Photo by Alfred Hermida, used under Creative Commons license

Hot Docs 2012

Every year we buy a Hot Docs festival pass, and every year something gets in the way of us seeing at least one of the films. This time it’s wisdom teeth. But we at least got to see a few:

The Imposter (imdb | flixster | hot docs) was carrying a lot of buzz from an earlier appearance at Sundance, and it didn’t disappoint. I was impressed with all three facets: the story, the style and the shooting. The story was so bizarre that it could only be told in a documentary…it would have seemed ridiculous in a typical film. The style involved a lot of recreations, a la Errol Morris, which Nellie hates but I saw as crucial to the story…with no actual footage, you needed some way to put yourself in these situations being recounted more than ten years later. The shooting itself was pretty remarkable…as the director himself said during the Q&A afterward there were influences like Morris and David Fincher, but I got a lot of The Usual Suspects in the mix as well. Overall, a fantastic start to the festival.

It only got better with Brooklyn Castle (imdb | hot docs) on Sunday. Focused on a middle school in Brooklyn that focuses on cranking out amazing chess players, but extending into their personal lives and struggles at school and the state education budget sword of Damocles, it was engaging and worrisome and funny and encouraging all at once. The crowd applauded several times during the film; I rarely stopped smiling for the last half hour. Also: there’s a certain kind of subject that documentary filmmakers must just flip out when they stumble on; in this film his name was Pobo. Once you watch the film — and you really must watch it, just as soon as you can — you won’t forget him, or the other kids, or the teachers, or the stories. This won the audience prize at SxSW, and I’d have to think it’s a favourite to win the audience award at Hot Docs as well.

Unfortunately, with that screening still fresh in my mind, it was inevitable that Fists Of Pride (imdb | hot docs) would be a letdown. The subject matter — Burmese kids living in a boxing camp along the Burmese/Thai border, trying to fight their way out of poverty — sounded compelling, but we never really got to identify with them, or see them fight for more than a few moments each, or find out what happened. It was like a story that just couldn’t find a conclusion. Not bad, but nowhere near the league of the two we’d seen to date.

We already know we’re missing scheduled documentary #4 (The World Before Her) on Wednesday; if we’re lucky we’ll get to see Sexy Baby on Friday. Even if we can’t, our first weekend of the festival was worth the price of five admissions.

.:.

Photo by Alfred Hermida, used under Creative Commons license

"Ok, I'm drawing a line in the fucking sand. Do NOT read the Latin! "

Last weekend Danelle and I went with a bunch of friends to see The Cabin In The Woods (imdb | flixster) at the AMC. I’d harbored no desire to see it; based on the previews it looked like another dumb, formulaic slasher film.

But then I saw the reviews. 90%+ on Rotten Tomatoes. Okay then.

So yeah, I saw the movie. And now I know that the dumb, formulaic slasher film is exactly what they’re playing off. It had elements of that by-the-numbers, but it presented them as if to suggest that all the rote procedurals you’ve seen before have been the work of an off-screen deus ex machina. So it was clever.

It was also really, really goddamned funny. Probably the most I’ve laughed in a movie theatre since Bridesmaids. Putting Brad Whitford and Richard Jenkins — two actors of way higher calibre than you’d expect in a movie like this, which probably should have tipped me off — in their roles and letting them run was a great move. Of course, the script had to be good, and Nellie pointed out at least eleven times before we watched the movie that it was written and directed by Drew Goddard — ex of Buffy, Alias, Angel and Lost — so this was clearly in his wheelhouse.

Make no mistake, it’s a violent movie too — incredibly, and actually comically so at times — lest you think bringing your kids along is a good idea. But if you like self-referential + self-aware (kind of like winking at the very fact that it’s winking at the audience) genre films that make you laugh, and don’t mind some ridiculously savage violence mixed in, this is your new jam.

The big barese

This past Friday, to the detriment of both our waistlines and wallets (but utter joy of our taste buds) we revisited the previous Friday’s theatre of operations: Dundas West / Brockton Village / whatever. It was even better this week.

