These were a few of my favorite things.

I guess it’s a measure of how brutal the winter was that the arrival of spring yesterday passed unnoticed by me. Current temperature: 37 degrees. Signs of spring so far: Pretty much zero, unless you count potholes, which are epic this year. I heard the beeping of the cold-patch truck coming down my street today, which will have to do in place of birdsong.

But I know it’s only a matter of time, and before winter slips entirely away, I’d like to give a shout-out to a few of the items that made it bearable this year. Cue the montage!

These shoes:

boots

In a cold, wet climate, it’s more important to keep your feet warm than your head. These were my birthday present last fall. If I’d been buying them for myself, I’d have skipped on the shearling lining and gone for Thinsulate, but Alan is a sweetheart and splurged. L.L. Bean. I stepped into a few drifts that came over the top, but the shearling never really allowed the loose snow to penetrate to my feet. So kudos to these workhorses. A key supporting role was played by…

These cleats:

cleats

These seemed a little bit of overkill when I got them. They were another present from Alan. I’d asked for Yaktrax, but Alan decided these were sturdier. They are, and though they hurt my knees when I wore them on dry pavement, they were essential on snow and ice. We had LOTS of ice this year, at least three storms that started as rain and turned to snow, followed by a deep cold snap. All that slush froze solid into icy lumpy fuck, and walking was absolutely treacherous. But not with these cleats! Of course no footwear ensemble is complete without…

These socks:

socks

Rag wool for the Bean boots, which run a little large, and merino for when you don’t want to feel like you’re wearing carpet on your feet. These are Smartwool knockoffs from Costco, but I have lots of the original. I’m wearing a pair right now, in fact. Moving up from the feet, we have…

These longjanes:

longjanes

Capilene from Patagonia, and I also had some silky polyester ones from Land’s End. I went days without taking them off for anything other than a shower. When I had to go outside, I threw on…

These pants:

pants

More L.L. Bean classics. They are frumpy as hell, adding 10 pounds at least. The rise is so high, and the zipper is so long, that I felt like someone’s grandpa every time I put them on. But low-rise jeans that hug your butt don’t come with fleece lining. I may have looked unfashionable, but goddamn I was warm. Which brings us to the star of the show…

Ladies and gentlemen, the parka of tribulation:

parka

Sturdy enough to stand up on its own, surprisingly heavy, the North Face McMurdo parka came to me a decade ago, via eBay. That was the year I was in Ann Arbor, and I was seeking to duplicate my college experience, when my very first down parka protected me through the fearsome back-to-back winters of the late ’70s. I think I paid about $100 for it new with tags, two-thirds below its retail price, probably because it didn’t include the fetching coyote ruff for the hood. It’s so warm it becomes uncomfortable when the temperature is much above 20, but as I’ve been whining for months, we didn’t have too many of those days. In most winters, this is a specialty item worn for only a few days. This year, it was my main coat. I just put it back in the front-hall closet, where it lives in the off-season. I think of it as you might a spouse you’re divorcing, but don’t actually despise. You respect and admire the work it does, but if it’s all the same, you’d rather not see it for a while. A long while.

Supporting roles were played by hats, several pairs of gloves, scarves and sweaters, but you don’t have to see everything in the closet today. Yesterday I wore a lightweight trench and was perfectly comfortable. Of course it rained.

Bloggage for today:

I had fun reporting this graffiti story for Bridge.

I’m only about halfway through this Grantland story on the world’s greatest juggler, but I’m enjoying it very much. No transsexuals in this one (so far), but a great lead:

I feel like I should let you know what you’re in for. This is a long story about a juggler. It gets into some areas that matter in all sports, such as performance and audience and ambition, but there’s absolutely a lot of juggling in the next 6,700 words. I assume you may bail at this point, which is fine; I almost bailed a few times in the writing. The usual strategies of sportswriting depend on the writer and reader sharing a set of passions and references that make it easy to speed along on rivers of stats and myth, but you almost certainly don’t know as much about juggling as you do about football or baseball. We’re probably staring at a frozen lake here.

A few juggling videos are embedded below. I hope they help. We may fall through the ice anyway.

And finally, one for March Madness: What white people don’t see, watching basketball.

