Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The annual American Library Association (ALA) conference was held this past weekend in New Orleans (NOLA). Even though I swore I’d never attend another ALA conference in NOLA (too damn hot!), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to speak on a panel of librarians who, like me, work several part-time jobs. Plus I’ve been missing our good friends Suzanne and Mike, who live in Baton Rouge. So I packed my cotton summer dresses and several pairs of flip-flops and off we went to Louisiana.

We did the typical touristy things, like take a horse-and-buggy ride through the French Quarter and ride the trolley—oops, I mean streetcar—to see the Victorian mansions along St. Charles Ave. We also visited the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, which is still rebuilding after losing most of its sea-life during Hurricane Katrina.

But the true highlight of the trip was seeing the National World War II Museum, located in the central business district of New Orleans. Now, you may be asking yourself why on earth a national WWII museum is located in New Orleans? Well, the “Higgins boats,” which were used to land American troops during D-Day, were built in New Orleans, the hometown of Stephen Ambrose, author of such WWII classics as Band of Brothers and Citizen Soldiers. He apparently spearheaded the movement to build the museum in NOLA. It opened on June 6, 2000. Although the museum was surrounded by 6-foot-deep flood waters during Katrina, the building—a former brewery—sustained minor damage.

The museum complex spans six acres and will eventually include several buildings. For an extra $5, you can see a 45-minute film, called Beyond All Boundaries, about the war. Narrated by Tom Hanks and featuring the voices of a stellar (but uncredited) cast, including Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon, Blythe Danner, Neil Patrick Harris, Chris Pine, and Gary Sinese, the film is far more interactive than the usual two-dimensional movie-viewing experience. Anyone remotely interested in WWII should see it.

We stayed at the W Hotel, one of the more luxurious accommodations offered through ALA. Our room was very nice, but the hotel itself was far too hip for us two old codgers: minimalist interior decoration and loud techno-music pounding in the lobby. And no gift shop! (Where’s a gal supposed to go when she has a 9PM crave for candy?) They did, however, offer free car service (an Acura hybrid, of course!), which I took advantage of on our first day in town. (Too hot to walk 5 blocks!) They also provided a DVD player and free movies; so, on our final night, we stayed in and watched Oliver Stone’s Kennedy-assassination treatise, JFK. The movie was much better 20 years ago when it was first released, but fun nonetheless because of all the New Orleans locales.

Although my delicate SoCal stomach eventually rebelled against the rich Louisiana cooking, we did manage to consume some excellent local food. The best was chef John Besh’s Lüke, a brasserie within walking distance of our hotel. Tim treated himself to oysters on the half-shell, gumbo, steak, and a chocolate crepe, while I feasted on salad, roasted chicken (yum!), and, by far, the most amazing bread pudding I’ve ever eaten. We also loved Besh’s American Sector, a small diner located within the WWII museum.

But our most fun dining experience was at Mother’s Restaurant, a beloved greasy-spoon that’s been around since 1938. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter Sunday, and, of course, Mother’s Day, Mother’s is open 7AM-10PM, seven days a week, and frequently has a line outside the door. Once you get inside, you stand on another line to order and pay for your food, which is then brought to your table. Tips are not allowed. The house specialty is something called “debris,” a shredded beef concoction served either with grits or as a sandwich. Tim didn’t eat any hot dogs on this trip; but he did enjoy a debris and cheese sandwich an hour before leaving for the airport. I silently wondered if I should call ahead and arrange for an ambulance to be waiting, just in case, but he and I both made it home just fine. We’re having salad tonight for dinner!

The appropriately-named "debris" sandwich (ack!)

Breakfast with friends at Mother's

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