Jay Meehan: Go Big Easy or go home
As is usually the case on Mardi Gras mornings, I find myself pondering what inventive concoctions I can come up with for the day’s revelry while others of different persuasions plot how best to observe Lent and make amends for past celebrations and debaucheries.
Leaving the penitence associated with that humbling period between Ash Wednesday and Easter to my more reverent brethren, the dragging out of beads, masks, and containers of the holy and ancient absinthe prior to the light of day continues to fill that vacuum with, at least, meaning, if not joy.
Over time I’ve assembled the building blocks of my version of the “Sazerac” cocktail, including a lifetime-sized container of Peychaud’s bitters that I picked up at a Wyoming purveyor a couple of years back. They did not have the Sazerac French brandy, but that mattered little.
Not being a purist of the beverage’s historic past, the replacement of the required brandy with American rye whiskey and a smidgen of the aforementioned absinthe connected all the important dots. And, of course, a few dashes of bitters brings it all back home.
The traditional New Orleans “Hurricane” beverage has never worked its way up high enough on my favorites list to warrant inclusion, unless someone else fashions them from whole cloth and continually shoves them into my empty fist.
And, if I haven’t mentioned it as of yet, Mardi Gras over the past few years has morphed into a “free solo” affair up here in the Heber foothills. Just me and the nags out back and Sazeracs don’t seem to be their cup of oats. For that matter, neither do beads and masks.
Anything to get into the spirit of the day, as they say. Incantations for Marie Laveau to join the festivities don’t usually arrive ‘til later but, then again, this show doesn’t usually get rollin’ until late afternoon. That is not necessarily a mandate from the French Quarter. The Sazeracs could be knocked back any time it was deemed fit.
Musicwise, WWOZ-FM, the “sound of New Orleans,” has been blasting out of the computer speakers since about 5 a.m. Heber time and we’ve had The Meters, Professor Longhair, Satchmo, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino, Trombone Shorty, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Kermit Ruffins, the Neville Brothers, and many other sassy Nawlins outfits struttin’ their stuff.
Admittedly, it’s a difficult proposition to remain seated at the keyboard with such funky syncopation spreading the rhythmic gospel, so a few sashayin’ second-line parade breaks have been forced out of the closet. We been dancin’ like nobody’s watching.
I have already hauled from the shelves the likes of Tennessee Williams, William Faukner, Anne Rice, James Lee Burke, Michael Ondaatje, and, of course, John Kennedy Toole, as a way of spreading some magic New Orleans literary dust upon the proceedings.
The Ondaatje is “Coming Through the Slaughter,” his fragmented and fictionalized homage to Storyville’s great Buddy Bolden, the progenitor of the jazz trumpet thereabouts.
Williams’ stage direction in Streetcar named Desire for the Kowalski’s neighborhood of Elysian Fields is to die for:
“The section is poor but, unlike corresponding sections in other American cities, it has a raffish charm… The sky that shows around the dim white building is a peculiarly tender blue, almost a turquoise, which invests the scene with a kind of lyricism and gracefully attenuates the atmosphere of decay.
You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river beyond the warehouses with their faint redolence of bananas and coffee… In this part of New Orleans you are practically always just around the corner, or a few doors down the street, from a tinny piano being played with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers.”
Doesn’t take long at all for anyone who’s ever cast his or her shadow in the Crescent City to revisit the singular ambiance of that most northern cultural light of the Caribbean. Satchmo’s opening cadenza to “West End Blues” will put you there quicker than most.
Memories of Frenchmen Street just off the Quarter along with Pirate’s Alley and Toulouse & Royal where we found Grandpa Elliott blowing his harp for the faithful are just a few notables. The Congo Square section of Louis Armstrong Park and Preservation Hall down on St. Peters are a couple of others.
Hope everyone had a Fat Tuesday crawfish gumbo’s worth of Mardi Gras. ‘Scuse me! I sense the aroma of a Sazerac.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.