Showing posts with label Around the World in 80 Tastes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Around the World in 80 Tastes. Show all posts

Chicago Pranking

I found myself in Chi-town for one night only. No, I didn’t wake up in an ice bath, drugged-up and missing a kidney and one testicle, with a note pinned to my chest instructing me to call 9-1-1. I just needed to be there for that one day.

I had one night to eat at one restaurant. If you can only have sex with one Baldwin, you are by God gonna pick Alec. Don't use your "Baldwin" up on Billy.

I chose restaurant Moto -- mother kitchen of Future Food. Moto is in a hip, slightly sketchy, warehouse neighborhood on Fulton Street. It’s the kind of transitional area where you wouldn’t be surprised to see a body being dragged to the river or an intricate Chihuly piece dangling from a lamppost.

On the two-mile drive from my hotel to the restaurant, the driver pointed out some of the sights of this toddling town. I didn’t let on that I had been there a few times before, including one fateful trip with The Raisin, my ex that owned a raisin company in Fresno.

That year, the Sony Discman had just come out of the technology closet. They were still obviously pricier than my morals. I hadn’t bought one yet. We walked out of Neiman’s on Michigan Avenue and this guy shuffled by a little too closely, whispering what sounded like “Discman fifty bucks.”

I asked The Raisin to hold still and we loitered in the doorway for a few moments. When that guy hurried past again, I knew I heard, “Discman fifty bucks.” I was excited. He passed one more time, and I stopped him with my gloved hand.

“I’ll take one, ” I said, a little too loudly.

He lowered his head, opened his ratty coat, revealing that while he forgot his belt he was concealing a shiny Sony Discman.

 “Give me the money now, and then meet me under that overpass right over there in 15 minutes. There are cops watching up here,” he said, hushedly.

This was the deal of a lifetime, and my hand shook as I slipped him a fifty and he scooted away.

The Raisin and I waited under that bridge for the fifteen minutes. We didn't talk. The air was brisk and I stomped my feet. I kept peering down the deserted street for the white van that held my friend the Discman-pusher, my dreams and my fifty. 

After a while, The Raisin asked me, “Did you think he was actually coming?”  

Well, of course I did!

"Wait, " I said, realizing right then and there exactly what I was doing wrong at that exact moment in my life. “Did you know he wasn’t coming – that this was a set up and I was duped out of your hard-earned cash?”

He had known indeed; but felt I needed a lesson. I learned right then never to trust a married man.

In another couple years I would end that relationship for good. One can only take so much.

Back in the present, once safely inside Moto, the diminutive hostess led me into a flatteringly lit room. She led me to a stark table, as flowerless as a prison cell in a non-election year. I knew instantly that the food was the featured star.  

It was about now that I realized I didn’t know the price of this meal. I know they say if you have to ask then you can’t afford it, but what if this meal cost thousands of dollars? Would I have to wash dishes or father children to pay my check? Perhaps they actually take your limbs as payment  -- Chicago is tough town.

I relaxed  Whatever it cost, it’s fine. The Facebook IPO was occurring the next day so everyone was going to be billionaires. 

The service was the best I have had outside of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans or Le Cirque in New York -- precision at it’s best.

A camaraderie had formed among the diners. A man next to me was so elated that they were accommodating his kosher practice that he was texting his mother, They had me at Shalom.” A young man got so caught up in the whole experience that he hopped up and crossed to his lover, a beautiful girl in a sexy red blouse cut so low it seemed endless. She remained seated as he bent down and passionately kissed her over and over and over.  If he wasn’t going to propose, I was.

Eventually, a large bowl filled with smoke was placed on my table. "An element of your next course," mumbled the waiter I came to know as “Lurch". As the flavored smoke drifted from a hole in the bowl, a black leather glove was revealed inside. My neighbor whispered to me that he had seen that online, it was known as Smell the Glove. Just scented vapor, the dessert had an air of a little Emperor's New Clothes-ish.

After I paid, the waiter leaned in and asked in a low, quiet voice if I would like a tour of the kitchen. I thought I might fall victim to another Chicago prank. Something was about to be pulled over that some sort of code for illicit sex, or illegal drugs.

