Day 15 – Beignets & All Things French Quarter

Day: 15

Location: Destin, Florida to French Quarter, New Orleans, Lousiana

Reason: Remembering Mom – One Month.

Beignets November 14th, walking, feet sinking in the gold sand, footprints filling with emerald water, the hungry ocean curiously lapping after us, here in Destin Florida and at sunset. I told Aaron “Tomorrow, is one month, could we maybe do something special to remember her?” and he, cleverly as usual (Cleverness is a forte of his, pardon my obvious bias and pride…) recalls that we’re bound for New Orleans the next day, and as anyone who knows my mother will tell you, she loved anything French, anything scoured with Fleur De Lys, anything full of details. She loved Beignets. This suited me well as a “something”, especially since mama visted New Orleans several years back (Before Katrina) and was particularly thorough relating the finer qualities of the coffee and pastries. Aaron and I vited for Mardi Gras two or so years back and at the time she enthusiastically urged us to visit Cafe Du Monde, but we did not, being caught up in parades and things. Here I have to pause and thank Kathy for reminding me about Cafe Du Monde, because while I remembered Beignets, I couldn’t remember the place, and she reminded me.

Arriving in New Orleans we set up camp at the Lake Ponchatrain RV Resort which consists of RV plats and ONE small spot of beautiful landscaping surrounded by an industrial complex. Pretty hillarious, but the people there were unparallelled in helpfulness; just for instance, they offered to shuttle us to the French quarter despite having missed the designated shuttle departure time. So we ride in, to Decatur and Tulouse right by the river, about two blocks from the Cafe where Aaron asks “What first?” and I reply “We get Beignets” …”First?” he says with some surprise, being the sort of person who likes to save things for later, anticipation, delayed reward and sentiments of that nature and me being more of the mind that New Orleans was a mission to find pieces of my mother (Did she walk here, on this side of the street, like me?) and I saw no reason to postpone the inevitable bittersweet. Aaron saw on my face that I was absolute and so we went, wandering in and around the outdoor seating area like lost puppies, people in their chairs staring at us with some suspicion as they guarded their powdered confections, until we finally discovered a seating line. In the space outdoors there must have easily been…two hundred people sitting, in cramped little tables, and a line of another 40 waiting to sit. Waiters and waitresses barked rudely at the next person in line. Our turn came and the waitress pointed at a table bearing a telltale remains…a small crescent shaped mountain of white powdered sugar, usually dotted by brown coffee craters…beignet leavings…the previous occupants hadn’t even collected all of their things yet, and the waitress rolls here eyes and in very snarky fashion yells over the din “There! Sit! Why are you standing there, do you want a table?”. Like truant schoolkids caught red handed we skittered repentantly to the seat, wincing apologetically at the vacating people who seemed to think nothing of our sitting down in their still-warm seats. I am a little overwhelmed at all the people, all the noise, which actually makes for a rather intimate experience, perhaps because of the chaos. Aaron looks at me, wide eyed “So uh. You order for us, okay?” and so I do, our brusque waitress is already there, taping her pencil impatiently, having already asked once (as thoroughly as she was going to) “What.” …(That was all. Not “what would you like”, or” “Do you know what you want?” …simply “What.”) “One order of Beignets, two chickory coffees, please” and without a nod or eyecontact or even a perceptible movement of her pencil on the pad, she turned and left. I retreat behind my camera and don’t even get two shots before I find our waitress in the frame, placing our order on the table. It is a little cardboard boat, filled with powdered sugared lumps, two small cups of coffee with froth on top, we…in traditional Mother style, pick them up and just…smell them (careful not to inhale the sweet dust, careful not to coat ourselves in it’s precarious volume) and then we bite.

I begin to cry. I immediately forgive the waitress for her abruptnesss and find myself so grateful to her for having brought me this petit ciel doux – sweet little heaven. I can close my eyes and remember Paris, close them and remember the specific way Mama appreciated Chocolate or anything that was fine. In my pleasure, I remember how fun it was to enjoy anything with her, and I miss…(oh, how I miss…) her. I want more than anything to call her and say “You were right about the Cafe Du Monde, Mama, c’est si bon!” and I imagine how she would sound, always excited for my news as if it were her own, always fascinated and interested in ways that most people aren’t ever interested in someone else’s details. I exhale, finally,

Merci maman, parce que ce qui vous m’avez enseigné. Je vous manque. Je t’aime…

plus qu’hier, moins que demain

“Thank you Mama, for what you taught me. I miss you. I love you….more than yesterday, less than tomorrow.”

Aaron surprises me with a pin from the Cafe as a souveneir. We both are reluctant to leave, but are eager to wander – we spend two or three hours in the French Market, and walk up and down each street in an exacting pattern, in order not to miss anything. And then finally, tired, we decide to visit Cafe Beignet, for “The Great Duel of The Chickory Coffees”…(But honestly we liked both equally, and differently) …the ambiance there was especially warm and good, so we sat and read from Travels With Charley (Finally! We’ve attempted to do this on multiple occasions but are easily distracted….)…we drank the coffee…while it was light, we watched people out the big window and when it got dark, the people watched us (We did our best to be entertaining, like the penguins at the zoo…). Our shuttle was scheduled at seven, so we finally decided to go walk a bit more and maybe get some quick supper, which we did, along the way finding a man playing a calliope which shoots steam which is lit by colored lighs and plays carousel songs in a dream-like, tinny tone…best of all he is sitting on the roof of a giant paddle wheel boat (The Natchez) and … finally finding ourselves about 6 blocks from Cafe Du Monde with 40 minutes until it was time to go, we decided to make a mad dash back, once last time.

Let me say, I have run nearly every day of this trip, faithfully. I have avoided most things unproductive to my healthful eating efforts. I monitor my calories, despite the travel. But I ate beignets TWICE this day, for a total of three whole doughnuts, and I have no remorse. I ate them once for her and the second time for me. We sat on a bench to eat them, listening to a violin and guitar reach for but not quite manage “Cotton Eyed Joe” and looked at the still full outside seating area, even though it was cold and it was dark. Since they’re open 24 hours, we decided if we ever roll back this direction, we’d like to come sometime at three A.M., just to see. And to have Coffee and Doughnuts. And to remember – because we have memories of our own now, too.

(I’ll post all our pictures in a subpage, like usual. Hope everyone is doing well.)

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