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Fantastic New Orleans Books And Their Drink Pairings

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Mardi Gras ushers in March this year, and if you've been freezing your beads off in most of the country, then it's time to don some purple, green and gold layers and warm up with a book and accompanying drink that will get you in a steamy New Orleans state of mind.




What to read
Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong (Prentice Hall, 1954). Famed jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong was only in his early 50s when he was asked to write his memoir. He takes us on a jaunt through his early years, growing up barefoot and poor with a single mom in a neighborhood so rough it was called the Battlefield. But Armstrong, a born storyteller, describes it all with such street smarts, affection and good humor, you can just feel his wide, gleaming smile coming through each page.
What to drink
Champagne. When Armstrong was just a boy, he got his musical start singing for pennies in New Orleans's red-light district. He was no stranger at the ramshackle whorehouses, but he also made himself known at the lavish bordellos where champagne flowed like water. "If anyone walked in and ordered a bottle of beer, why, they'd look at him twice and then--maybe--they'd serve it," he wrote of the fanciest house. "And if they did, you'd be plenty sorry you didn't order champagne."




What to read
On the topic of bordellos... Madam: A Novel of New Orleans by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin. Based on the true events of Storyville, New Orleans's legalized red-light district that existed from 1898-1917, the book centers on a real-life, dirt-poor prostitute who transformed herself into the notorious Madam Josie Arlington (Josie's "haunted" tomb is still a popular tourist destination in New Orleans's Metairie Cemetery). Madam also features a young Jelly Roll Morton, who got his start playing piano in the Storyville bordellos, as well as cameo by little Louie Armstrong.
What to drink
Rye whiskey. Only a handful of images from Storyville exist, and one, taken in 1912 by the elusive photographer E.J. Bellocq (also a character in Madam), features a fashion-forward prostitute with striped stockings, wistfully admiring a glass of Raleigh Rye. Likewise, rye whiskey is the key ingredient in Louisiana's official state cocktail, the Sazerac.




What to read
Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice. The first in Rice's famed series of ten books collectively called The Vampire Chronicles. We're introduced to Louis de Pointe du Lac, a planter outside of New Orleans in 1791 who, while grieving the death of his brother, becomes a vampire, destined to live forever. Two hundred years later and weary from life's sufferings, Louis recounts his story to a reporter. Herself weary and in need of catharsis, Rice penned the tale, her first of over two dozen books, after losing her young daughter to leukemia (a blood cancer) in the early 1970s.
What to drink
Bloody Mary. But make it Creole style (translation: add more heat). One secret ingredient to try: Jamaica's tangy and spicy Pickapeppa Hot Red Pepper Sauce.




What to read
The Pelican Brief by John Grisham. After the assassination of two Supreme Court Justices, a Tulane University Law School student, Darby Shaw, manages to piece together evidence that implicates a killer.
What to drink
Beer. Darby could've used a cold beer while burning the midnight oil. While New Orleans used to boast several breweries, Dixie--founded in 1907--is one of the last remaining brands, although Dixie's historic headquarters on Tulane Ave. was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Newcomers to the scene include the New Orleans Lager and Ale (NOLA) Brewing Company on Tchoupitoulas Street.




What to read
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. This Pulitzer-prize winning play follows Blanche DuBois at she takes the Desire St. streetcar (don't you dare call it a trolley!) to the 9th ward of New Orleans to visit her sister, Stella Kowalski.
What to drink
There's some heavy drinking going on in the play (and it doesn't exactly lead to good behavior). So skip the alcohol and have a cup of New Orleans coffee--which means strong coffee, taken only two ways: cafe noir (coffee and chicory) or cafe au lait.






What to read
Marie Laveau by Francine Prose. This dreamy, sexy, mystical book is not easy to track down unless you do it the old-fashioned way: go to the library. But it's worth it to read this fictional telling of the real-life Voodoo queen Marie Laveau, whose above-ground tomb, albeit crumbly, still stands in New Orleans's St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
What to drink
The Zombie. Although not a native cocktail to New Orleans, it's made with plenty of rum, and what better way to honor Voodoo's Haitian roots than with rum (try Haiti's Rhum Barbancourt, or Old New Orleans Rum, distilled right on Frenchman Street in New Orleans). The Zombie is a mix of light rum, dark rum and spiced rum plus various juices that can include grapefruit, orange, pineapple, lemon, even mango.



Cari Lynn is the author of Madam: A Novel of New Orleans [Plume, $15.00].

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