Jun 30, 2016

Prairieville: Creole coffees, calcified cafes, and culinary cornerstones

I’ve been seriously hungover before, so I was very happy to roll out of bed (still early) with little worse than grogginess, a slight headache, and feeling more tired than usual.
Once Tay was up and ready to go look for coffee, we walked over together to the French Quarter to Addiction. This was a second-and-a half wave coffee shop. They had single-origin pour-overs and Chemex ready, but also sugary blended flavored coffee drinks. I suppose that since this New Orleans, even third wave coffee joints probably also serve irish coffee frozen daiquiris. Anyway, I got an iced coffee with honey, cayenne, and some other interesting things, which was pretty good.

Saori texted me to bring her some coffee too since she and her family were at the hotel cafe and she said “its bad” without clarifying whether the coffee or the cafe.

The Whitney hotel ground floor is a long hall which opens into the former bank lobby, which is partitioned in half since the other side is an actual bank lobby. Its a really beautiful space, cool, neoclassical, comfortable, and the hotel uses it as a cafe. The only  catch is that the cafe has one employee, Marge, who slowly shuffles between cooking, bussing, cleaning, and serving. To sit down to breakfast is to commit oneself to fully appreciating the details of the space.

Anyway, I brought back coffee for Saori and ran into her in the hall and we had a few minutes to talk before I went to join dad, Neri, Tay and Loretta for breakfast in the same cafe. Forewarned about the ponderous service, I ordered nothing but iced tea. I spent about an hour visting them over breakfast (about the time it took them to get their meals) before I had to go run to take care of something else.

Oh yes, we still had to conclude the wedding ceremony, something important to have hammered out before we met everyone for the rehearsal later that day. The way the wedding ceremony was written was like this:

  • Mom walked Saori and I though a traditional ceremony via Facetime
  • I typed up the notes into a rough outline of the ceremony and sent a draft to David
  • Saori picks the music she wants to have played for the beginning and end of the ceremony
  • We Facetime David and he suggests we ask a few people to speak at the ceremony. It was a quick decision who to ask and we were both totally on the same page about it.
  • Saori did a bunch of research online on wedding ceremonies and ended up basically re-writing the ceremony, basically the same, but a few tweaks here and there.
  • Weeks pass while we work on vows.
  • In Prairieville we decide if it rains, we’ll probably get married in front of the mantle
  • In the hotel room the afternoon before the rehearsal, I open up all the plans for the ceremony and using Saori’s draft as a basis, consolidate them by hand in my notebook, including the spoken parts by David and revising the seating schedule because Saori’s father would not be able to come.
  • We give my hand notes to David at the rehearsal and he directs, making edits with pencil.
  • Bridesmaid Casey tweaks the fine points and some major points and makes some great rough edits to the ceremony on the fly
  • Uncle David forgets the ceremony in the hotel room in New Orleans
  • Uncle David re-constructs the ceremony and simplifies with the help of all there for a living room ceremony without the seating procession

It was all great, but it was tense in the hotel room as we scrambled to finish writing so we would have at least something to work off of at the rehearsal. After that, I remembered I had book a new room at the Whitney starting that night. I went downstairs, checked in, and shuttled my luggage from Tay’s room.

I think I took a short, restless nap and then got changed for the rehearsal dinner as it started to rain. I wore a white dress shirt, no tie, and my lightweight Uniqlo blue blazer. Saori had a really pretty floral print pant-dress. I met Saori’s mom and brother downstairs and I got us an Uber together for the restaurant. Traffic in the french quarter was terrible as usual, and we ended up hopping out early and walking the rest of the way in.

Way back, or not so way back, mom said she would cover the rehearsal dinner and asked us to come up with a few places so she could call and ask around for pricing. Court of Two Sisters was one, Brennan’s was one, Arnaud’s was our top pick. We both said, wouldn’t it be fabulous to have a rehearsal dinner at Arnaud’s, but no way, it must be way too expensive, we shouldn’t even think about it.

Mom said, well, let’s ask and find out. And so she called them up and some other restaurants and did a bunch of other things and a few days later, she said, depending on the number of people you invite, we can make Arnaud’s happen, which made Saoi and I happy dance.

She and Tay worked on menus while Saori and I worked on the invite list.  Mom is a fervent believer in categories. The categories can even be tenuous like “cousins who are children of the host families” as long as it is a clear-cut category. It was a difficult excercise and we agonized being torn between inclusiveness to those who were putting considrable effort and expense to be in New Orleans with us and keeping the cost to the total budget.

Mom put Saori work designing the table cards to name the tables as well as the welcome sign and seating chart, a task well suited to Saori’s skills and interest in graphics, and we brought that with us on a usb.

But back to the rehearsal- we arrived finally at Arnaud’s and told the wait staff we were there for the rehearsal. They led us deep into the block, up and down stairs, through back corridors, and I realized that Arnaud’s had a bunch of old french quarter houses put together. We first met in a large anteroom where the bar was set up (mom also gave us a cocktail hour with passed hors dvours as part of the rehearsal). We met up with everyone, greeted uncle David for the first time and I quickly walked him through my hand notes on the ceremony.

He took over, corralled everyone, and we ran through the ceremony twice, making adjustments along the way. It was great to practice and to have David there directing, and Casey, Brenda, and mom giving feedback and suggestions. I felt a lot better after the run through, and then it was time for the cocktail hour! I got a drink and joined most of the crowd on the terrace. Oh yes, a wall lined with beautiful French doors opened up to a broad and high terrace overlooking nearly Bourbon street and supported by graceful wroght iron collumns. It was raining hard at that point, and a few people commented that the rainwater from the everyday normal flooding of New Orleans was even coming into the restaurant (!)

We mingled and chatted and then so soon it was time for the wedding couple to start moving people to the room to eat. When Saori and I sat at the table, we discovered that our place had been marked. A mysterious benefactor (later discovered to be Brenda and David) had put together a lego wedding arch with a minifigurine bride and groom. The groom’s facial hair had been carefully updated with a sharpie to approximate my own, and on the arch was written “Saori and Alec.” It was perfect.

