MUSINGLY By Karen D'Or

Writing Portfolio, Travel Stories & Other Diversions

Tag: family stories

Falling down in NOLA

September 9, 2016:

 On a sweltering Friday, a year ago today, I briskly packed boxes — alongside Larry and the guys from Precision Moving — to get stuff out of a crumbling house in New Orleans. 

Fortunately, it wasn’t a natural disaster like a flood or hurricane, but it was our family disaster that could have been a tragedy. On August 28, 2015, a 22-year-old drunk hit our house while driving 80 miles per hour, knocking it off a brick-pier foundation (that had survived major hurricanes) and cracking the house in two.

School in New Orleans starts in August and my teacher daughter and her teacher friend/roommate had to be back at work in their classrooms after a few days off; they needed me to move their stuff out of a dangerously precarious home.

Each of them was suffering PTSD from the crash, as well as other whip-lash related injuries, caused by the truck ramming into the living room wall and throwing them four feet off the couch that fateful night.

Fortunately, no one in the house was maimed or killed, but the ramifications of that drunk driver’s mayhem were felt across the entire neighborhood: debris from the crash injured bystanders on the sidewalk, electric poles cracked in half causing power outages for thousands, and several parked cars were totaled.

August 28, 2015

Our little family house near the muddy Mississippi, bought just six months earlier, was in shambles.

Not surprisingly (when you see this photo) it was a year-long struggle to heal from the horrors of that night.

My musingly blog, my New Orleans travel writing, my creative expressions have all been sorely neglected since the accident. (My brilliant cousin suggested that I keep a journal about this incident, and its implications, but I was too distracted with insurance firms, attorneys and builders to keep that commitment.)

So, dear musingly readers, I hope you stay with me for a series of much-needed musings on the year-long saga of healing and rebuilding.

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Eating Off Your Plate

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Food loving friends and family contributed to my delicious and libationary 2013. Here are some of the highlights of a plentiful year:

Sharing Food.The joy of sharing food together reflects on the quality of the friendship. My daughter, Robyn, jokes that our family has a tendency to eat off of each other’s plates, uninvited. Perhaps that is odd, but the gracious and intentional sharing of food can deepen most relationships. I wrote about sharing a leisurely meal with a dear friend earlier this year in the Redd Meet post.

Sharing my love of New Orleans. The April 2013 trip (it was dear friend Liz’ first time in NOLA) was described in my previous post: Restaurant and Bar Reviews 2013. So much laugher, great music and delectable experiences during her inaugural visit. My second trip (Thanksgiving 2013) had a number of food and drink highlights, many of which I reported on chow.com NOLA board, one of my favorite online places with some of the best overall discussions about food anywhere. Chowhound NOLA is so entertaining and convivial that not one, but two, of my chow correspondents astutely “ambushed” me on the November trip.

Sharing success. My daughter’s dear friend, Carrie also has her own fun and informative blog Consumedbycarrie.com. She also makes an awesome chocolate chess pie!

Sharing skills. I went to our local Sur La Tableto get some new skills. “Wives with Knives” is an enactment-style TV show on ID, but mayhem was not my purpose in taking the basic knifing class. I am seeking additional confidence as a cook because, frankly, I think it will make be a fitter foodie. Although I was not very coordinated in the class, I have been more adventurous in the kitchen and have committed zero crimes with my new Kyocera ceramic chef’s knife.

Sharing hobbies. In 2013, my husband and I we realized we had made a great trade: I become a true baseball fan – hanging in there for an abysmal season – and my husband had opened his mind and stomach to fine food. Here are our a few of our new favorite spots around ATT Park in San Francisco.

Marlowe: http://marlowesf.com/  Wonderful post-game comfort food

Zare Fly Trap: Mediterranean cuisine with modern Persian influence. Delightful pre-game, had a great meal with Mimi this summer. http://www.zareflytrap.com/about_us.html 606 Folsom Street

83 Proof: A wonderful neighborhood bar http://www.83proof.com/ 83 First Street between Mission and Market.

With 2014 adventures in the planning stage, I hope to read the great food writers, get creative in my recipes –- and make sure to grab a few bites off of everyone’s plate!