A great weekend to all. It’s supposed to be sunny and over 40. Spring!

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 62 Comments
 

This new girl.

One reason I’ve been feeling so scattered this week is a big life change: I’m going to work again. Same job, new office. In Detroit. It really is the best of both worlds: We can work at home or at the office, and no one is expected to be there five days a week. This week I’m trying for three, and that is just about perfect: Enough face time with my colleagues to feel like we’re a team, enough alone time to seriously concentrate and keep the dog from flipping out.

But man, it’s been a while since my commute has been more complicated than walking from the breakfast table to the spare bedroom. Get this: It turns out that if you work in an office? You have to wear pants. Every day. I know, right? Seriously, though, it’s so complicated: Breakfast, coffee, paper, shower, grooming, dressing, and then? The commute, parking, and so on. How do you people do it? I used to have this down, and now it’s like writing checks with my left hand.

Sooner or later it’ll come more easily. I might even take the bus.

Meanwhile, such fun: Elevators, restroom keys, takeout menus. The mundane details of adult life.

Our office is a few steps from Comerica Park. The first rule the building manager offered: Get here early on opening day or you won’t find a parking space. Which is in less than two weeks. The snow is thawing, but the forecast is not universally cheerful until then. It could be a fairly horrible day for baseball.

And now it’s home, and the great indulgence of the working mother: A rotisserie chicken, which I accompanied with a couple cut-up sweet potatoes and some broccoli, roasted together in the oven at 425. It kills me to think of all the time I’ve spent screwing around with vegetables, when oven-roasting with some olive oil and salt works for almost all of them. And it makes the kitchen nice and warm on the chilly evenings.

So, some bloggage? Sure:

Half of all Americans subscribe to some medical conspiracy theory. You mean, like the government might have let a group of African-American men carry syphilis through their lives, just to see what the disease could do? No! That could never happen.

After the bang-up job he did in 2008, why would Hillary hire Mark Penn again? It is to puzzle.

Finally, in food news, the Obamas are losing their pastry chef. And if you like the idea of oven-roasting vegetables, you might enjoy this piece on cooking an entire meal on a sheet pan. Both NYT links.

The hump has been cleared, and the week is on its downslope. Enjoy it.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments
 

Shopping for knowledge.

I feel like I’ve been half-here for a while, but there you are. Sometimes life intercedes. Tonight was the annual college fair for the two Grosse Pointe high schools, always an event. We picked up flyers for the obvious bigs — OSU, MSU, UM-Ann Arbor, Wisconsin — and a few long shots — UVA, Kenyon, Wash U., Vanderbilt — and went to the presentation by Michigan, everybody’s first choice. Today the potential student’s major of choice is music production; at Tulane it was astronomy. In other words, pretty typical 17-year-old and that? IS FINE. There are kids who know who they are from toddlerhood, but not in this house. And that’s good.

Which is why I’m advising a big school with a comprehensive menu of course offerings. It’s nice to be able to change your major without having to change your school.

My orthopedist and his son were sitting in the Michigan presentation. The man who spent parts of not one but two office visits complaining about Obamacare. To me. Yeah, that guy — my former orthopedist. For the record, I didn’t decide not to go back simply because he harangued me twice about Obamacare, nor because his head physical therapist had Fox News blaring in the therapy room, where he and some old fart were loudly discussing the shortcomings of the Kenyan BENGHAZI pretender BENGHAZI in front of several other patients, all African-American. No, it was because he suggested that we could lower health-care costs with tort reform. I replied that I thought that question had been settled by medical economists years ago, and that all the fuss over medical malpractice is really over, what? One percent a year? Maybe? At least some of which is caused by truly incompetent doctors?

That earned me a mini-speech about the artificial-joint companies being sued unjustly, and I thought, man, life is too damn short for this. No wonder this guy wants to replace my knees.

And then we went out to dinner. Nothing like contemplating college to raise a powerful thirst for chianti.

So once again I have little to report. My mind is taken with local matters. Except for Dogeweather, of course, which makes me feel equal parts delighted and a moron. Today I was working with Wendy sitting next to me, and she became bothered by something outside. She stood up and looked out the window for a while, hackles raised. All I could think was so hackles and much fierce, in Comic Sans, in color. Yes, I spend too much time online.

