Monday, April 17, 2006

New Orleans

A funny thing happened to my palate when I moved to the States. Being south Indian, I was raised on fire-breathing spicy food, the masala practically glowing in the dark. I came here armed with a sheaf of my mom’s recipes, but had forgotten that Indian cooking is labor-intensive. It was faster to eat out or whip up quick Western meals, which has softened my palate and made me over-sensitive to spices. Nothing like a plate of seafood jambalaya at Pere Antoine’s on Royal Street—the only dish marked “spicy” on the menu, and when they do that, they mean business—to pull that palate out of hibernation and rev it up.

Some of the more unpredictable culinary adventures in New Orleans are to be had outside the French Quarter. A brisk half hour away from Canal Street on foot is Frenchmen Street, site of what they tell me is the best soul food in New Orleans, at The Praline Connection. I ordered filé gumbo and red beans & rice, only to discover that the portions were mountainous. Didn’t have room for dessert, and trudged back there for an encore the next day and a cuboid slab of thick bread pudding with bourbon sauce. But the beignets at Café Du Monde, so familiar from all the tour books, were—soggy and greasy—a bit of a disappointment. I didn’t seem to mind them much the last time; maybe it was the novelty.

The only bit of shopping I did was for CD's, at the Louisiana Music Factory, the best place to find local music. I walked out with a stack of rare Henry Mancini albums, and would’ve sampled some Dave Zoller discs I saw there if I hadn’t blown my budget so precipitously. In terms of live music, about half the jazz clubs I remembered from my last trip, pre-Katrina, were now closed. And the ones that were open were thinner on audiences. At Snug Harbor, what is probably the city’s foremost jazz club, I caught a double bill of visiting New York Cuban jazz artists, in the city to help revitalize the music scene with stints at local colleges and clubs. Meanwhile, many of the local New Orleans jazz musicians have hit the road because their homes have been destroyed or they've found it impossible to make a living in the city.

Even the main drag, Canal Street, looked half-abandoned, buildings stained and graffitied, businesses shuttered with hastily hand-scrawled signs pasted and fluttering on doors. One hears stories of Burger King offering $18 an hour and a $5000 signing advance, with few takers. If noise and neon are any indication, one business seems to be booming: the ghastly casino—“Largest in the South!”—on the Mississippi riverfront in the heart of downtown. One can get an idea of the temper of a time and place by simply reading the T-shirts, and the one I encountered most frequently here said, “The New Four-Letter Word Starting With “F”—FEMA.”

48 Comments:

Blogger girish said...

Always an event: new post at the Tofu Hut.

April 17, 2006 10:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian Darr: Ten decades of Frisco in film.

April 17, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Mrs. Salman Rushdie sounds like a blast.

April 17, 2006 10:23 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Acquarello on Patrick Bokanowski, whom I'd never heard of (not that it says much!).

April 17, 2006 10:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Heavy-handed New Orleans illustration above: to quote Morrissey--"There's a light that never goes out!"

April 17, 2006 10:30 AM  
Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Girish, if you didn't get that Sweet/Hoffs disc yet, you can listen to the entire album free at the AOL site now:
http://music.aol.com/songs/new_releases_full_cds

April 17, 2006 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Barry said...

I have very few memories of New Orleans; scares me to ever go back.

I keep thinking: is it humanitarian by default to visit now? Or to a fault, as in, from my experience of New Orleans, that's a city that would rather singe its eyelashes than be the object of pity.

April 17, 2006 5:51 PM  
Blogger girish said...

TLRHB--Had no idea you could do that...
No, I haven't received the Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs CD from Amazon yet, but in prep, I put the Bangles on repeat-play today. (I'm such a nerd.)

"...a city that would rather singe its eyelashes than be the object of pity."
Barry, I think you definitely have a point there...

April 17, 2006 9:28 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And here's a Stereogum post with a dozen versions of Neil's "Cinnamon Girl."

April 17, 2006 10:00 PM  
Blogger phyrephox said...

What Mancini albums did you find?

April 17, 2006 10:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Daniel, I picked up the soundtracks to HATARI, PETER GUNN and HIGH TIME, all of which I bought on vinyl a few years ago, and have practically worn down the grooves on. Also, an album of blues and standards called THE BLUES AND THE BEAT.
These are the two types of Mancini I like: jazz standards re-orchestrated, Mancini-ized, by him; and soundtracks. Still can't get with his kitsch side (like his crazy version of the Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian"!).

April 18, 2006 7:30 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Not brand new but good reading anyway: The Pop View on Caitlin Flanagan.

April 18, 2006 7:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael Guillen has been filing dispatches from the San Francisco film fest.

April 18, 2006 7:34 AM  
Blogger girish said...

And Dave Kehr's been doing the same from Buenos Aires.

April 18, 2006 7:41 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Voice: Top 40 picks of the Tribeca fest.

