Fushan kids back in bus

New OrleansMay 2011:
Putting My Feet Up in New Orleans


The next day I did a completely self-guided tour of the Garden District. Right, no head phones, no set of notes, just looked it up on the map and went there alone. Walking Prytania south-west off Felicity, I entered a lovely world of dream houses and gardens, the houses always with porches and colonnades, the gardens lush and beautiful. It all seemed like something from another era, one of grace and comfort but probably social injustice and economic inequality worse than of the present era. I dropped by the Garden District Book Store and bought their one copy of a book of poetry by Charles Bukowski. I liked Bukowski. He always brought me down to earth, even when I found him somewhat absurd. I found the Lafayette Cemetery, which was locked up tight, keeping the living out, the remains of the dead within, and only ghosts free to come and go. And I discovered by accident the Garden District Gallery, which had some interesting pieces with fanciful titles; some, such as the "Stinking Rose," possibly being more interesting than the art itself. I then exited the Garden District on Magazine Street, a "must see" street according to some, and headed straight for a cold but expensive beer at a bar on Magazine that smelled, however, like a potty. The Stinking Toilet? I have forgotten the name of the place. The bartender looked embarrassed about smell. They weren't sure yet of the cause. A leaky gas line or sewer pipe? In any case, it was very malodorous.

The following day I decided it was time to go in search of the Sazerac. So far I had been kind of lazy; I had "my feet up" just a little too much.

I first did some research and discovered that there was a "Sazerac Bar" in New Orleans. It was at the Roosevelt Hotel on Barrone Street, one block south of the French Quarter. I decided to pay the bar a visit.

Seated at the long bar, I ordered their namesake drink and looked around while Caitlin, the bartender, mixed it. The bar is quite lovely, with dark wood and mirrors and Paul Ninas murals.

When Caitlin brought the drink, I asked her about the original Sazerac Coffee House. She tells me she knows of it but doesn't know where it is or was. But she says that if I can wait a bit, she will look it up; the bar has information on the original place. She mixes a few drinks for other customers, then begins shuffling through papers under the cash register. She soon announces the address: "116 Royal Street—in Exchange Alley out back."

Voilą! The information I have been waiting for.

"But I don't think it's there anymore," she adds.

One can always hope.

I try the drink that she has set before me. I don't like it very much but I don't say so. It is without ice and not very cold. I like my drinks cold. She has stirred it with ice in a mixing glass, then strained it into a whiskey glass. I think that is what the original recipe calls for. Later I see from a photo that Chris James at Cafe Claude served it on ice. Incorrect, I suppose, but less strange-tasting. At the Sazerac Bar it reminds me of medicine, perhaps as Peychaud intended.

I thank Caitlin for the information and go in search of Exchange Alley in back of 116 Royal.

I find a 114 Royal but no 116. To the left on Royal, the numbers skip to 120. I see a Holiday Inn with its parking lot in the location where 116 should be. I look into the parking lot. It goes straight back to an alley. I walk down Royal, around the corner, and find Exchange Alley. I walk to the rear side of the Holiday Inn Parking lot. I hesitate, then walk in. There is guy sitting on a bench in the middle by the south wall. I sit down. I'm not sure whether he is the lot attendant or what.

Finally, I ask, "Do you work here?"

"Nah," he says, "I'm jus' puttin' my foot up."

In New Orleans, people often use the singular of foot, rather than the plural, even when they mean both feet. As one young lady explained to me, it is a further form of laziness found in the Big Easy.

I ease back on the bench and put my foot up too. I start feeling like a local or a vagrant, which may be about the same thing. Anyway, it is a good feeling and one easily adopted.

"You remember what was here before the Holiday Inn?" I ask as indifferently as I can.

"Restaurant, I think," he says.

"Maybe a coffee house?" I ask.

"Could be," he says scratching his ankle.

I scratch my ankle too.

"Doesn't really matter but you remember when?" I ask.

"'bout 1960, I think," he says. "I been around here a long time."

His name is Marc. I am curious about him but hesitant to use the "work" word more than once in the same conversation these days. It is a sensitive word and can cause great pain to some people who hadn't seen much of the stuff in a long time. I use the word "do" leaving the question more open:

"Whatcha do?" I ask trying to sound casual about it.

Historical note: This conversation took place several months before the Occupy Wall Street protests began, the first on 17 September 2011 at Zuccotti Park in New York City and spreading to many other cities. The Occupy protests brought about a shift in attitude about being unemployed; people who previously felt embarrassed or humiliated about not having a job became angry about it.

"Nothing at all right now," he say. "You know, there ain't a lot of work these days."

He is onto my question. I feel embarrassed. "Right, right, right," I mutter.

I mention Peychaud and his apothecary shop. He doesn't know anything about Peychaud but he tells me there is an historical pharmacy down the street.

I thank Marc for the information and ask if I might present him with a small gift since he is not currently very active. He says that would be a very nice thing indeed. I give him a fiver and leave.

I go down the street in search of the historical pharmacy, but it turns out it is one block over on Chartre and is closed. I decide to come back the next day.


Peychaud Who?