 

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

No Moldy Pillows: A Night in San Francisco

My husband and I were looking forward to our San Francisco date night – an early  celebration of my birthday — for a couple of weeks. Focused around my obsession with 1760, a new hot dining spot Polk Street, we wangled a 7:45 dinner reservation, nabbed an inexpensive Union Street hotel, and even scouted out a couple of street fairs featuring a plethora of local SF bands.

 As middle-agers with obligations, there are logistics in getting away from home – even for one night. Accordingly…

..the dog went to the kennel,

I packed an overnight bag,

made an egg-white omelet, and then….

…my dear Bob wobbled down the stairs in the throes of a very sore throat.

After he finished sipping a large mug of hot coffee and attempted to clear stubborn sinuses under a warm shower, he bravely decided to go forward with the Saturday night plans.

After a quick stop at the beauty store (where I got them to glue some fuzzy eyelashes on correctly) we headed straight for the Mission District, a thriving neighborhood that bustled intriguingly on a bright October afternoon. On Valencia Street we stumbled upon Bar Tartine. The bistro had been on my list of “to-dos” for a while, but I assumed we’d just grab a quick taco at the street fair. However, I was hungry, and Bar Tartine’s menu looked friendly and fun. The thoughtful hostess got us in quickly at the tail end of their Saturday brunch — and we were not disappointed.

Over drinks Bob recalls that, during the 1980s, he had success finding cheap apartments in the Mission. This luck scoring great living spaces was one of his prime attractions to San Francisco, and was in stark contract to his experience in Chicago, where, in spite of being a native, he couldn’t quite get launched.

And here we were, in a fancy lunch spot ordering a beet Mimosa and a Prickly Pear punch cocktail.

Well, Bob ordered the latter. My husband is one of the only people I know who picks a cocktail off a menu even when he does not recognize any of the multi-syllable ingredients. He sees the word “punch” and thinks a sweet pear-flavored party drink.  Not so with this prickly pear concoction. As I am quickly drinking my bright, pink, refreshing Mimosa, he grimaces after one gulp of his pale orange brew:

“Tastes like a moldy pillow that’s been in a basement for six months.”

The Bar at Bar Tartine San Francisco

The Bar at Bar Tartine
San Francisco

Because of his cold, and his vivid description, I did not try The Moldy Pillow cocktail—however, as I glanced over Bob’s shoulder, towards the bar, I saw a waitress toss the very same drink down the bar sink.

Nevertheless, Bar Tartine was wonderfully delicious in a welcoming spot in the heart of the Mission.  We split the Everything Sandwich, a hearty two-hander on freshly baked and toasted bread filled with lox, fancy cream cheese (quark), crisp lettuce, capers, fresh tomato and herbs.

Our tiny hotel was on Union Street not far from Van Ness Avenue, a great location for a low-key Russian Hill evening. Free parking in San Francisco is like manna from heaven, and $170 per night price tag is below average. So, although the hotel décor was shabby, and our wall heater inoperable, we rather liked the Pacific Heights Inn for its comfy bed, great location, and generous parking policy. Once in a safe spot in the Inn’s parking lot, our car stayed put until our ride home the next day!

Putting our feet up for a short respite, Bob quietly watches the World Series game while I read my novel about a pirate queen who kidnaps a gourmet chef.  Soon its time to walk the half-mile to 1760 Polk street, passing busy bars filled with baseball fans and Halloween revelers.

1760 has perfect modern ambiance with low-level lighting, plenty of brushed steel and well placed glass and mirrors. The restaurant is busy with a charming intimacy that comes from smooth operations and confident staff. The timing of the entire evening was impeccable, and our lovely Isabella had no trace of the San Francisco over cool wait attitude. She cared as did her fellow servers and bus-people.

1760 subscribes to the small (shared) plate model, and Isabella was quite clear explaining which were the larger and which were the smaller, appetizer-like plates on the menu. After ordering two great cocktails (Bob sanely ordered a mango/rum drink and I had chose the wonderful bourbon-based buck), we opted for two small plates, two large plates and one dessert. Soon an amuse bouche of celery topped with a pungent bleu cheese arrived and was quickly gobbled up.

Our favorite dish was next: Dungeness crab “siracha.” This artful salad of very fresh crab, tiny dots of siracha around the plate, with nuances of celery and yuzu fruit is a perfect starter, so perfect we nearly re-ordered prior to dessert.  Next out (timing was perfect) was Crispy Octopus and Squash Ravioli and both were excellent.

