Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ΦΒΚ! This girl got ΦΒΚ!

March 31st, 2015.
31 March 2015.
le 31 mars 2015.

May I always remember today as the day I found out that I was invited to join The Phi Beta Kappa Society.

That's right, I GOT PHI BETA KAPPA! Glory be to God in all things!

I was at my desk working on a final project proposal for one of my classes when I looked down and saw a new email notification on my phone. Swipe to unlock, tap Gmail, and there it was. In all its simple, unassuming, out-of-the-blue, good news glory.

I am consciously and purposefully choosing to let myself rejoice in this. Not just to be happy, but to be overjoyed and unfathomably grateful. My heart is about to burst! But as with most good things that happen to me (especially when they happen unexpectedly), I am not entirely sure that I'm deserving. When I first read it there was a split second where I feared that this was an early April Fool's joke, or that they'd sent the email to the wrong person.

Let me try to explain. This fraternity/academic honor society was established in December 1776. Which means this organization is as old as the United States of America itself. My people were slaves when this organization started, you hear? My people were not even legally recognized as people when Phi Beta Kappa was founded! My people weren't even allowed to read, much less have a chance to step foot inside the educational institutions that housed ΦΒΚ chapters. And now, here I am, little ol' me.... I am weeping with gratitude. So yeah, I'm in shock, and part of me feels like this is too high an honor for me. Especially since I never set out to get Phi Beta Kappa, just like I never set out to earn two bachelor's degrees in four years. But I also know that I've worked diligently as a student, and have received great help and encouragement from countless kindhearted souls. And I know that accepting this honor is a way for me to affirm for myself, You did it. And you did it very well. Furthermore, this is an opportunity and privilege that my ancestors did not have for the longest time, and so I accept this award knowing that there were folks in generations past who were out there fighting, and dying, and praying for moments like this to happen for young people of color like me.

Praise be to God. Lord, I know I haven't been the most faithful servant these past few months. I even started to feel like you'd passed me by. But even amidst my doubts, you've proven yet again that you are and will always be good beyond measure. May all praise, honor, and glory be to God.

All About the Goal

Wow, this is really speaking to me today. Just substitute climbing a mountain with losing 100 pounds and just becoming "somebody" in general, and this man is me. Seriously. Being obsessively goal oriented to the point that only the end result matters. That's me. I know that this is an issue and that it's unhealthy, I've understood this for a while. But I always get stuck on the question of Well, if I'm not focused, how will it happen? Accomplishments don't just fall out of the sky. Goals don't meet you, you have to meet them... This is my quandary. When I'm working toward something, I don't really know how else to be.

“I’ve become much less goal oriented as I’ve grown older. I spent twelve years dreaming about climbing Mt. Everest. It...
Posted by Humans of New York on Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sunday, March 29, 2015

PostSecret Pain

It's been a while since I've shared from PostSecret, so I read through this week's secrets and found these two post cards that are of interest to me. Via PostSecret

Girl, tell me about it.

It's not every week that they post a card written in Japanese, and since the drawing and penmanship are quite pleasing to the eye, I wanted to share. Translation: I want to forget your face. Please...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sessions with Sue 33

So, my doctor's appointment on Monday was horrible and overall it's been just a really rough, dark, heavy week. So yesterday we mostly talked about what happened and how depressed I've been (mostly for the usual reasons). We also talked about the unfortunate prospect of me having to move back in with my mom after graduation, and how I feel really bitter and ashamed about it:

  • Prospect of having to go home after graduation is seeming more and more like a definite; and you're disappointed; but instead of seeing it as having failed, think of it as extending the incubation period that college has been
  • This could actually be very productive, constructive, and benefical for you; time to work on yourself/get back to yourself after having been under so much pressure in school, in a comfortable setting, without having to worry about living expenses and the stresses of adjusting to a new place
    • Made a list of all the things you could do and it's helped it not seem so bad, even though it's anything but ideal
  • Find another therapist back at home to talk to after graduation?
  • Even after all this time, you still have very strong ideas about what you "should" be; I should look like this, I should have accomplished this, etc... And you really want to live up to those things; inconceivable to you that you might be ok the way you are now, or that the way things are at present is acceptable
  • Equating your weight with your future (or lack thereof), feeling doomed because you haven't been able to lose the weight yet; sure it's a part of how you look on the outside, but it's not you. It's not who you are, it's not all there is to you; really it's not everything though it feels like it is
    • it doesn't negate all the good things about you!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Back to the Trails!

Today I went back to the shelter for the first time in two months. The snows have melted, temperatures are more mild, and the ground has had enough time to harden, all of which makes for some pretty pristine early spring dog-walking conditions. I'd been looking forward to it all week!

Today's highlights included a youngster with stiff front legs named Buster. He was more than happy to be taken outside, but once we got out there he decided he wasn't up to going for a walk. It took some serious coaxing just to get him to go around the parking lot, and as soon as we came around he was ready to go back inside. Just wasn't feelin' it, I guess. I don't recall ever interacting with a dog there who didn't want to go for a walk, especially any such as young as Buster. But hey, maybe it just wasn't his day.