We were served wine and bread before the first course, which was a delicious turtle soup. Turtle soup. Where else in the US can you find turtle soup? New Orleans should be declared a UNESCO world heritage site for its culinary traditions alone.

We ordered Arnaud’s famous crab cakes for our main and they were fantastic. The alternative, a steak, was lovely and everyone raved about as well. But for me, the star was the New Orleans staple, bread pudding, one of the best I’d ever had.

Between courses, mom came over to us and whispered we should do more table hopping and we tried but almost immediately the next course came out and then I felt a little strange because we are at this point preventing people from enjoying their meals, and then I snap out of it because our guests came to New Orleans to be at our wedding, not to eat. Anyway, we talked to a few people, although I didn’t get over to the table with Jeff and Ashley at all, before we returned to our table once again.

And far too soon, it was over! Guests were leaving and Saori and her mom and I were among the last to leave. What a fantastic dinner but what a whirlwind!

We walked through the small Mardi Gras museum on the way out. It was pretty much to ourselves. Looking at the historic photos of Mardi Gras parties and floats from 50-100 years ago, I thought, how bizzare it must have been, and also, remembering the beautiful buildings of a gilded era in New Orleans, how much the city has lost.

We walked back to the hotel and Saori and I joined a small party going on in mom’s suite. Brenda and David and Casey and a few others were there, but from what I remember we were all pretty tired at that point. Saori and I, continually wiped the whole trip, were no exception, and we bowed out relatively early after Saori started to fall asleep on my shoulder.

We parted for the night, a traditional last night that we would be apart before the wedding. I went to my room alone, and I don’t even remember showering and getting ready for bed (although I must have!). 

Jun 19, 2016

Prairieville VI Part II: Last Crawl

It wasn’t so much of batchelor party in the sense that it wasn’t strictly a party held in one place, and second, the number of people who were batchelors were matched by those who were married. The British “Stag Do” didn’t quite fit either for the same reasons. It was also more than a bar crawl since it was the night to acknowlege my last outing as a single man, so henceforth I shall refer to it as a “Last Crawl”.

We started my Last Crawl at one of my favorite bars in New Orleans, the Sazerac bar at the Roosevelt Hotel. The hotel is one of those places where if you saw it in a movie about the baroque decadence and opulence of the roaring twenties, you’d assume that it was a set rather than a real place that actually exists and you can stay there. But it does. The bar at the hotel a single large oval room with a very long wooden bar. This was the bar where the eponymous cocktail was invented. A very elegant and swanky place.

I had also asked my soon to be brother in law Kazuma if he wanted to come, and I give him credit for happily coming along, given his discomfort and struggle speaking in English, so Tay and I grabbed him on our way out of the restaurant. Amazingly, we found a table free inside the bar and saved a few more seats. Tay and I ordered (what else?) Sazeracs,  and Kazuma got a gin fizz.  

One of my other groomsmen, Sal, soon joined us and we spend some time catching up with what was going on in his life. We were shortly joined also by Erica and Ryota. Erica was one of Saori’s best friends in high school in Japan, and works at a movie production company in Osaka where she lived with her husband. They came to visit Saori and I in Tempe, something like seven years ago, and I swapped Ryota my ASU tee shirt for a very stylish NorthFace hoodie. I think they were a bit confused about the “Bachelor Party” Last Crawl concept because they wanted to know why Saori wasn’t joining us. They had a drink too and joined the table.

A wedding or some kind of other event had just let out because the bar was suddenly full of girls in short colorful cocktail dresses, and late twentysomething “Brooks Bros” as Tay called them, and we cleared out since we could no longer hear each other speaking.

As a group, we rolled off the beaten path to the next bar. Pirates Alley does not perhaps have the same tone of The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel but for me it hit the right notes of campiness, quiet, and surreal danger and charm of the French Quarter after midnight. It was nearly empty for one. Which on a nice Thursday night probably indicated why they had posted “BAR CLOSING” notices on the doors. I was actually a bit surprised- what has it come to when a pirate themed bar cannot survive in the French Quarter if it’s not on Bourbon Street?

The bar was known for it’s costumed bartenders, check, and also for the absynthe, also check. They served it dramatically with an icewater dripper over a sugar cube into the drink. It was potent. I drank it slowly. Kazuma, meanwhile, followed Ryota in ordering a “Rum boat” of several differnt types of Rum and was also thrilled to have the couple to speak to in Japanese. The pirate wench closed the bar and we had to leave after our drinks.

We pressed on to Frenchman street, crossing half of the French Quarter to get there. (Roosevelt is on the far edge, actually on the far side of Canal street, Pirate Alley is right outside of Jackson Square in the center, and Frenchman street is actually in Faubourg Marigny). By accident or design, we gave ourselves more time and gas-lit pavement between bars, probably for the better of all concerned.

Frenchman is an open secret, a street not far from the French Quarter which used to be a big bohemian artists and musicians community but now must be getting similar to the constitution of the French Quarter itself. They still have great live jazz and blues bars. Our target was The Spotted Cat. No cover on a Thursday night, and great music inside. A real sleazy, brazzy, upbeat New Orleans sound. We got a round of Abita beers and it would have been perfect if not for Ian.

We were enjoying the beers and the music when suddenly we hear “TAAAYYLOORRRR?!?!?!?!?” and it was Ian, a guy who looked vaugely familiar. Tay’s face flashed through incredulous to disgust to polite resignation faster than Ian, who was plastered, could register. Ian was one of Tay’s friends at ASU, a freshman buddy from whom Tay quickly drifted apart after the dorm days. Ian was, incidently, in town for a wedding, and it was funny to see how much the coincidence of running into Tay blew his mind. But he was really annoying, and eventually he left us alone.