It started out in the very same way: leave work late and head straight to Midfield Wine Bar. I’ll be honest, we made dinner reservations in the area that Tuesday when we decided we wanted an excuse to go back to Midfield. Anyway, we sat at the bar and were greeted by Chris as warmly as if we were regulars and not just second-timers. Peckish, we ordered a board (much the same as last week’s, but with Serrano ham and an excellent clothbound Red Leicester cheese this time) and let him start picking wines. I had a white from Vouvray that I don’t quite remember, the Santagostino Nero d’Avola/Syrah I’d enjoyed so much the previous week, the Castello di Verduno Basadone (I’d never had a wine like that before) and an 04 Chateau Lescalle from Bordeaux. All excellent, especially the reds. Nellie had a Stratus Tollgate white, a Sauvignon Blanc of some kind and two more reds which have since slipped her mind.

Midway through our drinks & eats, our friend Duarte showed up. Socialite that he is, he knew all three couples sitting at the bar, even though none of us knew the other. I think it’d been a few years since we’d seen him face-to-face so it was good to catch up with him while he waited for his friend.

We had dinner reservations for 10:00 just down the street at Enoteca Sociale, erstwhile (just) hotspot and still darling of the Toronto dining scene. We usually try to wait until some of the scene-buzz has worn off a place before trying it out, so the time seemed right. I don’t know if the food is better or worse than when it first opened (note: if it were much better I don’t think I could have stood it) but I think the vibe was more to our liking now than it would have been then. It was charming and efficient, and classy and tousled, and just the right level of noisy. All of which to say, it was completely unlike our experience at Salt the previous weekend.

Now then, down to the important stuff: ze food. I’m copying and pasting straight off the menu*:

  • Starter: Spicy barese sausage, grilled artichokes & shishito peppers, pecorino fresco
    • Dan: Aglianico del Vulture “Liscone” 2008 DOC, Cantine Madonna delle Grazie, Basilicata
    • Nellie: Frascati Superiore 2010 DOC, Casale Marchese, Lazio
  • Dan’s main: trecce, pork sausage, charred broccoli & tomato peperonata
    • Gutturnio “Fermo” 2010 DOC, Roberto Manara, Emilia Romagna
  • Nellie’s main: lobster spaghetti, tomato, chili, basil
    • NV Franciacorta Brut DOCG, Majolini, Lombardia
  • Dessert: sticky toffee pudding, cardamom syrup & vanilla bean ice cream

My trecce (braided pasta) was really good. So was Nellie’s spaghetti, though there was so much lobster she couldn’t finish it. But my god…my god, that barese sausage. It might have been the most flavourful meat I’ve ever tasted. And if you took a bite with some of the shishito pepper? Goddamn! Unreal. I wanted to run back into the kitchen and steal the rest. I composed an ode to barese sausage on the spot. I considered nominating that sausage to be named to the order of Canada. So yeah, I liked the barese sausage.

Sigh…clearly, with Midfield and Enoteca being three blocks apart, this wallet & waistline problem isn’t going away.

* Seriously, restaurants who publish their entire menu, with wine pairings, on the website (not in a PDF) are a blogger’s best friend.

 

Salt: mediocre, like the Angelina Jolie film. Midfield: anything but middlin'.

Since by Friday my sickness was gone — meaning I could once again breathe through my nose and taste things — we finished the week with a bit of a double-hit, deciding to try out a couple of wine bars in a part of town that we just never get to. I mean, literally…we have never walked around this neighbourhood. Shocking.

Midfield Wine Bar is a new spot on Dundas West that we liked immediately. The decor feels a bit rugged and minimalist at first, but it’s not an oversight — it’s by design. Everything here is dead simple. Small tables, simple chairs, cash only, a healthy bar, a brief menu (charcuterie, oysters, terrines, bread) and a well-curated wine list. I’m trying to remember everything I had…I remember the Stratus Charlie Baker Riesling, some Sangiovese or another, and a fantastic Santagostino Nero D’Avola/Syrah. Our charcuterie board was fantastic too…smearing some honeycomb on the spicy sopressata was the smartest thing I did all day. It’s not the place to go if you’re looking for a ginormous meal, but if you love interesting wine (and maybe fancy a snack) then make your way to Midfield. And let them pick the glasses for you; it’s just more fun that way.

