African Art Museum and the Air and Space Museum. Then the next part will cover the American Indian Museum, the American Natural History Museum, the Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. Woohoo!

After our last trip, I was really intrigued by the Freer and Sackler Galleries. I had never been to those museums before the last trip. So we started with those museums, in part, because they were closest to our metro stop. I wanted especially to check out the Sackler, since I felt that we had only seen a small portion of it.

We decided to say hello to the Peacock Room and Filthy Lucre rooms again. Both are truly marvelous rooms. I took a closer look at the Peacock Room since we knew the back-story about the artist and patron. I also noticed that some of the pottery was broken. I hadn’t noticed that before. In the Filthy Lucre room, it connected even more with the smashed pieces on the floor!

This visit to the galleries gave me a finer appreciation for the museums. It’s incredible that the building housing the two galleries is mostly underground. The main collection of the Sackler is in basement level one or two. We saw some incredible Indian sculptures along with some sculptures from regions that are controlled by ISIS. My fiancé pointed out that artifacts like these were the ones currently being destroyed. What a shame.

Sackler Gallery

Then we finally followed the rest of the “Monkeys Grasping for the Moon” by Xu Bing. It’s this suspended sculpture a chain of words spelling “Monkey” in different languages. The last trip we only saw the very top. This time we followed it all the way tot he bottom. At the very bottom, the last two languages were English and Arabic. To be fair, I couldn’t really read the English section. But marvelous nonetheless.

Monkey

Then we found ourselves in the American Museum of African Art in basement level 3 (I think). It was a delightful surprise. Their current exhibition is “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists.” It was amazing. The lowest basement level had representations of hell. Sadly, I wasn’t permitted to take photos. But they had some incredible sculptures including a wooden boat that was filled with black heads, that looked like coal. Wow. Then there was this amazing tribute of the famous Laocoön sculpture in the Vatican. The statue is Prism 10 (Dead Laocoön) by Win Botha. The basic story is that Laocoön tried to stop the Trojans from bringing the horse into their city. So Poseidon sent a sea serpent to prevent him from making the warnings and it eats Laocoön and his sons. The statue shows that epic struggle. This version in the museum was in dark granite like material and very angular. All the features have been swept away leaving just the figures in anguish. Very powerful.

This page has the piece on it: http://africa.si.edu/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/divine-comedy-2/hell/

Then as you ascended, there were pieces from Purgatory and then finally Paradise. Inspired. I loved how we ascended from Hell like Dante.

They also have an exhibition called “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue” that is owned by Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. It was rather an impressive collection of African and African American works. The art was organized around a theme. My personal favorite was the room about jazz and public spaces that had paintings by Archibald Motley Jr. and Jacob Lawrence. There were also political pieces too. The centerpiece was a statue made of cloth and other perishable pieces about a triumphant Toussaint Louverture, Very cool.

When we emerged from the museum, we found ourselves in the midst of July 4th parade preparation. 100s of people were getting ready for the parade on the National Mall. There were about 10 marching bands simultaneously warming up. That really read America to me more than anything else that weekend. There were floats getting ready. There was even an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. We saw a float that looked like an extravagant Indian wedding. There was even a marching band for the Falun Gong. And there were balloons of bears and dinosaurs. It was so much fun. Probably more fun than if we had tried to see the parade.

Parade PrepMarching band prep

Our next stop was the Air and Space Museum. Despite my love of pretty much everything, space travel really does not appeal to me. I don’t know why. My feeling that space is scary might be part of it. But I’m not sure. However, the Smithsonian recently collected some items from the Soviet Space program so that made me super excited. They had space suits from the Russian program including Yuri Gagarin. So cool. They even displayed it side by side by the comparable US suit. Things have really changed since that time in space suits.

Yuri Gagarin's IDs

We did walk through a Space shuttle on display, which was neat. So tiny! We also checked out some of the WWI and WWII planes. And we got to see Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis. But the best was the Air Force brass band playing in the middle of the main hall. That was super neat. I didn’t think I’d enjoy going to DC on July 4th as much as I did.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the other four museums.