We called it between 1 and 2 am, I believe, and staggered our way back to the hotel, a very long walk. Everyone had had a great time. Sal left to pick up the streetcar to his AirBnB over by Tulane and the rest of us went searching for a greasy spoon that the night clerk recommended. It was closed. So we went back, slightly irritated. Tay called them up and requested delivery. We both booze-napped until the knock at the door of our room. I can’t remember what Tay ordered, but my biscuits and gravy did actually kind of hit the spot. We drank lots of water, slogged our way through our meal, and slept until midmorning. 

Jun 18, 2016

The One Ring

Saori and I started looking at wedding rings in Stuttgart and didn't get too far. For one, we could see the dollar signs accumulating in our trip planning and wedding planning, and neither one of us really wanted to shell out a bunch of money for rings at this moment in time, and we couldn't devote the time and energy to get just the right rings, especially in a foriegn country.

We tried though. I pulled up a bunch of ring and jewelry stores in Stuttgart and we actually went to quite a few.

The first one, located across from the city office where people are married, coincidently, looked promising. Lots of nice rings in the windows. We went in. Couples and sales staff huddled together over private tables and vitrines. Nobody talked to us. We were approached by a confused looking staff member. It turned out we were supposed to make an appointment ( naturally! ) and then they would sit down with us "for a few hours" to decide together how to craft the perfect rings for us. We took their business card and pressed on.

We didn't find anything we couldn't live without at the more avant garde pop-up jewelery boutique, and while we found rings we thought were simple and affordable at the local Kay's Jewelers equivilant, it was a throbbing madhouse because it was saturday afternoon, and ALL the stores are like friday before Christmas on saturday afternoons.

Sitting down exhausted for a coffee, I looked at the ring Saori was wearing with new interest. Saori had made the modern silver ring ten years ago, before she had met me, at a jewelry course. She wore it occationally, and I'd always liked it, but I'd never considered it for myself. I tried it on. It fit. I liked the design, I liked the bold statement, I liked the idea of wearing a ring that my wife had created. I asked if I could use this ring as my own. Saori thought it over for a minute and said she would be honored to let me have it, but with the condition that I would never alter it.

So that became my ring.

After deciding that we wern't going to have any ring breakthroughs for Saori's ring, we decided to get just something nice and simple for the purpose of the wedding, to be upgraded or exchanged at the one year anniversary. We picked out a ring on Amazon.com, 14k gold, and I had it shipped to Saori's sister. Actually, she really liked the ring, she said she would be happy to keep it as the one ring.

In Atlanta, we tried on the ring. It was too small. We had tried serveral ways of measuring Saori's fingers and existing rings, but we screwed up somehow because the ring really did not fit. Saori then produced a backup ring, a costume jewelry ring purchased when she wasn't sure I was going to order the ring online on time. This was also too small, because she had used the same sizing we used when we ordered the first ring. Fortunately, she had also brought a backup, backup ring.

A few weeks before, I had bought Saori a glass ring, mostly because it had our wedding colors, with a nice gold leaf splash on top cast into the ring. It was a spur of the moment thing, for a fashion accessory.

So those became the two rings, temporarily misplaced, imbued with totemic symbolic power, and twice exchanged.

Prairieville VI: one hotel, two restaurants, three families

Thursday morning was another one of those gray blurs. We were rushing around trying to get the last few things taken care of since this would be the last time we would be at Aunt Kim’s outside of the wedding. I finalized the playlist for the pre-ceremony and the ceremony on Tracy’s SONOS system, packed up our stuff, and then we were shuffled out the door so we could drop off the rental car and make it to Brennan’s on time for our brunch.

It’s a long way from Prairieville to New Orleans, but I really don’t mind the drive. Like I said before, I enjoy seeing the bayou and the overgrown jungle of Louisiana, and it’s thrilling to drive on the elevated freeway over the swamps and alligators, and to see in the distance massive waterworks and impossibly long brides across lakes so big you can’t even see the other side.

I’ve been to northern and central Florida before, the area where the conservative midwesterns go to age and harden their right wing ideologies. The natural landscape between Florida and Louisiana should be really similar, but its shockingly different. Where Louisiana embraced the tropics, and learned to live with the jungle, letting the landscape and vegitation shape the culture and lifestyle, Florida recoiled in horror, clear-cutting everything as far as the eye could see, and fighting like missionaries to make Florida into the Omaha or Akron they knew. I like Louisiana. I was not a huge fan of Florida.

We dropped off the car with no trouble, except trying to find the rental car waiting lot where mom, Tay, and Larry were waiting for us in the minivan. We drove the rest of the way in through traffic to get to the hotel. The Whitney Hotel.

Way back, Brenda had volunteered to take care of the block booking for the hotels, little did she know what a pain in the ass it is trying to get anything arranged in Louisiana. Every time we called the hotel ourselves, at least, they told us that their computer system had been down all morning and they hadn’t been able to respond to emails. Every time.

Anyway, Brenda stepped into the ring with that one and wrestled out the rooms we wanted. She had given us a few choices on where we could find available, relatively affordable rooms, and Saori and I both immediately picked the Whitney. We liked the fact it was an old bank building, the location was not bad, on Poydras, Canal would have been better, or someplace IN the french quarter, but these were all going to be much more expensive options and we wanted to make sure our friends would be able to stay with us as much as possible. The only other thing I knew about the Whitney was that is was supposed to be a very haunted hotel. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. We were running around so much between floors and rooms and errands, if a floating white spectre had handed me my room key as I rushed out, I probably would have said thanks.

Larry dropped the minivan and we quickly found our rooms. I stayed with Tay and Saori dropped her stuff at mom’s suite until her mom arrived later that day. Tay’s room technically had a window, but it was only a pale blue light that filtered in, due to the massive glass corporate tower which wrapped itself around the Whitney, a few feet from Tay’s window. Mom had a much better view.

