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Talkin’ Yat

Talkin’ Yat

Every city has its unique pronunciations of street names, like Houston (called HOW ston) in NYC. Locals everywhere love to watch tourists trip over the strange place names that roll off the tongues of the natives. Oddly, much of the confusion in New Orleans comes when you TRY to pronounce names with a French flair. It works fairly well in some cases, like Vieux Carre (Voo kah RAY,) the Old Square or French Quarter and Treme and Dauphine.

But unlike the city in France, Chartres is pronounced "CHAR ters."
Carondelet is pronounced "Car ON duh LET," not "Car on duh LAY."
Burgundy is "Bur GUN dee."
Calliope is "KA lee ope."
Conti is "CON tye."
And I swear I'm not lying, in Algiers across the river, Socrates is "SO krayts."

As for the city itself, most residents say "New OR luhns" or possibly "New OR lee uhns," but never "N'AW lins" unless they're kidding around. It's only pronounced "Or LEENS" if you're rhyming in a song or if you're talking about the street or the parish (county, to us.)

Occasionally a syllable gets lost in the local dialect, like "MET ry" for Metairie or "VET ruhns" for Veterans Blvd. While we're talking about shortening things, CBD is the Central Business District – across Canal from the Quarter. Oh, and that median in the middle? It's a neutral ground, which goes all the way back to when the tiny strip of grass down Canal St. was deemed a safe meeting place for the French Quarter Catholic Creoles on one side and the Protestants on the other to conduct business without conflict.

Here's your lagniappe (LAN yap) or the little something extra you often get in the city:

A couple of food tips for ya. You'll hear muffaletta (the yummy sandwich) pronounced "Muf ah LOT a" instead of "Muf ah LET a," and if you ask for pralines, please don't say "PRAY leens." It's fingernails on a chalkboard. "PRAH leens," "dooah lihn," please! (That's as close as I can get to darlin; it's tricky - not dah-lin or daw-lin exactly.) You'll want to order your po-boy "dressed" which means lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise (sometimes pronounced MY nez.) And if anyone asks if you want "ersters," say yes if you like oysters. : )

It's fun to try to keep up with all the variations, but don't get wigged out about it. There's always someone to help you out, and people are very friendly. Don't be surprised if a total stranger asks, "How's ya mama?" as a way of saying hello. It's part of the local charm.

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Favorite NOLA Food Tips

Favorite NOLA Food Tips

If you're headed for New Orleans and want to engage in a little culinary foreplay, try or follow them on Twitter. And make the decision now to leave your diet at home, because orgasmic cuisine is what the city's most noted for - for good reason. Here are a few of my favorite food tips:

Breakfast: If the line is too long at Café du Monde, you can join the quicker line at the back for to-go orders and take your coffee and beignets to Jackson Park to eat. I like the scenery better anyway.
Mother's at 401 Poydras across Canal has a good breakfast.
The Old Coffeepot on St. Peter - yummy creation called Calla Cakes (like donut holes, but better)
Clover Grill on Bourbon - when you want dive-y diner eggs 'n bacon to feed a hangover.
Sunday brunch – Brennan's or one of the many others; they're all good.

Best Lunches:
Po-boys: Johnny's on St. Louis, or Mother's at 401 Poydras across Canal.
Oysters: If the line at Acme is too long, Felix's across the street is just as good (both on Iberville)
Mufalettas: Central Grocery on Decatur; jars of olive salad ($10) to make your own at home.
Camelia Grill – take the streetcar to this classic diner for burgers at the counter, 50's style

Too many great choices to list but Commander's Palace (by streetcar) and Stella are favorites.

The late night action on Bourbon is mostly in the street. Take your drink in a plastic cup, roam, listen to music coming from the clubs, and chat up the people you meet.
Pat O'Brien's is a tourist trap but it's a great tourist trap. Everyone should go once.
Jean Lafitte's, built in 1722, is the oldest bar in America. It's awesome.
Muriel's at the corner of Jackson Square has a very sexy red plush bar upstairs (buy your drinks downstairs) and you can usually sneak out on the balcony too and watch the action in Jackson Square.
Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone – where many famous authors drank.
Also, don't forget to check out the music on Frenchmen's Street in the Faubourg Marigny. Just stay on Decatur and cross over to find the neighborhood local college students patronize to get away from tourists. (You'll blend in, I know it.) DBA is a good one .

Other NOLA Treats:
Snoballs (Nectar with condensed milk on top is to-die-for.) Try Hansen's on Tchoupitoulas (cab ride) or Tee-Eva's on Magazine (streetcar ride). Best ever is Plum St. Snoballs but you'd have to ride streetcar all the way to end, get off at S. Carrollton and Plum and walk seven blocks to Plum and Burdette.
Pralines: anywhere in the quarter or Tee Eva's on Magazine
Sucre - delicious - and trendy - dessert and pastry shop on Magazine

By the way, NOLA servers are generally fun and flirty if you chat them up. If you're grumpy or demanding, you'll get attitude back, for sure. So start out on the right foot and let them know you're glad to be there. They love people who love their city. The ones who seem prickly at first are always the biggest marshmallows in the end. I love the way they call you, "baby," and "dawlin'," and "cher."

Okay, go hit the internet with these ideas as starting points and make a plan. Or just stroll the streets of the French Quarter and follow your nose (and the lines of people) to discover someplace new. It's hard to go wrong in New Orleans if you're adventurous and open-minded.

