from Swoon

Discovering New Orleans Anew: Two New Yorkers take it easy in the Big Easy


New Orleans, La., was kind of like my high school playground. I attended an all-girls' Catholic school across Lake Ponchartrain in Covington, a town where amusements peaked at Perry's Miniature Golf Course (viz., Perry's Astroturfed backyard). Because of the boredom and rather lax liquor laws, my backwoods buddies and I would make the quick jaunt across the lake and blow our baby-sitting money on Fudgsicle daiquiris and the French Quarter Haunted House. For a country girl like me, it seemed cosmopolitan. Now that I live in New York, New Orleans doesn't seem so fast-paced after all. Still, though, I appreciate the city for entirely different reasons: its languid, laid-back dreaminess. And, of course, it remains a fine place to drink.

Andy and I were down in Covington a few weeks ago to see my brother Michael in his Catholic school play, Neil Simon's Broadway Bound. Afterward, Andy and I skipped the wrap party and sped across the lake for some cheap thrills.

Our first stop was the Camellia Grill, a deservedly famous eatery at the end of South Carollton and the beginning of St. Charles Avenue. This is the area of New Orleans known as "Uptown," and there are beautiful old mansions and carriage houses lining both streets. Camellia Grill is open 24 hours and serves the kind of food that you should end a drunken evening with, but we wanted a cheeseburger to start our night off, and they do a right tasty one here for $2.40. We split a chocolate freeze (a "lite" icy shake concoction) for another $2.40, then strolled down St. Charles to Audubon Park.

The park is an oak-riddled, moss-enshrouded place right out of an Anne Rice novel, and during the day, the eccentric denizens of the neighborhood come here to rock imaginary babies or parade about in mink coats. There's also a lot of Tulane University students trying to look cool while hackey-sacking. Andy and I smooched a little on a banc publique and then jumped on the street car ($1.00 each) headed to the French Quarter.

Because we're both suckers for the olde time gruesomme stuffe, we went to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum on Chartres Street ($2 admission), in the home of America's first licensed pharmacist. It's no wonder they needed him in New Orleans: According to the displays, the town was continually plagued with bouts of cholera, malaria and yellow fever. As Andy and I pondered the display of the original 7-Up (which contained lithium and professed to "Take the ouch out of grouch"), we sighed over our exorbitant therapy bills.

The Pharmacy Museum touched a little on the local use of voodoo, but as we were in the mood for some serious gris-gris, we sashayed over to Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street. This little shop is jam-packed with amulets and potions, candles and spell powders. Lots of cool books here, but the racks are plastered with threatening signs: "If you read without buying, Marie Laveau will GET you! Voodoo is REAL! We're not kidding!!!" I think non-browsing vibes are a turn-off (especially when on an intentionally cheap date), so I insisted we leave ASAP.

Someone down there smiled upon our thriftiness, because we found a book of dream interpretations on a stoop down the block. Positive hoodoo! We didn't want to steal per se, but it really didn't seem to belong to anyone, so we took it. Our last stop was at one of my favorite bars in New Orleans, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop. Legend has it that this was the money-laundering lair of the pirate Jean Lafitte and his brother, Pierre. It's one of the few remaining brick-and-post houses left in the entire city, a dark maze of rooms on the verge of collapse, with a piano bar in the back.

Dusk had fallen and a famous New Orleans downpour kicked in. We got a couple of extra spicy Bloody Marys ($3.00 each) and crept to a candlelit corner. I put the dream book on the table and we both looked at it, a little scared by the seance-y ambiance. Andy opened it and flipped to "Pumpkins." No listing. My turn. The lights flickered and the rain drummed on the roof. Local voices from the bar drawled unintelligibly. I decided to skip the potentially mood spoiling explication of "Teeth," turning instead to "Rain, patter of: Domestic bliss and fulfillment shall be forthcoming." And so it will be.