VIVE LA BIG EASY

 

 

 

The 4th of July Celebration is a special experience in New Orleans.  Twin barges on the Mississippi River set off dueling fireworks display.  The best place to view the fireworks are standing amongst the crowds along the riverbank in Woldenberg Park or Spanish Plaza. You can also consider booking a room at one of the tall hotels nearby like the Hilton Riverside or the Westin in order to see the festivities in less of a mosh pit from an on high hotel window.

 

New Orleans being New Orleans, Bastille Day, ten days later, is nearly as big a deal. Reuters rated our celebration of French Independence as the third best event in the world, which would include Paris, Marseille, Lyon, and other cities actually in France.

 

During the day, festivities with French food, music, children’s activities, and an art market take place on and around the 3100 block of Ponce de Leon in the city’s historic Faubourg St. John neighborhood. From 4:00-10:00pm, New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park offer free admission for their inside and outdoor activities. These include museum tours in both English and French, French cooking demonstration in Café NOMA, mini French language lessons by Alliance Française teachers, and the evening closes with a spectacular light show finale.

 

But, for me personally, the #1 event each July is the running of the bulls. Mickey Hanning, aka “El Padrino” (the godfather) started the San Firmin in Nueva Orleans Festival in 2007 as a NOLA skewered version of Encierro, Pamplona, Spain’s annual running of the bulls. In our case, it occurs in July and is designated to begin at 8:00am with bulls (members from the Big Easy Rollergirls on roller skates, dressed in red with long horned helmets) chasing after runners (anyone who wants to dare run the streets of the French Quarter dressed all in white with one article of red clothing) as the bulls try to smack the runners (hard) on the butt with plastic baseball bats.  The run is followed by an all day long street party.

 

For my money, and we’re talking ten bucks, the best sports experience in New Orleans is the Big Easy Rollergirls, our female roller derby team. They play home matches at the University of New Orleans Human Performance Center.  The matches I have attended were all at capacity with roughly 1,500 people in the stands  The crowd was equally divided amongst young people on a date, families with kids, and a few whom come just to see flying elbows and nasty spills.

                                                                                      The music greatly ramped up the evening’s entertainment value.  My first match was accompanied by the Egg Yolk Jubilee performing totally bizarre brass band cover versions of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire and Ary Barroso’s cheezy classic, Brazil. The most recent time, the music was by bounce superstar, Big Freedia. He/She was there to record his/her music video for the song Dangerous.  If you look closely at the video, you can almost, but not quite spot my daughter in the crowd dancing scenes.

 

But the main event is watching the Rollergirls skate in a circle of pushing, pulling, and body checks.  It looks nothing if not like an R.Crumb drawing brought to fleshy and knee padded life. With players’ names like Chestosterone, Bang Crosby, and Porchop Slamwitch, you kind of know what you’re in for even before the first whistle blows.

 

 

When you visit New Orleans, connect with NOLA Tricentennial Tours and we will make your experiences memorable ones.  Any of our other scripted tours can be tweaked to include a measure of music.  We are always willing and anxious to create completely customized tours.

 

Connect with NOLA Tricentennial Tours via our website (www.nolatricentennialtours.com), or phone (504-294-2647) or email (nolatritours@nocci.com).

 

THE CITY THAT CARE FORGOT REMEMBERS - MOMENTS IN NEW ORLEANS HISTORY

 

With our 300th anniversary upon us, each new blog will highlight important or improbable dates.

 

July 1, 1929 - Rail Strike with Delicious Consequences.

 

The po-boy sandwich is said to have originated during the transit strike of 1929, when 1,800 unionized streetcar drivers and motormen left their jobs and protested in the streets.

 

Brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin were former streetcar operators who opened their hole-in-the-wall Martin Brothers' Coffee Stand and Restaurant in the French Market. They watched an extended and brutal strike. When the transit company attempted to run the cars using "strike breakers"  from New York, jeering crowds stopped them. More than 10,000 New Orleanians gathered and watched strike supporters disable and burn the first car operated by a strike breaker.

 

The Martin brothers sided with their striking friends and former co-workers. They promised, "Our meal is free to any members of Division 194. We are with you till hell freezes, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm.” They are claimed to have said, “Get them poor boys some food,” thus giving the New Orleans staple its name.  

 

James Karst researched and wrote an article in 2016 titled “The Messy History of the Poboy.” He called into question many points in our accepted tale.  There may be evidence that Benny and Clovis sold poboys years before the strike. Another tale insists the poboy was not named after striking rail workers but from the hard-pressed farmers of St. Bernard Parish, who gathered daily on the curb along North Peters Street with their produce in the back of a truck. Jazz great, Sidney Bechet, wrote in his autobiography about sending out a young Louis Armstrong and a drummer, Little Mack, in 1910 to get some beer and “those sandwiches, Poor Boys, they're called – a half a loaf of bread split open and stuffed with ham. We really had good times.”  In 1917, the Comus Soda Fountain on Common Street and St. Charles Avenue advertised an oyster sandwich for 10 cents. The exact words of the ad promoted "Four delicious fried oysters in a toasted, buttered French loaf with piece of pickle, wrapped in sanitary wax paper sealed bag, for 10 c..”  The ad said, "We keep them hot and ready to take with you.” Sounds an awful lot like po-boys to me. Maybe, we have to scale back that Bennie and Clovis were only the ones who gave po-boys their name.

