New Orleans shows fervor and flavors

The Chartocks just returned from visiting Great Barrington native Jonas Chartock, who now lives down in the Big Easy. New Orleans is a great town with some of the best food, football and music in America.

Jonas kindly invited us to a party with some of his friends who were watching the Saints win one of the biggest games of the year. The room was filled with thirtysomethings, and every time the Saints made a good play the 20 people sitting there made enough noise to wake the New Orleans dead, who are preserved above, rather than below, the ground.

Jonas, whom I suspect is a Patriots fan, would play an interesting role. As the referees were being booed and called every name in the book for blowing a call, he would calmly and lovingly tell his friends why the refs were right and why a particular play would be called against the crowd. He would explain to them, “I wish I was wrong, but I think I’m right.” That takes guts. These people are real fans, and every once in a while you know how things can occasionally get out of hand at an international soccer match. People can get hurt or killed.

New Orleans is a sports town. Everywhere one walked, people would say, “Go Saints.” Not only was there a Saints professional game, but two nights later there was an LSU (Louisiana State) game against the hated Alabama team. While the locals were delighted that the Saints won their game, LSU got clobbered.

The senior Chartocks declined the honor of going to watch the LSU game at yet another giant-screen television party.

I began to think about the relationship between sports and war. Football does have some interesting facets to it. These people really hammer each other. I needn’t tell you that a football player’s chances of ending up sustaining a serious injury in the line of duty are quite pronounced. I personally think it would be a good idea to ban the game altogether. Hey, we make people wear seatbelts, so the idea of allowing these modern gladiators to continue doing damage to one another is just wrong. The fact that we allow this so-called sport in our high schools and colleges doesn’t speak highly of how we value our kids.

In addition to being a sports town, New Orleans is a foodie’s paradise. We ate until we almost exploded. There were oysters on the half-shell complete with pearls. There were buckets of boiled shrimp. There were beignets. And there was incredible coffee.

We made it to Commander’s Palace, one of the toughest places to get into in the city. People fight for the right to feed four people for the price of a very good lawn mower. The lawn mower you can have for years. The meal, well, the meal doesn’t last all that long.

The food was quite good, but the service made me nervous. It was over the top. When you walk in, all the servers, bus persons and maitre d’-type people greet you, but somehow you get the feeling that they don’t really mean it. I’ll take the service at Castle Street or Café Adam, where you get the feeling that the servers are sincere. Plus, there is nothing worse than a server hanging over as you examine a wine list featuring bottles that would cost you $1,000 or more.

We also took a wonderful tour — we were the only ones on the bus — that lasted for three hours and were told the story of Hurricane Katrina. The remnants of that great storm are still visible. You are left at the end thinking that no matter what they do to protect the city, it could happen again.

We’ve been to New Orleans a lot, and it is a perfect place to go and enjoy the best jazz in the country. But maybe you should skip the lawn mower.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/14/12


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