We regrouped in the lobby and took an Uber to Brennan’s. Or maybe we drove ourselves. Or took a taxi. Somehow I found myself with everyone in a cool covered entryway leading into the restaurant. Brennan’s was fantastic. The restaurant wraps around a lush courtyard, the waiters fall all over themselves to serve you, and it is a seriously fancy place. The walls of the restaurant were decorated with painted murals of imagined or real (?) Mardi-Gras past. We actually had too many waiters. One would take our drink orders, dash off to grab his waiters pad, and another would take his spot, offering again, to take our drink orders. They did get it right eventually. Larry ordered a fantastic milk punch cocktail thing, Saori ordered a strawberry champaigne cocktail, and I had some kind of gin cocktail, if memory serves.

At some point of the meal, one of the watiers regailed us with the story of the restaurant, the history of New Orleans, the odd proclivities of the man whose house it once was, and the old connections between the cooks and classic eateries of New Orleans.

For the food, almost everyone ordered the New Orleans breakfast menu, which included grits, tons of grilled meat, and gumbo. I got a taste of the gumbo. Best I’ve ever had. Should have ordered a bowl. I ordered rabbit, buttermilk fried. It was great. Surprisingly light on top of a bed of spinich, so I was feeling great and satisified while everyone else was struggling to finish the heavier (but delicious) grits and grillades. They also served bread while we were waiting for our mains and it was fantastic. We went through nearly a loaf apeice. Larry was the only one who wanted dessert, but we all pitched in, helping him with a bread pudding. Which was also great. And finished with tons of delicious coffee.

Somehow we got back to the hotel- it’s strange to me that I can remember what I ate for dessert, but not how we moved back to the hotel! At any rate, at the hotel, we rested, I moved my bags down to Tay’s, we met up with Yoshiko-san and Kazuma who had arrived, and we spent some time hanging out with them in their hotel room while mom rested in her hotel room. Saori’s mother was quite distraught to hear about the legal complications with the wedding, so that was a long conversation.

Before long, though, it was getting into evening and time to meet up with dad for dinner at Bayona. Dad had made arrangements for dinner for Saori and I and Grandma Loretta since we hadn’t had a chance to spend any time together, and generously expanded the reservation to include Saori’s mom and brother when it became apparent they didn’t have any plans for that evening. I changed clothes and met up with again with Saori’s family. We took an Uber over to the restaurant, and the streets of the French Quarter were so packed, we eventually abandoned our ride and walked the rest of the way.

Bayona was really charming in an old cottage, and we were guided up to the second floor which doubled as their wine storage. We had a big round table and were one of the last to sit down. Dad sat next to Yoshiko-san and they chatted the whole evening. Dinner was excellent- I ordered, why not, rabbit once again, athough more of a rabbit roullade, if memory serves. We ordered a round of cocktails, and then wine, and another bottle of wine and more bread. Dinner was great, but it did take nearly two hours to actually get our entrees. Tay and I had planned out to meet the other guests for the crawl around 9, so we ended up ducking out before dessert, which I learned later was a real showstopper: the best pecan pie anyone had ever had. Considering the lengths of time many at the table had spent in the south and heartland, this is not a small culinary feat. I wish I could have had me a peice of that pie. And talked more! I chatted a bit with Kazuma and Grandma Loretta, but I wasn’t able to sit down really with dad. And then it was time for the bachelor party, so off we went. 

Jun 17, 2016

culinary break

It is of course, inadmissible to spend so much time in Louisiana and not cover that singular delicacy of the bayou, what no trip to the Big Easy would be complete without, the pinnacle of Cajun and Creole cuisine and the salve of every southern belle and gentlemen. I am speaking of course, of the frozen daiquiri.

Kidding! As important as frozen daiquiri's are, they are, in fact, second to the Snowball. What is a snowball, you may ask? The genesis of the snowball, I assume, happened in the settling of Louisiana when the Arcadians nee Cajuns fleeing the British takeover of Canada brought with them their traditional ice shavers to always remind them of thier wintery lost homeland. These Cajuns ate these shaved ice balls until they encountered the Creoles who introduced them to flavored syrups, which were a fusion of traditional Carribean, African, and tropical fruit flavors and lots and lots of sugar.

Apparently there are snowball shacks within shooting distance of nearly every settlement of Louisiana, even so far as to be enshrined in the Napoleaonic legal code.

Anyway, these shacks are all the same. There is a shack with a small window and signs covering 90% of the rest of the front listing the various flavors. The shack near aunt Kim's offered, no joke, approximately 50-60 flavors, including things like "tiger blood". I was going to go for "clear superman" but chickened out in the end, opting for "tamarind". Aunt Kim was nearly appalled. "Who ordered Tamarind???" I liked tamarind.  And it was a good choice with the condensed milk on top.

But I never heard the end of it from Larry, who was also dying to know what clear superman tasted like. The world may never know, but then the world may not yet be ready to know.

Tay ordered cherry, and it was thick and syrupy as cough syrup. He managed a third before setting it aside. I learned my lesson. Order light. Next time I ordered a snowball, I got cucumber melon, and that was pretty goood.

Prairieville V: Dia de los Flores

Wednesday was divide and conquer day, although we could have called it flower day.
Before we left, Saori had placed an order for green filler and for white flowers. Two huge boxes that would be delivered to Aunt Kim’s. The problem was that the delivery was showing delivery possibly as late as the next day, and it was unclear where actually any of the packages were. Since we were going to be out of Kim’s house from thursday morning onward, this posed a serious problem since there would be nobody to arrange the flowers into the bouquets and table arrangements if the flowers arrived after we left. So we went out for contingency flower shopping. Flowers, from the start, were paramount on the list of what Saori wanted in her wedding.