Alas, it was time to leave Midfield. We had a dinner reservation down the street at Salt Wine Bar (sense a theme?) at 9:30. In retrospect we should have just stayed at Midfield and ordered a second board. It’s not that Salt was bad…it was just a rather soul-jerking shift to decamp a truly authentic place like Midfield for a minor outpost of Ossington hipster-douchery. It was the usual loud/cramped scenario in there. Our server was nice, but she couldn’t tell me a thing about the wine list; I don’t remember what bottle we ended up with or how it tasted. Food: the lamb tacos and lobster risotto were just okay, but the scallops and pork belly were both pretty good. So considering we got a pretty modest amount of food and wine, the bill felt outsized. It’s not a strict avoid in my books — that is, I wouldn’t warn somebody away from there if they wanted to try it — but I don’t see us making a return trip anytime soon.

.:.

Thankfully, after all that wine we had a beer respite (note to self: copyright the term beerespite) on Saturday. We met up with CBGB at Beerbistro for our friend Lisa’s birthday, in an attempt to turn her — an avowed disliker of beer — into a fan of the suds. Thankfully Beerbistro offers flights of three small glasses, and groups their menu by type of beer (and orders it roughly from lightest-to-strongest), so I did the picking and began the indoctrination.

  • Flight 1:Blanche de Chambly, Bitburger Pils, De Koninck. the Blanche was a hit. The Pils and De Koninck weren’t quite as well received, but they weren’t rejected either.
  • Flight 2:Weihenstephaner Hefe Weiss, Innis & Gunn Oak Aged, Muskoka Mad Tom IPA. The Weihenstephaner was also well received, though not quite as well as the Chambly. The Innis & Gunn went over better than I thought too, probably because of the sweetness. The Mad Tom, however, produced a response best summarized as “Ewwwww!!!” and was quickly given away. We had hit on it: the enemy, then, was hops.
  • Flight 3:Affligem Blonde, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, Paulaner Salvator. The Affligem sits in the same category as my beloved Maudite, which I happened to be drinking just prior to this round. Since the birthday girl had tried a sip and not liked it, I opted for the other ‘spicy’ beer; luckily the Affligem fared better than La Maudite would have. The Young’s was a gamble, since serving stout to a professed non-beer-drinker seems antithetical, but the chocolate might have just salvaged it. I believe the Salvator was the least popular of this flight, but still wasn’t met with the venom shown to the Mad Tom.

So, if nothing else we showed our friend last night that she doesn’t have to resort to drinking the bad house wine at a pub if they have a weissbeer on tap. Mission tastily accomplished!

"No drums! No drums! Jack Black said no drums!"

Being sick and having little energy usually results in me watching a lot of movies. To wit:

  • I actually watched Margin Call (imdb | rotten tomatoes) on the flight to New Orleans, pre-sickness. It tells the story of a thinly-veiled amalgam of a few financial institutions (especially Lehman) involved in the 2008 meltdown. Where I found Too Big To Fail interesting because it’s what was actually happening at the highest levels of government, Margin Call was interesting because it portrayed a single company’s take on it. From a low-level analyst to the Chairman, and every position in between, all the maneuvering taking place once people realize their ass is on the line, and the frustration of those who just don’t want to play the game. Judging by the box office numbers this film was heartily ignored, but I’d say the acting talent involved makes it profoundly overlooked.
  • The Muppets (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was, admittedly, something Nellie wanted to watch more than me. OK, OK, I get it already…you have a crush on Jason Segel. Anyway, the movie seemed sweet and well-paced and funny in parts, but I suspect there was more than a little nostalgia at work for it to have a 96% rating.
  • The Descendants (imdb | rotten tomatoes) is another one for which I didn’t quite understand the rating. It was good and all, but…89%? Really? George Clooney seemed woefully underused to me, not the kind of classic character and performance that we saw in other Alexander Payne films like Sideways or About Schmidt. Maybe Payne deliberately toned it down, or maybe it was that he offset the bitter or moving with something saccharine once too often. Like I said, good film…but I think I was a victim of inflated expectations on this one, given all the Oscar buzz.
  • Game Change (imdb) was made for TV, so no RT rating, but I give it a Dickinson thumbs-up. It’s hard to know whether this behind-the-scenes-of-power look at how Sarah Palin entered the public consciousness in 2008 is accurate, but it’s certainly damning to Sarah Palin. Watch it for yourself, and Marvel at Julianne Moore, and decide whether you think it felt slanted or not. To me, the most interesting undercurrent in the film is the notion that only a celebrity can win an American presidential election now…whether it’s Palin’s camera appeal resurrecting McCain’s campaign (at first, anyway) or Obama leading from post to post because of his popularity and media savvy. I find the idea depressing, but impossible to refute. Also, there’s a great moment where we watch Julianne Moore pretending to be Sarah Palin watching Tina Fey pretending to be Sarah Palin. I was picturing the real Sarah Palin watching that scene at home and wondering if somewhere there was another Sarah Palin watching her.

