Thursday, July 26, 2007

Today began with a tour of the Houston real estate market and concluded with a rowdy evening in the Big Easy. Things started early for Jenny, who decided that she'd like to dedicate a portion of the day to the study of potential opportunities in Houston. Jenny dreams of expanding our financial portfolio with some investment properties, so she hooked up with a local real estate agent and toured several Houston neighborhoods. She loves crunching numbers on her spreadsheets and anticipating the trends that might cause a rundown block to blossom with opportunities. For Vienna and I, Jenny's city tour allowed a few extra hours of sleep. By noon, though, we gathered together once more and hit I-10 for points east, Jenny talking excitedly about several hot properties.

The afternoon was uneventful until the rains really started to pour. All day I surveyed the storm clouds ahead and recalled ruefully the weather channel's assurance that the swirling bands of harsh weather would lash the gulf coast for the next week. Records would be broken, the experts promised, and the region would see impressive amounts of rainfall for this time of year. During our vacation, I groused. So far we'd managed to encounter precipitation only while driving. But I looked into a seemingly inevitable future ahead in the dreadful downpour in New Orleans. Maybe I can get into a "blues mood," I imagined. Perhaps it'll be cool anyway, I hoped. But somehow I knew that New Orleans would be a bust this time.

By the time we got to Baton Rouge the traffic reached nightmarish proportions. Strange intersections and divergences of interstate highway ramps seemed to converge in a most ill-planned way. Not only would we wander the Bourbon Street in the rain, we'd do so way too late to enjoy the trip. Using our trusty Rand-McNally, Vienna searched for surface streets that would help us avoid the traffic and then, as if the road trip gods returned from their own vacation, the jam cleared. Better yet, the rains slowed and then ceased altogether. Once we pulled off the interstate and began to navigate the narrow roads of the French Quarter, I became confident that things would work out.

Once we parked our car, we headed immediately for Bourbon Street. I'd visited a number of times before, and Jenny wandered the city with me once, but Vienna had never been to New Orleans, and I was excited to share this city with her. It's such a strange place, both depressing and exhilarating. Though Katrina wrecked much of the gulf coast, the French Quarter maintains its ancient charms: loud and eclectic music pouring from most doorways, booze-addled loonies searching for beads, and that indescribably pungent odor that combines urine and incense. Jenny warned Vienna not to look too closely at some of the Quarter's more X-rated pleasures, and we all made sure to stay in well traveled areas. We joined a happy line of folks waiting to get into Acme Oyster Company and found our seats without an excessive delay. Vienna tried her first oyster while I joyfully slurped down a few. We marched through jambalaya, spicy sausage, thick gumbo, red beans and rice, but we also saved some room for dessert.

Returning to the increasingly chaotic streets we made time to look into a self-proclaimed voodoo shop and stroll through other souvenir stores. We also stopped to listen to a trio of musicians belting out gospel tunes before visiting Café Du Monde in search of beignets and coffee, some of the best java I've had in a while. We then walked along the water, made one last walk along Bourbon Street, and ambled to our lodging for the night. We stayed at the terrific Place D'Armes hotel near Jackson Park, renting a room facing a leafy courtyard lit by gas lamps. Before heading for bed, I enjoyed some evening swimming. Though the pool officially closed at nine, the managers said we could enjoy the pool later -- as long as we didn't get too loud. Laissez les bons temps rouler, indeed! I enjoyed floating on my back and gently pushing from side to side while looking up at a five-story brick building that looked like it'd been standing here since colonial times. Without even a single rain drop to sully our evening we returned to our room, closed the curtains, and nodded off.

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All text and photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood