Saturday, September 10, 2005

Toto, I don't think we're in N'awlins anymore...

I’ve been to New Orleans three times. The last time was for the MLA conference in 2002, where I had some fun with friends from grad school and had two interviews for jobs that eventually didn’t call me back. A good time with great food because Nirmala had lived in NOLA, but that’s not how I remember the town.

No, the way I remember the city is from my first trip, which was a doozy. The Dartmouth College Glee Club goes every year on tour somewhere in the United States, drumming up alumni support and basically having a good time. Tour is one of the reasons I stayed in the group (mainly because I usually didn’t have any better plans for spring break), so when I graduated in 1993 and discovered that our director, Louis, wasn’t planning a new tour, I was outraged. “How do you expect to keep the freshmen in this group? We need to build the camaraderie, and tour does that!” I told him. “Well,” he said to me, “who’s going to be tour manager – you?”

And so it was that I became tour manager for the 1994 DCGC Spring Break tour through the southeastern United States, where we went to Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. And in the process, we went through Louisiana, even stopping in Monroe, the hometown of our bus driver, for a picnic lunch. We had a free day in New Orleans, however. This gave me some trepidation because (a) I was in charge of everyone, (b) we had a large number of freshmen, and (c) the drinking age in NOLA is 18. Recipe for disaster, I thought. I remember thinking, You know what? I don’t want to babysit these kids, I’m going to have fun by myself. I ended up pairing off with Rick Owen (who apparently is now a conductor himself now) and Itir Sayin and Itir and I made it our mission to find a good place to dance.

After strolling up and down Bourbon Street for a while, we eventually found this great place called Oz. There was no cover and the music was great. We both went in, hit the dance floor for a little while and had a great time. I told Itir, “We need to tell the rest of the group and come here!”

We were to meet the rest of the Glee Club for beignets at the-place-where-you-get-beignets (I can’t remember right now the name), and immediately upon arrival told the rest of the group about the great place we found. Not everyone wanted to dance, but a large group did, so Itir and I happily led this group of about 20-25 college kids down the street to Oz, perhaps even humming “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

Upon arrival, we discover two things:

  1. There is now a guy at the door charging an entrance fee; and,
  2. There is a sign that reads, in capital letters, THIS IS A GAY BAR.

“I swear, that wasn’t there before,” I say to the somewhat shocked group. Not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-this, but this is after all the Dartmouth College Glee Club, which would hardly admit the fact that there were any gay members until at least three months after graduation.

“Was that there before?” someone said, pointing to the dancers on the bar wearing nothing but thongs with dollar bills sticking out.

“No,” I say, unconvincingly.

Undeterred, Itir and I go in anyway and have a great time.

Interestingly enough, this experience helped me for the only other time I went to New Orleans, for the first academic conference I ever went to, a Latin American film conference at Tulane. My first presentation was embarrassingly bad on many levels, but I remember getting adopted for a while by this group of gay Latin American film scholars who were looking for something to do one night. (They thought my Peruvian Spanish was cute as I would spoke it on the streetcar. Oddly enough, I was young and clueless and had no idea that they were gay, nor that two of them were hitting on me.) We ended up going to Lucky Chang’s, notable for its fusion of Cajun and Chinese cuisine… and its waitstaff consisting entirely of drag queens. (I remember watching a waiter stroking an older gentleman’s hand while reciting the desserts, with the gentleman’s wife attempting to refrain from laughing at the fact that her husband had no idea that a man was stroking his hand.) After dinner, they were looking for something to do and I remembered Oz was down the street. I had a great time dancing with Carmelo, the one guy who wasn’t desperately trying to get me into bed and the only one of the three whose name I still even remember. (And no, you dirty-minded people, Carmelo and I didn’t hook up either; both of us were taken at the time and respected the other’s relationship. I think this is why I’m still friends with him.)

So there you go. Some of my best memories of Nawlins revolve around a gay discotheque. Which I saw on TV the other day, if I'm not mistaken, shown as an example of a place that had been looted.


Karamale said...

who says discotheque when they're not speaking french?

Middento said...

Oh believe me, this is how you spell it in English. "Discotheque" (or, according to me at the time, "discotech") was the word I lost the regional spelling bee with when I was in 6th grade. Will never forget that one.

Hikaru said...

heh, oz has always been a gay bar, but it's still an entertaining place -- and a lot has to do with the entertaining neighborhood.

and the beignet place you're talking about is cafe du monde, on rue decatur, right on the water, with their funny hickory coffee.

though i highly doubt they survived katrina... =/ a lot of the cafe was on an elevated deck above the water.

Hikaru said...

edit: they survive. according to the l.a. times, the french quarter survived. huzzah, more strip clubs, gay bars, and hurricanes (the drinks) for all!

FreeThinker said...

N'awlins, as you write, is correct! Do you know any songs that sing it correctly? If so, please let me know!

Jen L. said...

Oh man. I remember all of us singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in front of Cafe du Monde with this group of gospel-singin' locals on the sidewalk. And then starting to feel a fever coming on and taking a cab back to the hotel, thus missing all the Oz festivities! Thanks for stoking the good memories, Jeff!

Priscilla said...

Jeff, I was there. Yes, in New Orleans...after Katrina. I spent 12 days in the Katrina zone. Cafe du Monde did OK, as did the French Quarter. My personal prediction is, the next Mardi Gras will be the biggest party anyone has ever seen. I have many other tales from "how to report from a Hurricane when the eletrical and telecom systems are kaput."
--Priscilla "greg" Huff