Keeping It Real

The word authentic is often overused, especially in big tourist destinations. Businesses vie for a claim to be the “original”, the “first” or the “unique” and rarely are. So to search for the “authentic” side of New Orleans, breakfast is a good place to start. And the often overlooked humble beignet.

Think of a doughnut batter, but cook it square and make it into a parcel – then add enough icing sugar to cure the worst case of fatigue. There are lots of places to find them, and many visitors head for the Cafe Du Monde near Jackson Square, considered by many guidebooks to be the grand fromage of the beignet world. However, heading just across the street to a small cafe, where the emphasis is on simple, leads – in my view – to a better beignet. Or at least one to rival Du Monde on taste, service and price.

Separating the authentic from the tat at the French Market takes a little more detective work. The food stalls pretty much live and breathe Louisiana, so long as you’re up for some Alligator on a stick.

Meanwhile, in the flea market there are no fleas to be found. But hey, you could still have a ‘gator.

And then there’s Brian, selling copies of his film charting the “secret freedoms of train hopping”.

“I just love trains,” he explains. Brian spent around five years making the film, which takes a trip through a pastime that most people would think only existed in Jack Kerouac books or Bugs Bunny cartoons. “Cure For The Crash” was endorsed by National Geographic and won several awards at some of America’s major film festivals. Today Brian’s trying to sell the DVD version to passers by. But it’s a tough sell in the French Market, where people are probably more interesting in buying toy alligators.

By the way, if you’re coming here, learn how to pronounce the name properly.

Another slice of genuine can be found in the collection of antique shops along Decatur Street. It’s also become the home for several artists making some pretty neat furniture. At Upcycle, they use parts of just about anything to create shelves, chairs, lamps and tables. Some of this wood was once part of a barge that ran up and down the Mississippi.

So, who knew that park rangers doubled up as jazz musicians?

It sounds like one of the plot lines from Parks and Recreation, but every Tuesday at the Old US Mint building, there are free music performances. And today, it’s a collection of local employees known as the Jazz Park Rangers. They’re good, too, entertaining a full house with a mixture of creole jazz from the Caribbean and beyond. Just to prove who they are, some even wear their work uniforms.

It’s a great show. I just wonder who’s telling the locals to pick up their dog mess?

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