Our vacation in New Orleans or: how I came to want to free Sean Payton

Well, that was one of our all-time favourite trips. Here’s the play-by-play:

Friday

I’d been dreading our American Airlines flight. The last time I took American (>10 years ago) I told myself I’d never fly with them again, but we didn’t have a choice this time. But it really wasn’t too bad at all…our flight left on time and got us to Dallas in plenty of time to eat a pretzel and tacos, lounge on some recliner-ish airport chairs, and make our connection to New Orleans.

Our hotel, the Avenue Plaza Resort in the Garden District, ended up being bigger than we thought too, and not quite as ugly as the website’s pictures suggested. So the low-expectations part of our trip had both turned out pretty well. So far so good!

It was already pretty late, so our plans that night were simply to try out the Avenue Pub just down St. Charles Avenue. How lucky that our hotel was five blocks from one of the best beer places in North America. CBJ+M — our traveling companions — staked out a little table upstairs, and we drank our fill of excellent beer, ate dump truck fries (waffle fries with pulled pork and cheese) and red-beans-and-rice wontons, admired the cool art and saw our first of manyFree Sean Payton” shirts. If you don’t know who Sean Payton is, this will help.

And then, boom…we crashed.

Saturday

Late to bed, late to rise. We gathered in the morning to test out the Trolley Stop Café, just a few steps from the hotel. It was already busy, and got busier before we left. The place was fairly famous on Tripadvisor for having big portions of yummy, cheap food. And Tripadvisor was not wrong. I had bacon and french toast and country sausage and eggs and grits (for the first time ever) for $6.75. Seriously. We all stuffed ourselves and were well-entertained by our server.

We jumped on the St. Charles Streetcar (don’t call it a trolley, no matter what the cafés tell you) and headed for the Central Business District, and walked from there into the French Quarter. At this point I should point out that Saturday ended up being a near-record high temperature for that time of year in New Orleans. Sunday and (part of) Monday were the same. And I should also point out that all I’d packed were jeans and dark tshirts. So walking around was getting a little toasty. Anyway. We deliberately avoided Bourbon Street; Nellie had never seen it, and we wanted her to experience it in its full glory that night. We did see a bit of Royal Street, Chartres (which is not pronounced how someone might think if they’ve been to Chartres, France…which I have…so I mispronounced it all weekend), Decatur and more. We saw ESPN setting up their analyst studio and walked along Jackson Square before splitting up. Nellie and I walked along the river, cooled down with a pint at the Crescent City Brewhouse and then walked along Royal and Chartres some more and checked out a cool little shop called Idea Factory. If we’d had a little more time we would have checked out Faulkner House Books as well. Both were recommendations from the Rather guide to New Orleans. Seriously, if you’re visiting a city for the first time and want to find interesting places, buy one of these books.

We met back up with CBJ+M for a late lunch at the Napoleon House, a building which, so the story goes, was to be a home for Napoleon if a plot to extricate him to New Orleans had gone off, and has been a bar since prohibition — by the looks of things the decor hasn’t changed much since the 30s. But the food (jambalaya for me, po’boys for everyone else) and drinks (Pimms cups, mainly) were tasty. We sat on the leafy back patio next to the koi pond and thanked the maker for the giant fan blowing directly at us.

At this point it was time to get to our real reason for being in New Orleans: the NCAA finals. Or, more accurately, the semi-finals on that evening. All day we’d seen fans walking around in Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas shirts; on the walk to the Superdome they became the norm and I, wearing a black Crywolf shirt, stood out. It obvious from the mass of humanity headed for the games that the stadium was huge, but I still kind of wasn’t ready for it. I sat down in my seat (after a long, steep climb) and took it all in.

Huge, right? 70,000 people were in those seats by the time the game started. Anyway, the games were fantastic: Kentucky/Louisville is a rivalry that’s hard to explain unless you’ve sat in the middle of it for two hours, while the huge Kansas comeback win over Ohio State was a classic game. At the end of each game, disappointed fans from the losing teams hurled commemorative seat cushions onto the crowd in the lower levels…luckily they hadn’t given out commemorative letter openers, or commemorative D-cell batteries. In retrospect we should have used our seat cushions to smack either the astronomically shrill Kentucky fan behind us (my ears are still ringing a week later) or the drunk Louisville chick in front of CBJ, who insisted on standing for the last seven minutes of the — very tense — game. On the plus side, we sat right behind a guy wearing, of all things, an Expos hat.

Seat cushions or no, our asses were sore after sitting for 6+ hours, so were happy to stand up and walk out of the stadium. We re-joined the mass of humanity and made for the French Quarter. Nellie was very excited to see Bourbon Street; about seconds into our trip down Bourbon Street she was very excited to leave. Seriously, it’s one of the most awful places on earth unless you’re a) an olympic-calibre drunk, b) a bead manufacturer or c) a street preacher.

We fled down Bienville to the corner of Decatur, where we found Industry Bar & Kitchen. It was an oasis in the ridiculous clubland that is the Quarter at night: a calm bar with great beer selection, early 90s alternative music on the speakers (okay, that might be more exciting for me than for others), and pizzas made and sold in the far corner. We stood at a table, drank our craft beers (NOLA Hopitoulas and Delirium Nocturnum for me, if I remember right), watched the hilarity of the quarter unfold outside the bar, and enjoyed the scene of the bartender building a tower plastic of cups on the head of a guy who’d passed out at the bar.

Tossing our beers in go-cups (you can walk around with open liquor, as long as it’s not glass, but even that doesn’t seem to be enforced) we walked over to Canal to catch the streetcar home. When that failed we tried to catch a cab. That wasn’t easy either, but we finally managed to snag one and bombed home.

Sunday

Something we noticed after seeing the omnipresent New Orleans beads strung from every wire and railing on Bourbon Street was that they’re actually strung all over the city…any trees or horizontal edge along a Mardi Gras parade route is strewn with beads.

We didn’t have another giant Trolley Stop breakfast in us, so we grabbed a bite at the nice little Avenue Cafe next door. The food was good, and the wifi password was ‘bestcoffeeever’. I didn’t try the coffee myself, but…cute. Full, we jumped on the streetcar; three of us jumped off at Lee Circle and walked down Andrew Higgins Drive to the National WWII museum. You may recognize Higgins’ name — he was the man who designed the landing craft used during the Normandy landing and throughout WWII. The museum itself was very good: informative, well presented, with a good flow through the sequence of events that led to war, to America’s involvement in Europe and the Pacific, and to the conclusion of each. The end of the Pacific section, with pretty music playing over looping footage of Enola Gay loading and dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, was particularly moving for me. I wish we’d stopped our visit there instead of heading next for Beyond All Boundaries, a 48-minute “4D” film produced by Tom Hanks. It was an interesting concept, what with the fake snow dropped on the audience during the Bastogne scenes, or the guard tower rising from the floor during the prison camp sequence, or the blinding flash of light and rumbling chairs representing the atomic bomb detonation, but…it was also pretty cheesy. Far more jingoistic, too, than the museum proper had been. Museums are meant to educate, not celebrate; the museum did the former, but Beyond All Boundaries felt very much like the latter.

By this point we were getting hungry, so we continued south from the museum to the corner of Tchoupitoulas where we found Cochon. Or rather, Cochon Butcher, the smaller and takeout-ier sister to Cochon, which was closed. The place was rammed with locals, always a good sign. The ladies stuck to salads, while CBJ and I each got a BBQ pulled pork sandwich (so! good!) with potato salad and a beer. I’ve had a lot of pulled pork sammies in my life, but that might have been my favourite…the quality of the meat was so good they didn’t even have to soak it in sauce, they just stuck some cole slaw in it. And the soft egg bun and the OOOOOOOOOOOKAY I’m drooling. Time to stop reminiscing.

