Travel NEW ORLEANS TRIES TO BEAT THE HEAT

Putting on the dog for the Dog Days.

Okay, it’s a tourist trap. I know it. You know it. New Orleans sells its baroque history like one of those TV hucksters with his vegetonic tomato slicers. The city strips you bare, picks you clean with French Quarter kitsch, the Garden District’s elegant jumble, the streetcars, street artists, Fat City tomfoolery, antiques, opulent plantation homes.

New Orleans is a blatant tourist trap, and I like it better each time I visit.

The Quarter- Vieux Carré– centers on Bourbon Street, a boisterous avenue of bars, rock joints, jazz halls, B girls, strippers, T-shirt shops (T-shirts are a growth industry in the French Quarter), adult movie houses. The sidewalk spielers pull at you. “Our girls are more naked than theirs,” declared one, indicating a competitor across the street.

Bourbon Street is a kind of circus after dark, a carnival of sound and spectacle. Clarinets sighing blues, trumpets soaring, the harsh thumpings of electric basses, the sing song of bar spielers. Musicians copping smokes between sets, holding their instruments under their arms. Men in tuxes and women in ball gowns, coming from some formal affair to slum for awhile. Half-dressed showgirls walking to work in the saloons, where they finish undressing. Sweet Emma, whose one-handed piano playing is legendary. Danny Barker, who plays banjo with a verve denying his 70-plus years. The waiters in Galatoire’s, who gently insult you while serving the best trout marguery in town. Chris Owens, once a girls’ basketball star at Fort Worth’s Texas Wesleyan College, who now bounces in her own club. Hirt and Fountain, the Dukes of Dixieland, the Famous Door. And a shrimp bar named Desire. Tennessee Williams, make a note.

A frantic place, Bourbon Street. Yet a block away, on Royal Street, the night is calm, quiet, interrupted only by the clop of elegant horse-drawn carriages. Gas-lighted Jackson Square, three centuries old, is empty of its daylight artists. The river is dark and peaceful.

New Orleans, tourist trap or not, is a charmer.

New Orleans assaults the senses. For instance, the Superdome, now dominating downtown, appears from a distance to be a giant white Big Mac with pedestrian ramps. The Superdome began as a small multi-million-dollar project and escalated into a monster costing almost $200 million. But it is a superb sports arena, and unique, if only because its artificial turf is punned Mardi Grass.

The Superdome sparked a building renaissance. A new Hyatt Regency hotel has risen beside the dome. The Marriott is adding a second tower. The Hilton has opened beside the river. The Moonwalk, built on the levee near Jackson Square, is now open for viewing the river. The $500-million Canal Place, a grand European-style shopping center, is going up behind the French Market.

And food. Everyone speaks of New Orleans’ food.

Breakfast at Brennans. Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s. Mile High Ice Cream Pie at the Caribbean Room of the Pont-chartrain Hotel. The jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace. Creole gumbo at my favorite unpronounceable restaurant, Tchoupitoulas Plantation. And po-boy sandwiches anywhere.

A friend swears the best red beans and rice are served, not in any formal New Orleans restaurant, but in neighborhood kitchens by housewives picking up a little extra money. So ask around.

New Orleanians always eat in style. I breakfasted one morning at a Canal Street drugstore: a three-egg omelette, two large sausages, a bowl of grits and three homemade fluffy biscuits as large as pot lids. A buck eighty-nine plus tax. Another day it was the Camellia Grill, a 14-stool establishment, for a chili omelette and pecan pie. $2.75.

I arrived at the Camellia Grill via New Orleans’ last streetcar line. The St. Charles Avenue trollies depart every few minutes from Canal Street, move through the Garden District, the River Bend section, onto the Carrollton area, then return on the same route. Thirty-five cents for the hour-long ride.

Coffee and beignets at the French Market’s Cafe du Monde is a tradition. Beignets are powdered sugar doughnuts without holes. Three to an order. The coffee is strong and chicory flavored. Price is 85¢. I rememberthe price because the waiter never returned with my change, which is another fine old New Orleans tradition.

A cunning town. But give it credit: This town knows how to party. The Lenten season Mardi Gras is a true international event of mass insanity. April’s Jazz and Heritage Festival and Spring Fiesta attract enormous crowds. And look what New Orleans did for Superbowl Week.

Summertime, though, is generally the pits. Doldrums time. A dearth of visitors. Beginning this year, however, New Orleans plans to solve that problem, and being New Orleans, it is candid enough to explain why. “Summers here are terrible,” said a public relations person. “Lots of rain. Heat and humidity. Just terrible.”



New Orleans believes tourists will ignore the heat and humidity for a good party. So Interfest ’78, which is actually 10 parties, was invented for the slump between July 22 and August 15. Subtitled the International Food and Jazz Festival, the 25-day celebration incorporates all that is New Orleans, and then some.