Second was a fun-sized brindle hound named Pooh who, I found, absolutely LOVES belly rubs. When I pulled at his collar so I could attach the leash, he thought I was trying to pet him so he just fell out on his back. Just like this, waiting for me to oblige. So I did. He'd been very much eager to be let out when I first stepped into his kennel, but once he thought it was belly-rubbing time, he was suddenly in no rush. For his own personal medical reasons I wasn't allowed to walk him for very long, but for as long as we were able to go he seemed to enjoy every second.

And last but not least of the highlights was a previously over-fed, under-groomed, but no-less-loveable senior girl named Dumpling. Her appearance is very reminiscent of a mop, or a furry roly poly with legs. Though a little scraggly on the outside, Dumpling is very energetic and good-natured. Much like Pooh and unlike Buster, Dumpling was ecstatic about going on her walk. I thought moving would be uncomforable for her due to all that excess hair and weight, but she turned out to be quite the spunky and able-bodied pup.

Pooh and Dumpling have already been adopted, but Buster is still available for those interested! Just click the link in his name for more information!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Things People Give Me #18

Yesterday morning I went to my French professor's office to turn in a paper that I'd forgotten to write over spring break (woops...), and he handed me this book in return. It's a copy of the play Hiroshima mon amour (lit. Hiroshima My Love) by Marguerite Duras. Set in Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb, apparently it's a series of conversations between a French woman and Japanese man who are ending their relationship whilst discussing the complexities of memory and trauma.

This particular professor knows that I study Japanese, and since he "didn't have use for it anymore", he'd decided to give Hiroshima mon amour to me. I was quite touched that he remembered this interest of mine and thought to let me have this book. I've only been reading French literature since sophomore year, and thought I've gotten good at it I could always use more practice. And plus, with me there's no such thing as too many books! So I'm happy to have this one to add to my collection.

Coincidentally  in my Japanese lit class we've been reading a novel about the bombing of Hiroshima (Ibuse Masuji's Black Rain) for the past three weeks, so receiving Hiroshima mon amour now is almost eery timing. AND, to add to the creep factor, the lead actor in the movie adaptation of this play is the same lead actor in Woman in the Dunes, a film we recently watched in said Japanese lit class.

(Side note: I've noticed since high school that this happens pretty often. When I  learn about something significant or spend a considerable amount of time studying a certain topic, that same topic then frequently and randomly appears through other mediums in my daily life. Like in an episode of a TV show, or a joke on the radio, or something I read on the internet, or a conversation that I overhear. Or in this instance, a book that's gifted to me. Not sure if this is kismet or just a coincidence, i.e. me being more sensitive and observant of these nuances because I have that subject on the brain so much at the time. But anywho...)

Merci beaucoup Professeur Ahmed de m'avoir donné ce livre!  Ça a l'air très intéressant et j'ai hâte de le lire!

Thanks Professeur Ahmed for the book! It seems really interesting and I look forward to reading it!

Enjoying Food is Not a Crime.

Just because I'm fat and need to/am trying to lose weight, does not mean that I don't have the right to enjoy food.

After a pretty unpleasant experience at a doctor's appointment on Monday morning, I've been having quite the emotional and mental crisis this week. Mostly crying and agonizing over my weight/appearance and my future, since the two have been linked in my mind for a very long time. I feel like I'm starting to calm down a bit though, and while I was debating over a certain food choice yesterday this thought came to me. Just figured I'd leave it here in case anyone else out there is struggling to not see food as the enemy or feel bad about eating in general.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Twist

One of my elderly dog's numerous eyebrow-raising sleep positions. You'd think that as they get older they'd get less rather than more bendy. But not this one, apparently. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sessions with Sue 32

Our session on Wednesday was a fairly normal one. Not as eye-opening as the last, but still a good conversation. I spent most of the time just filling Sue in on my spring break in New Orleans and whatever else has happened in the past couple of weeks. Below are the only notes that I took:
  • Hanging out with the girls in New Orleans was fun but puzzling; Don't have much experience with social interactions, which is why you're surprised when people are nice to you, especially people you don't know (why are they being nice to me? why are they letting me join in? they don't find me boring? I'm not cramping their style?) ; you feel overly grateful as if they're doing you a favor
  • When you see the endocrinologist on Monday about why you're not losing weight despite lifestyle changes/discipline/ a lot of hard work since December, make sure you tell her how depressed it's making you feel; you might think it's irrelevant and that doctors are only concerned about the "medical" part, but if she's a good doctor she'll understand that the physical and the mental are a packaged deal

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On Repeat: "BILLS!"

This came on the radio during my drive home today and... Lawdhammercy. I'm calling it. If this song doesn't become a monster hit around the world, something is wrong.