Happy Wednesday, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments
 

St. Frozen’s Day.

Sunday was the St. Patrick’s Day parade here in Detroit. It would have been nice to go. but parades have to have at least a minimal festive atmosphere, and it was 9 degrees when I got up and barely nudged above 20 the rest of the day. So much for the parade, then. Maybe next year.

Kate and I went bike-shopping for her; my favorite used-bike shop had a lovely aluminum-frame Trek road bike, like new, on sale for a killer price, and I wanted her to check it out sooner rather than later. She took it around the block and said, upon returning, that it was a nice bike and also that she couldn’t feel her ears: “Not the outside part, the inside.”

We bought the bike. I asked them to install a second set of brake levers on it, and the guy said it might take a few days. Take your time, son; this spring is still a ways down the road.

And that was about as exciting as the weekend got, although it was lovely and restful and included dinner with friends and a trip to the market and the usual activities. The week ahead will be busy and, if all goes well, should fly. I could use a flying week. Also a warm one.

A few bits of bloggage today, starting with the obvious troll bait: The impending death of Fred Phelps. He may well be gone by the time you read this, and I hope it’s a reflection of my state of mind regarding the relative importance of Fred Phelps that I seriously couldn’t care less. I guess the Westboro Baptist Church was remarkable at one point, but they managed to alienate pretty much the entire world, both right-wing warmongers and left-wing gay sympathizers (and left-wing warmongers and right-wing gay sympathizers), and everyone in between. In the end, the Westboro Baptist Church consisted of Phelps and his extended family, and not even that — the news of his health problems was communicated by one estranged son and confirmed by a second estranged son, with the added detail that Phelps himself had been kicked out of his own tiny church sometime last year. So, mission accomplished! You went looking for rancor and found it, and will now die alone with only hospice nurses attending. May this be the last bit of attention paid to them.

More interesting, in terms of high-profile deaths, is Gene Weingarten’s brief appreciation of Joe McGinniss. It is lean and honest and absolutely correct that McGinniss was unfairly maligned by Janet Malcolm in a lengthy New Yorker profile. It also gives credit where it is due, for “Fatal Vision,” McGinniss’ famous, and infamous, examination of the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case. I’ve always said that a writer’s first duty is to tell the truth, and sometime during what was supposed to be a sympathetic examination of the wrongly convicted MacDonald, the writer became convinced otherwise. And so, as Weingarten writes, what was he to do?

What was McGinniss supposed to have done when he realized, midway through the reporting, that the man he was writing about had lied to everyone? That he had killed his wife and older daughter in a rage — and then calmly, methodically hacked to death his sleeping two-year old, stabbing her 33 times with a knife and ice pick, just to strengthen his alibi? Was McGinniss required to dutifully inform the murderer that he now believed him guilty, and invite him to withdraw his cooperation if he wished, possibly killing the book outright, but certainly killing it as a meaningful, enlightening, powerful examination of the mind of a monster?

There is an implicit covenant between a writer and a subject; in return for whatever agreement you might make for the telling of the story, the subject must tell you the truth. If he lies, all deals are off. It is impossible for a subject to be less truthful than Jeffrey MacDonald was with Joe McGinniss: he misrepresented the central fact of his story, his own guilt.

Exactly.

And while we’re tangentially on the subject of God’s feelings about fags, I also recommend this piece about Scott Lively, the American evangelical minister behind Uganda’s draconian anti-gay laws:

Lively is not the only US evangelical who has fanned the flames of anti-gay sentiment in Uganda. As they lose ground at home, where public opinion and law are rapidly shifting in favor of gay equality, religious conservatives have increasingly turned their attention to Africa. And Uganda, with its large Christian population, has been particularly fertile ground for their crusade.

