Around Here, It’s . . .


Sometimes you should ignore the travel guides.

The 1991 Frommer’s guide to New Orleans recommended that visitors try a Dixie beer. So I did. The bartender’s reaction when I ordered it should’ve been the first warning.

Was it swill? Not really. Did it taste as though they’d just used a big pipe to suck some water out of the Mississippi River and bottle it, untreated? No. But it was pretty bad. In a nutshell, it was the sort of regional adjunct lager (like Utica Club, Genesee, Schmidt’s, Olympia, Old Style, Stroh’s, Pabst Blue Ribbon) that continued to exist despite industry consolidation and the dumbing-down of recipes to keep up with the Budweiser juggernaut. Pale, grassy, almost headless. And this was a few years before the counterculture had embraced Dad beers.

I finished the beer, because I thought it’d be rude not to, and then thought, “There’s a buck and a quarter and ten minutes I’ll never get back.” The bartender said the other choices were Bud, at a buck fifty, and Michelob — a “premium” beer at $1.75. I splurged.

This is not a knock on the Frommer’s guides. There’s so much about Nola that they’re right about, including but not limited to their recommendation of the praline bacon at Elizabeth’s. I just wish they’d plugged Abita Amber instead. I could’ve stood to learn about that stuff a few years sooner.

This bit of time travel was prompted by a story in the Times-Picayune about Tom Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Football Saints and New Orleans Basketball Pelicans, who has bought the brand and recipes and plans to build a brewery somewhere in the Crescent City (Dixie’s lineup of beers is currently contract-brewed in Memphis, after being made in Monroe, Wisconsin, for several years after the storm).

This is a remarkable development for several reasons. One, Benson was on New Orleanians’ shit list (along with Ray Nagin, George W. Bush, FEMA chief Mike Brown, etc., etc.) when it looked as though he might be using the storm as an excuse to move the Saints to San Antonio. Now, having just made 90 years old, he’s not only acquiring new businesses, but businesses with a connection to New Orleans. And part of the plan is to return to the original 1907 recipe.

That could be a good thing. A couple years ago, Molson brought out a beer that it claims was brewed to a recipe from 1906. It wasn’t earth-shatteringly terrific, but it was a sight more interesting than the Coors Light and Molson Canadian they ordinarily churn out. So maybe there’s hope for Dixie beer.

Now, if only someone would bring back Hubig’s pies.


He Had Stories in the Curls of His Fingers

If the definition of great writing is that it changes the way you look at the world, then Richard Wagamese, who died yesterday, was a great writer.

Back in 2002, another freelancer ran into a scheduling jackpot, so I was asked to copyedit For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son, his moving memoir that addresses themes that run throughout much of his work: the struggle for identity, to reconcile the difference between what you’ve been and what you want to be, to overcome the fear of looking into yourself in order to heal, and to rebuild the bridges that you or someone else has burned.

It was an intensely personal book, written from his particular point of view, but the themes could apply to just about anyone.

We were still editing on paper in those days, and a few of the pages I sent back to Doubleday were tear-stained. Fortunately, the mark-up was in pencil.

A few weeks later the publisher asked me to proofread the pages. I was living in a different, sadder world by then, and his words hit me even harder the second time I read them.

I came away from the project with a new point of view and a greater interest in issues related to Canada’s First Peoples. Though that may not necessarily have been his aim.

“I’m not a native writer,” he told Quill & Quire. “I’m a fucking writer. . . . I don’t want to be compared, I don’t want to be ghettoized, I don’t want to be marginalized. . . . I just want [people] to read my work and go, ‘Wow.’”

Count him successful on that score.