Wednesday, 29 August 2012

... been to a hurricane party

Monday, 27th August 2012

The night before Isaac was due to hit, Bex and I were invited for drinks and dinner at the house of my friend Lander (whom I know through my very excellent ex Paul Eros – they studied together at Corpus Christi, when I was going out with Paul). Lander's family seat is in the Garden District, on Prytania Street – a good couple of miles west of our new billet at the Melrose Mansion, which is on the corner of Burgundy and Esplanade.

We weren't sure how easy it would be to get a taxi, but we had a mission to fulfil (we'd asked if we could bring anything to the party and Lander suggested gin) so we decided to walk west to Canal and look out for an off-licence on the way. We found a small general store with a wide range of booze, but no gin (it's not big in the South, which is odd, considering how refreshing a gin & tonic is – not to mention the medicinal properties of quinine).

Finally we found a liquor store selling what I remembered to be Lander's poison – Bombay Sapphire – and hopped in a cab which was delivering some hardcore revellers to Bourbon Street. The whole of Bourbon, as we walked along it, was eerily deserted; there were six people on the corner when we took the cab – three getting out, a bouncer and us. Once we got in the cab, there was just one.

Arriving at Lander's – am imposing 1860s mansion complete with historical plaque on the front gate (New Orleans is justly proud of its history and every other building – including private residences – seems to have a little brass plate with a potted biography of the place on it) – we found it apparently deserted. We couldn't knock on the front door, as the formidable gate wouldn't open; I texted him, and just as I was about to call he opened up – he'd been out back closing the shutters and generally “hunkering down” (that's an actual technical hurricane term used a lot on the news).

Lander welcomed us in to his frankly jaw-droppingly beautiful home, led us through to the kitchen at the back, and fixed us a couple of gin-and-tonics so stiff you could have lit them on fire. Our Bombay Sapphire had been unnecessary in the end as Lander had discovered a couple of spares in the fridge (see below). We repaired to the living room (or one of them) and chatted for a bit – mostly about the weather, but for once this was by no means small talk – until Lander's other friends, Kathryn and William, arrived.

It's going to be a three-day storm, right?
Kathryn, soigné and blonde, is a former journalism major turned medical student to whom natural disasters seem to be a hazard of the job: she'd also survived one of Australia's worst floods in years when she was studying in Brisbane, and had had to abandon everything in her house to jump in a boat when the floodwater had reached her second-floor bedroom window. By birth she's a New York Yankee, but she seemed unfazed by the whole thing.

William was a native New Orleanian – a trainee lawyer with a sideline in sailing. He said he spent a month or so on the water every year, which sounded pretty sweet, and has sailed all over the world, sometimes for the firm (it's that kind of organisation) and sometimes for leisure. He too was pretty laid-back about the approaching storm: he lived just up the road and had laid in provisions, lamps etc. at home, but swung by Lander's to meet us and hang out.

We moved back into the kitchen to refresh our drinks and, incidentally, to admire – sort of – Lander's extensive collection of firearms which appeared in the photo he'd sent me the day before. Amazingly, I hadn't actually clocked the guns when I first saw it, but there they all were – a Remington, a revolver, even a Tommy gun (for the completist). “Just in case,” he said, with an unnerving grin. Bex and Kathryn were somewhat daunted by the firearms collection, but Kathryn was eventually persuaded to pose with one for the “hurricane party” photo below (I brandished my drink as my primary defence against the storm).

Hurricane essentials: (L-R) Gin, bullhorn, lamp, gun
Hurricane parties are something of a tradition in New Orleans when bad weather hits: they're a combination of house-party and lock-in, and can take place either at someone's home or at a bar or restaurant – anywhere people can gather to drink, eat, and watch the news.

When power outages are so common during storms, somewhere which still has electricity becomes as a flame to moths: it's extraordinary how quickly our Neanderthal homing instinct for light and warmth kicks in when the lights go out.

OH MY GOD THIS WAS SO NICE (Bex's plate pictured)
When the storm is not too serious, there's a real (what we English would call) Blitz spirit about the whole thing, and a mild carnival atmosphere of danger and excitement. If anyone's ever been snowed in or cut off by weather for a few days, you'll know what I mean.

Anyway, around 10pm we started getting hungry, so Lander hauled an entire lamb (or so it seemed to me) out of the freezer, in chop form: this, marinaded and then barbecued, was going to be our dinner.

Once the lamb had been defrosted and expertly barbecued by Lander as below (it was around midnight, by now) and the table had been laid and candles lit, we moved in to the dining room for possibly the most sophisticated impromptu hurricane dinner party ever thrown.
Man. Meat. Fire. The eternal triangle.
As token vegetarian I got pasta and pesto – but what pasta! It was, as William said, “lighter 'n' air” and cooked in about three minutes. And what pesto! Lander just happened to have giant bushes of fresh basil growing in his garden, and this (combined with a couple of heads of garlic, lemon juice, and some olive oil) was whizzed up in the Cuisinart into the best and freshest pesto I've ever tasted. This storm-orphan business wasn't so bad after all.

Best (and only) hurricane party ever!
The pictures don't do the meal, the environment, or the guests justice, but they're the best I can do: Bex and I were heartily grateful to have been wined and dined in such a generous and hospitable fashion, and we owe enormous thanks to Lander and his lovely friends for making us feel so welcome.

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