Of course I popped up like toast and followed him. Where we actually toured the kitchen.

Thanks to Moto, I redeemed myself in Chicago. The only wool this town can pull over my eyes is in a sweater. 

This Little Piggy is Going to Hell

Never name your pets if you live on a farm.

That rule was put in place by some farmer and his wife back in 1265AD. They had a daughter named Isabella. She was kind and good. Her father raised sheep on this farm. Isabella would frolic in the meadow with the sheep, charm them, and they her. Her parent's gazed out of the curtain-less cottage window to marvel at their sweet daughter and her innate ability to communicate with these simple, fatty, tasty-when-roasted, animals.

Isabella took pride in naming them names that suited their personality. Shyness, Lamb-y and Glowing Girl were among her favorites. She danced and sang with the sheep in the meadow from sunrise to dusk, making up ditty's that included their names and personalities. Her idyllic life was the kind that ends up depicted in films starring Shirley Temple, with Bojangles as the tap-dancing hired hand.

This all came to a screaming halt one evening when Isabella's mother called her in for dinner. "I'm starving, mummy," Isabella remarked, with rays of sunshine emanating from her cherubesque face. "What's for dinner?"

"Lamb stew. Same as last night and same as tomorrow," Isabella's mum coldly spat out. She was bitter from all of the farm work and had built up a resentment towards her husband from squelching her dancing career in Dublin and moving her to this sheep farm.

Isabella made the connection. That connection her father had feared she would make one day. Her young, round eyes darted rapidly from her parent's faces to her plate and then out the curtain-less window towards the barn.

"You mean, this is.... Shyness, or Lamb-y??!!" She choked back tears.

"Actually, Izzy, my angel, I have no idea," her father stated as bluntly as the ax he used to kill the sheep. "They're just animals to me and food for my family. One day the money we make selling them will buy us curtains for our window."

Isabella pushed her plate and her parents away forever. She left home that night, became a vegan, moved to Barcelona, set up shop as a wigmaker and she moonlit as a prostitute. (Wigs weren't really in fashion yet.)

Flash forward to summer of 1981, I worked at  Diamond Lodge Guest Ranch. A "dude ranch" outside of Durango, Colorado. A college friend, Donna DiTucci, and I were hired from Dallas as "Entertainment and Activities" directors. We "entertained" the guests and ourselves by putting on little shows at night. Our "activities" included perfecting rodeo horseback-riding tricks and finding new ways to feature bandanas in order to look more dude-ish. We'd just starred in a college production of The Boyfriend so most of our skits involved those songs. We just re-worked those 1920-era show tunes, swapping out the French resort references with cowboy terms.

The business of the ranch was tough. It was as hard to earn money from dude-ranching as it was to earn a roll in the hay with the rough-riding cowpoke son of the owner. Not impossible, just hard.

The owners were constantly struggling with new ways to attract guests. One day they showed up with a baby bull. There was a dairy farm nearby and they sold off the bulls for $100, as bulls only produced semen, and the dairy farm only needed milk.

I had heard that in Sweden, farmers lifted their cows every day from birth, and therefore were able to do so even when the cows weighed 2,000 pounds, because they never noticed a drastic weight gain, like Ricki Lake, Kirstie Alley or the Mexican peso. So I lifted that baby bull, who I named Beauregard, every day for the ten weeks I was there. I'm sure it was a funny sight -- me struggling under the weight of a very confused 100-lb baby bull. I fed him bull formula from a discarded Moosehead beer bottle fitted with a nipple. In a scene much like the clay-throwing sequence in the film Ghost where Patrick Swayze got all up in Demi Moore's business, the studly cowboy taught me to wean the bull from the bottle to a pail by sucking first on the bottle, then my fingers, then the liquid from the pail.

The ranch owner's also bought a sow, and her twelve piglets, to entertain the guests. Not sure if the piglets were supposed to entertain by putting on little chorus numbers, but I named the sow Mama Cass. I named the piglets -- The Cass-ettes. The litter included Re-Wind, Ella, Fast Forward, Eject and Memorex.