We sent the minivan crew off with a shopping list and then we took off. First stop was the Winn-Dixie florist department, where we discovered the florist was going to be MIA until friday. The poor produce guy, barely out of his teens, had to step in for us, and he was super nervous and super polite. I forget, often, to have the manners of a southern gentleman (if not the ideology and worldview). It is better to be good than polite, always, but politeness is always welcome. Anyway, our produce guy called up the florist for us and she talked him through what information he needed for me to order boutineers for myself and the groomsmen. What did I want? I wasn’t so particular. A yellow rose for me to match my tie, and some kind of blue flower for the groomsmen. How much would it cost? $5 each? Done and Done. Saori inventoried the supply and the quality of flowers available, and then we mosied on next door to the other flower shop in the strip mall. But not before I grabbed a few grocery store donuts and a free coffee.

There is a kind of sweetness to these rural grocery stores. Slightly nostalgic, slightly bittersweet, stores haven’t been updated since the 80s, lay in acoustic ceilings and worn linoleum, like a walk-through Polaroid. Maybe if I shopped there regularly, I’d start to complain about the quality of the produce, or the fact I couldn’t buy some key ingrediants, but is nice to swing in once in awhile. Probably its hardwired from too many idylic summers, coddled in nowhere Oklahoma.

At the flower shop next door, Saori was on the hunt for greens. What kind of greens? Eucalyptus, maybe some bear grass. Leatherleaf, like coke, is always on hand. Actually, I’m amazed how much I picked up about flowers and flower fillers in the last month. Probably the staff were amazed that the groom was up there with the bride, and he already knew what leatherleaf was. Eucalyptus was a little harder to come by. The Winn-Dixie had some, but the people at the florist called down to the big nursery wholesaler to find out about their stock. They had some. Silver dollar even, which is a special type of Eucalyptus. We had originally wanted to go to this wholesaler ourselves, but we weren’t allowed due to state requiremets that you had to have a licence to be a florist, and to get a licence, you needed your original birth certificate....

Anyway, the people were really nice, and they offered to put an order in for the Eucalyptus if Saori called it in by 3pm. Sounded good to us, so we hopped in the car and drove to the next stop, the Sam’s club in Baton Rouge. Aunt Kim kindly loaned us her membership card, and walking inside was another powerful blast of nostalgia. Sam’s club has not changed at all since mom, dad, Tay and I would make biweekly trips there when we were living in Scottsdale. It was like stepping back in time and space since I had not set foot in one for over ten years. We were there to check out the flower department, but they really didn’t have much remarkable, so that was a bit of a failed endeavor.

Outside of Sam’s, mom got in touch and let us know that a box of greens had been delivered to the house. We did a celebratory dance in the parking lot. At least the filler would be there.

We drove all the way back to the Albertsons closer to Prairieville, and there we found a really good supply of fresh cut flowers. Saori took her time thinking and picking out about a dozen bunches of various flowers and I threw in another case of water for the house. We also picked up an extra bucket for the arrangement of the flowers.  We drove it all home, just missing mom and the gang who were heading out for lunch and to pick up the boards from Kinkos. Sometime in the day, there had been an attempted delivery, which we figured out was the box of white flowers, and mom followed up with the delivery people to hold it at their facility for us to pick up between 6 and 7 pm.

Saori started to work on the flowers. The box flowers is an interesting concept. You order, in bulk, a bunch of flowers and they arrive in a big long box like you ordered a shotgun. The green fillers are a little tired looking but you throw them in water and separate them out a bit and they perk up, especially if you trim the dried stems and throw a little plant food in the water. We had earlier shipped to aunt Kim a big bag of plant food for cut flowers, as well as wire and flower tape for making bouquets.

Kim had put all the photo frames in her house at our disposal, so I busied myself filling frames with photos of Saori and I, together and of our childhood, historic family photos, and photos of family weddings. I also spray painted some wood boards which aunt Kim had picked up and assembled photos on those to be hung with teal ribbon from whatever hanging mechanism we could find. I hung them from the kitchen table light, more for convenience than anything else, but it seemed to work so there they stayed.

I can’t imagine, still, how much work it must have been to take out all of our damn photos from the frames and to put everything back in its place after the wedding.

We had been watching the forecast from about a week out, and it was supposed to be clear up until the afternoon. Of the wedding day. We actually arrived to Prairieville with this in the back of our heads, so while we were a little dissapointed, it was not so crushing in the lead up. As always, Kim and Tracy were on top of it. They were working closely with the caterer and had a rain plan worked out, and as the wedding day grew closer, Kim decided we needed more tents. So wednesday afternoon, the caterer and the tent guy both came out together to the Prairieville house.

The caterer wore black and white striped chef’s pants and rubber clogs, like he had just stepped out of the kitchen. The tent guy was a huge, red-faced guy, heavily bearded, and they both spoke with thick cajun accents, the tent guy nearly to the point of me not being able to understand him. Saori and I followed them all out to the patio where they debated if they could get a big 20x20 tent out there. The tent guy, it turned out, was also a fireworks guy, and wanted to know if were ok on that account. We had bought a bunch of sparklers, so we were, but it was still funny. They started talking with Tracy about his commute to the refinery and the tent guy told him to keep an eye out for a 14 foot long aligator without a tail he spotted one time near one of the ponds that Tracy drives by. 14 feet long, not including the tail. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had to go rescue our flowers, so we politely excused ourselves and hopped out.

We drove back out to Baton Rouge, fighting rain, traffic, google maps to get to the delivery center. They needed Saori’s ID to release the box of flowers (but no birth certificate, ha) but we got it. It was a feeling of great relief driving back, even with the stopped traffic on the airline highway.

One other thing which was constantly amusing is that Kim and Tracy live off of Perkins road, which is lined with things like Perkins cleaners, Perkins plaza, Perkins apartments, and everywhere I’m seeing my last name. And then there is also old Perkins Road, which led to amusing signs like “coming soon! Old Perkins Apartments!”

We called in to the Prairieville house and got an order for Popeye’s fried chicken, which we swung by and picked up on the way back. The rental car smelled an intriguing mix of fresh, heavy florals and fried food. We munched on fried chicken and watched the end of Blues Brothers. I put mom and Tay to work assembling our gifts to the rehearsal dinner guests, and they did a good job of it while Saori busily started assemlbing her bouquet and her bridesmaids bouquets. After the gift boxes, Tay sat down with me and we talked through the bachelor party.