Those simple yet catchy lyrics? The accurate description of the day-in, day-out life of responsible adults? (So I hear at least; this chick can't relate since she doesn't have any bills yet, but I hear Ma and all the other grownups talking about it all the time so it must be true. Folks will have you out here thinking there's nothing more to life than bills, monotony and exhaustion, but I digress.) And THEM CHURCH CHORDS?! Anyone who's grown up in church and listens to the song will know exactly what I mean. THEM PIANO CHORDS IS CHURCH CHORDS. I don't know how this man managed to mix church chord progressions with EDM untz-untz and make it sound good─no, better than good!─but he did it and I'm all for it.

I can totally see this tune having an effect similar to what Big Sean's "IDFWU" has had on people the past couple of months. On the one hand it's a club-banger that will get people on their feet with the quickness. But it's also the type of song that people love to lose their minds and scream along to for release, recalling all the crap they've gone through that the song makes them think about. Bitterness + humor + danceable beat = blazing song. Why not? I can hear folks scream-singing already:


Bravo to you, LunchMoney Lewis, for being seen as a #BeautifulBigandBlack family man in your MV and doing your thing with this song. Your debut single, to boot! If this is only the beginning then wooo-wheee, I'm scared of you!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Thursday: Hangin' with the Sistas

Goodness, everybody seems to be in New Orleans right now! So many people I know from school went to New Orleans for spring break, one of whom is a young woman I know named Winnie. Before today we'd only ever met once at an informal open mic event at school two years ago, but I've been following her through her writings on Facebook and on her blog since then. She's currently on a vacation/soul-searching trip through America with her infant daughter, from north to south and back north. New Orleans is the mecca of her journey, where she's spending the largest portion of this time. When she saw on Facebook that I was here, she suggested we meet up. And since she's in Treme, Ma and I are in the nearby French Quarter, and all of us love some good soul food, we agreed to meet at the famed Lil Dizzy's Cafe in Treme for a late breakfast.

Ma and I arrived first and got a table. While we were waiting, Winnie called to let me know that there'd be three additions to our party! Also coming would be our mutual friend Nyasha, and two more of their friends. It was going to be a divine meeting of phenomenal African and Black American female minds and appetites. And so it was. Our breezy conversation reached a bit of a lull once the food came (that's how you know it's good), and each member of the party was very much pleased with her selection. Mine was the special, the seafood omelette poboy. But even more than the food, I especially got a kick out of sitting next to Winnie's baby who─get this─hums while she eats! I've never heard of a baby doing that before! But apparently she hums all the time, mostly when she's eating or getting into trouble. What an active and expressive little one!

Just a note about Lil Dizzy's. In terms of food quality and speed of service, this place is top-notch. It's known for down-home grub that sticks to your ribs, and since it's a popular restaurant with a limited capacity, they try to get people in and out as quickly as possible. So in general I would definitely recommend the place. But be advised that "service with a smile" isn't really a thing here. The waitresses are very direct and no-nonsense, which might be off-putting or even perceived as rude. But really they're just trying to do their jobs and won't put up a front like they're happy to see you when you walk in the door. And that's fine. I'm just saying that if you're a stickler for that smiley, exceedingly polite, sticky-sweet version of customer service, you might be disappointed here. But honestly, any attitude you might have to put up with is worth it for the food.

From Lil Dizzy's we drove to the house where Winnie's staying so she could get her baby's stroller (Nyasha and her crew had a rental), and then set out on a walk. The plan was to go through Treme to Armstrong Park, and then down through the Quarter all the way to the river. Since Ma and I had been to all these places before, we were just going along for the ride. This was a chance for Nyasha and her friends to explore, and for all of us to bond by spending time together.

Once we got to Armstrong Park, Ma dipped out and Winnie was intent on singing together in public. She'd brought up FoF to me earlier and revealed to me that in addition to a writer and activist, she's also a singer and guitarist. However, like me, she's put music on the back-burner for a little while and was itching to let something out in this here jazz city. As we made our way around the park and approached Congo Square, she pontificated on the necessity of creating our own stages and spaces to share. We could do something on our own without waiting on anyone's permission or interest. So we all stood in a circle in the center of Congo Square, where our enslaved ancestors had gathered, giving what we had to give through speech and song. "Let's take it to the ancestors!" Winnie exclaimed.

We went around the circle and gave each person a chance to sing a song. I sang Brandi Carlile's "The Story" since it was the first song that came to my mind. It was my first time singing in over two weeks due to busy-ness and being sick (yay! I'm finally well!) and I didn't sound half bad. A couple Frenchmen walking by appeared to agree, because when I stopped singing the little that I could remember of the song they asked, "Why'd you stop? You're not going to sing more?". They said this in English but somehow Nyasha ended up conversing with them in French, and while they complimented her on her speaking I just stood by in my usual timid silence. BUT! As they walked away one of the men looked at me and asked in French, Mais tu ne chantes plus? And I managed to eke out, Non, j'ai fini. And then a Merci beacoup and a Bonne journée when they complimented me on my singing again and then bid us good day as they walked away. It was meager, especially considering the level of convo that I know I'm capable of having, but the point is that I did it! I finally spoke French with one of the many French tourists in this city!

We did this all while people passed by and watched us, and as clumsy or awkward as it got at times, we stuck with it and supported each other. Validated and acknowledged each other. It was such a beautiful, profound, humbling and freeing moment. My body even felt warmed up afterward. Thanks for pushing us to sing together, Winnie!