Swarthy Cowboy informed me that when it was time to wean the piglets, the mother would start to shake the piglets off her teats. They would fight to get back on, and in the cruelest example of supply and demand, as her milk dried up she would stomp on the head of the runt and kill him dead.

In a defiant Lifetime TV movie Not Without My Daughter moment, I sneaked in the pig pen late one night and grabbed that little runt and ran. I tucked him inside my really-cool-that-I-wish-I-still-had-snap-front jean shirt and hid in a small barn close by.

Suddenly, the mama pig forgot that she was plotting to kill this piglet, and began squealing and rooting and bashing into the sides of her pen. The sow was totally pissed and moved surprisingly fast for a big girl.

I lay in that little barn all night, with him wiggling inside my shirt. At one point, with remarkable aim, he bit my actual nipple with one of his needle teeth, making me scream and almost reconsider his rescue. I named the pig Arnold, after the Green Acres pig. I told him so as I talked to him calmly trying to assure him this kidnapping was the best thing for him.

As the sun rose, I could tell that the mother had calmed down and returned to her surviving and hungry brood. I began Arnold's training.

He was very smart. Soon he followed me so closely that I had to drag my foot a bit so I wouldn't hit him in the piglet chin. Sex-tiger cowboy built him a small pen next to our bunkhouse, and if Arnold heard me approaching he began to squeal with delight. Pigs are intelligent and needn't a leash. They can't sweat, so they roll in the mud to cool themselves off. (I did the same thing after watching the ranch hands shower.)

Arnold ate what I ate, and was really, really cute. I once had to cuddle him all night for three nights in a row to break a little fever he had. I was truly worried I'd lose him.

Sometimes at the ranch, I took a horse on a long trail ride and end up on Lemon Lake. I rode the horse bareback into the cold water and the horse would swim It's a magical feeling riding on a swimming horse.

I wanted to replicate that for Beauregard the baby bull and Arnold the brilliant piglet. Donna and I put both of them in a canoe and tried to paddle them around the lake. I guess baby bulls are afraid of water or canoes, because Beau was wiggly. His movement almost capsized the canoe and we had to abort that ill-conceived mission.

As the summer grew to a close, I prepared to go home. I was in the Marine Corps reserves and had a two-week camp in Palm Springs to attend, which held the promise of an awesome tan. I wanted to fly Arnold home to Dallas and keep him there, possibly on our ranch where ironically, wild pigs are a nuisance.  

But the U.S. experienced a record heat-wave that summer, and the airlines refused to fly pets, which included piglets, so I had to leave Arnold at the ranch. I checked in on him for awhile, then stopped because I didn't want to hear that he had fetched a good price or tasted better than we thought.

I often think of the cowboy in Colorado and my little pig, Arnold -- and why one should never, ever, name your farm animals. They might end up on my plate.

Montreal: Baby It's (still) Cold Ootside

Saying Montreal is often very cold is like saying airplane food is often very bad. It's stating the obvious. But it's true. Right now, the end of April, it's about 6 degrees Celsius in Montreal.

Last Christmas it was -55C one afternoon, with the wind chill. That's - 67 in Fahrenheit, but Fahrenheit sounds like Nazi talk.

To combat California's frigid nights, I have a fireplace and a purple mink bedspread. That spread looks amazing there, but it makes more sense to me to have the mink in Montreal. I asked Bob if we should bring it there.

"Not only do I not want it, I don't want you to have it, " he said. Besides, he went on, "Even if you weren't disturbed for buying that thing, people don't bring fur into Canada."

On any cold day in Montreal, which is most days, when I need food, I wrap myself up in a winter traveling costume to walk the four blocks to the store. Even on that -55C day. My walking ensemble is comprised of long johns, jeans, a thick shirt, a sweater, a scarf, a floor-length down coat, an Elmer Fudd hat, and the usual dark glasses. To protect the face, some locals who have lived here for many generations have developed and sport a thick, black facial scruff. Even the men.

