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  May 5, 2001



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Pal Neville shows me 'N'awlins'


By BRET HART -- Calgary Sun
  I want to take this opportunity to wish a very happy and healthy 86th birthday to my dad and to thank Frank Sisson for the wonderful party he threw for him Thursday evening.

 They presented Stu with a beautiful suede jacket that says on the back: "The Silver Dollar Casino made me into a winner." Stu loves it!

 Unfortunately, I had to miss the shindig because I was booked for an appearance in New Orleans which wouldn't have kept me there during Stu's birthday but then the dates got switched around ... so here I am, writing from the Big Easy.

 My good friend, singer Aaron Neville, invited me for a visit to the jazz festival. I've been to jazz fest a few times before and it's become a favourite vacation spot of mine. I highly recommend it.

 What Stampede is to Calgary, the jazz festival is to N'awlins.

 Instead of corndogs and cotton candy, there's lots of really great cajun and creole food, like gumbo, seafood any way you want it and these delectable little fried doughnuts covered with powdered sugar.

 Aaron solved one of life's mysteries for me, showing me how to get the meat out of the crab -- pinch the tails and suck the heads. Then again, there's alligator pie, alligator stew, fried alligator, alligator chili and alligator on a stick.

 No, I haven't tried it -- yet.

 Nor do I have any desire for another of the local specialties, fried neutra rat. OK, so from what I understand, coats made from these pelts are more expensive than mink but that doesn't mean I'm going to eat a rat, fried and skewered.

 So that this vacation doesn't make my trainer cringe too badly, I've been going to the gym with Aaron, who put me through some intense workouts.

 I noticed he's got a tattoo of Jesus on his arm, which is a noble thing for a spiritual man, but what I found amusing and just a bit odd is how the tattoo's eyes grew wide and small as Aaron worked out, as if Jesus was grimacing along with him.

 Of course, the greatest thing about the jazz festival is the music. There's the gospel tent, which has become the highlight of the festival for me.

 In the tradition of saving the best for last, The Neville Brothers are the closing act of the whole festival in the gospel tent on Sunday and you know it's gonna be a blast!

 So, on Thursday, I told Aaron I really wanted to go back to his place and watch the Maple Leafs take on the New Jersey Devils in Game 4 Thursday.

 Aaron confessed to me he's "never watched hockey much."

 Anyone who knows him knows he's is into boxing and wrestling. Well, I wasn't much into crawfish and John Lee Hooker before Aaron introduced me to Louisiana cool, so I figured I'd return the favour by giving him a taste of Canadian ice.

 I got a big kick out of seeing the "king of laidback" rise to the edge of his seat many times, blown away and riveted to the game as the Leafs outplayed the Devils in a take-charge 3-1 win.

 "Look at that guy!" Aaron pointed at the TV, impressed.

 "That's my good friend, Tie Domi," I replied, as I thought in amazement what a wide variety of friends I'm fortunate to have.

 "I never realized how physical hockey is. If New Orleans ever gets a team I'll buy season tickets!"

 Then, with seven seconds left in the game, Tie blind-sided Scott Niedermayer with an elbow to the head that left him with a concussion.

 Aaron looked for my reaction.

 "Well," I paused, "emotions are running a little too high ... it'll make for a lively Game 5 on Saturday, though."

 Yesterday, I thought of Tie when Aaron and Paul Simon sung a duet of Bridge Over Troubled Water, with Aaron wearing a Calgary Hitmen hat onstage. As they say in New Orleans: Let the good times roll!

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