We left the park and then walked through the French Quarter, around from behind St. Louis Cathedral, and through Jackson Square to Café du Monde. Yes, again. Even though I said I wouldn't. But all the other girls wanted to go, and you're a lot less inclined to feel badly about such indulgences when you go on a nearly empty stomach. It was less crowded and my stomach felt less stuffed this time around, so my second time at this O.G. beignet joint was much less stressful than the first.

After finishing our treat, we all ventured back the way we came into Treme, so Winnie could drop off the stroller and we could all pile into the car before driving to the Ninth Ward. Winnie's staying in the hood now, and as a young person with a tight budget herself who recently watched the doc When the Levees Broke, she's become very passionate about NOLA's poor or overlooked people and places. She'd walked through the Lower Ninth Ward previously, and wanted us all to drive down there so we could get a feel for the "real" New Orleans and witness how little has been done even 10 years after Katrina. Unfortunately we got lost trying get down there, and then figured we wouldn't be able to see much anyway since it was dark.

So we turned back and ate dinner at Cajun Seafood. I hadn't heard of the place before, but apparently the girls had been told that this is the place to go for cheap but fresh seafood and authentic Cajun dishes. It's quite a quandary walking into this place for the first time, because the restaurant also appears to be part liquor store and grocery, with two walls lined with anything from mustard to cold medicine to beer. But no matter. Wanting to check one more "must-eat" off my list, I got a pound of spicy boiled crawfish along with a crawfish pie. Nyasha tried to teach me how to eat the crawfish, but I didn't quite get the hang of it at first. I finished half the bag before we left, and took the other half back to the hotel to share with Ma. We watched a YouTube tutorial to learn how to eat them properly and finished them off together. Neither of us had eaten crawfish before today.

Ma and I had had no plans for today, so it was a blessing to unexpectedly be able to spend the day hanging out with current and new friends. I'm leaving New Orleans feeling so incredibly full. I told Ma quite a few times this week that in comparison to our trip to San Francisco, it felt like the week went by too quickly and that we hadn't done very much. Nonetheless we definitely explored more of the parameters of the city this time around, and while I felt relaxed and inspired at the end of our trip last year, I didn't feel moved like I do right now. I truly believe the coming to New Orleans was exactly what I needed in my life right now. Something in me has shifted. I'm incredibly grateful, because NOLA has inpsired me to get my voice back (literally and figuratively, haha). And not only regain it, but to use it, you know? Let loose a bit and share what's in me simply because I want to. Tomorrow I'm going to back home, and eventually my insecurities, uncertainty and shame will probably return to me as well. But I will be returning with a renewed voice and an even more rooted calm, all thanks to this great city called New Orleans. God Bless you, Big Easy. Without a doubt, I will be back.

 NOLA! photos

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Wednesday: Audubon Zoo + Snug Harbor

Truth be told, we were originally supposed to start the day with a short tour of the Villalobos Rescue Center in the Ninth Ward. But then Ma made known to me that she wasn't really interested in going there. She's not that into animals, she's not that big a fan of 'Pit Bulls and Parolees', and she was concerned about venturing into what's known as a pretty rough area. Since this vacation is for the both of us (and let's be real, since Ma's the one paying for all this), I didn't want to have her do something that she wouldn't enjoy. Plus I figured it wouldn't be worth it to take a taxi all the way out there and back just to be there for a short period of time. So we opted to go to the zoo instead. After visiting the saddest zoo on Earth for my birthday back in 2011, I sort of swore off zoos. But we read a lot of good things about this one so we got up and rode a bus down Magazine Street toward Audubon Park, in the southwestern part of the city. Our stop was right near the entrance of Audubon Zoo.

Considering that quite a few exhibits were closed due to construction or weather-related reasons, in retrospect they probably could've come down from their regular $19 adult ticket price. But even with the closed exhibits (boo! no elephants or giraffes, and no lions or rhinos to begin with!), there was still much to see and the diverse greenery made for a pleasant walk. I was especially impressed with the primate and Louisiana Swamp exhibits. We got to watch the animals feed in the former, and in the latter we got to walk through a man-made swamp while learning about its ecological system and Cajun culinary habits.

The only negative thing that I couldn't help but notice about the zoo is the issue of cultural appropriation. Granted, I'm no expert on the topic nor on the cultures or geographic locations that the zoo was organized into, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. With the exception of a couple species-specific exhibits, most of the zoo is divided into geographically-themed sections: Asian Domain, African Savanna, Jaguar Jungle (Mayan civilization), and South America Pampas. They tried to recreate a lot of culturally-specific architecture and include information boards about history or customs in each area, but it still just... didn't feel right. Even with all the details it felt cheap, artificial, forced. I think there's a difference between trying to give people an idea of what a place is like versus making a copy of it and showing it off like "Behold! You've now been transported into [insert destination]. It's just like the real thing!" And Audubon Zoo, bless its heart, toes that line a little too closely for my liking. I'll just leave it at that. But otherwise, Ma and I were very much pleased with our experience.

