Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Pralines, parties and the Pontchartrain

Wick's World


After a couple long days of driving, we crossed Lake Pontchartrain and headed for our rented six-bedroom mansion.

We soon discovered that "the Pontchartrain," as the locals call it, is not really a lake but a brackish estuary. Brackish meaning the water is part freshwater and part saltwater. The definition of an estuary is a freshwater river (Mississippi) that flows into the sea (Gulf of Mexico) and mixes with the saltwater. Lake Pontchartrain is one of the larger estuaries, measuring 640 square miles and up 75 feet at its deepest point.

Don’t be fooled by the nice beaches and fairly calm waters. This is far from a luxury resort area. In fact, a large sign sits along the north shore stating in big, bold letters, “DO NOT FEED THE SHARKS.” The lake and its joining canals have recently become infested with bull sharks that have a tendency to attack humans. Resident fishermen are warned to cut bait and run rather than land one of these mean old fellers.

Ironically, Lake Pontchartrain also is home to paddlefish that make their way down from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Another misnomer is calling our vacation rental a mansion. Although its huge hallway is 75 feet long, the place seems more like an 1800s bordello. You enter the house into a small parlor, walk down the hall that has three huge bedrooms on each side and finally reach a small kitchen with an attached back porch. Although it made for a less colorful story, some among us insisted the place was built as a boarding house. The house served the 15 of us quite well as the party house for when we weren’t walking the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, the Riverwalk or hanging out in Jackson Square or the French Market.

At least six of us were hooked up to pedometers and walking eight to 12 miles a day was the norm. One of us mentioned a good share of that was from walking down our hallway and back. My wife set the record one day by walking almost 20 miles.

On New Year’s Eve we headed for the French Quarter. By the time we reached Bourbon Street, the area was a frenzied, intoxicated, chaotic, messy mass of confusion. Barely able to keep track of each other, we slipped off onto a side street and re-grouped.

“Let’s head down to the Jackson Brewery on the Waterfront. Their fireworks display is supposed to be the best,” I said.

“We can go back to that restaurant where we ate the other day. If we’re lucky we may get a table on the balcony,” my wife added.

It was close to three hours before midnight and, lucky for us, the upstairs bar and dining area was not yet overflowing as it would be later. We grabbed some drinks and cornered a spot on the balcony. We remained there enjoying two of New Orleans’ traditional drinks — Praline Liquor made from pecans and Sazerac, a local cocktail made with absinthe. Absinthe, legendary for its hallucinogenic properties, was banned in the United States until 2007 after it was discovered it contained no such thing. With their laissez faire policy, Louisianans have been indulging in the drink for centuries.

Eventually church bells rang, a lone cannon boomed and a new year began. With the fireworks' red glare and colorful rockets bursting in air, over the ramparts of New Orleans we watched as last year was no longer there. By midnight I had collected a neck full of stringed beads.

As everyone who has been to Mardi Gras knows, there is a binding tradition that comes with inhabiting a balcony. You are required to toss beads to the crowd. As people were dancing and reveling in the street, I peered over the balcony and spied two young ladies repeating, “Happy New Year!”

Sometimes the tradition comes with a T-shirt requirement before the beads are tossed. I could say I am a moral non-sexist male or I could also say my wife and daughters-in-law were standing beside me; in any case my bead tossing had no traditional requirement attached to it. Just as I tossed the beads to the young ladies, a man lifted his glass and offered them a New Year's toast. The beads went sploosh; a direct hit into his glass of champagne.

I’m yelling from the balcony, “Sorry, sorry!"

He dug the beaded necklace out of his drink, tossed it to the ground and looked up to say, “It’s OK. It’s OK!”


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