When Art and Life Collide

Been There!

The Moment: The Branford Marsalis Quartet perform at the Dallas Museum of Art on June 25, 2004.

In the grip of a smoldering Texas summer, the pounding rainstorm came as a refreshing release.  That whole Friday afternoon, the seas seemed to splash around us.  The rains trickled off just in time, leaving downtown Dallas cleansed and sparkling like a cut crystal goblet.  We found our way through the city maze, my husband, two little boys and I, to the grassy plaza behind the Dallas Museum of Art.  We planted ourselves in the earthy lawn at the foot of a gargantuan red steel sculpture (Proverb by Mark di Suvero).  We were in for a truly unique experience: a free jazz concert by the Branford Marsalis Quartet celebrating the visual arts of Romare Bearden and the music Branford had written in response (Romare Bearden Revealed, 2003).

As the gleaming sun slipped behind the diamond point of the Fountain Place tower, we stretched out on the lawn on thick blankets, sipping sweet summer wine and chatting with a nearby couple recently transplanted from New York.  When the band took the stage, a mere thirty yards away, cheers from the crowd met melodies that are worthy of the spheres.  My little red-headed boys ate raisins and gummy bears, kicked their feet more or less in time to the music, and blinked intently at the stars.  My husband and I polished off the bottle and leaned against each other, reveling in this blissful and fleeting moment.

But it got better.  The highlight of the night for us was “I’m Slappin’ Seventh Avenue,” a tune where Dixie-style jazz splashes into the blues, and together they race a course over a modern funk groove.  The inspiration may be a bit further north, but I was instantly transported to the City Beneath the Sea, where Creole cooking wafts from the narrow doors of the French Quarter, where music echoes from every corner, where everything is just a little…easier.

I put my lips to the ears of the love of my life and whispered, “Wanna go?” “What, can we?” was his answer, no explanations needed.  The wheels started spinning.  Time we had coming a few days ahead.  Money?  I could get my hands on some if I made some cuts elsewhere.  Desire?  Every song brought me closer.  Crescent City’s call is as seductive as a siren’s song.  Branford’s music captured us somewhere between haunting rhythm and celebratory melody.

After the quartet’s fabulous ninety-minute set, the museum kept its doors open until midnight.  We all made our way inside to pick up a cup of free (yes, free!) Starbucks coffee and line up for the Bearden retrospective.  The harmonies of a gospel quartet filled the cavernous halls and kept the gleam in everyone’s eyes.  We filed slowly through the exhibit, a stirring collection of paintings and collage multimedia reflecting the culture of life in Harlem: the music, the righteous and painful struggles for human rights, passion and hope, love and defeat—it was all there.  That evening was a rich synthesis of the senses; everything I love all in one place.  Realizing its rarity makes it all the sweeter.

P.S. The Big Easy hasn’t lost an ounce of charm!

Previously published in Being There Magazine, Summer 2004

http://beingtheremag.com/archives/content/0502/beenthere.html

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Between the Tents

Gator Pie

I adore many things about New Orleans, but the combination of music, food and culture at the Jazz and Heritage Festival is irresistible. This year, between Kermit Ruffins’ upbeat trad jazz set and rowdy Rebirth Brass Band, I took a stroll down the long lane of food stalls painted like old-town storefronts. There are several such streets of food to explore. I sampled as much as possible, including Duck Po’Boy and Miss Linda Green’s famous Ya Ka Mein.

Alligator Pie is a new favorite. The flakey, homemade crust puts all other fried pies to shame. Gator meat as fresh and tender as any Texas brisket, and the sauce—let’s just say this sauce has teeth. The sign should read “Alligator Pie: it bites you back!”

The sauce wrapped around my fresh gulf Shrimp and Grits was creamy, almost like étouffeé, but with a little red Louisiana heat. I scooped it up while waiting for the Comanche Hunters Mardi Gras Indians–a heart-stopping performance of costume, dance, voice and percussion like nothing else in the world. I tried Crawfish Monica: fusilli pasta with a light cream sauce, laced with garlic and paprika, with big chunks of ‘mudbugs’ in every bite.

And there are still dozens of things I didn’t get to try: Crawfish Sausage Po’Boy, Crabmeat Stuffed Shrimp, Oyster Pattie, Mango Freeze, Crawfish Sack.  Crawfish Sack?  What is that?  Sounds like a reason to go back to New Orleans as soon as possible.

I had to trade my son three shrimp from my po’boy to get a taste of his Crawfish Beignet. Worth it! Crunchy fritter on the outside gave way to light-as-air breading on the inside, with shreds of crawfish and spices throughout, topped with a thread of remoulade sauce from a gallon pump bottle.

Only in New Orleans!

Shrimp & Grits

Foodie Lane

Duck Po'Boy