Before we had arrived, Tay floated the idea of doing a bar crawl mixed in with some live blues or jazz, and that sounded pretty good to me. I’m not in my early 20s, neither of us were into the idea of hiring strippers, and I don’t have a bunch of local friends. Moreover, I am ashamed to note that even in Germany of all places, my alcohol tolerance has slipped, and a thorough “stag-do” would probably keep me ill through the end of the trip, so that was out. The question then, was who to invite.

Thursday night before a saturday wedding. Not all the guests are in town, probably, not so many of the guests are guys, so we decided to open things up to both guys and girls and the only limit we set was that they had to be roughly in our generation. I gave Tay a list of emails and he sent out invitations and set the itenerary.

And that was wednesday. Food, Drinks, Tents, now the flowers were in place. 

Jun 16, 2016

Prairieville IV: Clerks and Courts and the Mall of Louisiana

Tuesday morning I hit the Keurig button before dawn. Tracy and Kim have a lovely expensive built in coffee machine which will grind the beans, foam the milk, and blend a number of coffee drinks for you. But it stopped working not long after they moved in, and despite Saori and my best efforts to fix it the first day we were there, we managed to only get it open and have the same errors that plagued Kim and Tracy. In the meanwhile, they bought a Keurig.

Saori was also up early and we put on our bathing suits and slipped in the pool with our hot coffees. The pool, heated only by the sun, was nearly lukewarm, and it steamed off vapour because it was warmer than the cool morning. It was a nice moment of quiet and relaxation. Hot coffee in a warm pool on a cool morning, floating around in a float chair. Mmmm...

When everyone was up, relatively early I might add, I fixed fried eggs for whoever wanted them (or maybe that was wednesday, or thursday morning...?) and we all sat down and planned out the day. First and foremost was the trip to the county clerk. After all, if we are going to have a wedding, we’re going to want it to be legal.

We did our homework. I was very familiar with the requirements. Marriage licences are issued by the parishes in Louisiana, and all the requirements are the same across the state. You need to be over 18, have an official birth certificate, $17, and your social security number. Since I misplaced my birth certificate (likely location: storage unit outside of St.Louis) I went to the lengths of ordering a new one, shipping it to dad, who shipped it to me in Germany. Saori had hers already, but since her name was different on the birth certificate, she had her mom send the legal name change, plus a notarized translation of the name change.

All documents in hand, mom, Larry, Taylor, Saori and I went to the parish clerk in nearby Baton Rouge and started the paperwork. The clerk was reviewing our documents when she frowned and pointed out the difference in the first name on Saori’s birth certificate. There was a problem. Larry gamely came up to the desk, and so did the office manager. As it turns out, in the state of Louisiana, there is a law that they could only issue marriage licences to the name on the certificate. After about fifteen minutes of discussion, they gave us a form to take to the family courts in downtown Baton Rouge, where we could ask a judge to waive the birth certificate requirement.

We piled back into the minivan, insides squirming, for the ride downtown. It was such an incredible comfort to have mom, Larry, and Tay there. Even if there was nothing we could really do, it was just having them there to coolly evaluate the situation, and with or without the legal experience, just able to say, ok, you could do x, you could do y, let's think through the implications together, was such a comfort.

Tay hopped out and helped us find our way to the family courts. As a public defender, he had a lot of experience dealing with bustling courtrooms, clerks, staff, and the workings of the court. We tried a few people and a few floors. We met a lot of “we don’t issue these waivers anymore” to “we only issue the waivers for the waiting time requirement.” We met court employees who were sympathetic and tried to be helpful, but it became abudantly clear after talking to some attorneys and clerks that the ONLY way forward would be to have the state that issued Saori’s birth certificate make a correction and reissue it, or we could try directly to put the case on a docket, both options requiring weeks. Standing in the corridor, we decided that instead of putting a false name on the marriage licence, we would forgo the legal ceremony. Saori has been through a lot of trauma over her documents and name change, and we really did not want to make any more muddling on that account.

Next stop was Kinkos to print the boards. Everywhere we went in Louisiana, everyone was staggeringly nice. Even mom, who lives in the US, commented about how much people treated us like royalty wherever we went. Saori had invested a lot of time making boards for the wedding and for the rehearsal dinner- and they looked fantastic, to be honest. We were just going to print them on some 11x17 paper, but mom insisted on ordering them full sized on plastic boards, surprising us with a gift which showcased Saori’s work. We picked up Larry and Tay and went to lunch since we were all starving at that point.

On the way to lunch, I ran a quick search on the possibility of a wedding in Portland. It looked as though all we would need was $60, $5 to waive a waiting period, and valid photo ID. We would only be in Portland for a few days, but it seemed like it could work.

Lunch was really delightful. Kim had recommended a few places and Tay organized a voting system whereby everyone in the car gave rankings to the restaurants and we picked based on the restaurant with the highest cumulative ranking. It sounds complicated, but Tay has been doing this so long and we are so used to it, it was quite quick to decide on the Jamaican restaurant, Rum House, I believe it was called. It was packed inside, and the hostess apologetically asked if we wanted to sit outside. We took her up on it. Louisiana is hot and humid, but after air-conditioning free Germany, I was not enjoying the desiccating, freezing blast that most Americans are accustomed to dine and work in. Anyway, it was under fans, actually not too hot, and the seating was a wrap around terrace around a big overgrown garden filled with birds. It was taco tuesday, so everyone got $2 tacos which were all really really good. Actually, I could have eaten a few more of those tacos.

Next stop, we went to Hobby Lobby, where we spent a good hour buying more ribbons, gift packaging, teal and gold spray paint, etc. Both of us were still feeling a bit in shock over the whole licence thing so we shopped in a bit a of a daze. Mom and Tay finally abandoned us and went to get iced lattes at Starbucks.