This is a costume to me because I wear it only a couple weeks at a time, so it is like I'm dressing up for a part in a movie. When I encounter mink-lined women squeezing cantaloupes in the market I realize that they're appearing in a long-running show. They dress like this for the whole run of winter, with bitterness and regret, like Elaine Stritch doing bus-and-truck Sondheim at this point in her career, thinking, "Really? Is that all there is?"

I once forgot underwear on this freezing four block walk. One of my balls retreated so far inside me I had to use the Dyson vacuum to suck it back out. I think that violates the warranty.

I've seen some weird things on this walk, like a door in the snow, and once an empty snow-covered stroller chained to a pole. At night. Today I saw a seemingly educated and almost-dressed woman walking barefoot in my hood in Montreal.

Since it is 6 degrees Celsius ootside, I figure she'll say to one of her cats later tonight, after her third glass of boxed Merlot, "Fuck off, I might be crazy but I have nationalized health care."

She's brandishes her imperviousness to cold around like Canada's pretty money and legal gay marriage. All America really has to brag about, that Canadians lack, is our unlimited wi-fi and free coast-to-coast long distance. And warm weather.

Later this article ran in our neighborhood newspaper.

Pedestrians don't have the right of way in Montreal like they do in Los Angeles, where it is a ticket-able offense to even creep your car into an occupied crosswalk until it is completely void of people. I'm constantly reminded that in Canada, drivers are cold and angry. I once was almost mowed down by a city truck, eager to splash me with dirty, melted snow before running me over, just to leave a messier corpse.

In Montreal, we live in a high-rise. The doormen are not overly enthusiastic about opening the door, as it causes this weird arctic blast combined with extreme pressure to rush violently into the foyer. So while the doormen may seem lazy, they are just trying not to get hurt. We once had a one-armed doorman (which causes one to think that "doorman" might not be the best career choice for a one-armed man). We never knew how he lost that arm. Maybe he had both arms when he started and it got slashed off by the razor-sharp cold air blast when he opened the door.

This is me struggling to my building's door last week (April. And once again, it's handy that I am amazingly limber and freakishly strong).

On my freezing Spring jaunt yesterday, I was inspired by daffodils forcing their way up through the cold, frozen tundra. If I'd been walking with Taylor Negron, he's say something like, "Look at those defiant little jonquils! Let's celebrate their optimism with lamb stew."

It's become my life's work to warm people up in Montreal enough to get them to smile. Ice runs through their streets as well as their veins. Yesterday, I passed a couple walking, single file, their heads lowered to deflect the cold. They were probably lawyers, or bankers, but everyone is so bundled up here that they all look like Russian peasants headed for a bread line. My eyes met the man's first, and he almost smiled in reaction to my foie gras eating grin. I said "bonjour" to the woman, and she sort of smiled, but hurried to catch up to her husband in case I was a KGB officer and would arrest her for friendliness.

Sometimes saying "Bonjour!" or "What's Up?" freaks the locals out, sending them scurrying into their maisons. They wear mostly black clothing in Montreal, so to cheer them up, I brazenly go out in pink, blue and red. As I pass by, locals recoil in horreur. Mother's grab their young ones by the collar and pull them to safety.

If Canadians were a violent people or got cable,  they'd lynch me. These non-gun toting, cold-hearted citizens would string me up. Bustling home, passers-by would notice movement above, pause and look up. It's just me, dead and swinging from a tree in Westmount Park, wearing an orange shirt.

"We're not having any of that, eh?" they'd mutter and shuffle on.

The local cuisine here is poutine, which is french fries topped with curd cheese (the fattiest part of cheese) and slathered in brown gravy. I wanted to try this local fare; but local Bob is horrified by the very concept and won't eat his own country's native food. But he took me to sample it, appropriately at Nickel's, the restaurant owned by Celine Dion.

Our waitress didn't smile. Who could blame her, with a boss that was a former pop star who married a chronic gambler, and randomly cancelled Vegas dates all willy-nilly, last minute even, on people who had flown in on a non-refundable red-eye to see her sing the theme from Titanic on that slanted stage at Caesar's with those half-witted backup dancers? I'd be grumpy too. 