After returning to the hotel for our routine downtime, we changed clothes and went to Frenchmen Street again like we did last night. This time we were going to check out Uptown Jazz Orchestra at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro. This band plays at Snug Harbor twice a night every Wednesday night, and we were going to its 8pm show. Like its smaller and more crowded neighbor across the street, Spotted Cat, Snug Harbor is renowned for its quality jazz musicianship and invigorating performances. However, Snug Harbor has a more exclusive feel because unlike most of the music venues on Frenchmen, you can't just pop in and out of the show here. You have to buy tickets in advance. Additionally, the music space, bar, and restaurant are separated from each other so that while you can hear the music from outside the music room, no one can actually enjoy the show in full without having paid to attend. In comparison to the rest of the street this might seem elitist, but I think it's nice because it maintains a semblance of order and keeps the crowds down.

I'm not sure what Uptown Jazz Orchestra's normal roster is, but tonight the band consisted of 14 members: four trumpets (including a vocalist), three trombones (including the bandleader), four saxes (including a clarinet player), a bassist, a piano player (the only woman in the bunch), and a drummer. Most of the band was made up of black men, and the members varied greatly in age and place of origin. But what of the music, you ask?  Man... If you want to talk about skill and showmanship, wooo-wheee these folks got it! This was our fourth time going to listen to music here in New Orleans, and we were most impressed and entertained this time by far. You'll especially like Uptown if you're into big band, blues, and swing jazz styles. It was a special treat for those of us like Ma and me who were seated on the second floor. We not only got an excellent view of the house but we got to experience the music first. The musicians warmed up on our floor, then at the beginning of the show they played their way downstairs and to the stage. They ended their show with the procession going back up the stairs the way they came. It was all just so inspiring and exciting and magical.

Since we hadn't eaten in a while, after the show we migrated to the dining room for dinner. Both of us had gumbo, and I had Fish Marigny. Everything was excellent, and the gumbo (which was 100 times spicier, meatier, and just better than Praline Connection's, just saying) ended up being free because they'd taken  too long to get a waitress to our table. With a fantastic jazz performance and a quality dining experience, Ma and I definitely ended the night on a high note!

 NOLA! photos

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tuesday: NOMA + Frenchmen Street

Early in the afternoon, we started our day by riding a bus up Rampart and Esplanade to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) in City Park. The Museum looks imposing from the outside, but it's totally doable to get through all the rooms on all three floors in just two or three hours. The first floor holds European art and the special exhibition "Kongo Across the Waters", which looks at Kongo art in western/central Africa and how it's influenced black art and culture in the States. The second floor contains American/Louisiana, orientalist, modern, contemporary, photography, and more European art. It also features two special photography exhibits, "Photo-Unrealism" and "Josephine Sacabo: Salutations". Last but not least, the third floor contains Asian (Chinese, Indian, Japanese), Oceanic, African, Native American, and Precolumbian art.

We started on the first floor and worked our way up. Though the museum's been around for over 100 years, its interior is very sleek. It's smaller than it looks but there's still plenty to see, such as Will Ryman's America (2013), a log cabin painted gold and outfitted with items representing the various industries that have sustained America throughout its history (from slave chains to iPhones and iPads).

Next we exited the museum and circled around back to the Sculpture Garden, which has free admission! Just as the title suggests, it's a lush and path-laden garden with sculptures placed throughout. Some are abstract, others quirky, while others make political or social statements. The one I found most jarring was Travelin' Light (1999) by Alison Saar, which features the bronze figure of a young black man with a hi-top fade and a suit being hung by his feet from a Japanese torii. Creating an image reminiscent of lynching, apparently it also functions as a bell and is meant to pay tribute to all victims of abandonment, torture, violence, and terror.

After that, the original plan was to walk around City Park itself. But we realized the park was too massive for us to cover and we no longer had the energy after having walked around the museum for most of the afternoon. So instead we just had lunch at Cafe NOMA inside the museum and then headed back to the hotel for our routine downtime.

Our target for tonight was Frenchmen Street in Faubourg Marigny. Close enough to the Quarter to walk there, but far enough to escape the tourist crowds and noisy wanton boozefest. I'd heard said that it's all about the music here on this street, and that appears to be true. The street boasts many of New Orleans' most popular music clubs, and something I noticed is that many of them place their stages right at the front windows, so that the loud music being played by bands will attract more people from the streets. This includes The Spotted Cat Music Club, but I'll get back to that in a second.

Having not eaten since afternoon, we decided to have dinner at The  Praline Connection. It's primarily a soul food restaurant but it also serves Cajun/Creole food because duh, we're in New Orleans! Ma ordered jambalaya and greens, I ordered the filé gumbo, and we both got complimentary cornbread. I can't speak for Ma's food but I will say that the gumbo was just okay. It was flavorful, but didn't have any spice or enough juicy bits. However the cornbread was absolutely perfect! It had just the right amount of butter/sugar to make it moist and sweet without making it taste like an overdone sugar cookie.