Last stop for the day was the Mall of Louisiana, which sounds much grander than it actually was. You hear “Mall of Louisiana” and you think maybe they have a mini-gatorland inside, or at least a Cafe du Monde. No such luck. They did, however, have a Dillard's and I was on the hunt for a gold tie.

Why was I looking for a good tie? For the wedding Saori and I decided to keep it simple for the attendants- for the groomsmen, seersucker pants, leather belts and shoes, white dress shirt, and a teal bowtie. I wanted matching bowties, dialed up on the fanciness, because everything else was kind of plain. It was a task I handed off to my brother, who predictably found just the right ties. Beautiful silk ties with a subtle Paisley pattern, and really really cheap for the quality. Or would have perfect without our meddling. Saori and I saw the ties online and we approved then all except my tie which was a dusty gold. We made Tay buy a much more yellow gold tie, which when we got to see it, was bright canary yellow like two birds sitting on my chest. Hence the hunt for a new gold tie. Taylor actually paid for all the ties himself, as part of his wedding gift to us.

Saori was feeling unwell and so she hung out while Tay and I scoured the mall for a nice gold bowtie. Everywhere we went in, we tried to avoid conversation with store staff because it took fifteen minutes to explain what we were looking for and then have them putter around politely muttering they didn't think they had any ties, apologize, and then try to think of other stores which might have them. Every store we went to. Dillard's had a tie which mostly fit the bill, but it was really expensive. $40. For a tie I was likely to wear once. Ten dollars less than what Saori paid for her whole dress. I dragged poor Tay out of the mall and across the parking lot to the Nordstrom's Rack (OK maybe I didn't have to drag him) but their selection was pitiful. Cheap, though. I found a rusty gold-ish tie with a square pattern for $20, and was waffling when Tay said that we could also search the next day. I mentally whacked my head and said “let's get the right tie” because it's ridiculous to spend so much time tie shopping so close to the wedding day. We went back to Dillard's and I bought the tie.

We hurried back to Prairieville as rain began to fall. It rained and rained. Kim and Tracy had made reservations for us at a restaurant, but given the weather, the emotional fatigue, and general exhaustion from running around all day, they decided to cancel and we ordered pizzas instead. Papa John's in my honor. I do miss good American delivery pizza in Germany. 

Prairieville III : first look at P-ville

New Orleans

Mom and Larry had generously rented a minivan for us to use while in Louisiana, but we were worried about having enough vehicles to get around, so Saori and I also rented a car while we were there. I think in the end, it was a bad idea. I was nervous about driving, so I ended up overspending on the insurance and the whole thing ended up costing me about $400, and while we did end up making a divide and conquer day, I’m not convinced it was worth it.
There was nobody at the Thrifty rental counter when we showed up. No phone, no sign, no bell. Just a woman staring vacantly into space at the next counter for Enterprise. We waited a few minutes before walking over to her. “Are you...do you also handle Thrifty?” I asked. “Yes,” she answered reluctantly, dismayed we had figured it out. There are many things I could have said like “were you going to let us stand at the counter and wait forever? Are you actually paid to be here or is this some kind of punishment?” But I didn’t, because broken is the default here. Welcome to Louisiana.
The car actually highlighted a basic challenge which for me was one of the saddest aspects of the whole trip- attempting to balance on the one hand all the preparation, things to be done, and feelings of time crunch with mom and dad and Taylors wish for this to be a more typical sightseeing and game night kind of trip. We really had a lot to do and a lot of it was the kind of things that only Saori and I could do, although everyone, everyone rolled up their sleeves and dived in to help us. I wish I could have given mom one game night. But every day to the wedding I went to bed exhausted at midnight and got up exhausted at 6 am, mostly to use the undisturbed morning hours to write- to Saori’s father, my own speech, going over plans and outlining what still needed to be done.
Saori and I picked out a VW partly for the irony and drove it to Prairieville from the lot. Saori navigated me, and we made a pit stop for a cold drink along the way. Louisiana was lush, heavy, and sunny. Saori was surprised how tropical the area was. I enjoyed the drive- closer to New Orleans you speed along a raised freeway over lakes and bayou, and you can catch glimpses below of small camps of galvanized metal huts and fishermen living on the swamp.
We found the house in Prairieville with little problem and Kim and Tracy welcomed us to the house and showed us around.
The live oak tree in the front yard was bigger and live-oakier than I had imagined. It was really lovely. The house was astounding- a fantastic front porch, high, wood and brick interiors, and a surprisingly comfortable layout. We all commented later that although the house was ridiculously huge, none of the rooms felt gratuitously big. There was a good natural flow between the rooms and a surprising amount of natural light.
We went out to lunch with Tracy and Kim, to a bar and grill kind of restaurant nearby. I ordered the red beans and rice, since it was Monday, and it did not disappoint. I asked if we could cover lunch on the way in riding with Tracy, and he categorically refused. “You're on scholarship here, man” here advised me.
Back at the house, we relaxed a bit by the pool. Kim had two gallon plastic jugs in the fridge, one filled with frozen margarita and the other with another red colored frozen daiquiri, and she handed those out until mom's minivan arrived.
I rushed out to see them when I saw the van pull up. Tay looked great- his hair was actually shorter than I'd seen it in years. Mom and Larry looked a little tired but overwhelmingly happy. It was wonderful to see them again. We fixed them up as well with more frozen daiquiris as Kim took then around the backyard.
Saori and I were given Jenny's room, which was adorned with photos and decorated as a musical star’s dressing room. Tay slept in Danny's room, a much more Spartan room by comparison. Jenny, unfortunately, would not be able to make it, owing to commitments to a show in Bloomington and while we missed her sparkle at the wedding and other events, we were happy she's doing so well as an actress!
The rest of the day was a blur to me- I can’t remember if we ate in or went out, I know we didn't play any games or watch TV together. I remember relentlessly and restlessly working on small projects and at some point people drifted off to bed. I was tired and stressed and I must have managed myself into bed at some point. 