But I wanted to make the waitress smile. I charmed her with the thrilling news that this was my first poutine, and that is was my full intent to try every variety of poutine across the land, much like I try chicken fried steak for breakfast every place it is offered - which is a lot of places, yet never different.

She was not amused. She used her Quebec-qois accent and attitude and slammed my food down like she was ending British rule in Canada and therefore now a national hero. Unfazed, I regaled her with unexaggerated tales from my past, in English, nonetheless. Nothing worked, and I had too many layers of clothes on to show her that I could put my legs behind my head, my show stopper and always funny.

You remember the scene in Dr. Zhivago where Omar Sharif walks in that house and everything inside is frozen over - the furniture, the dishes, even his moustache? That's how cold the Montrealians are.

One New Year's eve, there wasn't any space in the freezer for my humongous Baked Alaska that I had thrown a fit for in the pattisserie, Gascogne. So I just kept it on the terrace until I was ready to serve it. If I spent more time in Montreal, I could keep a side of elk out there, next to the grill.

Montreal weather warms up slowly, like frozen chicken. You take the chicken out of the freezer, it's rock hard, frozen and mean -- that's January in Montreal. The chicken sits in the fride and get's a little softer - that's February. When the chicken gets soft enough to poke your finger in halfway -- that's like March.

And just when you're ready to eat, you take the chicken out and are ready to throw it on the grill but you discover that it's still frozen a little inside - that's April.

The people, like the weather, will warm up, eventually. Just lower their taxes and open a J. Crew. 

Fat Tuesday is Phat!

Mardi Gras should be on everyone's bucket list. Gras is fat in French, and gras sounds better and softer than fat.

Although the entire celebration lasts a few weeks, it culminates on Tuesday. While everyone is encouraged to dress up in costume and don a mask at any time, it's more expected on Mardi Gras day. This helps make random reckless behavior discreet and somewhat anonymous.

It's fun to see all of the outrageous costumes, some very clever and topical, others downright naughty. Some are people's own fetish items from their personal collection, safe to wear them out of their home/dungeon and onto the streets on this day. See an old man dressed in nothing but a bow tie and pasties and think:  He might be a high school principal. I linger for moment and wonder if I know them. Imagine the thought process behind their madness.

Here is such a man from this year's celebration -- my main questions are: Where exactly are his pants? How did he get here? How is he getting home? What if he has to stop and get milk?

Mardi Gras Requires No Pants

Many ask how I can be sober and still enjoy New Orleans. Let me tell you, Nola will make you grateful you don't drink.

I'm one Hurricane away from skanking it up with this ho/elementary school teacher. She kept yelling, Throw me something mister. I frantically looked for dignity, a tarp, a life raft or an AA meeting. You've heard of the 12 Steps to sobriety? This is Step 13.

I attended my first Mardi Gras as a teenager.  I was all into dressing up. Well, I was into others dressing up, I just dressed well. 

Where does one get costumes? During most of mid-20th century, my grandparents belonged to a social organization, a "lodge" if you will.  The group performed community service work. I guess they put on shows of some sort, because we have lots of photographs of them wearing colorful costumes and dancing about, all liquored up -- like a little Lubbock Mardi Gras.

Those satiny, fanciful costumes were kept in a cedar chest in our home to prevent moths, children and decorum from harming them. Sometimes, and sometimes daily, my brothers and I would drag those flashy sequined numbers out and employ them in amateur home theater productions.

When I was thirteen, I deemed it proper for my best friend Dale to wear a purple satin, sequined vest and matching harem pants to Mardi Gras. And nothing else. This same number had been worn (although hopefully with undergarments) by my glamorous grandmother around Lubbock's lavish social scene.

Dale as Aladdin was popular with the countless kind, middle-aged men who passed us on the streets. They were extremely appreciative, some even being so sweet as to comment and touch on Dale's physicality. How kind, not all creepy but perfectly normal at Mardi Gras where everything is okay, since the next day is Ash Wednesday -- the day where everything comes to a screeching halt and you just pray.  Pray for like, forty days and knights. That last part might just be me.