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

 I had my second bourbon Buck.

Knowing we wanted to finish this lovely evening off with the right sweet, we went back to the menu for warm pears and goat cheese friseé salad alongside a Milk Chocolate Ganache plated with hickory ice cream, bourbon caramel, and marshmallow. We certainly had enough food but 1760’s sweet finale was a complimentary Brown Butter Sponge Cake, apple-bourbon gelato and cheesecake mousse birthday dessert.

Our evening finished up at The Royal Oak bar for a nightcap. The Addams Family Values movie was playing on the big screen TV, and all around the young locals were dressed up as pirates and Wookies. Even the Pope was there.

Bob & A Pope

Bob & A Pope

 Glad the festivities culminated a few days prior to my birthday: with an ill husband, a rushed work project going sour, and the age of 57 hard for me to grasp, the rest of my birthday week has felt quite like a Moldy Pillow.

 

 

Cycling Back Through Nice

Cycling Back Through Nice

In the tiny Cote d’Azur town of Agay, the tired brown brick hut that was once the rail station is shuttered, and the single plastic overhang on the far side of the rails doesn’t offer much shelter as a soft rain begins. Bullet trains race past the platform. My husband and I find cover alongside well-dressed strangers, both of us hoping we haven’t missed the coastal train bound for Cannes, Antibes, and Nice. A little before eleven o’clock in the morning, second class tickets in hand, we embark the #3 TER (Transport Express Regional) train, settle in with a late-morning picnic of baguette and prosciutto, and watch out our window as the red ravine landscapes give way to famous port-filled colonies.

Red mountains above Agay, France

Red mountains above Agay, France

This is our second visit to Nice, and as the train nears the central station, I’m struck by the city’s urbanity: freeways, indistinguishable chain hotels, and gray apartment buildings congregate on the city’s outskirts before the train veers north and enters the downtown station. I know that Nice is France’s fifth largest city, and the country’s second most popular city for tourists, but this second entrance is startling, for I recall a very different arrival back in 1998: we arrived from Venice on a summer night train, with two teenagers– his son, my daughter. That first journey was only one year after I married Bob and our family was just forming, and still fragile.

It was a steamy August night, on an express overnight train chugging through tiny countries that still had kings. I awoke early, exhausted from a sleep interrupted by Italian porters who roused Bob and I repeatedly to check our documents as our children slept. (Predictably, we hadn’t loaded enough lire on our family rail pass, but after handing over all the bills we had, we were allowed back to our sleeping car.) Disheveled and groggy, I snuck out of our compartment, and tiptoed down the corridor to the vestibule window to find one of those transcendental travel sights: an ochre-hued Mediterranean sunrise illuminated sandstone apartment buildings perched between the narrow sea cliffs and the rail tracks. I lingered there alone, as the train crawled slowly toward the edges of Nice, and caught intimate glimpses of lush backyard patios, and men in yellow hard-hats getting ready to start the work day.

On that long-ago trip, Nice welcomed us with butter-pastry mornings, afternoons watching pretty sunbathers while their children negotiated the waves, long evenings trying out exotic gelato flavors, and warm nights at the quirky Hotel Canada, a divey apartment-style hotel, just two blocks from the city’s rocky beach. Nice seemed to me manageable, family-friendly and quite middle class.

I am hoping to recapture the achingly beautiful memories of that summertime “grand tour” when our teens were obedient, and still curious about grown-up beverages like coffee and red wine. All these years later— our young adult children now off on their own exotic travels — Bob and I arrive in the same Nice Ville train depot, but this time the platform looks cavernous and unwelcoming. We each drag our bags through squeaky metal turnstiles, the rooftop rattling as the storm begins to intensify.

It is only noon and already we are arguing about the best way to get to our hotel.

Approaching an empty taxi, we interrupt the driver’s lunch break — he holds a fragrant plate of rice and lamb — asking hesitantly if he can take us the scant mile to our hotel. With the grace of an expert, our driver guides us through a harrowing twenty-minute trip, a scene of streets brimming with rainwater, erratic streetlights, and shopkeepers shuttering their doors. Paul tells us this is a particularly violent September storm. At the hotel, drenched tourists who were huddling in the doorway jump out to grab his cab, but our driver firmly turns them away to go home for the day, “You are my last customers, it’s not safe!” he tells us as I hand him our Euros, and Bob wrestles our still-damp luggage onto the curb.