His influence in Uganda is bad enough, but this is the clown behind this charming bit of amateur historical research:

Opponents likened Lively and his colleagues to Nazis and lobbed bricks wrapped in swastika flags through the windows of businesses supporting the measure. OCA’s aggressive campaign, likening gays to pedophiles, was also blamed for a steep uptick in gay hate crimes. In the end, Measure 9 was defeated by a 13-point margin. Undeterred, OCA began promoting measures barring special protections for homosexuals on the city and county levels. Lively, who bristled at the Nazi comparisons, also threw himself into studying the Third Reich and eventually grew convinced that gay men—some of whom occupied senior posts in the Nazi regime—were the driving force behind the Holocaust. “Everything that we think about when we think about Nazis actually comes from the minds and perverted ideas of homosexuals,” he told an Oregon public access television station in 1994.

Surely a closet case himself.

Finally, where is the plane? Where is the plane? And happy St. Patrick’s Day. Hope it’s a little warmer where you are.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 60 Comments
 

Phoned in.

Not much tonight, I fear. Everything got pushed back today because of the snow — Kate’s bass lesson, dinner, the usual. So I don’t have much time tonight before bed will beckon.

Tonight’s low? 1 degree. Fuck me running, as Ashley Morris liked to say. But I’m still swimming tomorrow morning if it kills me. And it may well.

So, linkage:

The economics of the sex industry. Shame on you, Atlanta! You too, Dallas.

Here’s a picture of Kate in New Orleans that I just found on my phone. The ghost of the record store:

kateatrecordstore

And that’s it. Back tomorrow.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' | 49 Comments
 

Here we go again.

OK, OK, I know: Too much bitching about winter this year. But now that we’ve finally had a few days of thaw, when all of the season’s accumulated trash and dog crap and uncollected leaves are daring to emerge — let’s call it The Season of Muddy Paws — guess what’s in store for tonight?

badweather

At this point, I’m too numb to complain. And I’m not entirely convinced this will even arrive; seven inches just feels like garden-variety sky-is-falling weather terrorism at this point, but who knows? I’ve been getting up early to exercise the last couple of weeks, and I’m setting the alarm. Swim today, spin tomorrow. It’s good to start your day knowing you already got the physical jerks out of the way. (EDIT: I turned off the alarm and slept another hour. Not sorry I did, either.)

Yes, it’s another of my occasional flirtations with the pool. It’ll be the best thing ever until it isn’t anymore, but I’m paid up at Kate’s old middle school to swim twice a week for half an hour through the middle of June. Gotta get my money’s worth.

So. The internet exploded yesterday when the video of the president meeting with Zach Galifianakis dropped. You can watch it here if you weren’t one of the 7 million who watched it yesterday. I will cop to laughing, mainly because I’m a longtime fan of public-access television, and “Between Two Ferns” is a better parody than “Wayne’s World” by a long shot. I thought the only thing that could have made it funnier was a piece of freestanding lattice with a light aimed at it, casting shadows on the seamless paper behind them, because Depth. My earliest instruction in television, at WARL, my high school’s closed-circuit station, included lessons in how to add depth to the set, and if ferns weren’t involved, ficus trees were, and yes, there was a lattice. So already I’m giggling, and then the pixelated graphics came up, and without the president opening his mouth, I’m pretty much in his pocket.

Of course, not everyone was. According to Wonkette, Jim Avila of ABC News asked this question at the daily White House press briefing:

“How much discussion was there in the White House about the dignity of the office and whether or not, in order to reach these people who don’t watch us at 6:30, or who don’t watch this briefing … how much the dignity of the office might be lost? This is an interview like no other probably ever done by a president.”

When all else fails, invoke the Dignity of the Office, yes. Because Bill Clinton never played sax with Arsenio Hall, and George Bush didn’t walk an aircraft carrier flight deck in a jumpsuit– or should I say junksuit? And never mind the nominees — Bob Dole in a Viagra commercial and all the rest of it. Yes, by all means, sitting down with a comedian is leagues different from sitting down with Jay Leno, because he’s practically like David Frost, right?

I liked the plaintive little line about “these people who don’t watch us at 6:30,” too. I haven’t watched network TV news in probably decades. It’s not just the kids, Jim.

That Wonkette post includes a great visual punchline, which I encourage you to check out.

OK, so what else? I see a few of you picked up on Neil Steinberg’s excellent blog yesterday, but if you don’t read the comments, you missed it, so click. It’s a second-day column on the reader reactions to his first-day column about guns. Word:

This is, at bottom, a religious issue, if not religious, then certainly a matter of faith. Their faith is not in law, not in God, not in society, but in guns. There is certainly a religious fanaticism to all this. It’s a passion, almost sexual in nature. No wonder they don’t want anyone drawing attention to it. They are like onanists caught in the act, blustering through their embarrassment, hurt and humiliation, shouting at the intruder. Go away. So faith and a kind of twisted psycho-sexual fixation. Guns give comfort and security to people who obviously sorely lack both. You can’t argue that. Guns are owned by people who feel they need guns. I know gun owners on my block. Lots of guns. Yet we live in the same peaceful place. We’ve talked about it. Nobody is going to yank that blankie from them. One reader wrote to me that Obama was to blame for the sale of 100 million guns, and I wrote back asking why, given that he has done absolutely nothing to restrict gun sales and no rational person believes he ever will.

And the reader said, not realizing how right he is: yes, but they were afraid he might.

My favorite silly blog, Animals Talking in All Caps, took a months-long break a while back, while its proprietor moved to Scotland and began a new life there, but it appears to be back, oh it’s back and it’s so, so wonderful.

One for you cat lovers.

Also, don’t miss Ta-Nehisi Coates on the singular gall of Condi Rice and especially — especially — Emily Bazelon, who read the briefs in support the Hobby Lobby birth-control case so the rest of us don’t have to. These people are out there, folks:

The Beverly LaHaye Institute, the research arm of Concerned Women for America, drives home this point, arguing that the government should have considered:

the documented negative effects the widespread availability of contraceptives has on women’s ability to enter into and maintain desired marital relationships. This in turn leads to decreased emotional wellbeing and economic stability (out-of-wedlock childbearing being a chief predictor of female poverty), as well as deleterious physical health consequences arising from, inter alia, sexually transmitted infections and domestic violence.

And so, as the AFLC argues, contraceptives of all kinds aren’t medical or related to health care at all. They are “procedures involving gravely immoral practices.” Protected sex demeans women by making men disrespect them. (Just as Pope Paul VI did decades ago, the AFLC presents this as true inside marriage as well as out.) By separating sex from childbearing, birth control is to blame for the erosion of marriage, for the economic difficulties of single motherhood, and even for the rotten behavior of men who beat their girlfriends and wives. Birth control is the original sin of modernity. Its widespread availability changed everything, for the worse.

Whew. I’ve known some anti-birth control activists in my life. An amazing number had fertility problems in their own marriages. Not too Psych 101 there at all.

The week is at its midpoint! The snow? We shall see..

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 43 Comments
 

New devices.

When we were in New Orleans, a tragedy: A drunk woman lurched past Kate at the Krewe du Vieux parade, sloshing beer onto her phone, which was unfortunately in her front pocket, top-down. The speakers and power port were drowned. And so: New phone shopping today.

She’s a good kid, and she takes care of her things. But I’m damned if I’ll pay a $175 early termination fee for a phone that isn’t even manufactured anymore. The model that came after it isn’t manufactured anymore. And so into a new plan we are swept, which is less money, except when it’s more. Looks like a wash, but the new iPhone was $39 out the door and the data plan is truly insane. And no, I don’t want uVerse or the home security system.

“What do you use for home security?” the salesman asked?

“Light bulbs,” I said, allowing his pitch about the digital locks and timed windows for entry and all the rest of it to wash over me. Someday I might need all that crap, but for now? Light bulbs and common sense — doors are never left unlocked, ground-floor windows ditto and plenty of lights left on. It helps that we don’t have much worth stealing, the great gift of not being rich.

If I were really paranoid, I’d wonder why the people we trust with certain information — the letter carrier who’s not delivering the mail this week, the newspaper carrier ditto — don’t sell it for a cut of the antiques. Maybe because they’re just good people. The world is held up by people who don’t act on actionable information, while we lionize the ones who would steal you blind just because they can. Yes, I’m talking about Wall Street, wolves and all.

Bloggage? Sure.

I need to read more H.P. Lovecraft if I’m going to understand “True Detective,” evidently. There are huge gaps in my sci-fi education, mainly because I dislike the genre in general. So maybe I should concentrate on “War and Peace” or something.

I don’t understand Bitcoin, but this story looks like it’ll take me a ways down the road toward getting it.

Sarah Palin is looking positively strange these days; what’s with the Tammy Wynette hair?

Sorry for lameness, but Tuesdays suck.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' | 65 Comments
 

The Louds.

I forgot to add this detail of the trip: We did Airbnb for the first time. As children get older, it’s harder to travel with them unless you’re a very rich person and can get a second room. When we’re in normal cities, we go for a two-room suite, but a destination city during season? We need an alternative. Airbnb it was.

We ended up with half a shotgun house in the Uptown neighborhood, and that part of it was great; you really do get a different sense of a city when you stay in a neighborhood. Ours seemed to be yuppifying from African-American to brussels sprout-eating hipster. The property next door was being renovated out to the lot line and up into a second floor, and the carpenters arrived at 8 a.m. every morning to BAM BAM BAM for a while, and then leave.

But the main thing was that it was a classic New Orleans shotgun duplex, which meant it was a) small (to live in, that is), and b) loud. Oh, so loud. Our neighbors the first night played their music at top volume, and I mean top volume. I was five minutes from knocking on the door when they went out, only to return at 5 a.m. and STOMP STOMP STOMP around their side for a while. As a means of not going insane, I reflected on other noisy lodgings of my life, both my own and others’. When Alan first took his job here, the paper put him up for a month in a furnished apartment in Royal Oak, where, he reported, the couple in the unit above had loud, scream-y sex every night at 11:08 on the dot; it lasted for just a few minutes and wrapped by 11:15 or so. I recalled neighbors whose arguments I could clearly hear through the walls, babies crying.

When I was a reading tutor, I had to meet my student at her apartment, in a subsidized-housing development in Fort Wayne. It was a warm night, and the overwhelming impression was of the thrumming noise — every window broadcast the sound of television dramas, music, domestic affairs.

I tried to think what it would be like to live next to the Hip-Hop Clydesdales all the time, not just for one night. It made me very grateful I don’t.

Pretty good read in Bridge today, about how a beloved ski resort in northern Michigan became a ruin. Laff line:

But anyone in Leelanau County who wanted local government to condemn and seize the long-shuttered resort faced an uphill battle. The seven-seat County Commission, controlled by small-government, Tea Party activists, expressed concern with Haugen’s efforts to inspect Sugar Loaf, with some citing United Nations conspiracy theories as a basis to thwart economic development plans in general.

Sorry for the late update today. Just flat ran out of gas last night. Fueled by coffee this morning, however, I wish you a great day.

Posted at 8:16 am in Same ol' same ol' | 30 Comments
 

The hangover.

It’s been one of those days, pals. Post-vacation workload, lousy weather, husband with the nastiest cold he’s had in years — just the sneezing makes me cringe — and even Wendy has lost her list. Apparently she went on a bit of a hunger strike at the boarding kennel, and still hasn’t bounced back; she’s sleepy and throwing up now and then, and had an accident in the house today. She’s in that gray zone between take-to-the-vet and let’s-give-her-one-more-day. Yes, she’s had all her shots and no, she doesn’t seem seriously ill. She just feels the way we all seem to, today.

I passed a mirror today and thought, Who is that old bag? I downloaded our vacation pictures from the memory card and thought, The short haircut is NOT working. I know, I know: Poor, poor pitiful me. Grow up. Stop complaining. Do something good for someone else. And consider the alternative. Sooner or later we all end up here:

orphanboys

But the haircut? Not working. Too short:

meandlouis

Louis looks pretty good, though.

Power through this week, and let’s see what the next one brings. I rowed 35 minutes on the erg today and didn’t die. Maybe spring will come. In the meantime, here’s something to warm your black heart: A man who had “been drinking all day” demonstrates to his girlfriend that his weaponry is unloaded, taking three separate handguns, pointing them at his head, and pulling the trigger. You can guess what happened. Hello, Darwin awards.

Tomorrow promises to take me out in the world a little bit. Tomorrow, I predict, will be better. Fingers crossed.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' | 32 Comments
 

Not one crawfish.