Since it's called The Praline Connection, I was disappointed to look at the menu and realize that the restaurant doesn't actually have pralines as a desert option. (I've never had them before and was hoping to try them.) They have an adjacent candy store where you can buy them in boxes, but I wasn't trying to do all that so I just got the bread pudding with praline sauce instead. Would've preferred it warm instead of chilled, but otherwise it was also perfect. All in all I would say that Praline Connection has some solid soul food, thought it's good not great. But I'd definitely go back just for the cornbread and the home-y feel of the dining area.

From there we made our way down the street to The Spotted Cat Music Club. This jazz club is incredibly famous and popular, and I'm not exactly sure why. But nonetheless, expect wall-to-wall people there no matter what night you go. The crowd had even spilled outside of the building, with onlookers gathered around the windows. Spotted Cat only has a 1-drink minimum and no cover, but you could honestly slip in and not buy anything since there are too many people to keep track. (Still, you should probably show a little respect and buy something anyway.) Ma and I arrived to catch the tail end of Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns' set, and we stayed through half of Smokin' Time Jazz Club's set. They both were very skilled and spunky bands in my opinion. The energy in the room was amazing the entire time (as crowded as the place was, folks still made room for couples to swing dance in front of the stage)! But Ma wasn't very impressed, saying that Smokin' Time's swing-style songs all sounded the same, and that she wasn't impressed by their vocalist. Eh well, can't please em all.

Lastly I just wanted to mention that on the way "home" we caught a couple of songs while standing outside of 30-90 Degrees, a jazz club with a huge dance floor that just opened in January. The crowd in their seemed like they were having tons of fun. It doesn't have a website or anything, but for future references it's at 520 Frenchmen and the only food they serve is pizza. The band they had up there was jammin' but I haven't been able to figure out what the name of it was...

NOLA! photos

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Monday: SoFAB + Alliance Française + Parasol's

Today was sort of an educational day, where we spent the afternoon learning about Southern food culture and visiting the New Orleans office of a national French culture center.

After breakfast we bought Jazzy passes ($9 for 3 days), rode a streetcar a ways down St. Charles Avenue, then walked through the hood for a few minutes to reach the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB) in Central City. With Ma being from Kentucky and us both liking food, we were eager to visit this young museum with an unconventional concept.

When we walked in we were greeted by Jennie, the director of education and outreach. She was manning the front desk explaining the layout, exhibits, and tidbits of New Orleans culture and history to all the guests who came in. Later we overheard her also offering tips for good places to eat to whoever asked. Now let's make clear that SoFAB is not your traditional "museum". You walk in and it doesn't look like much; at first glance it appears to be just a huge warehouse with a bunch of miscellaneous stuff in it. But you have to understand that it's all about the details with this place. It may be young, it may have just changed locations a few months ago, and it may still have a couple boxes to unpack, but none of that negates the care and creativity that's gone into curating this place.This museum is especially for you if you like open floor plans and replicas, trinkets, figurines, or antiques.

The character of the museum really shines through in the "Gallery of the South: States of Taste" exhibit.  This exhibit attracts the eye the most immediately since it's spread throughout the museum and each section of it is filled with various objects, shapes, signs, and colors. Most of the open layout is occupied by displays dedicated to each state of the South, featuring staple dishes, ingredients, and information about cooking styles and traditions. Louisiana's display is the largest, of course. In the back there's also an exhibit dedicated to Antoine's Restaurant, the oldest family-run restaurant in the country. SoFAB also holds the Museum of the American Cocktail and La Galerie d'Absinthe, which together consist of a huge wall dedicated to the history and varied quality of alcoholic beverages. And last but not least, there's a test kitchen (Rouses Culinary Innovation Center) to host tasting events or cooking demonstration, and a restaurant/bar (Purloo) to cater to hungry or thirsty patrons. Like I said earlier, you walk in and have a feeling that the museum's not quite finished. But that's great because it means SoFAB has loads of potential, and I think they're already doing a magnificent job of utilizing nearly every inch of their building space.

Our next stop was Alliance Française on Jackson Avenue in the Lower Garden District. For those who don't know, Alliance Française is an international organization that works to promote French language and culture by providing French courses, language testing, and cultural events in communities around the world. AF has centers in many major U.S. cities, and New Orleans is one of them. I wanted to visit l'Alliance Française de La Nouvelle-Orléans because as a French major in a city with a francophone history, it felt like a must.

It's in an old house whose dining room and bedrooms have been remodeled into classrooms, with other rooms used for offices and a reading room/library. The one non-fluent staff member was the one to answer the door, give us a quick spiel about the place and tell us to "feel free to poke around". And I did just that. While Ma sat and waited in the reading room, I walked around the first and second floors looking at stuff and taking pictures. All the while overhearing conversations in French but being too intimidated to interject and introduce myself. Instead I perused the books they had on sale, picked one, and left a $5 in the donation box before leaving. Maybe I'll get up the nerve to go back for some conversation?