Jun 14, 2016

Prairieville II: Atlanta to New Orleans

We planned it out to have one full day to recover in Atlanta before joining family in Prairieville, but it didn’t quite work out that way. There was a bit of miscomunication, and Saori’s mom and brother ended up coming in a day earlier than expected. Saori and I borrowed the car and drove out to pick up some expensive and delicious donuts from Revolution Donuts around the corner (clear winner: Georgia peaches and cream donut slider). We munched on those while setting up a massive kiddypool for J and P to splash around. It was a lovely Georgia day. Warm, sunny, summery, a touch humid. We had ordered a few things to be picked up in Atlanta, so we had a fun morning opening boxes and putting stuff together.
One of the good ideas we had this trip was to get new sim cards with data while we were in the US, so I slotted those in and we were ready to rock and roll wherever we were in the US for the whole 14 days.
Saori and her sister went to get manicures after Tim got home from the hospital, and I took the car to go pick up Yoshiko-san and Kazuma.
It was nice to drive again. I am still a bit nervous, and actually, I tell everyone I’m driving with not to talk to me, but it was nice to feel the road and pass the miles. Picked up Saori’s family without any problems. Got them some iced coffees from Starbucks, loaded them into the car, and apologized I couldn’t chat with them on the ride back. But I did get them back safely to Ayumis place.
When we pulled up, everyone was outside, splashing in the kiddy pool. It was Kazuma’s first time to see Atlanta, and the first time in ten years that Saori’s mother got to see all of her children together, as well as the first time to meet P, who was really a bit disconcerted about this new person who insisted on holding her. Ayumi made a fantastic pot roast that night for dinner. Yoshiko-san didn’t realize Tim was going to bless the meal so she was actually sitting down with her second plate when we all bowed our heads.
Saori and I took the couches that night, and we were up again by 4:30AM the next day for our flight to New Orleans. Tim offered to take us, but he looked really tired from his shifts at the hospital, and I knew that hosting so many people takes a toll, so I was happy to decline. Besides, I was itching to try Uber. It worked. Exceedingly well. Second thing I was really really happy about this trip. Cheaper than taxi, much faster than public transportation. We Ubered to airports and restaurants from Atlanta to New Orleans to Portland. It was great. Actually, I barely remember our uber ride to the airport and the flight to New Orleans; we had entered the whirlwind. 

The Road to Prairieville I: Stuttgart to Atlanta

Our wedding trip began with my alarm going off at 3 am. I had gone to bed precisely three hours earlier. Saori hadn’t even gone to bed, as she was making last minute preparations. Of course, we had planned on cleaning the apartment and tidying up before we took off, but like so many other things, we ran out of time. At four AM, I had hauled down our two 50 pound suitcases plus the garbage, and we called a taxi to the airport. It was a quiet and misty ride.
One thing we had prepared well was our flights to the US. I had found us a screaming deal on Turkish Airlines- Stuttgart to Atlanta round trip for under $500. Sure, we have to stop in Istanbul, which realisticaly adds about six hours of travel time, but for us, worth the savings. Plus, I like traveling with them. The food is always good, the entertainment system is on par with or better than Delta, and they always hand out lots of bottled water and travel kits.
We flew first to Istanbul, which felt a lot longer than it really was, and then we didn’t even have time to breeze through the airports mini-grand-bazaar before we had to go line up for the “enhanced” security for travelers going to the US. They swabbed us with the explosive detector, didn’t even really check our bags, and still missed my pocketknife. We slept little on our flight to Atlanta. I booked us basically on the last row of the plane, where there are just two seats in the row, right in front of the area with the food and bathrooms. It’s nice that we have the row to ourselves, and a little extra legroom where the third chair would be. Plus we are not climbing over people to get out to the bathroom etc.
I love flying into Atlanta from overseas. They have a new system for returning US visitors so instead of filling out the blue form with questions like “Did you spend time on a farm? Do you enjoy fondling livestock? Are you carrying snails?” you scan your passport at a kiosk and they give you a bad black and white selfie that you take up to an agent who asks you more interesting quetsions. But everyone is also so nice in Atlanta. I was bringing back WAY more wine and hard liquor than we are allowed but when we tried to explain it to the customs agent they just waved us through with an “its all good” expression. Laid back country. Plus a Starbucks immediately when you pop out. Saori bought us iced lattes and we toasted each other and a lovely start to a wedding trip.
It’s a sharp contrast to Dulles in DC, where it assumed until proven otherwise that you forged your own passport and your primary reason to visit the US is terrorrism and criminal mischief.
One thing I really love about the US is people get really sentimental about airport arrivals. There was always a big group of people lined up with balloons and banners and signs, and even though they’re not there for you, it’s a warm feeling to see. It never happens in Germany.
The airport in Atlanta has two terminals at the ends of a very long axis. We popped out of the international terminal, but MARTA, the light rail for Atlanta, only picks up at the domestic end. So we had to hop on the free shuttle to get there. The driver let us on first, and then loaded in approximately fifty peices of luggage, stacking them up to the point where he had to clamber over a mountain to get to the drivers seat, and even then I had to help pull some roll-ons in from falling out the front door. It was an operation. And about a fifteen minute drive including at least one freeway to get to the other end of the terminal. We took MARTA into town. MARTA is about fourty years old, so I can dig the retro style. I think we were the only white people on the train. It was a very down-to-earth way to reconnect with the US. Saori’s sister would have picked us up but she had her two kids, and Tim was on call for the hospital, so we had to manage ourselves there. Ayumi did come and pick us up from the neighborhood station, where there was some kind of arts festival going on. They live in a duplex in Decatur, and after Ayumi grabbed us, Saori and I insisted on getting milkshakes because they sounded incredible after months without a milkshake and a long day of travel. It was.
It was already past the kid’s bedtime, so Ayumi made us a little dinner and we just crashed in the bed upstairs. 

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende