Graves: Baby boo, beignets, and The Big Easy
Nov. 10, 2017 at 11:04 p.m.
For more than 47 years, I had managed to resist the temptation to visit New Orleans, specifically the legendary French Quarter. In fact, I felt an odd sense of pride in this accomplishment, like avoiding camping in a tent, or watching a single episode of "Dancing with the Stars."
In reality, it was probably more a repressed sense of jealousy I was feeling when I heard stories from friends and family of the unbridled revelry that occurs there. You know what they say: "What happens in New Orleans stays on your criminal record — and probably somewhere on Facebook." My streak ended recently on a business trip and what I experienced will be forever burned in my memory — and my nostrils.
My first outing into the bowels (I think those are the only parts it has) of the French Quarter with a couple of colleagues involved an afternoon stroll through upper Bourbon Street. I had been warned by a friend that this quaint avenue would smell like an overflowing portable toilet sitting inside a festering Dumpster behind a seafood restaurant in mid-August. I'm happy to say, though, he was wrong. Maybe due to the recent rain, the humid air smelled like that same Dumpster was strategically placed in a non-air-conditioned junior high locker room on dirty laundry day.
In addition to the olfactory charms of Rue Bourbon, some of its native denizens were unlike anything I'd witnessed before — other than that time I went to Walmart at 2 a.m. As my colleagues and I were wandering down the sidewalk, nobody seemed surprised to see a guy in a gorilla suit and a guy in a three-piece suit within 20 yards of each other. We also saw a few "Bourbonites" who should have been wearing the gorilla suit — or any suit. I mean, is standing around in club doorways wearing skimpy lingerie really appropriate on a school night? And those were the bouncers!
My most personal encounter on Bourbon Street was with a spritely, petite woman (I think) whose outfit fell somewhere between a risqué Southern belle and a rainbow with a personality disorder. Along with her multitude of scarves and ruffles, she was laden with strands of Mardi Gras beads, one of which she offered to me — along with an invitation to dance with her in the middle of the street. She was a delightful lady, and as tempted as I was to make a public spectacle of myself, and probably have to pay actual money for it, I politely declined, to which she replied, "That's OK, Baby Boo." (I now insist that my wife address me as "Baby Boo.")
Once I had escaped the clutches of this cheerful debutante from Whoville, we turned onto another boulevard and were pleased to discover the rest of the French Quarter doesn't look like a hazmat emergency. Unlike several of the structures on Bourbon Street that seem to be one termite toot away from collapsing, the French Quarter also hosts hundreds of charming historical buildings and courtyards, many of which are protected by beautifully imposing wrought iron gates and fencing. The eclectic architecture seems to say, "Enjoy our beautiful city; just keep your distance or you'll harpoon your drunk self on these elegant spikes."
We completed our tour of the French Quarter with a stop at the legendary Café Du Monde for beignets, the famous pastries with a French name meaning, "This will make you even fatter." At the al fresco café we were served by a surly Asian woman who didn't seem to have a firm grasp of English. The beignets were delicious, of course. (How could deep-fried dough covered in powdered sugar not be?) But I couldn't resist comparing them to good ol' Tex-Mex sopapillas, and I jokingly asked the server if she had any chips and salsa. I didn't understand her reply but I'm pretty sure it didn't include giving me an endearing nickname.
My visit to the French Quarter was truly unforgettable, and I plan to return (to parts of it) with my family. If you've never been, I strongly recommend you make the trip, and if you happen to see a colorful dancing lady in the middle of Bourbon Street, tell her Baby Boo said, "Hi!"
— Jase Graves, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum. Find his blog "What's Wrong with Daddy" in the Opinion section at news-journal.com.