Dale and I wandered around the streets aimlessly soaking up the celebration. The public's behavior is as outrageous as the costumes. We turned a corner that day (in more ways that one) an noticed an enthusiastic crowd had gathered in one section of the street, which was already sticky and slimy at 9AM with twenty different liquid substances. The mob was looking up and cheering at a balcony.

One can always stroll through the French Quarter, pause and admire the amazing iron-work of the railings of New Orleans' buildings, or the massive Boston fern's that do so well in the humid environment, or these dozen naked men and women involved in various, educational and surely illegal-in-Alabama-and-the-rest-of-the-Bible Belt sex acts.

Those people knew how to put on a show, and amazingly limber considering that the yoga trend was about 25 years away. The growing crowd yelled suggestions, praise and sometimes disgust (everyone has limits). There was girl-on-girl action, man-on-man, man-on-woman, and lots of indiscernible body parts flying around. HIV wasn't around yet -- in fact, Sear's had just sold the first microwave oven to Dale's parents.

Our society had just been introduced to the concept of free love by the 60's a decade before this, and New Orleans at Mardi Gras was the free love vow renewal celebration.

One male participant wearing only a Superman cape and a crooked smile approached the edge of the balcony, as if to address followers gathered to witness this miracle of debauchery and spew out wisdom. Instead, he unleashed a stream of urine from his impressive and amazingly non-exhausted penis onto the crowd below. He grandly waved it from left to right, spraying pee generously onto the audience, as if watering a field of parched daisies.

Fire drills preach orderly exits in the event of a fire. They want you to calmly exit so that the evacuation doesn't resemble the scene in Elephant Walk where Elizabeth Taylor has to flee her mansion to avoid being trampled from the invading elephants that burst into the living room. (She makes it, of course, as she had another picture starting the next week for Warner's. But it was really, really close.)

That's how it was attempting to flee the pee. The crowd had drawn close, large and very tight.  Thankfully Dale and I were teenagers, perhaps the only ones both lithe and sober enough to dart under taller folks and make a hasty retreat. We watched the scene from across the street.

The screams of the audience were terrifying. People panicked as they tried to run. Eventually, the performers on the balcony lost interest and went back inside the apartment, presumably for lemonade and king cake. (King Cake: a tasteless, round, ring shaped cake,with a small toy plastic baby placed inside somewhere. The person finding the plastic toy in their piece of cake is "king" for the next year. Once I learned that this "king" title came with no power or jewels, I stopped rummaging through cake.)

Even today, the crowds at Mardi Gras are endless. To get down Bourbon Street, you just join the teaming mass of revelers, and drift in the direction that the sleazy, undulating mass of humanity is already going. You have no destination ; the entire city is one giant party. The food is fried and breaded and full of fat - so fat that your blood runs though your clogged arteries with as much difficulty as you have getting down the clogged streets. A helicopter view of Bourbon Street looks exactly like a microscopic view of my blood flow.

What is that goo you are stepping in as you walk down the streets? It's a special cocktail of everything that was once yummy, shiny and pretty -- now vile, slimy, bilious and unrecognizable.

For the most part, everyone is in a good mood, like the NYC vibe at Christmastime.  Sure, you pass passed out youths and have madwomen pawing at your junk and old ladies jiggling their naughty bits at ya, but it's all in good fun and technically for religion.

It was either God or Shakespeare who said Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die. No idea who said it - they're both so damned quotable.

I have taken Bob to New Orleans' three times -- one of which wasn't during the weeks surrounding Mardi Gras. I am glad he has seen it in normal mode. Although the city is always partying, at least the nakidity and public urination is less frequent. Among the constants of the Crescent City are the wonderful cocktails, people, food and music -- they all flow just as the Mississippi River and all put this town on the map.

On Bob's first walk into the Quarter, we stopped and watched a street Jazz band, jamming for tips. A lone man emerged from the small crowd, and began dancing to the band's rhythms.  He was totally wasted, and probably a terrible dancer even when sober, but the boozy-boogie in him was making him dance all higgly-wiggly, lop-sided and constantly about to fall or hurl. That is going a lot better in his head, I told Bob.

