Tag Archives: vacation

New Orleans: That Which Cannot Be Named

IMG_1017In my head, New Orleans is wide streets under balconies full of Spanish moss, with 24-hour jazz funerals parading down the street.

This is slightly true. My friend Carly and I spent our Thanksgiving  in the Marigny, four blocks up Frenchman street from piles of jazz bars and the cry of street-band trumpets. New Orleans also has economically disparate neighborhoods, no laws against open containers, and a transient-friendly climate. You can sense that something is not quite settled under the town’s skin. But you can also sense that it’s cultural quicksand–it could suck you in for good.

We met people who had only left New Orleans for one month in their 50 years, and transplants from Texas, Seattle, Chicago. Musicians, glass blowers, baristas, bartenders, and shopkeepers. It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in Baltimore as well. What makes a city addictive? It’s hard to pin it down but …

IMG_1069Rhythm.
It’s a Big Easy legend that every citizen grows up playing an instrument. Frenchman street featured a full jazz band that, if seen in Baltimore, people would make “The Wire” jokes about. Dancing in the road creates joy.

History.
New Orleans has 300 years of history so diverse that almost any American can feel a connection. The roots are deep, and the feeling of being a part of something seeps into the air.

IMG_9228Signs of life.
Coming from the north, the packs of purple, orange, and yellow houses look like they’re smiling at you. A jeweler told me 100 percent humidity means people chill. People seem to be whom they want to be, whatever they are.

Spirit.
Every skycap in the airport had on a Saints jersey. A woman who sold me a wooden wine stopper was wearing two-inch tall Saints player earrings. If you live here, you’re on the team. Baltimore gets this drift, too.

IMG_1072Because you have to.
Probably because of Katrina, New Orleans still feels like an underdog. There’s no facade hiding this, and an underdog with tradition and life is irresistible.

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Café Culture

Espresso love in Amsterdam.

When Americans get together after work and on weekends, we join for happy hour, diner brunches and baseball and football games in sports bars. Sure we drink coffee, but Europeans cannot get their heads around the fact that there is no concept of meeting in a café during lunch break (what lunch break?) or after work. Just because we’ve exported mediocre coffee chains all over the planet doesn’t mean we have a café culture.

In France I am in a café at least a few times a week. But this weekend I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Amsterdam and am ready to make the controversial statement that the Netherlands has the clear lead in the gold medal race of bar-and-coffee ambience. I should note that this has absolutely no relation to smoking pot: I had actually expected to avoid coffee shops because of smoke clouds; herbal or otherwise. This would have been tragic, because every bar or café we stopped in (three or four daily) was welcoming and warm, and each had a vibe all its own.

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Burning Down the House

I’m back in France, and glad to be home! However, I’ve noticed that I acquired a few new addictions in Spain. I’ve already had two cups of strong coffee (though I now wish I owned a hand-operated milk frother), I bought Special K at the store, and I have a strange desire for a post-lunch augardente.

One of my two hosts in Salamanca is a native of Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain that a lot of people would compare to France’s Bretagne: it’s like a mini Scotland with Spanish flavor, and known for its green landscape, seafood, white wine, and augardente, or “firewater.”

Homemade, unlabeled, and gorgeous.

Galacian augardentes are liqueurs made from the remains of grapes, usually the skins and pulp left after making wine. It is then further distilled into one of several variations all based on Augardente de Orujo, the clear, nearly 50 percent alcohol that will knock you off your feet.

The herbas variation is pale yellow and refreshing, made with flowery herbs. I think it tastes more powerful because of the light flavor, but that means it also went well with most meals. Licor cafe, dark brown and thicker, is made with sugar and coffee and was my favorite after late, long lunches. It would be the one I would buy for guests if I had to choose.

Crema, Herbas, Cafe.

My all-time favorite was probably crema, which is made with milk and tastes like Irish liquer without the sickening sweetness. Great for an after-dinner dessert drink. And crema and licor cafe together…me gusta!

I’m not sure that homemade augardente like these are entirely legal. So not only have I been spoiled with the good stuff, I’m not sure where one can buy the equivalent! Come Christmas I might be purchasing something fromElige Tu Vino, which looks like it has real augardente made in Galicia. Yum!

Fromage Friday: Tomme

I cheated again and bought cheese at the grocery store. Actually, I didn’t even buy it. But I spent about 11 hours in Paris before taking the crack of dawn flight to Madrid, so I didn’t have time to brave the cheese master’s stand.

I don't have my camera cord, so imagine I took this.

This cheese: Tomme Noire des Pyrénées
Cost: 3ish euros
Nonsensical rating: 7 out of 10

This is a firmer cheese, the closest to something I would have bought in an American grocery store of all the cheeses I’ve had in France so far. It wasn’t as rich as the usual creamy French cheeses either, and apparently might be slightly lower in fat. This is important, as I am starting to become concerned about my cholesterol levels. But I liked it! As a mild cheese that you might use for a winter potato dish, or even something you might use for raclette–it had a similar mild taste–I can imagine myself getting it again.

My goal upon my return in France: go up to the fromager and just ask him to give me a stinky, stinky cheese.

I’m off!

It’s the Toussaint vacation for the next couple weeks, so I’ll be in Spain with limited internet connection until November. I’ll queue up a few posts to keep you occupied in the meantime, but look for pictures when I get back!

A très bientôt!