The next step in the day’s plan was to walk back over toward the Quarter, and so we took a long shortcut (longcut?) through the Riverwalk, a cheesy indoor mall designed for cruise ship passengers but whatever…it was air-conditioned. Once we spilled out onto Canal we parted ways again, with CBJ+M heading off in search of some shirts and Nellie and I just wandering to the east. We checked out Bourbon Street again, just to see it in the daylight…yup, still awful. We tried some alternate streets, still heading east, and eventually reached the Marigny neighbourhood. We were close enough to Frenchmen Street to stop by another Beeradvocate-recommended bar: D.B.A.. They were temporarily closed for filming (fair enough, it was 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon) so we checked out the upcoming lineups at neighbouring bars (Kermit Ruffins? John Boutté? Clearly Frenchmen Street was a good place to hear live music; alas, not for us that night) and rested our tired feet in Washington Square before returning. And D.B.A.? Such a cool place. Obviously great beer selection, but good vibe with locals (the guy sitting next to me at the bar was named “Barnaby”, because it was New Orleans and of course he was), and swing-dancing class happening in the next room, and a pregnant bartender, and a sign that said “No Miller, Coors or Bud Lite. Get over it!”, and ‘drinkgoodstuff’ for a wifi password. Again…cute!

We were supposed to be meeting up with CBJ+M again soon, back at the Avenue Pub near our hotel, so Nellie put her remaining beer in a go-cup and we went outside to find a cab. As luck would have it one drove by the second we stepped outside. I ran to climb in, while Nellie — conditioned by years of banned public drinking — chugged her remaining beer and ran to the cab. The cabbie calmly informed us that it was perfectly okay to bring a go-cup into the cab, and Nellie cursed her cautious drinking habits (ha!) as we drove west. Through a funny string of conversation (in which Nellie learned where Kansas is) we ended up chatting with our cabbie quite a bit, who advised us on the best time of year to visit New Orleans (about 2 weeks after Easter, says he) and the ridiculous inconsistency of New Orleans street name pronunciation. He dropped us at the Avenue where we staked out a brilliant spot on the balcony and drank cold beer (my ginger-infused Japanese weissbeer was particularly good) in the heat of the late afternoon, waited for CBJ+M to arrive and tried to figure out a way to stay in that very spot forever.

We got cleaned and spiffied a bit before dinner at Coquette, a wine bar in the Garden District. What a find. We started with drinks (a phenomenal bacon-infused bourbon for me, a champagne/gin/lemon French 75 for Nellie) before getting on with the incredible food. My starter was pickled baby beets with burrata and duck ham (which is exactly as kickass as it sounds) and my main was duck breast with fennel & peas. Nellie, meanwhile, had fried gulf oysters paired with a glass of Chardonnay followed by cochon de lait (aka sucking pig), which my forkful or two (or six) told me was outstanding. I honestly can’t remember what CBJ+M got, except that CBJ got a cocktail called the Mutiny (blackstrap rum, spiced rum, lime, Angostura bitters, hot sauce) which was damned tasty. Our mains were paired with a 2008 Emeritus Pinot Noir from the Russian River. Then came an entirely unnecessary dessert of milk chocolate mousse with salted caramel and peanut butter sorbet. Nellie, preferring to drink her desserts, had a glass of Bordeaux instead. It was an incredible meal, one of the best we’ve had in ages, and it cost less than half of what we would have paid in Toronto. Which somehow made it taste even better.

Monday

We started packing Monday morning, knowing we’d have to get up at 3:45AM the next day (boo! hiss!) and not having much time that evening. But by late morning we were on the St. Charles streetcar one more time, this time jammed in like sardines, heading over to Canal. I stopped at one of the dozens of pop-up stores selling team tshirts and made a rare find: a) a Kentucky tshirt (there were only a few left anywhere) which b) wasn’t the same as the generic shirts being sold all over the city and c) fit me and d) was super-thin (which came in handy on a hot day like that). Score! We grabbed a little lunch and cooled off at Crescent City, then walked east along Decatur and west along Royal, stopping in the odd store and art gallery along the way.