April 18, 2006 5:52 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Hey!! *I* want to report from Buenos Aires! 8^) For that matter I'd be happy to reawaken my interest in spice in Nawlins! Ah well, guess we each have to do our own gig, eh? I'm really glad you're having some good times down South, Girish.

April 19, 2006 12:22 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Michael. You're a tireless reporter-man. I'll be checking back on your SFIFF posts when TIFF rolls around in the fall.

April 19, 2006 6:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Big news of the day: Angie Dickinson Blog-A-Thon.
Here's Flickhead.

April 19, 2006 6:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Dennis has a list of Angie posts as well.

April 19, 2006 6:41 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Proust: "...And this is why the kind of literature which contents itself with "describing things," with giving of them merely a miserable abstract of lines and surfaces, is in fact, though it calls itself realist, the furthest removed from reality and has more than any other the effect of saddening and impoverishing us..."

April 19, 2006 8:46 AM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

I loved this post. New Orleans is very high on my list of places to see, and oddly Katrina has only pushed it higher. When I get depressed over the sad fate of a city hit by war or natural disaster, I comfort myself by thinking of Beirut. It has been destroyed something like seven times over the centuries, and rebuilt every time.

April 19, 2006 1:30 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Campaspe.
Over Easter weekend, there was an influx of people into town, and the streets (at least in the Quarter) were busy again. It looked almost like the New Orleans of old.

April 19, 2006 6:58 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

umm-mmm, spicy New Orleans Food!!
One of the reasons I have always wanted to go New Orleans was for the food. I have come across a handful of restaurants in the cold canadian land who try to serve New Orlean style cuisine, complete with gumbo's and all. But they are all 'trying' as some of the head chefs themselves admit. Unfortunately, I have still not been to the real place myself but one day I plan to go and set my mouth on fire :)

Speaking of Mrs. Salman Rushdie, Girish did you ever see 'Boom'? Considered to be worst and most hated Bollywood movie ever made, it stared Padma in a role that would have made Mr. Rushdie blush.
In reality, it is not the worst movie ever made. Nor is it the most vulgar movie either. But that was when I first learnt of Padma. She also used to have a cooking show on Rai (Italian channel).

April 19, 2006 7:45 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi Sachin--I've never seen BOOM. Or the cooking show you speak of. But Padma sounds like a real character...

April 20, 2006 6:25 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Eric Henderson on Don Armando's 2nd Ave. Rhumba Band.

April 20, 2006 6:27 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Recent film blog discovery: Lucid Screening.

April 20, 2006 6:28 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Anthony Kaufman: "Village Voice Watch: Words "Meta" and "Subversive" Now Banned."

Should have a post up by this evening.

April 20, 2006 6:32 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Re: The Village Voice. That sounds meta-subversive!

April 20, 2006 7:44 AM  
Blogger phil said...

hey big g, you back in town?

April 20, 2006 11:52 AM  
Anonymous girish said...

Hey Phil--Long time no see. Good to hear from you. Let's get together soon; perhaps right after our finals end in a couple of weeks...?

April 20, 2006 2:33 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Funny you mention Boom; I've had it here on my desk unwatched for about six weeks (loaned to me by the same person who loaned me Mission Kashmir, which struck me as cheesy and indulging in all the worst Hollywood tendencies).

April 20, 2006 4:56 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

April 20, 2006 5:18 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Does this mean they can't write about Amos Vogel anymore?

April 20, 2006 5:19 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Tuwa, well safe to say you can leave Boom untouched on your desk for a while longer. I am apparently one of the few people on the planet who didn't hate that movie that much but I would not recommend it anyone (that includes you Girish. I still feel bad about recommeding that Biskind book to you :) The movie has plenty of problems but the reason the movie was critized and hated is for the wrong reasons. In India it was labeled pornographic and vulgar, which is far far from what the movie is. Putting those labels on that movie is a joke really.

If Mission Kashmir was made by the director, Vindu Vinod Chopra a decade before (meaning in the 80's as opposed to the 90's when it came out), then it might have been more worthwhile. Before the director went commerical bollywood, he made some decent movies. His early movies in the 80's were Sayaze Maut , Khamosh and Parinda . Mind you, I saw these movies ages ago and at a time before I developed a liking for foreign cinema. So my views might be totally skewed.

Girish, Tawa:
A few Indian movies I can safely recommend are Mr and Mrs. Iyer , and Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa .

April 20, 2006 6:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, I think we can safely assume that now!

Tuwa and Sachin--I have Bollywood immersion in the cards for the summer but I'll be doing older stuff (Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor etc). Hope to blog about some of them. Speaking of blogging, my current post is taking forever. Back to it now; hope to return with it completed sometime tonight.

April 20, 2006 7:07 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

oops sorry for the mis-spelled name Tuwa.

Girish, summer is probably a good time to revisit Old Bollywood movies. I noticed recently that plenty of movies from the 50's to 70's have been put out on DVD in the last few months. And more should be out in the upcoming weeks as well. I was debating seeing them myself but been really busy with my Asian Film festival stuff here..