Next we took a short bus ride to Constance Street and walked through the neighborhood to Parasol's in the Irish Channel, since it wasn't far from l'Alliance Française. One of my goals here has been to have a different local specialty each day. Saturday it was beignets, yesterday it was Shrimp Creole, and today it would be po-boys, which Parasol's is famous for. We walked in and were stopped by a young woman at the bar who recognized the "Louisville Cardinals" print on my shirt. Turned out she was from Covington and she went to WKU, my mom's alma mater. Small world, apparently! After being welcomed by said woman, we passed through the bar and went up the stairs to the dining area to order. Ma chose the Catfish, while I chose the Parasol's Firecracker Shrimp. Since I'd ordered the smaller 6-inch sandwich, I thought it'd be easier to finish my food. But there was still so much of it (they purposefully stuff as much shrimp in there as possible), that toward the end I had to take breaks in between mouthfuls until I finally finished it. We left with full stomachs, hot mouths, and absolutely no complaints.

We made our way back to our hotel from there. We'd originally planned to go to the 8 o'clock show at Preservation Hall jazz club, but arrived only to be told that it was closed for a private event. So we'll just have to go back later this week. But since we'd dragged ourselves outside for this, we decided to walk around the Quarter for a bit and look for somewhere to eat. And what do you know! After learning about it at SoFAB earlier today, we came across the real Antoine's on St. Louis Street! Maybe I'll eat there one day in my life. Probably not on this trip though. Instead I just stood marveling at the building from across the street for a few minutes before moving on. Ultimately there were just too many options and we weren't in the mood to be out, so we returned and ate panini and fries at the hotel bar. Wasn't that great, but it was just about filling our stomachs at that point.

Unfortunately, I ended the night feeling like crud. Not sure if it's the time change, or the change in climate, or me being sick, or the heavy food (which we haven't been eating tons of, mind you), but I've been getting tired so early in the evenings since we've been here. I don't know what to do about all that except to just ride it out. But I do know one thing: Tuesday I shall find something light to munch on. Like a really colorful salad or bowl of fruit or something. Balance the good-but-bad-for-you yumminess out, you know?

NOLA! photos

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sunday: Gospel Brunch + Armstrong Park + Tujague's

Since it was Sunday but we wouldn't be going to church here, I figured we could at least try to do something that was a little churchy. So off to the House of Blues we were for "Kirk Franklin's Gospel Brunch". The event has his name because he helped develop this "experience" for all HOB venues, but that's as far as it goes. While you don't get to see him or hear much of his music, you do get to enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet and live performances of other gospel songs.

We walked from the hotel to HOB on Decatur Street in the morning,
and it was refreshing to see Bourbon street in the light of day. In the mornings people are washing the streets, it's calmer, and you get a better feel of the area's charm. I've already surmised that the Quarter isn't really my scene, but yet and still I find it intriguing because it's such a mishmash. Quaint yet raunchy, old world yet hip, laid-back yet bustling, it's so many things at once that you can't help but admire it even if you're someone like me who can't hang. 

The buffet had pretty standard brunch fair. Unfortunately, thanks to my dulled appetite I could only manage one plate (chicken and waffles, jambalaya, strawberries and blackberries), plus two cups of tea and one and a half mimosas. Evangelist Linda Wright and the HOB Praise Team performed gospel music from beginning to end, of which the only Kirk Franklin song they did was "I Smile". Overall, the whole thing was just aight to me. Ms. Wright knows how to hold a crowd with her voice and sense of humor, plus she had plenty of encouraging things to say so the show was decent. But it wasn't worth the $100 (tax included) that we paid to attend. Still, Ma seemed to really enjoy herself and we got to see what the inside of the House of Blues is like, so it was good for something.

From there, we walked through Woldenberg Park along the Mississipi River, then got a look at Jackson Square in the daylight before walking through it to the Cabildo, where we watched a jazz ensemble play on the street. Then we stopped at the hotel to change into more comfortable clothes and chill for a couple of hours before heading back out to visit Louis Armstrong Park. When we arrived, the Congo Square Preservation Society was doing a drum circle! We'd heard them from across the street before we even saw them. They were  playing music and singing just like our enslaved ancestors used to do every Sunday afternoon in this very spot over 200 years ago. Anyone could join, contributing whatever they had. When we first got there it was just the drummers. But when we walked around the park and came back, they'd switched out drummers and included some people from the crowd. There was also a trumpet player, a guy making bird calls, a dude rapping, and an old man playing his flute on a nearby bench. Even little children were in on the action! It was one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed. Just exquisitely soulful, profoundly beautiful moments full of energy, rhythm, love, and reverence for our roots. The last song they played before we left was actually "Wild Bamboula", and they explained that bamboula means remembering our ancestors. Very fitting seeing as how yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march/Bloody Sunday in Selma.

From the park we walked back to the hotel for a potty break and stepped out once again for dinner. Per the woman at Maison Bourbon's recommendation, we went to Tujague's, the self-proclaimed 2nd oldest restaurant in New Orleans that's been serving traditional French Creole food since 1856. Since it's a highly-respected establishment you should probably dress accordingly, but they don't make a fuss if you aren't. The staff are dressed in crisp black and white uniforms to match the decor inside, but they were incredibly courteous to us and others who walked in with jeans and tennis shoes. We didn't even have a reservation, but when we walked in they seated us right away. It probably didn't hurt that we got there early in the evening before the dinner rush.

