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July 11, 2014

New Orleans’ Summers

Roy Meachum

The snow bowl made the really hot of the year seems bearable. I forgot they were called a variety of names in different parts of the country: Shave off some ice and add a flavor from handy bottle, and there you have a snow bowl.


Following the other boys in their sartorial splendor, I wore shorts with socks clinging to my legs. A loose shirt was de rigueur: this means “required” in French. I learned a lot of words hastily: much too much.


By the time I came along, Spanish replaced the tongues of the older generation – except toward Lake Charles and Lafayette, where they talked Cajun, a form of French, diluted with Spanish, African and English. Some contemporary guys heavily had an accent, or they didn’t get the sidewalk banter.


Creole is something else: a mixture of European and the local speech – fading fast; it does mean a person of color. Basically, Creole cuisine mixes regional ingredients with French and Spanish recipes. Not always. Every Louisiana woman – and man – has a string on food; in some instances they make frogs and fish – like I’ve never eaten before.


In my youth, Lake Ponchartrain was used as “beach;” there was a lot more going on than swimming. In the first place, restaurants capitalized on the lake ambiance. I took a friend along a few years ago; she was captivated by the lakeside location as I had been two decades before in the main branch. Two dozens of oysters, several pounds of shrimp and crabs made my menu. Some instances Ponchartrain wiped out our hearing.


In 1949, I had just returned from Germany, in Berlin; after months having the Soviets banned railroads, vehicular traffic and barges to prevent our traveling to the “Zone” and all that means. I wasn’t there when they lifted the blockade. But of course, I was aware of the joyous minute when Moscow decided to cancel the embargo – thanks to the Airlift and the Germans called “Luftbruecke” (air bridge). Certainly, there were Berliners who went to sleep with something in their stomachs. For us, the Allies, it was party time. The best entertaining was in the British Zone; they seemed to get an extra ration of booze. Their girls and young women were downright fetching. Maybe their accents…


New Orleans’ summers were very hot and humid. With the Mississippi a mile wide at that point, the nearby Ponchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico not very far away – is there any doubt when my home town’s air remains moist. And storied.


In the old town, history bleeds from every brick.  Many of the storied bars have lived at least two lives; some shut the doors under Prohibition. Whether open or not existed in the 20s, they offer hospitality to the world, so much that visitors have to distrust any liquid they drink. No problem overseas; we’re talking about the booze and stronger. Mickey Finn drops are surprise, used in the French Quarter.


When I left New Orleans, it was to the Army. Sometimes I feel like joining Louis Armstrong in singing: “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans…”


By the way, I met Mr. Armstrong, in connection with an appearance in DC’s Constitution Hall. But he’s dead now.


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