Oh, yes, it IS Fat Tuesday and that is a day of absolute deliciousness.
So in honor of Fat Tuesday and the Big Easy, we offer up a tasty bit of Amy Thigpen’s yummy look at Maw Maw and the Treme and the steamy music scene in “the City that Care Forgot.” This is just an excerpt, mind you. For the whole, delectable tale, you need to buy the book!
SISTAH, TAKE YOUR TIME
The Big Easy, the City that Care Forgot, the Crescent City—she is
named for the crook of the Mississippi River she inhabits and the lazy
debauchery she engenders. I call her home, and I know that what is best
about New Orleans happens mostly during the dark in the neighborhoods
that my Maw Maw warned me about.
Maw Maw was born in the Treme, just the other side of Rampart
Street from the French Quarter. This place and her first husband, Roy,
schooled her early in debauchery and its consequences. It’s where Roy was
shot and killed outside of a bar in broad daylight after a fight involving the
dice or the numbers—she won’t say exactly. When my 17-year-old Maw
Maw went to collect Roy’s things from his friend, he wouldn’t believe she
was Roy’s wife because, “You’re not the blonde I’ve seen Roy with.”
My Maw Maw’s heart was double-broken that day, and I believe that
right then and there she began her retreat from the sensual joys that are
Where she retreated I now advance. Maw Maw’s Treme is also home
to the best musicians in the city—past and present. It is separated from the
French Quarter by Rampart Street which rides straight through the middle
of two worlds: the French Quarter with its bohemians, gay men, and
tourists, and the Treme, the place that grew the real roots of New Orleans.
Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima played in the streets of the Treme when
Maw Maw was young. That fertile ground still sprouts today’s brass band
babes, like Trombone Shorty, startin’ out at age seven, like the Rebirth
Brass Band and the Carnival Social Clubs. These people channel
everything they’ve got into that horn or those keys or those vibes: their
sorrows, their ecstasies, all of it. They make New Orleans the soothing
balm she is.
I’ve had my share of narrow escapes at night. The summer I was a
graduate student, I dated a good ole’ boy from Virginia who held my hips
in his hands and told me they were perfect for childbearing. He had his
faults, but the man could dance in a slippery-smooth way that worked with
the funky blues. We were Uptown at Tipitina’s late. He was staying with
friends, and couldn’t invite me in. I drove Maw Maw’s huge Impala, made
for making out with long bench seats you could fit four couples in it, easy.
We parked on Melpomene, a street that sits along the thin line
between the haves and have-nots, and steamed up the windows in the
Impala kissin’ and carryin’ on even though I knew that this was a
dangerous thing to do. But it was summer and the azaleas were blooming
and scenting up the thick air, and we fit so well into each other’s arms. I
managed to stay alert though, looking up at the rearview mirror every few
minutes for signs of people coming out of the dark.
When I saw headlights flash into the rearview mirror I peeled myself
from the embrace, started the car with my right hand, put her into Drive,
rolled up the window with my left and slammed on the gas just as the
bearded man held the sawed-off shotgun up to the pane. My eyes met his
in that moment and saw surprise, then he shrunk into the night, and we
lurched forward. New Orleans is danger.
New Orleans is also eatin’ fried oysters in blue cheese dressing at
Uglesch’s on the outskirts of the projects the oysters that bring me to tears
because they are so light and fresh and the sauce such a tart complement.
New Orleans is being called baby, honey chile, darlin’ by everyone and
knowing these most often are not come-ons but the melodic mothering of
the South. New Orleans is cheese grits with andouiee sausage, and
drinking beer with my new hairdresser, whom I met at a bar the night
before because he introduced himself with “I just have to get my hands in
your hair.” New Orleans is sayin’ yes.