I read something remarkable in the New York Times while looking for restaurant recommendations in New Orleans:

Though the city has fewer people than it did before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it has 70 percent more restaurants, according to a count by Tom Fitzmorris, a local expert who does not include fast-food or chain restaurants in his tally.

I believe it. When you announce you’re going there or recently returned, everyone mentions crawfish. Of course you had the etouffe, or the boil, or whatever, at some high-end Creole showplace. Nope. Not even one. This was only my second trip there, and I still remember the disappointment of our meal at Galatoire’s, which we visited more than 20 years ago. Maybe it was a bad night or something, but I have a feeling it has more to do with all that damn tradition. I always remember, poking through a heavy cream sauce at whatever lies beneath, that a lot of the details of classic cuisines evolved because frequently meat and fish arrived in the kitchen in…not the best of shape, shall we say.

(And pardon me for lowering the tone, but I try to remember that whatever I pay for this meal before me, in 12 to 24 hours it will be on its way to the sewage-treatment plant. It puts a $52 lobster thermidor, mentioned in that same NYT story, in perspective.)

So you can have your K-Paul’s and Galatoire’s and Antoine’s and so on. Give me the smaller places which are, in many ways, much closer to the new places popping up in Detroit and all over the country, where the emphasis is on the best local ingredients, imaginatively prepared but lightly messed with. The best thing I ate all week? The shaved brussels sprouts salad at Cochon, one of the hot new places but still requiring less of its diners than the old guard. We ate there with Laura Lippman, a part-time local who knows what’s what. (She also has a new book out, “After I’m Gone,” which I predict you will enjoy very much. More on that later, or maybe later this week.)

We also had good Vietnamese food, Mexican food and yes, Louisiana food — po’boys and red beans and rice and muffalettas and gumbo and beignets and coffee with chicory, because you have to go to Cafe du Monde, that’s like a law. The worst meals were in the French Quarter, because they can get away with it.

We had a nice time. I walked too much and wrecked my feet, but it’s the best way to see the city. We stayed in an Airbnb place Uptown that was sort of a dump, but very economical. It was just a few blocks off Magazine Street, a gentrifying neighborhood with construction going on everywhere. Besides the dozens of new restaurants, there were also vintage clothing shops and bars and clubs and the proverbial music everywhere. I came to appreciate the city’s tolerance of alcohol, because it’s nice to take a beer to go and just stroll and window-shop.

We toured Tulane, which Kate liked well enough to put on her short list. (Notable alumni: Newt Gingrich, Jerry Springer.) We saw a snake slithering across the sidewalk, and gathered this was a pretty typical thing, along with lizards. We tried to get into the storied music clubs on Frenchmen Street, but none would let 17-year-old Kate cross the threshold, even with her parents. Fortunately, there was a great brass band on one of the street corners just tearing it up — four trombones, three trumpets, two drummers and a Sousaphone. We were enjoying a cool sangria at a cafe on the same street two days later when an ambulance pulled up and took an obvious OD out of one of those same bars, so it’s good to know they were keeping the wrong element out.

One day as we were leaving a cab, I noted a pair of men’s pants sitting on the seat. “These yours?” I asked the driver. No, they were from an earlier customer who was “pretty messed up,” he reported in one of those what-can-you-do voices. Bourbon Street has either changed, or I have — it’s almost unbearable after dark. (It was NBA All-Star weekend when we arrived, so it’s possible this amped things up considerably.) We rented bikes and saw parts of Treme and, of course, the Louis Armstrong statue and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and Lafayette Cemetery, in the Garden District. We rode the streetcars all over, even when the city seemed bound and determined to make that as difficult as possible.

We saw a lot, but not everything. You never see everything. That’s why you go back.

And now we’re back. We left behind temperatures in the 70s and missed two significant snow/ice/thundersnow events in Michigan, which left the driveway buried in ice, so much that we literally couldn’t get into our gated back yard when we returned. And just when I think I’ve accepted that it’s cold again but it will soon be as warm as New Orleans, guess what’s coming? Polar Vortex III: The Freezening. I can’t stand it.

But I’m back. Cold, but back.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' | 29 Comments