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A gut-wrenching trip
to the Big Easy

© 2011 Fay Jacobs

May 11, as I write this, it is National Eat What You Want Day. Honest. It was on the Internet. For me however, there shall be no celebrating this calendar creator's phony holiday.

I've got a stomach ulcer, and I'm surprised. I'd always thought of myself as a carrier rather than a stomach at risk, But no, for some reason my system has rebelled.

I am gobbling antacids and staring at a medical version of the terrorism NO FLY list. In this case it's the NO EAT list.

That I've been warned away from all coffee, alcohol and spicy or fried foods two days before I leave for New Orleans is as cruel a twist of fate as I can remember.

The good news is that on this, my seventh annual trek to NOLA, I may be able to recall what I did and who I met.

May 12 - Off we fly to my annual Saints & Sinners LGBT literary festival, choosing saint rather than sinnerhood when offered a cocktail on the plane. While gastric issues partly motivated my decision, saving a few bucks was key, too; I'd paid an extra $20 for my suitcase's plane ticket. And by the time we checked in, there were only middle seats left, so Bonnie and I each paid another $20 to sit together in an exit row with more leg room.

"You are in the exit row, ma'am. Are you willing and able, in case of emergency, to remove the heavy exit door and place it on your seat?"

"Yes," I said. Frankly, I would like to remove the heavy exit door and place it on top of the Airtran CEO.

After checking into the hotel in the Big Easy we went directly to the Acme Oyster House. Dinner was big but not easy. Gumbo. Fried Shrimp Po' Boy. Abita beer. Hopefully my doctor does not read this and will not ask. I won't tell that I fell off the ulcer wagon twenty minutes in. But I had a theory. If I could keep my stomach full, the spice and alcohol would hurt less. Rationalization is such a gift.

So it did actually turn out to be Eat Anything You Want Weekend. The ulcer diet could kick in Monday.

May 13 - First thing: Café Du Monde for beignets and chicory café au lait. I hoped the au lait would protect my stomach lining from the coffee. I went to a master class given by social networking and promotion guru Michele Karlsburg. With a barrage of terms, from Tweeting, tagging, and widgets to blog tours, RSS feeds and embedded buttons, the whole thing gave me the vapors. By the end, the only thing I learned for certain was if I wanted to do this stuff I had to hire the teacher to do it for me.

By mid-day I learned I'd have to eat something every two hours to keep from having a pain in my belly. It was tough, but I managed. The jambalaya at lunch with a mid-afternoon hush puppy chaser did the trick. I bet you wouldn't be surprised to learn that on Decatur Street lamp posts have little cocktail shelves attached so you can hang out, sipping Hurricanes and listening to street entertainers. From washboard bands to big "second line" jazz combos, as long as you are upright and have a to-go cup the night is young.

Sadly, I am not. There was only so much I could take before heading back to the hotel for a nightcap of Tums Smoothies and Nexium.

May 14 - It's a conspiracy. They served complimentary Mimosas at the morning conference sessions. I asked for plain champagne. Alcohol I can handle; it's the orange juice that will kill me. While my spouse was off on a swamp tour I was happily alligator-free at the conference sessions.

I was delighted to be asked to sit on a memoir panel with some outstanding writers, including pioneering gay author Felice Picano and a delightful newly-published memoirist Aaron Anson. But, lesbian theatre queen that I am, I was happiest to be sitting next to actor Bryan Batt (Sal on Mad Men, the original Darius in Jeffrey) who wrote a truly hilarious and moving memoir mostly about his mother, but with tales of growing up in New Orleans and his theatre career. He calls it a "Momoir," and reading it on the flight home, I laughed like a hyena and loved his honesty and heart. Read it. It's called She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother. The man can act, sing AND write. Hardly seems fair.

To be honest, I was so flattered I was struck speechless when Felice Picano told me he thought the column I read was a terrific piece of writing. I'm still floating, but perhaps part of that is all the gumbo.

On Saturday late afternoon we went down to see the mighty Mississippi, mightier than usual with the portent of horrid flooding thundering toward the Bayou and New Orleans. Where in past years we could stand at our favorite spot near Café Du Monde and see the tops of ships passing by, this time we could see their hulls. The water was almost up to the riverside promenade and it was scary. But by late Saturday night early Sunday the Corps of Engineers opened the spillways and floodgates upstream, flooding the bayou, farmland and tiny towns to save the cities. It was a Sophie's Choice, but it turned out that we got to see the river at its most threatening.

We spent Saturday evening on Frenchman Street in an area with authentic live music by local musicians as opposed to the commercial hoopla that is Bourbon Street. We stopped into several clubs, and I ate more verboten food and drank more forbidden cocktails. We ending the evening coming upon an outdoor wedding celebration at Jackson Square, complete with a New Orleans brass band and a sing-a-long with the wedding party and hundreds of strangers to "When the Saints Go Marching In." Quintessential New Orleans.

By Sunday morning we had our last beignets and chicory coffee, wondered why I was dumb enough to wear black pants for a meal guaranteed to cover your clothes with powdered sugar, and grabbed a cab to the airport.

Our wonderful cab driver was worried about his home in the bayou, expecting the spillway water to inundate his community. I wished him well and tipped big.

So we're home after a marvelous book event and I have sworn off liquor, spicy food, coffee and other things bad for my stomach. I'll miss all my Nola friends, food and drink, but beignet, done that. Time to heal.
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Fay Jacobs is publisher of A&M Books of Rehoboth and author of the "Frying Trilogy,": As I Lay Frying - a Rehoboth Beach Memoir, Fried & True - Tales from Rehoboth Beach, and For Frying Out Loud - Rehoboth Beach Diaries. You can check her out at

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