Lunch at a Bywater staple with two of my nearest and dearest. A long time with these two, and with this restaurant…
Occupation: Comic book artist
You can find her: At a gallery opening showing her work, hunched over her work desk and working harder than you.
You can find him: On tour in Europe, playing on the streets of New Orleans, standing around wherever fine washboards are sold.
I used to come here years ago, before its current incarnation. In 2007, this place was called Coffea, and it was the first neighborhood spot at which I was a regular. I came occasionally to write, but usually because it was a cheap, rather remarkable breakfast (five bucks for a stack of perfect sweet potato pancakes) and damn near everyone in the neighborhood showed up over the course of the day. I still don’t know why it took the changeover in ownership before it became widely recognized by people from outside the city. Maybe it was just a matter of timing.
In 2009, the new owners took over, added in a juice bar, renamed the place Satsuma, kept the interior pretty much the same, and became popular enough that they were able to open a second location uptown on Maple Street. And the place is still fantastic. I still go there regularly. But what I will always remember best were those first couple years, and opening my 30th birthday with those sweet potato pancakes before I happened upon a wedding reception where the groom piled me up with fresh oysters and jambalaya like I was the one who was getting hitched.
But that’s another story.
Today, Satsuma is a regular stop for both locals and tourists. It gets written up in the guidebooks as an example of the culinary scene of the Bywater neighborhood, and on Sundays the line usually extends out the door. The place has been successful enough that they’ve expanded not just to the uptown location, but to another juice/coffeehouse/bakery location in the Warehouse District called Pulp and Grind. Business, it’s fair to say, is booming.
Green Eggs and Ham. Shaved ham and basil-pesto-eggs with onion and Swiss Cheese on a croissant. Sam I Am would be impressed.
I met up with two of my closest friends for breakfast here. Robin Rapuzzi was recently back from yet another tour with his band Tuba Skinny, one of the many bands he plays with. Like most musicians in New Orleans, he wears a wide assortment of hats. He can be seeing playing drums with a number of bands, everything from Calypso and Klezmer music to rhythm and blues. But he’s best known around town for his off the wall washboard routines, which are half Washboard Sam and half Charlie Chaplin.
Here’s a nice example of Tuba Skinny on the street, as well as a nice view of what makes Robin a crowd favorite (his first solo starts 42 seconds in):
A few years ago, Robin met a lovely Swedish comic book artist by the name of Magda Boreysza. There’s a tendency to be protective of your friends when they bring around someone they’re crazy about. You don’t want them throwing their lot in with somebody who won’t appreciate what makes them special. Robin’s a rare bird, and the kind of gentle individual you fear will be taken advantage of. But it was apparent immediately what a wonderful match Magda was for him. Not just in her kindness and her loyalty, but in the fierceness of her dedication to what they are building together.
There’s a bad tendency to talk about artists as flighty creatures, prone to talking about their work more than they actually do any work (a category I have definitely fallen into at various times). What separates Robin and Magda is how completely they absorb themselves in the things they create. I’ve seen few musicians who work harder or keep their ears open wider than Robin, and I’ve seen few artists of any kind who work harder than Magda. And I think this dedication to their individual work is a big part of what fuels their marriage.
It might seem incongruous that a focus on one’s own creativity could be such good fuel for connection with another person. This culture is full of stories of people who burned themselves out so completely at the office that they couldn’t give any attention to the people who loved them. Artists are no exception, as I’ve seen plenty who existed beautifully within the world of their creativity and stumbled mightily when it came to extending beyond themselves. But sometimes you meet people who have learned to strike the right balance, not only in allowing themselves the time and space to build their own work, but giving their partner the room to grow their own talents.
I doubt Robin and Magda did this automatically. It’s a balance, I’m certain, that they have to work at. But work they do, and in a city of transient artists, polyamorous dreamers, charming con-artists and charmless drifters, they have managed to build a beautiful marriage, in the truest sense of that term. Of their lives. Of themselves. Of their work.
And all of it is work of the best kind.
You can see more of Magda Boreysza’s art at her website, Fox and Comet, which is located here.
Robin’s work with Tuba Skinny can be seen all over Youtube and heard on their many albums. Their website is right here.
Satsuma int he Bywater is located at 3218 Dauphine Street. They are open every day from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Their website is here.