So I arrived nice and early in NOLA Airport ("We're Jazzed You're Here!") relieved to know that I had a friend to meet me at the airport, xray2000. Of course, he was not the first face I saw. Now, I wouldn't exactly call the three ladies I bumped into at the airport familiar faces, but one can't help but strike up a friendly conversation when two of the three people waiting at the baggage claim are wearing shirts that say "I LEFT MY HEART AT SPINNER'S END" and "SNAPE IS OUR PRINCE". I was like, "Yes! Friends!"
Of course, I can call them friends now. Ray extended his hospitality to all of us, and Amy, Mary Beth, Stephanie and I loaded into his car to make the ride into the city. New Orleans Factoid #1: Ray told me that the yellow line that runs along the highway walls and buildings several meters above the ground is actually the water line from the flood. Astounding when you see firsthand the evidence of a city underwater...
After checking in at the Sheraton and a brief break so I could straighten my hair (which was a stupid idea considering how humid it was - just wait till you see the pics) Ray, Stephanie, and Mary Beth and I went out on the town with Ray as our distinguished tour guide. Poor guy had to put up with me and all my nagging questions about the architecture, culture, and post-Katrina drama, and to boot, he treated me to lunch. So I have to highlight this bit especially:
I ATE MY FIRST MUFFALETTA.
Seriously there are no words in creation to depict that edible wonderfulness. Layers of Italian meats including Pastrami, Proscuitto, and Pancetta with Provolone cheese topped with a jumble of the kind of pickled and brined olives and veggies that my Sicilian grandmother used to buy. All between two slices of bread roughly the size of my head. Ray and I split one, his treat (gentleman that he is), and henceforth I was in such a flippin' wonderful mood that even my distended belly couldn't dampen it. Wisely, he suggested we do a bit of walking before we went over for some of New Orleans' famous Beignets. These pictures, courtesy of xray2000, are from that lovely stroll around the coastal bit of the French Quarter:
Me with dhm_yolanda, bewarethesmirk, and kaneunwrapped as we embark down Decatur Street (I think it's Decatur Street...)
...and in front of St. Louis Cathedral. I'm the one with the hair out of a White Snake video.
The fellow I'm talking to above is a local artist. When we happened upon him, he was drawing a picture of two [deceased] NASCAR drivers using a combination of regular graphite pencils, Prismacolor markers, and Sharpies. Intrigued and gobsmacked at his talent, we struck up a conversation, in which he informed us that his original artwork usually goes for hundreds of dollars, and waxed poetic about his commitment to his craft. Seriously, he made me cry just to hear him talk about how much he wants his artwork to mean something to people. One of the pieces he had on display was called "Tears of Katrina" and depicted a gender/race/age-ambiguous person weeping over the Superdome (which we had driven past on our way in). He wanted to show the universal nature of the tragedy in New Orleans after the hurricane. Effing incredible to see how well he succeeded in that task.
Ultimately, we made it to Cafe DuMonde - an outdoor cafe known for its incredible Beignets. If you've never had a Beignet, you have not lived. Little doughy pillows of sugar-dusted happiness... ah, you can't go wrong! During our time at the cafe, we made a couple of crucial observations: 1) One beignet is simply not enough and 2) one should never, EVER sneeze while holding a beignet unless one is keen to have powdered sugar all over themselves and everyone else at the table. Children were vacating the area looking like they'd been attacked by a rabid sack of flour. I'm just sayin'.
Yet another shot of us from a little ways away. Note the dude standing just to the left of us on the sidewalk. He has an incredible singing voice and makes a living singing on the street for money. Don't ask me to explain how on earth that makes sense in the grand scheme of things, because I can't. He should probably be making millions cutting records, but instead, he's singing to us - a few tourists who forgot that New Orleans is a cash-friendly destination and street performers don't take debit. I wish I could have done more to let him know how much I enjoyed his rendition of "Book of Love".
