French Affairs in New York: The French Do It Right

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Is it any wonder why New Orleans has turned out like it did it being a French colony and all? There is something about the French that bring classiness to almost everything they do and the weekend I spent in New York at a French Affairs meeting was a testament to that.

Atout France, the French tourism development agency, puts on a weekend once a year in the U.S. for  folks here that have some kind of tour operating business that involves bringing their customers to France and territories to experience the culture, food and history of the place. A year after Hurricane Katrina they brought their meeting to New Orleans, this year it was in New York.

Let me tell you I was impressed. Everything went without a hitch, their audio visual presentations were first rate and classy, the meals were wonderful with little touches only the French would do. And everyone was nice, kind and very helpful.

The meeting lasted only for a day and a half and it was all expenses paid. We spoke to tour operators in Rhone, Provence, Chamonix, and Bordeaux. They had a lunch of typical foods from the Caribbean island of St. Martin. We were offered free “fam” trips to the Alps, Provence and the island of Martinique. (Fam means familiarity.)

We tasted fine wines, had great food, spoke to many friendly and wonderful people. And got really excited about the possibilities of Julie’s culinary tours business. Apparently this year’s program was the biggest ever with over 140 U.S. tour operators specializing in France and more than 60 French suppliers. France is the world’s most popular tourist destination.

I got a chance to share with many French people just how much we in New Orleans appreciated what France did for us after Katrina. They sent millions of dollars in aid and put on a splendid art exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art. It felt good to assume the role of goodwill ambassador from this former French colony at this New York meeting.

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New Orleans-ishman in New York — Part two

union square farmer's market new yorkWoke up on a New York morning to mild temperatures and a spotty drizzle. Julie’s cousin Allysa joined us at the open air farmer’s market in Union Square that had the most beautiful fruits, veggies and flowers.

At Wild Wood on Park Avenue we had delicious barbeque —they even had Louisiana’s own Abita Beer. The service was excellent and friendly and the prices reasonable.

We did a little shopping at Macy’s where it was packed with people on a Saturday. This amazed me. It didn’t seem like anyone was worried about the economy. I struck up conversations with people here and there and all seemed very friendly and down to earth and more than willing to talk with me.

When people asked where I was from I got the reaction that I was always get when I tell them New Orleans. Their eyes light up and they say, “Wow” or “Really” or something like that. In fact, I love for people to ask me that because I like to see that reaction. It lets me know that where I live is recognized universally as someplace special. And of course, I often got the Katrina-inspired reaction of “so how are things down there?”

One evening we had drinks inside Grand Central Station in the Michael Jordan bar overlooking the cavernous lobby. Beautiful building, friendly people. Later on In the basement of this huge building we had crawfish pizza of all things, a little slice of home.

Sunday morning we grabbed a taxi and rushed to Mass at magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral, heard the beautiful organ and choir and then headed on over to Chinatown to have Dim Sum with Tristan, a French friend who works for the Alliance Francaise, along with a few of his friends from France and Mexico.

I’ve heard so many stories about how high the prices for meals are in New York. Well, every meal we had was good and very inexpensive, so I don’t know what that’s all about. People were friendly, streets were clean and although New York is someplace I wouldn’t want to live, still too crowded and not very green, it’s a fun place to spend a few days.

All in all we had a fantastic weekend in the Big Apple. I’m looking forward to the next time I go back. And it was so good to get back home to New Orleans.

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New Orleans-ishman in New York — Part One

union square new york 2I spent the past weekend in New York and had a fabulous time. I was there with my friend Julie for an event put on every year by the French Government tourist office to promote travel opportunities between America and France.

It had been over 16 years since I’d been to New York. Then it was dirty, homeless people seemingly seemed to be everywhere, and I felt there was an attitude of un-friendliness that for me, coming from a friendly city like New Orleans, was hard to bare.

Now, I gotta say that some of what I saw and felt might have been me so I’m not going to blame that whole past experience on New York alone.

As I get older I find that I’m a little more accepting of what is and a lot more appreciative of life. Back then I was also bothered by the fact that it seem everywhere I looked I was surrounded by towers of concrete and very little greenery.

What I noticed this time was a marked absence of the homeless, clean streets, and very friendly people. In fact, not once did I encounter the mythical New York rudeness. People on the subway were only too happy to give us directions and one fellow actually got off the subway train with us and walked us through corridors and gates and brought us directly to our next train.

All the subway cars we were on were fresh and modern, not the old dingy, dirty cars of years ago. I always wondered why Europe seemed to have a nicer subway system than New York. They have beautiful stations and beautiful, modern cars.

New York’s subways are still pretty old and run down (New York’s system is a lot older than Europe’s) but I gotta say that the system is fast and efficient, although a little confusing to a newcomer. But the city dwellers themselves were only too happy to give us directions.

This time I enjoyed walking through and with the masses of people on the sidewalks and in the subways. I actually found it to be fun. Also, the massive canyons of concrete instead of previously being a cause of oppression I now found fascinating. I guess I’m a little more tolerant than I used to be.

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New Orleans’ Love Affair With Itself

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You know the old saying

“God loves those who love themselves.” Hm.

Or is it “God helps those who help themselves.”

I’ve heard it said

that the unique thing about this city is that

most people who live here love it.

I mean really love it.

Okay, is it perfect? No.

We got our problems like any city got its problems.

We got crime, corruption, incompetency,

ineptitude, you name it.

But we also got Jazz, world class food,

unique traditions and customs, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest,

and numerous festivals throughout the year.

We are so rich in history

we are called the historian’s paradise.

We are sitting on top of and inside of history.

It exudes from the street, hangs in the air,

is built into our architecture,

passes in sounds from our lips,

is infused in our songs,

travels up and down the Mississippi

and stirs us in our sleep.

Built on a sacred ancient Indian site

We were destined to become infused with

An intangible spirit, a soaring gift for soul

Despite our catering to vice

We are one of the most spiritual cities

In America.

We pulled a city out of primordial ooze

And created a shining jewel

It was written long ago.

Love yourself and God will love you back.

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The New Orleans Saints and the Creaming of the Giants

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Ya’ know, I am not much of a football fan and I never thought that I would be writing anything about football in these pages but I gotta say that the routing of the New York Giants over the weekend was a good thing to see.

Although I am an athletic kind of guy, I have to admit I don’t know much about football. Never had anyone to teach it to me as I grew up. I was kind of a sit-around, pasty kind of kid, spending a lot of my time at the piano, so I never really expressed much interest in the game.

Consequently, I never learned all the rules to football and don’t understand all that first and ten, first and goal, blah, blah, blah, all the little details. I do understand the basic premise: get the ball across the opponents goal line. That’s about it.

A couple years ago I went on the Internet and downloaded the rules to the game and read them. It made me even more confused. It was almost as if it was written in a another language, or maybe like a bad translation from another language.

I read two different sets of rules from two different sites on the Internet. Both were like gobbledygook to me. When I watch a game now I don’t understand it any more than I did before reading the rules.

And I think: What mind came up with this sport? Why does it seem to be so complicated? Are there other people out there in the stands hooting and hollering who really don’t understand what’s going on either? I’m gonna say, yes.

Anyway, I’m beginning to appreciate the game more like a war game, the strategy involved and the incredible skill and talent of the quarterback and all the team mates who support him. And the skill and talent of the coaches.

All that came through to this one basically ignorant of how the game is played when I watched the final quarter of the creaming of the Giants by the Saints.

Bless you, boys. Can we now say, “on to the Superbowl?”

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