It began and ended with doughnuts in the #039;Big Easy#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 4, 2004

What better way to start and end this once-in-a-lifetime first occasion - my first visit to New Orleans, La., also known as "The Big Easy?" But that was how it began for my companion and I on this trip. Friday night, just on the outskirts of the big city of New Orleans, we stopped for coffee and doughnuts at an all-night shop, and when we walked in, it was as if we were the only persons there, although there were some 15 or 20 patrons seated at the counters.

The lady that waited on us was very friendly, and got our order almost correct (we wanted chocolate-covered cream-filled donuts, but got plain chocolate-covered instead), and the coffee was wonderful. Surely it must have been the heat that caused the error on the order.

Then we drove on into the Big Easy, and it was like stepping backward in time some two or three hundred years, to a more simpler attitude. Although the humidity was extremely high (it felt as if it were approaching 200 percent), the city was so beautiful that one did not think too much of the climate.

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This is caused because the city is between 5-8 feet below sea level, and from what I am told, there are giant pump stations set all throughout the city to keep the streets, yards and basements dry, because it would not take much rain to cause a foot of water in the streets and buildings.

Did I say it was humid?

I happened to be with someone that had some 20 or 30 visits to New Orleans under her belt, so I was at no great disadvantage, having a great personal tour guide to make my visit the most enjoyable it could possibly have been.

We had originally planned on staying in Mobile on Friday night, and had a hotel room already from Saturday night. But then the idea came up - if you could see half of everything in one day and night, then certainly you could see nearly half again in addition in two days and nights. So off we went, following a brief visit in Mobile to repair a lawn mower and cut the grass for my companion's daughter. We were "Nawlins" bound.

Following the visit with the donut shop, we went straight on to the French Quarter. Driving around for a while, we found a hotel that appeared to have someone on duty, and went it. To our pleasure, a room was available, so we checked in, unloaded the car, and decided to go out and about.

The French Quarter is some 30 blocks long and 40 blocks wide, but easier to traverse on foot then by vehicle, especially when everyone else is walking on the cobblestone or brick roads, and besides - what better way to take in the character of the city then to be walking through its streets at night, when all the gaslights, lighted windows and yard lights are all accentuating the buildings.

All of the open shops, restaurants and bars had their large doors wide open, so everyone outside could hear and see the live entertainment that was taking place. And it was also a great way to temporarily cool off, walking up to the doorway and looking inside, while the cool air conditioning blew across one's face.

We finally made it to Bourbon Street, where everyone was having a great time, and visited some shops, clubs and other such attractions, all in buildings that were some 200-300 years old.

After a while, we decided to go back to the hotel for a nap, and then begin early in the a.m. on our tour.

Early came along at about 10 a.m. (It's amazing how that heat and humidity outside makes you sleep more inside in the air conditioning, following a refreshing shower, of course).

Did I say it was humid?

On Saturday morning, we checked out, loaded the car again, and headed out to find something for breakfast, after driving around for a while.

The Trolley Stop, a favorite place for breakfast anytime of day or night, was our choice.

We enjoyed the "French Special," which consisted of two eggs, two slices of French toast, one's choice of meat and grits with Caf\u00E9 du Monde coffee.

While on the topic, Caf\u00E9 du Monde is coffee made right in New Orleans, and contains chicory, which I am told cuts down the bitterness. I just know the coffee was good. My folks used to get it when I was in my early teens, but I don't remember it being quite as good back then.

Having enjoyed a well-prepared meal, we were ready again to tour the city some 300 years old, and the only city in the United States where French was the predominant language for more than a century. Louisiana is the only state in the country that was once under French rule, and then Spanish.

Saturday evening, we toured the world-famous Garden District. This is where wealthy American settlers built tremendous antebellum mansions. Some 40,000 buildings in New Orleans are listed in the National Historic Register, and the vast majority of them are in the 120 blocks of the French Quarter and the Garden District.

We even walked up on a "Ghost Tour" being conducted on foot, and listened to the tale of the Lawler home, where it is reputed that the occupants were cruel to their slaves, and some came back to haunt the home since their demise, some 250 years ago, after being primitively operated on by the evil Dr. Lawler, during the time when Frankenstein was first published.

After we ate at a lovely Cajun restaurant on Bourbon Street for supper, we again went out to tour (oh, but only after yet another refreshing shower).

This time we went into a place on Bourbon Street called Razzoo's. It is a popular nightspot, and has fountains in the courtyard with gas flames coming out of the water. They have these cute waitresses that offer you drinks of beautiful color, in test tube-like containers called tooters; they place the base of the tooter in their mouth, and pour the contents into your mouth.

These girls really know what they are doingŠthe tooters are $2 each, and they quickly talk you into two of them, knowing that you probably have a $5 bill, and will tell them to keep the $1 change for a tip.

After a little more shopping, and much more walking, we were ready to retire for the night, but only after an early breakfast on Canal Street.

On Sunday morning (nearer to afternoon, considering that we didn't get back to the hotel until around 4:30 a.m.), we decided to tour the French Market, where we found many great bargains on "stuff you just got to have." And then we enjoyed red beans and rice for a brunch snack, before hitting Jackson Square.

It was also in the French Market that I found my new favorite sausage - alligator. They sell it from a machine used in other parts as a hot dog cooker, with the metal rack that rotates around heat lamps. The sausage is on a Popsicle stick.

Jackson Square is located in the center of town, and has at its center the St. Louis Cathedral, named such for King Louis IX. Louis became a canonized saint in the 13th century. His descendant, King Louis XIV, who had in 1699 claimed for France what eventually became the State of Louisiana, following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, is also memorialized throughout the city. The Cathedral holds the record for being the oldest continuous Catholic church in operation in the United States, originally being built in 1724, then rebuilt twice, following a fire and a hurricane.

Jackson Square is akin to a festival of sidewalk entertainers, art exhibits, and those "Gold People."

A gold person is someone who, although wearing clothing just like you or I, is painted from head to toe in gold - on their face, arms, clothing, baseball hat - everywhere, and they pose like bronzed statues (for a paltry donation in their change bucket, of course). I swear I don't understand how they can be wearing all that paint with the heat and humidity, and more importantly, how they go so long without blinking their eyes or moving a muscle.

We rode the trolley car from the Moonwalk Park, named for a famous politician whose last name was Moon, and got off at the French Market. Then we again toured the edge of the Market while walking back toward Jacks Brewery, where our car was parked.

But then, alas, it was time to bid this beautiful city adieu (French for goodbye), as the hands on the clock indicated close to 4 p.m., and the next day was Monday - the beginning of a new work week.

But wait - the ending that I alluded to at the start of this conversation.

My touring companion, knowledgeable as she was to the quality of the fine eateries in New Orleans, steered me toward the Caf\u00E9 Beignet, world famous for their Caf\u00E9 du Monde Caf\u00E9 au lait (coffee and chicory mixed half-and-half with hot milk), and a pair of Beignets (known as the Louisiana state doughnut).

I will definitely be there again, because they have a sandwich called a muffaletta (a sandwich filled with more goodies than words can adequately describe), and some type of olive salad in it. They look just like they are to die for!

But you know what? I am in fact going back to this honeymoon city againŠI don't know when yet, but it will be a definite frequent stop for me to escape to for the weekend.

And you know what else? I'll bet they have a ball field somewhere, which no doubt is where you will find meŠout there in Deep Left Field.