When Jack White belts out “sugar never tasted good to me”, I have to stop and take a minute to regain some composure. Well, not exactly. But sugar is in many ways tied to my identity: as a Diabetic, as a Southerner (tea for all y’all!), and as a person who has seen the complicated history of sugar production including it’s direct link to both slave and prison labor within it’s roots.
The beignets boast a noticeable sign of hospitality in New Orleans, Cafe Du Monde positioned on the Southernmost edge of the French Quarter, offset by Jackson Square. A few jazz musicians always line up around the entrance to be seated, playing easily recognizable tunes smiling big to get your support of their remaining CD’s. The tables to the restaurant crawl with conversation ranging in nature from “keep an eye on your sibling” to “last night was amazing!”.
Powdered sugar dusts across the outdoor pavillion tables and floors before the dedicated waitstaff bus around to make room for their next guests. The place is cash only, and a line about 20 people deep greets you on a great morning. More like 50-70 on slower mornings. Though the restaurant is open 24/7, most crowding happens for a breakfast and brunch rush. If the above information is disparaging to you, understand that the staff is hyper vigilant to move people through. But, you can also hit the smaller line to the right of the entrance for beignets to go. But really, get over yourself and enjoy the full sit down experience.
The menu is simple: beignets by order of 3 and a few beverage options. Get the cafe au lait. If it’s hot outside, get it iced. Try it with the beignets before you doctor it up at all. It balances the palate, instantly pumping fluidly the caffeine you crave especially in the morning. Also, if you wear black, you might have powdered sugar blown on you, aside from the amount of sugar you naturally spill on yourself through consumption. Just let those good times roll. (Side note: if you can honestly get through a plate without dropping a grain of powdered sugar, I either think you are a liar, or I need to know more about your sorcery)
Cafe Du Monde is possibly the worst kept secret in NOLA, but for good reason. It has elevated to a gathering place of people from all walks of life sitting down to enjoy the same mix of fried doughy goodness. In a similar way, I think music has that potential.
At it’s roots, sugar production started in extremely unsafe environments as slaves would stir large vats of broken down sugar cane across plantations throughout the south. While certain improvements were developed to improve the production process, it was still a rough job long after slavery.
Outside of aptly named Sugarland, convicts in the Jester Unit of the Texas State Prison system were “leased” to work the fields. Crumbling headstones now lay where no less than a dozen men are buried, some passing while working the plantation. Texas Monthly had a great write up in January that can be found here for those interested.
The table we eat at is sacred. We break bread (literally, in the case of beignets) together and begin to share. To joke. To listen. To set aside more of our differences and embrace our similarities. To shed light on the past, but no longer be cripplingly bound to it.
Sonically, music becomes a kindred tool. A platform that with the bob of the head or tap of the toe, (or well timed hand clap, snap, or stomp) we begin to experience a common bond.
And in a cultivated society focused on division, commonalities have never been so sweet.