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Six-Year-Old-Karen

Gray Matter

“People will treat you differently,” said my hairstylist, Robert.

I’m face-up in a tortuous salon chair, my neck vulnerable like I’m lying upside down in a guillotine. Robert is a hair color artist and a tolerant man, so I’m shocked and feeling defensive. I’ve decided to stop dying my hair.

It was a visceral decision after watching Emmylou Harris sing on a warm July night. Wondering if I’m the only one with this gut reaction, I size up the trendy brewery’s crowd. Truly, I can’t take my eyes off of Emmylou for long— she’s a 66-year-old alt-country goddess who brings me to tears with her otherworldly, twang-tinged voice. There are plenty of gray hairs in the crowd, though none match hers.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris

Her hair is long, full, lightning-colored, and fitting for a stunning music icon. She’s dressed in a short black tunic, maroon cowgirl boots, strumming a very large acoustic guitar. My hair won’t ever look like Emmylou’s, but the vision is too tempting — right then and there, I decide no more color, no more highlights, nor more lowlights. Done.

I realize the source is somewhat suspect, but a 2008 Clairol® study says that 75 percent of American women dye their hair, and 88 percent of them feel their hair impacts their confidence. Of course it impacts confidence. We’ve got How to Not Look Old author Charla Krupp —a young, blond style expert — saying things like, ‘Go gray at your own risk…Going gray is step one of letting yourself go.” She goes on, in a Today Style interview[1], “Women cannot afford to go gray in this economy.”

I’ve been coloring my hair for nearly three decades.  Since entering the business world in my twenties, I’ve shopped stylists trying to find that perfect blond color: the match for my six-year-old shiny, streaky, out-in-the-sun all day hair.

Six-Year-Old-Karen

Six-Year-Old-Karen

I’ve done box color, bargain salons, and upscale salons, with a spectrum of results. For the three years before the Emmylou epiphany, Robert got it just right. He is a master. And so it was understandable that Robert doubted I would stick with my pledge to unblond.  He was not the only one. My best friend thought I would look like a raccoon, or maybe it was a skunk. My husband was supportive, but when he and I were courting even he colored his hair! My daughter saw me, after six months, and she called the look “ombre.”

I haven’t colored for almost a year. There have been some awkward, too-short haircuts, as Robert impatiently axed the old color. I struggle with the texture, trying to tame wirier, un-dyed hair. The transition went by quickly: now the salon women offer compliments when I walk in, and tell me that gray is the newest color for Hollywood starlets. Robert, once skeptical, is now proud.

Of course, I miss Blond Karen. Her hair was often very big. She was a sexy cocktail with a smart shot back, although sometimes she hid her true talents behind that hair.  Now, I have these silver-grey-blond-mercury colored strands. Thinner, harder to handle, I love my true color.

If people are treating me differently, I cannot tell. In fact, the only person whose behavior has changed radically is Robert. He doesn’t even spend half the time he used to with me.

Krewe of Barkus Great Dane

From No Cal to NOLA

It all changed when my daughter and her wild-eyed cat, Lucy, moved from Sonoma County to New Orleans last year. I became a foodie, I got hooked on accumulating hotel points and airline miles, and I even went to  “Da Track” on Thanksgiving day. My new love affair with vibrant, enchanting New Orleans — so very different from sedate, bucolic Sonoma County — woke up a slightly more tawdry, “laissez le bon temps” side of this native Californian.

With my expatriate child happily employed as a first grade teacher in New Orleans’ historic Tréme neighborhood, we explore great dining spots outside French Quarter. We venture out to many neighborhoods, and continue to find surprising gems: Bywater BBQ meccas; Marigny storefront spots with non-stop music; “Da Track” at the fairgrounds Mid-City – the place to be on Thanksgiving Day!

Ahh the bistros! Whether it’s French, American or New Louisianan, New Orleans know how to treat visitors right in a bistro setting; we enjoy Uptown’s Coquette, Patois, and Lillette. Not only are their dishes delicious, but each spot pulls off signature cocktails, upbeat service, and their own special take on beignets or bread pudding.

