Thursday, February 24, 2011

O.K., Go Ahead and Call Us Tourists

Today we did what most visitors to New Orleans do. We went to Café du Monde for beignets and café au lait. But there is no more enjoyable way to take a break in the middle of the afternoon, to rest your feet, and to acquire a sugar rush.

The café, open on three sides to the outdoors with a green canopy roof, was established in 1862 in New Orleans’ French Market and is a traditional coffee shop. “It is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, except for Christmas Day and days when ‘the occasional hurricane passes too close to New Orleans’…Due to Hurricane Katrina, the shop closed at midnight on August 27, 2005. Although it suffered only minor damage, it remained closed for nearly two months. Owners took advantage of the low traffic time afterwards to refurbish the eating areas and kitchens” (

Its menu consists of dark roasted coffee and chicory, beignets, white and chocolate milk, and fresh squeezed orange juice. The coffee is served black or au lait (mixed half and half with hot milk).

What is a beignet, you might ask. They are square-shaped French donuts that are liberally—almost excessively—dusted with powdered sugar. After your first visit to the café, you learn two important lessons regarding the proper devouring of a beignet. First, never wear dark clothes. Second, refrain from sneezing while moving the beignet from plate to mouth.

And proving again that in New Orleans if you wait five minutes a party will come to you, the sidewalk just beyond the canopy is a favorite spot for local roaming musicians.

That afternoon, we enjoyed the music of Robert Harris, a trombonist/vocalist who serenaded us with, among other selections, “St. James Infirmary,” “Moon River,” “Cabaret,” “Blue Moon,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and—of course—“When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Chuck, a former trombonist himself, commented: "Those tones (of Mr. Harris) were beautifully round and mellow, . . . mine were pretty square and harsh. He's very good."

We left Café du Monde and passed a line of mule-drawn carriages lined up on the south side of Jackson Square. Business was slow today.

We then headed up to the river. Whereas "up" would usually refer to a direction, i.e., north or upstream, when referring to a river, here in the French Quarter, "up" means going up a flight of stairs to the top of the levee to see the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi is actually above the street level of the Quarter, although it was not as apparent today, since the river seemed a bit low. Traffic, however, appeared to be as heavy as usual.

Docked nearby at the base of Canal Street was the steamboat Natchez. An authentic steamboat paddlewheeler, the Natchez offers dinner jazz and harbor cruises.

As we boarded the Riverfront Streetcar to the French Market, we had the feeling of having visited a friend who had been very ill, but who was beginning to return to her old form.

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