Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How can you not?

While in New Orleans, I had to stop by Cafe Du Monde and drink cafe au lait ("coffee and lait") and eat beignets ("little coronaries"). When in town, how can you not? When you go to Paris the first time, you ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. When you go to Ireland, you kiss the Blarney stone. Unless you're me and just out of college. Then you're too cool, and you live the rest of your life without the gift of Blarney.

So I did the touristy thing. Those little powdered-sugary pillows below are beignets, a French word inexplicably pronounced "Ben Gays." History tends to savage language as much as anything else, I guess. Although after eating, I did notice a certain warming sensation in my shoulders and a loosening of those tight muscles. The cafe au lait ("coffee for tourists") was great, I think. I don't even drink coffee, so it was kind of wasted on me, but then again, so is "American Idol." But I drank some on behalf of my wife, who loves coffee, who would marry coffee if California had not passed a Constitutional amendment banning it. Then I got her a "Cafe Du Monde" t-shirt, so that when she wears it in the future, and people ask with conspiratorial, coffee-worshiping lust, "OH, did you go to New Orleans?" she can reply "No."

Cafe Du Monde ("Cafe of the 'please watch your valuables' signs") is in the touristy part of New Orleans. Ha ha! That's my joke for today, because, you see, New Orleans is in the touristy part of New Orleans. But the waterfront, especially, is pretty much all trinket shops and mimes. One guy, his head and body all in silver like a robot, did a routine where someone, usually a child, would put a dollar in the cup he was holding, and he would release the bottom, so the buck would fall out on the ground, and they would have to put it back in the cup, and the gathered crowd would laugh. It never got old.

I have respect for the guy, though. He was in the sun, in body makeup, in 1000% humidity. Dude was working. At least that was the impression I got, watching through the window of a restaurant where the air conditioning was blasting a new part into my hair, and I had a headache from sucking down my iced tea too fast. That guy was working.

This is what you look like when you have seen too many mimes. When you have seen one too many tourists sporting a "You look like I need another beer" t-shirts. When you have, in fact, seen it all. That is not actually a leash. That is a failed noose.


  1. Second try here. I came across your blog after reading E&P online. I'm a N.O. native who now lives in Belgium. I really enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for writing about my beloved hometown. I feel a bit captious in wanting to tell you this, but N.O. locals call the Cafe Du Monde doughnuts BEN-YEAS (my son would likely SMS ben-yays). I have never in my 48 years heard anyone use the pronunciation BEN-GAYS when ordering or talking about the doughnuts, and I used to live in the French Quarter. Perhaps someone was pulling your leg if they told you to call them that. I think but am NOT entirely sure that the French here in Europe pronounce them something like BIN-YIS. You probably noticed that New Orleanians have interesting pronunciations for a number of things. Think of the way that locals pronounce "Chartres" or "Melpomene." All the best, & thanks again for remembering us.

  2. Ruth, "Ben Gays" was a joke, thus my comment about how it relaxed my shoulders, meaning like the effects from actual "Ben Gay" ointment. Either my humor is too subtle or just too lame. I'm guessing the latter.

  3. Dear George,

    My apologies that I did not understand your humor! I do not think that your humor is lame. I appreciate your explaining the joke to me. I should have gotten it, especially since I am a lifelong fan of the ointment myself.

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  5. Hey George! Glad you enjoyed New Orleans so much. Just wanted to let you know that even though Cafe Du Monde is in a touristy part of the Quarter, locals still go there to enjoy the amazing donuts and coffee that their grandparents, great-grandparents and so on have eaten for well over 100 years. And I don't think that Cafe Au Lait is "coffee for tourists", I've been drinking that stuff since I was a wee baby! I think the coffee at Cafe Du Monde is probably some of the best (and highest octane) in the country. Come back and visit us again!