When you grow up in Bolivia I am sure that no matter where you go in the world, you are always going to seek that city's "Little Bolivia" to find your comfort food.  If you are Cuban, and you marry that rascally-redheaded bachelor Prince of England, he will fly in dry chicken with no sauce from Havana just to shut your whiny Latina-accented ass up: Oh Papi, I miss that little pork thingy from that store near that farm by Castro's summer house. Send a jet and get mommy some el cerdo, Papi.

So it is with New Orleans. I gravitate towards a Lucky Dog cart because it might actually have a giant magnet in that big weenie that pulls me in, or maybe I am always looking for the fictitious Ignatius C. Reilly from Confederacy of Dunces who briefly operated a cart. As I get close to Mother's off Magazine, I am only anxiously looking ahead to make sure there is no line that will keep me from getting that food in my body asap. I slap the veins in my forearm hard, as hard as I do when I am next in line at Pink's hot dogs in Los Angeles, which is really really hard and always attracts attention. And alerts smack dealers. The food in New Orleans calms me down. Once I get a muffaletta in me, or I hear the waiter at Camellia Grille call my order in to the chef One regular, Sir!,  the shaking subsides, I close my eyes and realize, even if for a bit, I am home.
New Orleans food is rushed like the crowds wish they could easily flow. Even the frying process is fast - food carefully laid in the dangerous rapidly boiling oil immediately starts flopping around and spewing. Like lions on a zebra kill. It's all dangerous - if the cooking process that your food endures can kill you, it's a total thrill.  You know that the technique of deep frying turkey's are causing house fires? Well, trailer fires.

If you need your food to have a sense of gentility -- go to Paris. In New Orleans. Here, just raise your outstretched hand in the air, and something sweet will land in it. It may be a naked girl, a limber, open-to-experimenting-on-vacation boy, or a cake-encrusted plastic toy baby baked in a King Cake -- but every bite will be sinful and delicious.

All good meals come to an end.  Even Mardi Gras.  I survived Marine Corps Boot Camp by remembering that we stopped whatever crazy-ass military exercise we were doing to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner.  That's how to survive Mardi Gras - one meal at a time, and it all ends on Ash Wednesday. The church opens it's door, and the priests spit out the choir boys long enough to wipe ashes on your forehead. Sure, they aren't supposed to judge you, but they do. Glass houses, father.

That day, lines of exhausted, bloated tourists stream in carbo-loaded slo-mo. They are still wearing heaps of plastic beads, and some have parts of costumes on too bulky to pack.  They are in stretchy pants, and their newly-fat feet are squeezed into their shoes like toothpaste. Then within minutes, on the plane, I hear revelers recanting tales of the city to one another. From food to nudity -- they collectively order a Bloody Mary and loosen their pants - and they wouldn't trade it for the world.

That is the picture of when Mardi Gras is over. This guy came with and spent the day with good friends. I love his commitment to the party -- look at him holding his drink, and his probable urgent need to pee. He had very little money left in his wallet when I found him, and I am sure he made it home safely. And this illustrates another good point about sobriety.

Our trips to New Orleans are getting shorter in duration, like our life expectancy is decreasing each time we go. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in New Orleans stays in your heart, in the form of fat, forever. Your mind is eternally seared with images of all of the stars of Mardi Gras -- like the housewives who let some carny in an alley paint their saggy, once-nursed-by-babes breasts, parading around the streets. Once Mardi Gras is over, they will be back home, selling the Jr. League cookbook in the lobby of the airport Marriot in Akron.

And you will be grateful to scratch it off your bucket list. But you also make notes about next year, to make sure we stay in the French Quarter. And wear rubber boots. You watch television with a secret purpose -- to find next year's costume.

Get your cholesterol checked -- you're coming back.

Venice/Noale: The Distrust of Marko

Went to Salzano today for an afternoon outing from Venice. The day trip involved a water taxi ride and then a 30-minute car ride through the Italian countryside with Marko, the same driver from Saturday. When we inquired about lunch, a local directed us to a place in Noale, about ten minutes away.