 

But, here’s the thing.  Do you care more about the veracity of their history or how po-boys taste?

 

 

 

July 27, 2012 - Hubig’s Fire

 An average of 25,000 Hubig’s pies were baked every day, offered in their top-selling apple or lemon flavors along with peach, pineapple, chocolate, and coconut year round, and seasonal flavors such as blueberry, strawberry, sweet potato, and banana.

 

Each small pie, looking like an empanada, was individually wrapped in a glycerin pack, hand stamped with the flavor, and featured Hubig’s rotund chef mascot, Savory Simon. They were end capped and counter packed everywhere; gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, hardware store check-outs. If you were arrested in New Orleans, you’d even get a Hubig’s with your state issued bologna sandwich. The Orleans Parish Jail was their #1 customer.

 

Then on July 27, 2012, the inconceivable happened.  A lard-fueled fire broke out in the bakery, leaving it completely destroyed. The early rumors were that Hubig’s would quickly be rebuilt and return to making and shipping pies.  However, as weeks turned into years, the two owners could only seem to agree on suing the company that maintained their fire suppression system and argued about everything else.  Letters to the editors and personal ads increasing showed a sense of loss, in some cases near panic, that it appeared Hubig’s may never come back.

 

Food writers, like Ian McNulty, jumped in as first responders with articles like “Craving a Hubig’s Pie? These Alternatives Might Interest You.” Readers were directed to try Bud’s Broiler, a local burger chain, which sold hot fried pies in apple, peach and cherry flavors. Award winning chef, Donald Link had “pocket pies,” but with a tangy sour cream dough and a dash of moonshine in their sugar glaze.  Treo’s chef, James Cullen, created a fried apple pie, imbued with a subtle hint of cayenne and finished with vanilla-flecked crème anglaise and fresh mint.  But please, when you crave something like a Moon Pie or a Twinky, anything with a dash, a subtle hint, or flecked crème anglaise just won’t do.

 

September 9, 2016 was a red letter day in New Orleans, when all non-diabetic residents let out a huge “Thank you, Jesus.”  Hubig’s pies had been more than a snack food, more like a daily sacrament.  They’d been deep frying hand held pies in New Orleans since 1922.

 

Haydel's Bakery finally threw us a life line with their debut of New Orleans Hand Pies.  They are similar in size and shape to Hubig’s. They are glazed and bagged individually, just like the old Hubig’s. The only difference is that the new pies are baked rather than deep fried.  Hayden’s launched with four flavors; apple, lemon, chocolate and cherry.

 

 

July 30, 1866 -  Emancipation Race Riots

 For ex-slaves in the rest of America, the Civil War ended with their emancipation.  In New Orleans, the end of the Civil War meant ex-slaves lost rights.

 

I’m not implying slavery was ever nor in any way a good thing, but it you had to be a slave, New Orleans was ever so slightly a better place to be one.

 

Under the French, there was Code Noir.  That made New Orleans was the one place in America where slaves had Sundays off from work.  In New England, slaves were sometimes given a pound of salted cod on Sundays, but they still worked.

 

Here, they were free to practice their religion (Voodoo) from West Africa and Haiti and play their musical traditions (bamboula).  Elsewhere in America, those freedom seeking Brits took away the music, religion, and all culture of the enslaved Africans, trying to convert them to Christianity, unsavory food and lusterless clothes.

 

When the Spanish took control of Louisiana in 1762, they brought with them the legal practice of coartacion. This gave slaves the right to buy their freedom. As a slave grew older, their freedom buy-out became more affordable because they could do less work.

 

Years prior to the Civil War, a full 20% of New Orleans’ population was former slaves 100% free. The Great Emancipation throughout the country came with Jim Crow Laws which inhibited the full freedom of “freed” slaves.  Thereby, ex-slaves in New Orleans actually became less free because of the war.

 

On July 30, 1866 New Orleans descended into one of America’s first race riots. The Louisiana Constitutional Convention was in town to discuss, among other things, giving blacks the right to vote. During a break in the Convention, violence broke out between armed white supremacists and African Americans marching in support of suffrage.

 

The riot did not last long. It was suppressed the same day. However, an estimated 38 people had been killed, all but a few of whom were African Americans. The governor declared the city under martial law until August 3.

 

The riot—and others which followed—shocked the country and convinced many Northerners that firm action was needed to control ex-Confederates. After Republicans gained control of Congress in the Fall, they quickly put Reconstruction policies into effect. 

 

 

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