Once we’d had enough shopping we decided to finally check out Bracket Town, part of the NCAA celebrations. We walked over to Poydras Street, then walked all the way back through the Riverwalk thingy, and then the whole length of the convention center (which is, like, half a mile long, goddammit) to Bracket Town. We thought there’d be some stuff in there that we’d enjoy. We were wrong. We regrouped after about 10 minutes, long enough for Nellie and I to toss down a couple of free Coke Zero samples, and then decided to go back to the adult part of town. But, uh, in a cab. We got dropped off at Café du Monde, ate some delicious & messy beignets as all good visitors to New Orleans must, and watched with concern as some storm clouds rose on the horizon.

Knowing we’d eventually have to walk toward the Superdome, and having confirmed that the weather forecast called for severe thunderstorms soon, we began walking back toward Canal. We stopped at our old friend Industry just in time; ten minutes after we arrived the rain started, and then it really started. Then came the lightning and thunder, some of which was so loud and so sharp it sounded like a gunshot. Seriously, the bartender came out of the back room when he heard it, ducked low to avoid flying bullets. We stayed out of the rain, drinking and eating pizza until most of it had let up. Still, it was time to go and the rain hadn’t stopped completely, so we knew were going to get wet. We ran to the Canal streetcar which took us most of the way there, but we still had to run the five blocks to the Superdome and…well, yeah. Wet.

The staff ushered us in through the underground parking ramps, high-fiving us as we ran in. You can imagine the humidity in a concrete parking structure during a thunderstorm in New Orleans, so it was pretty sporty in there. But hey, it was dry. We got to our seats in decent time, took in the pre-game excitement, and watched Kentucky storm out to an enormous lead over Kansas. Kansas made it close down the stretch, but Kentucky held on and took the championship. We watched with 70,000+ other people as fireworks exploded and confetti fell, as the team was interviewed and cut down the net, and (more or less) as they played “One Shining Moment” with the video montage. Pretty. Damn. Cool.

The walk home was nearly as wet as the walk there, so when the opportunity came to jump in a cab we took it. It was all-out piracy in the city by then; mysteriously, every cab meter in the city was malfunctioning and they could charge whatever they wanted. Whatever; we were home, and drier than we otherwise would have been. We packed our remaining stuff (including some very wet clothing, unfortunately), watched the ESPN highlights and commentary and tried, post-game high notwithstanding, to go to sleep for a few hours.

Tuesday

Our alarm went off at approximately stupid o’clock AM and we dragged ourselves into action. We’d pre-arranged a cab…or at least we thought we had. We actually ended up squeezing into an SUV with six other people, all bound for the airport. Turns out a lot of the cabs were making so much money into the wee hours of the previous night that no one was reporting for duty on Tuesday morning. Anyway, we thought leaving for the airport at 4:30 for a 6:00 flight would give us enough time, but as it was we just barely made it. My Nexus/Global Entry pass got us into the expedited security line, and from there we walked up to the gate with maybe five minutes to spare. If we’d been stuck in the (enormous!) standard security line we’d have missed our flight. Our flight to Miami was uneventful, apart from being full of Kentucky fans who look like they’d not bothered to go to sleep the night before. Also: wi-fi! I paid for access on both legs, MSY -> MIA and MIA -> YYZ, and will happily do it again if I ever get the chance.

We had originally been scheduled to return via Dallas; when American changed our flight to a 6AM departure via Miami we were pretty pissed but left with no alternative. However, we were pretty thankful when we arrived home and saw that all flights out of DFW — including CBJ+M’s flight, the one we were originally meant to be on — were canceled due to tornadoes in the area. So suddenly an early flight time didn’t seem like such a big deal.

.:.

We’ve been thinking about and planning this trip since last August when CBJ+M found out they’d won the Final Four tickets. Now that it’s over, we’re already thinking about when we’ll go back to New Orleans. We want to enjoy the city when it’s not full of tens of thousands of basketball fans. The food, the drink, the architecture, the friendliness of the people, the history…it all adds up to give the city so much character, and we want more of it. New Orleans, we’ll see you again soon.

Oh, and…Free Sean Payton!