Marko got a total Doris Day parking spot. Did you ever notice in Doris Day’s films, she often played a young professional working in Manhattan. Whenever she arrived to work, she pulled her convertible (explains why she needed the mink) right up in front of her downtown office building and parked. She was the only one parking, so she had the whole street’s spots from which to choose.

Whenever we find a great parking spot, someone in the car sings “Que Sera” as we glide in the coveted spot. Bonus if we inherit time on the meter.

As we strolled through Noale on the way to the restaurant, I noticed an ancient ruin of a guard tower:

 And a moat:

The tower and moat looked like they belonged to a former castle. Marko told me that indeed this was a former castle, but it had fallen into ruin because the townspeople revolted against the crown after years of tyranny and unfair taxation. He went on to say that they had last used the tower to behead the Queen, who had been rude to the common folk. She denied them even the simplest of life's necessities: flour. Wait a minute. I know that story!

I was beginning to distrust Marko. Was he fabricating stories for my benefit? Did he honestly think I was unfamiliar with the French Revolution? And that moat - pul-ease. These Italian moats are so dinky. You want to see a moat that was meant to keep enemies out? Go to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Those ancient people knew how to keep invaders out. They made it like half a mile wide and filled it with hungry crocodiles. They weren’t ever invaded, until like 1981. And that was by tourists. By then, most of the crocs had been made into shoes for Nancy Reagan and that skinny Kissinger woman.

We lunched at Ristorante Al Gallo, named for a chicken, not someone named Al that makes wine in California. I would have been in trouble with my limited Italian, as the menu is not translated into into English, like the Venice eateries. But Marko interpreted it for me. I started with pointing and eventually Gnocchetti di patate al salmone affumicato, then go on with Branzino in crosta di sale con verdure di stagione al vapore.  Or, gnocchi with cheese and smoked salmon, and European Seabass in a salt crust.

(Sidebar: I was making notes on my iphone yellowpad, and when I typed in salmon. iPhone offered me salmonella. Not the word you want in a restaurant, especially in a foreign country. Especially in one where your Italian is so bad that when you ask for a napkin they bring you a young boy.)

Our Amuse Bouche arrived:

The lightest, crispiest fried sardines. Marco tells me there's no Italian word for the amuse bouche concept in Italian. I'm like a victim to his totalitarian interpretation of Italian life. I'm seriously starting to mistrust him and fear for my life. I might need a food taster.

He ordered what he told me was seafood lasagna:

I reached over and took a bite from his "lasagna" and judging from his quick reaction, obviously surprised him a bit. He has very fast reflexes, making me wonder if he has military training. Upon tasting his "lasagna", I noted, silently, that it was just fancy tuna casserole, not layered. Just fish and penne squashed together and baked with cheese. Marko is officially on my list.

My gnocchi arrived:

This is what they call a first course.  In my book, this would be the only course. And I'd take half home. But the dumplings were tender and smooth and the cheese sauce doppled with smoked salmon made it really hard not eat the entire portion. Not that hard.

Next came my entree, the fish baked in a hard salt crust. included a show! (I can't show you the show but imagine a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.) In Venice, I've been seeing a lot of religious paintings, so when Paolo, the waiter, broke the salt crust and lifted the baked fish from it's salty crypt, I couldn't help but think of the resurrection.

During lunch Marco spoke of two trips to Bangkok, each only two days long. This added to his mystery. It made my mind spin with ideas of what lured him to an exotic land and then to return again for such a short time. Drug run? Maybe kicked out for improper behavior with a teen?

Was Marko working as a driver/guide in order to slowly rebuild his life that was shattered after that woman that left him either remarried or moved led him to a lost weekend of drunken debauchery? I'll never know.

I was now so full, that my imagination and curiosity about Marko had been dampened. I pushed back from the table, too full for dessert. I knew there would be gelato later, and dinner was in less than four hours.

We walked through the town, looking in the shop windows at impossibly chic clothes:

They were impossible because I couldn't buy them - the stores were closed. Not being a tourist town, the shops closed at noon until 3:30PM to have lunch. I used to be so pissed in countries that did this; it was killing totally good shopping hours.

But now I understood. This amount of time was necessary as one had to eat lunch right after breakfast and then recover in time for dinner.