Waking up in The Bourbon Hotel was glorious. Clothes hanging neatly in the ‘closet’, clean white towels. Delicious bath lotions.
I chose a white dress for the N’awlins shoot. Great idea until I realised I had to wear spandex knickers in 100 degrees, then face the drips of red cocktails, red tomato sauce and enough brown gravy to stain a vat of ties.
I have loadsa little bottles of hair shampoo, conditioner, body gel and moisturiser from all the places we stayed. My bathroom shower is littered with tiny phials of memories.
The Bourbon is reputedly one of theeeee most haunted hotels in New orleans. Well I didn’t see any apparitions but I did feel a kind of serenity in the building. It’s lush and beautiful and according to the plaque outside, just behind where 3 young hotel helpers help you with anything from throwing away the detritus of a days filming, opening the doors into an air conned coolness or just smiling in that way that young men do in shorts…..the plaque revealed that in 1881 The First Order of Negro Catholic Nuns bought it and used it as a convent, orphanage and school. The old, opulent ballroom was transformed by ‘The Sisters of the Holy Family Order established by four women in 1842. The order is now the oldest female-led African American order in America. The Sisters of the Holy Family helped the needy in the Bourbon for 83 years but had to sell the property to hotel interests. They moved to New Orleans East, where they remain, still dedicated to the community they have served for so long.’
I quote the plaque because you can feel a wonderful wave of goodness in the air. That’s if you’re a lunatic like me who bounces up against and into energy.
After meditating and doing me Dahn Yoga tapping I slid into my Spandex which enabled me to slide into my white dress to join the gang down in the dining room. Urns of flavoured water and a huge breakfast under heated tureens. Everything from sausage gravy and hash browns to scrambled eggs, my plate of choice. Scrambled eggs and Earl Grey tea.
Stewart the mighty director, and Eddie the mother of all Producers took me in hand and walked me, in the 85 degree early morning heat, to the big white Court House opposite which stands a restaurant that sports banana flambe for breakfast.
I had to taste it of course.
BRENNANS is painted pink. Tourists and locals alike come from miles around to sample a breakfast menu of hundreds of different egg dishes and ‘Banana Fosters’.
The interior is cool and plush like a N’awlins ‘Harry’s bar’, but it’s the courtyard, with stone pineapples, a plunge pool of 11 turtles that give themselves up to the sun, that gives Brennans an air of gentility. The turtles lounge on each other facing their scrawny necks to the sky. Trees, flowers, tables and chairs and a chef with kitchen fingers, a baby face and a desire to please who brought his gas ring to my table in preparation for the ‘flambe du banane.’
So we have an executive chef standing behind a portable oven in the courtyard of Brennans, which now smells of raindrops on the cobbles. That smell of yearning of hot summers after a rainfall on asphalt. Although the smell in New Orleans beat, hands down, the smell of raindrops in Boreham Wood in the 60’s.
I sat with Ralph Brennan, white haired, pink shirted, who ate with me till he went of to a food fair in Aspen. His family own many of the local restaurants, he was living proof of the discreet charm of the Bourgeoisie.
‘Banana Fosters’ was created by Ralph’s father and Aunt Ella for a merchant called Mr. Foster. Bananas from Central America flooded New Orleans so the dish was created, described as a kind of vanity project.
Butter and brown sugar were melted in a pan, next to my left ear, when it smelt of fudge banana liquor was chucked in, then the bananas themselves, a sizzling deathtrap, add cinnamon then set the whole pan alight with rum, and pour it over fresh vanilla pod ice-cream. I could hear the gods of Diabetes roaring. We filmed it four different ways, inevitably I ate all four contributions. Well why not it’s not everyday you get to share an unctuous breakfast with turtles.
To clear my pallet I ate pickled ochre from the bar, a garnish for their ‘Bloody Mary’s’ which I declined.
Olly had been off doing his thing but we met up by a white horse and carriage steered by Mitch and pulled by Bojo. Not our Mayor but a lovely mule who could withstand the heat and weight of a presenter filled to the brim with bananas. We trotted through the tiny streets of the French Quarter passing tourists in Mardi Gras beads.
After lunch in a restaurant at the top of the Hilton it was time for Olly and I to part company. He to wine, women and whiskey and me to BORGN where Brian Landry was to make me Gumbo.
Brian is a beautiful young man with wavy hair and glasses. He had the look of Buddy Holly. His restaurant large and just a little too cold for me, I had to keep going outside to warm myself. His mother came from a family of ten, Irish Catholics, he only has three children was training to be a doctor but the lure of Lake Borgn and its fish, caught him.
The Mississippi is a fresh water river, The Gulf of Mexico is salt water. Fingerlings of salt enter the Mississippi and create an environment that spawns unusual and idiosyncratic sea food. Blue crabs, and I do mean real sky blue crabs, Oysters, Tiger prawns – which they call shrimp – and more, the perfect base for GUMBO.
Gumbo is a bit like New Orleans, Brian told me, its a melting pot of ingredients. It has the ethnicity of the region. It contains food from all cultures. Brian’s Gumbo tasted of a man who has a relationship to his soul, a man of heart, blessed with his mothers Irish spirit and a passion for feeding people.
Brian chopped a blue crab, still alive and blowing bubble, into quarters. The roux had been bubbling on the stove; vegetable oil and flour cooked slowly till it turned brown. Sassafras, an earthy ‘erb, was added then chicken broth. Celery, carrots and green peppers, called ‘The Popes Hat’ the holy trinity of veg, the French use, carrot, celery and onion. Then a good serving of garlic. The Spanish influence was thrown in with the tomatoes, African American contribution was ochre – lots of it – and the Native American ‘erb Sassafras which gave the Gumbo an earthy almost yeasty tinge.
The food was delicious but I had a problem knowing I was eating a crab that seconds before was blowing bubbles at me and holding onto his brother. Brian reminded me I was eating food that was fed to the hungry hoards of poor people. Gumbo, the melting pot fed to the melting pot.
And then we were off to Frenchman Street. The street of music where every venue has a musical calling card. Singers, bands, booze and optimism. Eddie, had ordered a six piece band of young musicians. A tuba player, trombonist, trumpeter, big drum, snare drum and another brass instrument which slips my mind. Olly cued them and they played ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’.
Bystanders jumped off the sidewalk – scuse me pavement -and danced. I danced, Olly danced, we all danced. Take after take and finally it was a wrap. The sun was setting and we had been at it since early doors.
There is a seediness abut Frenchman Street, a down at heel feel. The perfect atmosphere for musicians looking for a break. The perfect place for music in the air. New Orleans is a town of booze, music and house bricks from England and paving slabs worthy of Chelsea. I don’t drink that much but the crew drink, the town drinks, I stood by supping my sparkling water, drunk on their merriment.
I noticed buses going to BYWATER, an area just outside the French Quarter . The district that sports my married name. Took a photo of it for Gumbo, sorry Jimbo, arrived back into my room, used the hotel bubbles and slid into a freshly made cool bed.
All that and it was only Tuesday. I dreamt of bubbling crabs in banana sauce.