Ma had brisket, while I had two appetizers: shrimp creole, and Louisiana lump crab and wild mushroom gnocchi. Both were absolutely superb. Since arriving yesterday I was wowed right away by music, but I was waiting to be wowed by food, and Tujague's was the one to finally do it! We had such a great dining experience that I really wished I would've dressed up for the occasion.

 From there we stopped at Rouse's Market to buy some oranges and throat lozenges, then returned to the hotel for the last time today. Still sick, but mighty satisfied.

NOLA! photos

Sunday, March 8, 2015

People Always Ask Me for Directions and I Don't Know Why.

Lord have mercy! I swear, every time I travel to a new place for the first time, I end up being asked for directions. During my first semester at MSU people were asking me how to get to Wells, Breslin, Wharton, the Union. When I went to DC three years ago, a brotha stopped me in the metro and asked me which lines to take to get to the airport. When I was in Paris last summer, a young French couple stopped their car in front of me to ask for directions to the Eiffel Tower. It happens all the time no matter where I go! And what do you know, New Orleans is no different.

This evening I was standing at an intersection in front of a grocery store when a man with is lady on his arm tapped my shoulder from behind and asked, "Excuse me, ma'am. Where do you recommend that we eat?" Of course I explained that I couldn't help them, "Oh sorry, I'm not from here so I wouldn't know." Meanwhile in my head I was thinking, Goodness, it's happening again! Don't misunderstand, I love helping people. But just once, can't I go somewhere new and be a newbie like everybody else? Deela can't have the answers all the time!

If only I knew why this keeps happening to me. Maybe I just have a trustworthy-looking face? Or an approachable demeanor? Or something?

NOLA!: We're Here! (part 2)

Our last stop of the night was a jazz club near our hotel by the name of Maison Bourbon. In a nutshell, Maison Bourbon is a great place to just sit, relax, and enjoy some good ol' authentic traditional jazz. It's a bonafide jazz club amongst the tourist traps that line Bourbon Street, keeping the tradition going with live performances every night. One of the oldest jazz clubs in New Orleans, it strives to upload its cultural and artistic mission: "Dedicated to the Preservation Jazz".

When we arrived there were two open stools at the bar waiting for us. The joint has no cover charge but there is a one-drink minimum per person. Ma chose white wine, and I, with my under-the-weather self, chose hot toddy.

This place is laid-back but it does have another important rule, which is "NO VIDEO RECORDING"! There's a sign that reads exactly that on the wall behind the stage, and they mean it. When you walk in you're supposed to sit down, drink, and enjoy the music. That's it. You can sneak a photo or two (like I did), but recording performances is a no-no. During a set while one of the other musicians was doing a solo, the bandleader actually waved at an audience member to get their attention, then pointed upward toward the sign behind him. It was subtle enough that I'm sure the guilty party wasn't embarrassed, but the point is that they're really serious about this particular rule. So just have a good time and don't try your luck.

At the bar, Ma and I had happened to sit next to two women who'd slipped away from a bachelorette party and were hiding out at this club. The one directly to my right was very friendly and talkative, and upon finding out that we were visiting New Orleans for vacation, she asked what our plans were for the week. From the little that I know about people from new New Orleans, I know that they LOVE their city and love even more to extol her virtues to others. Sensing a golden opportunity, I lied and responded that we were playing it by ear, but would she have any recommendations? Did she ever! Turns out she's actually from Texas but has been living in New Orleans for 12 years, so she had plenty to say about where and where not to go, what and what not to do.

Incredibly helpful and passionate advice just kept flowing from this woman. The most vehement of which was: 1) The Quarter is a tourist trap and you'd do well to explore outside of it as much as you can; the more uptown you get the neater your surroundings get, and the less likely you'll end up paying for "overpriced sh*t". 2) Ghost tours are a sham. And 3) A swamp tour with Airboat Adventures is a must! There were a lot of other tips in between, but these are the ones she repeated the most. The more the woman talked the more excited about her city she got, and the more she wanted to give us the ins-and-outs. In fact, she didn't stop talking until the bride-to-be found found her and her friend there and made them leave! She bid us goodnight, saying, "I hope New Orleans is everything you want it to be and more." And I thought, Wow. Not only are locals proud of heir city, but they really want newcomers to like it too. I find that so endearing.

Ma and I stayed through two and a half sets just until about 1am, and then finally went back to the hotel to turn in for the night. Still sick? Yep. Exhausted? More than I can describe. But I took comfort in knowing that things happen for a reason, and that dragging ourselves to Maison Bourbon allowed us to get insider tips from a local. We met one friendly local in San Francisco but didn't get an extensive rundown like the one we got here last night, so I certainly don't take it for granted. I'm definitely looking forward to exploring what other parts of the city have to offer!

NOLA! photos