December 24, 2013 – Let Them Know It’s Christmas Time

So, with five solid coats on the boat and only “FIVE COATS TO GO!!” we headed West to N’awlins for Christmas and, as it always seems to happen with us, everywhere we went, a story was sure to follow.  Let me share a few.  On Christmas Eve night, we were planning to head to Jackson Square where we heard they were caroling by candlelight.  All attendees are provided with sheet music and candles (a brave proposition among a bunch of rowdy, festive cajuns) and everyone joins together in holiday chorus.

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Such was the plan.  Before we made it there, though, we decided to stop in one of our favorite watering holes – Sobou (short for ‘south of Bourbon’).  It is the bar in the new W hotel that opened in the Quarter.  We’ve been there several times and always loved the atmosphere at the bar and the quality cocktails, and this night certainly fell true to that mark.  I had seen the same bartender there several years in a row, this lively, gregarious woman, usually with a flower stuck in her hair, who really lights up the scene, often busting out in song and dance (with incredible opera-house worthy vocals to boot) and always — always — making fine cocktails while entertaining the ever-shuffling crowd that passes through.

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(Thanks to Food & Wine, who we were pleased to find on our return had done a write-up of Sobou in their January, 2014 issue,  I now know her as Abigail Gullo, creator of the rye-and-brandy Sazerac they do there which Phillip goes all Mad Men over).

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But on this night, I heard our gregarious bar wench well before I saw her.  As we sauntered in the front door, her rich, buttery baritone voice poured out from the back at the bar, drawing us in with a warm “It’s Christmas time … ”  I pushed forward wanting to get the best seat at the bar to see whatever Christmas production she was putting on unfold.  As I settled into a seat, she gingerly put a napkin before me on the bar, and gave me a quick wink as she continued, “there’s no need to feel afraid.”  The song was somewhat familiar, like I knew I was going to recall it once she got the chorus, but I couldn’t quite place it yet.  The rest of patrons at the bar were watching her wide-eyed, in silence, when she broke character for just a moment to say “And then Boy George breaks in,” just before she threw her voice into a sweet soprano and cooed, “In our world of plenty … ”  And then it started to come back to me.  It was that relief song all those artists got together back in the 80’s and did – for the kids in Africa or something.  It had a very “We Are The World” feeling to it.

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You probably know it:  Do They Know It’s Christmas.

I was just catching on.  Yeah, yeah, I know this.  I was nodding and smiling along with her, sparks were flying now.   “And then George Michaels goes,” she said,

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and she jumped into a full male falsetto, “But say a prayer to pray for the other ones.”  The patrons at the bar were starting to nod too and sway their bodies to the invisible beat.  “And then,” as she hunched down low with a sly smile, “my favorite.  Bono,”

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and she jumped up an octave, gave her voice a wicked raspy quality and belted into her muddler-slash-microphone: Well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you!”  The whole bar sang the entire song with her and by the end, she would point to the right side of the bar and they would sing “Feed the Wo-orld,” and then she’d point to the left and they’d respond with a rousing, “Let them know it’s Christmas time.”    Now the right: “Feed the Wo-orld.”    And the left: “Let them know it’s Christmas time!”

And, we hadn’t even had a drop to drink yet, but there we were, having an absolute ball, singing at the top of our terrible lungs without a care in the world.

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She put us right in the holiday mood.  And, got us nice and thirsty too.  We all ordered one of the fun, festive drinks they were featuring and watched them set to work, placing glasses before us and spritzing them with absinthe or citrus, wiping the rim of the glasses with cucumber or lemon, and just taking their time making real, quality cocktails.  Phillip ordered a rum old-fashioned, with cinnamon and sugar, and we had the pleasure of watching our bartender hack off a piece of ice from a 2 ft x 2 ft block they kept at the bar and, seriously, with the chuck of ice in a napkin in one hand, and a mini-hatchet in the other, he chiseled out a custom-crafted ice-ball (about the size of a raquetball) that fit perfectly in Phillip’s glass.  There is a reason we always go back to Sobou.

Nice and liquored up, and our own pipes all warmed-up and ready for an encore, we headed to Jackson Square for the caroling.  But sadly, even when we’re not sailing, it seems we live and die by the weather, and it certainly wasn’t cooperating that night.  It was drizzly and wet, with black, murky puddles everywhere, and all of the rowdy cajuns were holed up in bars and other questionable joints looking out at us with light scowls as we passed by.  The streets were empty.  The small herd that had seemed to collect around Jackson Square for the caroling looked like a pack of wet cats.

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Including us.  But that didn’t stop us.  Nice and buzzed and full of the holiday Sobou spirit(s), we picked up some soggy Christmas song sheets off the ground and started singing right there on the corner at Jackson Square.

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People actually started to huddle around and ask us where they were passing out the song sheets and candles.  To which we would respond by picking up soggy sheets from the ground and handing them to them while pretending we were too wrapped up in song to respond with an actual answer.  The place was dead, but we were belting it out to the absent masses.  We even did a wicked rendition of Do They Know Its Christmas again to make sure everyone was aware.  I got to play the part of George Michaels, although I have to admit, I think it came across less like the beloved Wake Me Up! 80’s star we all know and love,

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and more like the adolescent incestite from Arrested Development:

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Who knew Olan Mills had a shipping container backdrop?  Suh-weet!

But, we sang anyway.  Full of festive energy and liquid courage we decided, “Screw the weather!”  We were going to (sing it with me) let them know it’s Christmas time, damnit!

December 22, 2013 – Five Coats Before Christmas!

That was our mantra.  We kept saying it over and over, as we woke up early every day and headed out to the boat at 6:00 a.m. to coat the wood, or came back late and shut her down at sunset in those chilly winter days.  “Five coats before Christmas.”  We started coating the wood the week before Christmas, and we were planning to leave on the 22nd for New Orleans to spend the holiday in that glorious culinary heaven.  “Five coats before Christmas.”  We wanted to at least get five on before leaving so the wood would have a good varnish base to withstand any rain that may fall in our absence.  I can tell you it was quite a chore.  When people say their “blood, sweat and tears went into it,” I can safely say our snot went into ours.  I mean, when it’s lows in the mid-teens with highs in the upper 30’s and your hands are clad in latex gloves and coated with sticky varnish, wiping the dribble isn’t really an option.  Nope, it goes right in.  Just smooth it out with another stroke.  “Five coats before Christmas.”

And, I’m proud to say we did it.  All it took was a little gumption, lots of long johns and tissues, and some ridiculously cheesy holiday songs to move us along:

On the first coat of varnish, my Captain said to me: “Make sure you get down and paint underneeeath.”

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On the second coat of varnish, my Captain said to me:  “Nice, lo-ong strokes, 

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and make sure you get down and paint underneeeath!”

On the third coat of varnish, my Captain said to me:  “Easy around the rails, 

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nice, lo-ong strokes, and make sure you get down and paint underneeeath!”

On the fourth coat of varnish, my Captain said to me:  “Don’t forget the hatch, 

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easy around the rails, nice, lo-ong strokes, and make sure you get down and paint underneeeath!”

On the fifth coat of varnish, my Captain said to me:  “FIVE COATS TO GO!”

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“So, don’t forget the hatch, easy around the rails, nice, lo-ong strokes, and make sure you get down and paint underneeeath!”

See?  How easy it can be?  When you throw your ego out the window and sing embarrassing songs along the way?  “Five coats before Christmas!”  You’re darn right.  Go team.  Now – who’s ready for some N’awlins?