The same crew beside the grand ol' Mississippi river - again, courtesy of xray2000. Speaking of Ray... where the hell is he in these pictures?!
There he is! (On the left) Also, I apparently have to get to the bathroom STAT.
Now, while all this is going on, I'm keeping close tabs on the cell phone. Robert and Josh of SpellCast were on their way in from the airport and I was anxious to see them. The last time I'd seen Robert was at Lumos2006 (back when SpellCast was sort of still in its conceptual stages) and though we'd recorded a lot of segments and spoken on Skype fairly often, I'd never met Josh in person before. To say I was excited to see them was an understatement.
Once they arrived, the rest of us made our way back into the hotel. As per usual, I immediately got lost on my way up to their room, seeing as one set of elevators only went to the top floors, and the other set went to the floors below. But once I got there, it was a big old SpellCast reunion! Robert unfortunately had had something of a rough flight experience, but was remarkably cheery all things considered, and Josh was actually pretty much as I imagined him - animated and enthusiastic about being there. After some time catching up/going through introductions, we met up with the lovely Phoenix Rising folks who were accommodating us for our live Podcast Play and show, and found Dianne, our fabulous SpellCast staffer! (She has the most interesting accent I think I've ever heard - a cross between British and... Bostonian?!) I won't bore you with the details of sound equipment and pre-registration and whatnot, but ulitmately we got through it with time to meet up with Kim and Abbe of SpinnersCast and go to dinner!
Let me just say that Kim and Abbe are hilarious, and I had no idea how much fun we would have hanging out with them. Abbe is a Cordon Bleu chef, so I was totally on board when she suggested a place to eat. "Mother's" was a few blocks away, and she had a van, so Kim, Abbe, Robert, Josh, and I loaded up for the trip.
Dude. It was a sort of nondescript location, but as soon as their food touched our lips there was no doubt as to whether it was a good idea to hit up Mother's for some authentic New Orleans cuisine. Abbe wisely got a bit of everything, while the rest of us chose random stuff off the menus that we'd heard of but never tried before; my pick was Jambalaya.
And Oh Holy Heck. That was seriously the best stuff EVAR. Spicy and buttery, this sausage, chicken, and rice concoction was the very definition of awesome. I have a feeling everyone else enjoyed their choices - the quote of the evening was made by Abbe when she said with "debris"-filled Poboy in hand, "I'm gonna make love to this sandwich and I'm gonna make you watch!"
Here's everyone ('cept me, since I'm taking the picture) in front of Mother's!
Having arrived very, very early, I was surprised at how many connections I was able to make the day before Phoenix Rising registration actually started. Later that night, stomach filled and fit to burst, we spontaneously ran into the fab and glam ladies from The Quidditch Pitch and, dude - they invited us along for a New Orleans French Quarter scavenger hunt! I REALLY WISH I'd gotten a picture of us all that night as we rushed around Bourbon street in search of the Voodoo Museum, but I had the great fortune of hanging out for the first time with redblaze, tqpannie. dream_wia_dream, simons_flower, madam_minnie, enelya_oronar, and probably others whose LJ names I have yet to learn! And when Josh and I found out that there was karaoke on the list of scavenger hunt items, we probably made a big spectacle of ourselves as we rushed down the block to the Cat's Meow.
Regrettably, we never got to sing. But we did get down with our bad selves in the presence of some fabulous QP folks! (And besides, though we didn't know it then, we'd definitely get another chance to sing on stage!)
We got back quite late that night, but we had an unbelievable first night in New Orleans. As I kicked off my shoes and opened the enormous window to look out upon the vast expanse that was New Orleans, I could tell this was going to be one hell of a trip, and it had only just begun! :)
Talk about a room with a view.
And so ends Day One! Ahead:
*Phoenix Rising opens with more reunions, programming, and Dateline NBC FTW!
*Taking over the fourth floor piano with Josh, Robert, Amber, Linda, and Dianne!
Thanks for reading! :)