April 20, 2006 7:16 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Sachin.

Girish, there's a post I've been working on for a month already. It'll probably not be finished before the end of July.

April 20, 2006 10:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, after struggling much of the afternoon and evening on the post, I've thrown in the towel. It's just not happening...

April 20, 2006 11:53 PM  
Blogger girish said...

At Greencine: the Cannes lineup.
Reactions?

Think I'm most looking forward to Bruno Dumont, Aki Kaurismaki and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, though many others look good too.

What a bummer about Inland Empire. Maybe it'll be at Toronto instead.

April 20, 2006 11:56 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Cannes: I'm glad to see Tony Gatliff being featured. I have to also wonder what's behind X-Men getting a Cannes showing. It's not in competition, but still it seems out of place.

April 21, 2006 6:39 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

With Carmen Maura doing another film with Pedro Almodóvar after 18 years, Volver's the one I'm most looking forward too. I've heard lukewarm things about the new Kaurismäki, and Man Without a Past didn't have the causticity that his early films do, so I don't have high hopes for it (although I will see it). I also want to see Dumont redeem himself with Flanders. Gatlif's been on a funk since Gadjo Dilo, so I'm not expecting much there either. The new Paolo Sorrentino could be good (he also made The Consequences of Love). And I can't stop thinking of Dead Can Dance when I see the title of the new Ken Loach, so now I have to see it. :)

I don't know, decent list, but a little underwhelming.

April 21, 2006 8:02 AM  
Blogger girish said...

"I don't know, decent list, but a little underwhelming."

Acquarello, I'd have to agree.

I actually saw Man Without A Past three times; liked it quite a bit. The last Almodovar I was less crazy about than most people; I preferred Talk To Her by a good distance. But I sorely miss the Carmen Maura days and look forward to Volver as well. I've never seen a film by Pedro Costa but have heard great things about them.

April 21, 2006 8:24 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Girish, it happens to the best of writers; there are countless anecdotes of famous authors starting a novel three or four times before finding the way that led to the finished work.

Which is not to say it's not a bummer, because it is, but it's an honorable one.

April 21, 2006 12:30 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Oh, yeah, the Costa will definitely be interesting. I haven't seen his recent films, but Ossos and Casa de Lava are quite visually striking films and very atmospheric. Incidentally, Rivette singled out Ossos in the Senses interview so rest assured that it's at least on par with Showgirls! ;)

April 21, 2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, I just stared at the monitor for a few hours and backspaced through anything I could come up with.
I'm realizing that mornings are the best times to write, but it's too bad that work gets in the way. :-)

Acquarello--Now I'm definitely looking forward to the Costa! :-)

April 21, 2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

acquarello, what did you think of Gatlif's Exils ? I saw Gadjo Dilo after Exils so I liked the latter one much better. It seemed Gadjo Dilo was a precursor to Exils .Ofcourse, my take on Exils is very subjective though. I thought the 11 minute trance song sequence near the end of the movie was effective but I know people who hated it and couldn't wait to leave the theatre. I have not read much about the movie but I do wonder how close to Gatlif's heart this story might have been. Even though all his movies has shades of his Gypsy roots in them, Exils felt auto-biographical?

April 21, 2006 6:20 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

girish, thanks for posting the Cannes lineup list. Interesting selections, the lineups seem to be juggling past favourites with some commercial tastes.

personally, I would gladly go see any Gatlif movie but his choice of the lead actress has me puzzled. I have been told by friends that I give too much credit to Almodóvar but for some reason I can't avoid seeing his movies.

There seem to be a few puzzling selections as well. I liked Donnie Darko but what is Richard Kelly's next venture doing there. Especially since it stars the Rock (yes I am being very judgemental there :) And then there is Babel? The cast really is strange -- Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal and two Bollywood actresses that I like -- Mahima Choudary and Shilpa Shetty. Huh? They probably have a few minute cameos...but still..

It will be a while before I get to see these movies though. I don't know if I would make it out to TIFF or not. I have never been to TIFF and have had to settle for the poorer cousin -- CIFF.
I have been fortunate to have been in Cannes once when the film festival was about to start back in 1999 (I went a day before the official festival had to start). The place was just jam packed. Tourists everywhere. And too many paparazzi..I was surprized to find back then, a lot of hotels were advertising Hollywood movies. In fact, one of the hotels redid their entire front lobby to look like the Mummy set. Now it probably is more commercial with X-Men and Da Vinci Code being shown..

April 21, 2006 6:51 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Re: Exils, I liked it, but I didn't think he captured the right balance of pathos and free spirit in the same level as Gadjo Dilo. Instead of cultural intimacy, this one seemed to really more on landscape as spiritual/cultural metaphor. I'd agree though that this is one of his better films in a long time.

April 21, 2006 11:37 PM  

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