Not all details were firm at press time but the Interfest lineup looked like this:



All That Jazz Festival, July 22-Au-gust 15. A jubilation of jazz to commemorate that most basic of all American art forms. Endless variety of on-going concerts tracing jazz roots from African to pure Dixieland and beyond. All concerts are scheduled for the air-conditioned indoors, but “spontaneous street things” are promised. Interpret that as you will. The festival will be held around Rampart Street and the [Louis] Armstrong Park, in which New Orleans is building an extensive entertainment section, “like Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen,” to include bistros, boutiques and outdoor stages.



Cuisine et Vin Mystery Dine-Around Festival, July 22-August 15. Cheap lunches and dinners in 25 of New Orleans’ best restaurants. The mystery is that you don’t know which restaurants you will be assigned. Meal tickets will be sold as packages: $25 per person for dinner, $12 for lunch. Dinner will feature five courses with two wines; lunch, three courses and one wine. A sample meal at Commander’s Palace would include Artichoke Prudhomme, Seafood Gumbo Yaya, Redfish Teche, Hearts of Palm Salad and Crepe Soufflée Pralinée. Transportation to and from hotels and all tips and taxes are included in the package price.



Bavarian Beer Festival, July 22-Au-gust 15. Billed as “extremely German in flavor,” complete with “fat Frauleins,” “Oompah bands” and “lots of sausages and sauerkraut,” the beer drinking will intermix with the jazz festival. This makes some kind of sense to New Orleanians. The party promises to be an “Oktober-fest-like bacchanalia.” Both beer and Frauleins will be imported from Germany.



Festa d’ltalia, July 22-23. An Italian street fair, staged around the new Piazza d’ltalia near the river. Pounds of pasta, dances, concerts, roving musicians in costume, arts and crafts sales, and a special street parade will highlight the Italian heritage of New Orleans.



Afro-Carib Fest, July 29-30. If nothing else, this two-day celebration of black influence in New Orleans marks the first appearance of imported witch doctors in America. They’re coming from Haiti to demonstrate voodoo rituals, and Haiti and Jamaica are sending dance troupes. Torch-lighted bamboola dances will be staged, along with the voodoo rites of New Orleans 200 years ago. The special feature, however, will be dishes prepared by the city’s leading black chefs: stuffed sweet peppers, gumbos, shrimp Creoles and bisques.



International Film Festival, July 31-August 4. Curious event, this. Wrong time to stage a film festival, because win-ter-release films won’t be ready; nevertheless. New Orleans is moving right along. Klieg lights already rented. “Extremely big names” will be there, a spokesman said. Perhaps.



France-Louisiana Festival, August 4-6. A highlight is the re-creation of Bastille Day, France’s independence celebration, though Lord only knows what the visitor-peasants are expected to storm. Al Hirt’s saloon, perhaps. Regardless, Miss France will be there, ruling over a gala ball, as will musicians from France. Monte Carlo-style gambling available, for charity. Bike races. Pirogue (canoe) races. Musicales: everything from French chamber pieces to Cajun fiddlin’. Dozens of New Orleans’ best restaurants will feature specialty French dishes. Let them eat paté de foie gras.

Ol’ Steamboat Days Festival, August 5-13. A “tootenanny,” which is the tooting of horns by New Orleans’ riverboats, will begin this week-long festival re-creating the grand days of steamboating on the Mississippi. Perhaps there even will be steamboat races. For sure, the fest promises lots of banjo playing, Dixieland jazz and steam calliope concerts.



Pan American Culinary Olympics, August 7-11. This may not happen at all, but what’s promised is 40 teams – 500 chefs – from Canada, Central and South America and the United States competing to qualify for the 1980 World Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany. Supposedly, the chefs will prepare and serve “4000 gastronomical masterpieces per hour. . . 24 hours a day. . . the finest gourmet offerings of their art.” Sounds like fun, but the truth is, it will cost $250,000 and New Orleans is having a bit of trouble raising the cash. So don’t pack your meringue whisk yet, and be sure to call ahead.



New Orleans Food Festival, August 12-15. An old-line food fest now entering its second decade, this event honors regional dishes. Give it four stars for excellence. French, Creole, Cajun, Italian, German – all the best from New Orleans’ finest restaurants. Cajun roast suckling pig, jambalaya, oysters, crabs, barbecued shrimp, red beans and rice are served to tasters who pay the $7.50 entry fee. Even po-boy sandwiches find their way to the tables. The festival concludes with a feast and fancy ball.

Whether Interfest ’78 succeeds in filling New Orleans’ hot-weather visitor void or not hardly matters. With or without visitors, the events will probably go on as billed. Ask before you leave home by writing:

Interfest ’78

339 1TM Bldg.

New Orleans, LA 70130

504/581-1953



Greater New Orleans Tourist

and Convention Commission

334 Royal Street

New Orleans, LA 70130

504/522-8772

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