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My Favorite NOLA Freebies

My Favorite NOLA Freebies

Just got back yesterday from NOLA and will be going again in two weeks to speak on a panel for the American Library Association. I ALWAYS have a good time in my hometown, so I thought I'd share a few "insider tips" for visitors. If you're seeing New Orleans on a budget (and who isn't these days!) you'll be happy to know that some of the best views of the Crescent City are free. Here are my favorites:

Morning: Shake off that hangover and stroll the Quarter before 9am to watch the buggy drivers whisper to their horses as they line them up and the French Market vendors call good-natured insults to their neighbors over produce they're artfully arranging (oh, those beautiful Creole tomatoes.) Polite older gentlemen will tip their hats to you as they feed pigeons in the quiet before the tourist mob descends, and the eccentric residents might nod as they rally for the day - like the guy I saw walking down St. Peter (no pun intended) with a coffee cup . . . in penny loafers and an open bath robe . . . and nothing else. And don't forget, it's New Orleans so you can probably order a Bloody Mary at a bar that's still open (if "hair of the dog" takes precedence over coffee) and drink it while you roam. It's a great time to learn the streets, but don't take a map; the goal is to blend in like a native and let the culture "adopt" you.

Afternoon: Catch the St. Charles street car at Canal and Carondolet (Bourbon's "cross-Canal" extension) for a relaxing, open air ride that sways peacefully through the Garden District. (Okay, it's not completely free - I cheated a little - but $1.25 each way is pretty close in my book; oh, and bring exact change.) The whole route's about 45 min. each way, but you can hop off anywhere and pick up a returning car back to Canal if time is short. It stops every two blocks, but pull the cord to let the driver know if you're getting off because if no one's waiting at a stop, they sometimes skip it. Tempting reasons to exit? Trendy boutiques, unique eateries, and great bars on Magazine St. and of course, Commander's Palace if you've made a reservation. Other fabulous foods near the end of the streetcar line: Le Madeleine (French country fare) and Camellia Grill (retro diner for breakfast or burgers).

Evening: For an unparalleled perspective of the French Quarter, take the Algiers ferry across the Ms. River and back at sunset or twilight. The 30 minute round trip is FREE for pedestrians ($1 for cars) and leaves from the end of Canal right next to the Aquarium from 6am –midnight at :15 and :45 past the hour (returning from Algiers on the hour and at half past.) I love the sound of it churning across the powerful river current, and the majestic view of the St. Louis Cathedral that slowly unfolds as you move out into the surging waters.

And the best part of "touring on the cheap": you can save your money for the outrageously decadent food choices you'll find on every corner. More on that later on the blog. : )

Anyone else have NOLA freebie favorites?

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Courtney Update

I'd lost track of Courtney, the hero of my Katrina story, for awhile. It wasn't the first time. People without cell phones or permanent addresses can be difficult to find. "Streets" was pretty good about checking in with me, but this time it had been about six months – and I was worried.

My head was filled with images of all the things that can go wrong for people living on the margins of society – people who don't know where they'll find food, people who move from one apartment to another as they're kicked out again and again for not being able to pay rent. Courtney had worked so hard for so long to stay out of trouble. I could only hope he was okay.

And then I got a text on December 25. "Merry Christmas." A number I didn't know. "Merry Christmas to you, but who is this?" I texted back. "Courtney Miles," came the reply. I was so relieved!

I called him immediately and was thrilled to learn he's safe and still in school. He'll finish junior college this spring and is still on track for a basketball scholarship to a four-year university next fall. He said he'd tried to call me a couple of times. (My phone service is terrible lately, and many long conversations with AT&T have not improved the situation. )

The good news is that Courtney's safe and in school. The bad news, he told me - he's being evicted from his apartment next week because he's behind on the rent.

I promised to try to find a way to help, but hung up feeling frustrated that there wasn't much I could do. I've sent him grocery money many times, but the cost of an apartment in California was beyond my means. If I lived near his school, I'd gladly take him in, but we're thousands of miles away. So I did the only think I know how to do. I wrote.

I wrote a letter and emailed it to the pastors of ten churches in Oakland and Alameda, asking for help for Courtney, telling them about his life and his accomplishments, what a great guy he is and asking for help in finding a place for him to live.

And the responses came – complete strangers with arms wide open offering to help someone they'd never met. A man named Stephen Jones of Central Baptist Church is demonstrating what "ministering" is all about by working to place Courtney with a family from his congregation. He and his son have driven to Courtney's apartment with groceries, called his landlord to negotiate a few more days, and looked into helping him replace the birth certificate he lost in Hurricane Katrina – all within 24 hours of receiving my letter. What an amazing "hands-on" approach to God's command to love one another!
So many people talk about their faith; Stephen Jones is living it.

I'm so grateful. And so optimistic about the difference a support network like this can make in Courtney's life. What a wonderful Christmas gift - to Courtney and to me! Courtney's story is only just beginning.

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Posted in 2011


A Dragonfly by Any Other Name

A Dragonfly by Any Other Name

While doing some research for a story line yesterday, I came across all the different animal sounds in various languages. I only became aware of this difference a few years ago when a friend's child, whose babysitter was Japanese, began to answer "Boof, Boof," when asked "What does the pig say?" My friend mentioned this to the sitter, who was a bit defensive. "Do you actually hear, 'oink, oink' when a pig makes a sound?" she asked. Hmm, she's got us there.

I remember sitting by a pool a couple of summers ago with a British friend and her French boyfriend watching a dragonfly float past. I told him they were called "mosquito hawks" in New Orleans where I grew up, and I asked him the French word for "dragonfly." He taught me the word: libellulle, which he pronounced lee-beh-loo-lah. It's amazing how differently we look at things when they're called by different names. Shakespeare might've been wrong about that one.

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Posted in March, 2010

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