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Fyllis: New Orleans
New Orleans:
Where Anything Goes
While the Good Times Roll!
Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photographs by Victor Block

t's a city where anything goes, where everyone feels comfortable. A city of contradictions. It's a city that's part Left Bank, part island getaway. A town where tacky sits comfortably with tropical vegetation on the same barstool, Bacchus, blues and beignets share the same plate. A place of historical substance wrapped up in flights of fancy. Where sophisticated fashion walks down the street hand in hand with a take-out cup of beer.

historic house in New Orleans

New Orleans is more a feeling, an atmosphere, an essence than a brick-and-mortar town, even if some of those buildings are still in decay limbo since Katrina. It's a city of comedy and tragedy, decadence and elegance, sacred and profane. New Orleans is not a politically correct city, there's no middle class and there's no middle ground; it's a place that celebrates rather than shuns its eccentrics, of which there are many. From Royal Street where there are art galleries and antique shops to Bourbon Street, home to strip joints and T-shirts. It's this heady mix of gumbo flavors that draws people to New Orleans.

Before I left for my trip, I asked a random sampling – three friends – what comes to mind when they think of the Big Easy: Party town, they said, Mardi Gras, of course. Cajun food, oyster shooters. Music, jazz. So I sought out three personalities who perpetuate this image of New Orleans to get their take on the town they lovingly call home.

Sophie Lee - jazz vocalist and part owner of the Three Muses Restaurant and jazz club

I asked Sophie Lee, a jazz vocalist and part owner of the Three Muses Restaurant and jazz club, what folks should know about the New Orleans music scene. "When people think of New Orleans and jazz, they're just skimming the surface. Jazz goes beyond the traditional sounds most people associate with the name; there's also the brass band variety and blues and zydeco, Dixieland and bluegrass, gospel and improvisational. There's even bounce – a newer higher-energy form of hip-hop that not everyone knows about – and you can hear every variant somewhere in the city."

Most people coming to New Orleans are drawn to Bourbon Street but really that's more honky tonk than music immersion. According to Lee, Frenchmen Street is where the really good bands hang out. There are close to a dozen clubs within a two-block radius and you're as likely to be mingling with locals as you are tourists. After all, says Lee, "New Orleans is a music town even if no one is visiting."

musicians performing at Frenchmen Street, New Orleans

And, of course, it's also a food town. Michael Broadway, also known as Hollywood for reasons that became more and more obvious as the interview progressed, has been a Master Oyster Shucker and resident showman at Acme's Oyster Bar, a restaurant that itself opened over 102 years ago, for 34 years.

The oysters are the same wherever you go in the city; it's the shucker that makes the difference. As Hollywood explains it, "The difference between an oyster opener and a shucker is the whole presentation; shucking oysters as performance art." Claiming that he can talk about anything with anybody – that shucking and jivin' is how he rolls – he makes it a point to know what's going on in New Orleans and the world. "I know what's happening in town and out of town, where to go for the best music, the best desserts, the best anything in the city – and outside it."

Master Oyster Shucker Michael Broadway aka. Hollywood at work at Acme's Oyster Bar

And he's traveled far outside it as a representative of the Oyster Promotion Board, teaching a Safety Awareness Course he started 10 years ago to all the shuckers in the French Quarter as well as in other cities around the country. He even has his own DVD called "Hollywood's Shucking 101: The Making of a Master Shucker."

Lessons on life in New Orleans – and life in general – are part of what Hollywood serves up along with his oysters: "New Orleans is all about the food, the culture and the people. It's our job to make you want to come back. There's so much going on here and we want to make sure you enjoy it all. New Orleans may be the party capital of the world but I always suggest people get out of the French Quarter, ride the trolley, see the old houses, visit historical neighborhoods, sit by the river with a good book and a picnic lunch – there are a lot of ways to party in this town without all the craziness." Or with it.

Clearly, Hollywood loves what he does. By his own admission, "If I won the lottery today, I'd be here tomorrow."

But as much as New Orleans is known for its food and music, it's Mardi Gras that defines it – at least once a year. And what defines Mardi Gras are its masks. If Hollywood is one of the city's Master Shuckers, then Dalili can be called a Master Mask Maker – and he counts only three of them in the city worthy of that title. Most of the other masks, he claims, are either mass-produced or Chinese knock-offs.

a variety of masks at the Mask Gallery, New Orleans

Stepping into his shop/studio, Mask Gallery, is like entering a masquerade marketplace. The vast variety of masks range from fanciful to substantive, a whole court full of jester masks to a veterinary shop of cats, cows and owls; some full of feathers or glitter, others representing nature, abstract designs or multiple two-faced versions of the comedy/tragedy theme. There are as many different kinds of masks as there are types of jazz.

And that's equally true of what they're made out of. Different artists have different specialties: some work with leather as a base, others a variety of fabrics, and still others use paper mache. Dalili relies on skins from alligators, pythons, sting rays and lizards for his decorations. His contemporaries use feathers, Swarovski crystals, bells, wires and macramé. Once again, a familiar refrain repeats itself: anything goes -- that's the beauty of New Orleans!

master mask maker Dalili at work in his studio

Queried as to his own favorite masks, Dalili replied, "The ones that are sold, or those that I haven't made yet. Some people bring in their own designs for me to construct and I tell them that it will look nothing like they imagine – but they are usually happy with the finished product nonetheless. If not, no problem. I make what I like and I know I can sell it, even if not to them."

one of Dalili's masks

And masks are very personal, according to Dalili. "They take on their own spirit once they're put on, and the wearer takes on the identity of the mask. Masks bring out the true personalities of the person donning them because people think they're invisible." Mardi Gras is full of invisible people.

Dalili's masks range from $75 to $500 depending upon size, intricacy of design and materials, and can take from 5 hours to 25 or more to create As many people buy masks as decoration for their homes as they do to hide behind. When Halloween comes around they may take them down from the wall to double as wearable art, and then put them back to visually entertain others the rest of the year.

Although wearing Halloween masks, eating oysters at a raw bar or going to a hometown music club are always fun, doing any or all of them in New Orleans takes on a whole new dimension of experience that just can't be duplicated elsewhere. New Orleans, no surprise, is a unique city and while you're there, don't forget – ANYTHING goes. For more information about visiting New Orleans, visit neworleanscvb.com; about Sophie Lee, visit sophieleemusic.com; about Michael Broadway, visit acmeoyster.com; about Dalili, neworleansmask.com.

Related Articles:
New Orleans, Louisiana; Cajun Gumbo; Lexington, Kentucky; Texas Wine Country; Oyster Festival; Amelia Island, Florida

(Posted 1-22-2013)



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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!

Fyllis

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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in travelingboy.com about the Garifuna.

Fyllis

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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.

Fyllis

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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy



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