For my first February visit, I arrive well before Fat Tuesday hoping to avoid craziness.

Barkus Great Dane

Barkus Great Dane

I quickly learn that Mardi Gras is not a day but I season. So, I catch plenty of parades, and beads. Hint: when New Orleans gets the occasional cold rain and wind folks on the floats throw ENTIRE bags, not strands, of beads. No disrobing required: just plenty of wet, cold, bag-of-bead projectiles to be had.

Thankfully, in Armstrong Park on a warm Sunday afternoon, we find the annual Mystic Krewe of Barkus parade, a zany costume showcase of NOLA’s dogs… and their owners. 

Thank goodness we have portable camp chairs with drink holders: we warm up in the Louisiana sunshine, drink Bloody Marys, and watched the greyhounds, the sheepdogs, the poodles, and my favorite – the Great Dane with “jester” paws.

The Barkus krewe has a good heart. The newly-crowned Queen Maggie is stunning rescued retriever whose was left alone for two weeks after her owner passed away. Queen Maggie is success story from a city that has come back from the brink. I’ll return for Mystic Krewe of Barkus next year with the hopes of seeing more of New Orleans’ triumphs.

 

Hellgate 1999

Camping With Sheryl Crow

Dancing in a stodgy music hall usually filled with symphony-lovers, I’m reminded of the summers Sheryl Crow went camping with us. Although she says this is her first time in Santa Rosa, I know she traveled with us to dusty, obscure backwater campgrounds we found— often by chance— at the end of a hot day in a cramped car.

Sheryl, with her mighty soprano pop notes and husky red-wine lower range, was a great traveling companion. Four very strong personalities were trying to make sense of this new “blended” family, and its clumsy, rustic camping traditions. Sheryl’s music would surprise us, telling stories of Las Vegas and Santa Monica Boulevard.

She brought along sleazy characters all longing for escape, or love, or both.

1994 was the year Bob and I moved in together, and was our first year camping together as a family. We went to Alpine County, new territory. It was Sheryl’s breakout year with Tuesday Night Music Club. I recall Bob telling our children –Travis was 9, Robyn 10 – that the “Leaving Las Vegas,” and “All I Wanna Do” stories were not Sheryl’s literal life experiences, but rather her ability to become the fictional narrators of the songs. I was so very grateful he explained this, because I, too, was befuddled about the lifestyle of our favorite songstress.

But whether she was a dancer from Nevada or a barfly in LA, it didn’t matter. She knew, and still knows, how to weave her fragility, her strength, her independence, and her unending longing for love through a masterful blend of blues, folk, pop and rock’n’roll songs.

In 1997, Sheryl accompanied us to a rainy Stanislaus campground with “Change (Would Do You Good).” We followed her advice, headed out of the rain north into Yosemite, singing: “Every Day is a Winding Road.” It was great trip. We fished, rubber-rafted the river, and hiked to the uppermost Mariposa Grove of redwoods. The summer flu cut the trip short, but Sheryl got us home with ”Sweet Rosalyn.”

Hellgate 1999

Hellgate 1999

In 1999, on a trip to Hellgate campground, she brought us “The Difficult Kind” from The Globe Sessions (which sadly she did not perform at her concert). Sheryl’s deep throaty sadness in the foreground, and dramatic back-up harmonies behind tell a heart-wrenching story of love gone sour; I insisted we play it over and over and over again.

I memorized the melody and Robyn, with her magnificent voice and an uncanny ear, picked up the harmony. The song became our daily anthem making the journey difficult for our tolerant male traveling companions. For those were pre-iPod road trips; music experiences had to be shared in a more communal and participatory way. We listened and sang together. It was better that way.

But good news: Sheryl seems very happy and relaxed. She is supposed to be a perfectionist, so the small Santa Rosa venue helped her feel “she could do what she wanted” and even “mess up.” As she performed, she paid particular attention to a couple of ten-year-old fans in the front row. I hope those youngsters have the chance to take her camping.

But mostly, selfishly, I hope that — before my children move far away and get too busy — we can take Sheryl Crow on a road trip, again, someday.

© 2009 Karen D’Or

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