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How's Bayou? Dresden and Queen Latifah

Keith Marshall is writing a series about McDonald's locations around the world, to compare both the cost of a Big Mac Combo Meal and expressions of common culture here and abroad.

Karlovy Vary McDonald's special: 'Preppy -- for very little!'

Time's slipping away. Christmas market stalls were still dispensing mulled wine to take some of the chill off the air in Dresden, Germany; but Christmas Day, when we literally flew out of New Orleans in a great rush, seems eons ago.

We've toured the magnificently restored Frauenkirche, a symbol of the city that was reduced to rubble in the February 13, 1945, Allied bombing of Dresden; taken in a splendidly EuroTrash production of the traditional New Year's Eve operetta Die Fledermaus that was staged mostly on and around a lurid, 20-foot-tall, ruby-red tufted- and-fringed love seat on the stage of the stately Semper Opera House on the banks of the Elba; walked our fusse off in the Green-Vault treasure rooms of August the Strong; and languished in the sumptuous picture and breathtakingly beautiful porcelain galleries of the Zwinger, a Baroque museum complex originally built as a fanciful trifle for the amusement and entertainment of the royal court.

Swingin' at the Zwinger in Dresden

Did I mention that a Rosti (think marriage of hash browns and a latke) mit Apfel dip, a Nurnberger (three perky little bratwurst nestled in German mustard on a crisp bun) and two large Diet Cokes, cost $11.26 at one of many McDonald's at nondescript rest stops on the road from Frankfurt to this city known to its citizens as Florence on the Elba?

So far, no McDonald's in the historic center of Dresden; and there certainly was none on May Day 1990, my only other visit to Dresden, when I was testing my wings as a neophyte freelancer for The Times-Picayune while my recently-anointed travel-editor wife Millie covered the first May Day parade in then East Berlin that featured madchens twirling in felt skirts with poodle appliqués rather than troops flexing military muscle as the Berlin Wall came tumblin' down.

When I hopped off the train back in East Berlin, a rotund, jovial citizen, overflowing his sleeveless ribbed undershirt and earning a few coins by using his huffing-and-puffing East German Trabant vehicle as a taxi, swept me into the tiny tin transport and jovially enquired,

"Johnny Cash, ist gut, ja?"

"Ja, Johnny Cash ist gut!" I replied.

Where Latifah met Depardieu: Breakfast at GHP

The conversation continued like this as I tried to explain that I wanted to visit the notorious Politburo nightclub near the university that was now open to the public. When we finally arrived, I was told I wasn't dressed well enough to enter and gawk at the starkly hieroglyphic paintings by New York artist Keith Haring. The sleeveless undershirt and halo of cigarette smoke that surrounded my driver obviously didn't help.

So much for the concept of art for the people.

Almost a decade before, I had vanquished starvation at the Bayreuth McDonald's in June of 1981, when Millie was in China with a group sponsored by Loyola University, and I was reveling in/enduring seven nights of Wagner in 10 days at the Festspielhaus. It was a bad year for the dollar against the Deutsche Mark, and I'd been making ends meet by downing a mammoth breakfast every morning and ordering "Zwei Bratwurst und ein Bier" each night at intermission.

Then I discovered the Bayreuth McDonald's, which accepted dollars to boot, and my operatic spirits soared.

Now we faced the real test: To find a McDonald's in the Czech Republic, which we entered one day before New Year's Eve to relive Queen Latifah's adventure, with its Auld Lang Syne frolic at the Grand Hotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, in her delightful, feel- good flick, Last Holiday, whose first and last scenes were filmed in New Orleans with a cast that includes the real Emeril Lagasse and movie hotel chef Gerard Depardieu, as well as rapper LL Cool J as love interest and denouement trigger.

Online, we discovered that 343 people in Karlovy Vary, a spa town founded by Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, in 1370, like a photo of a bargain burger on the Facebook page of the town's diminutive McDonald's, located in a pedestrian shopping mall in an historic area, where the $1 US Value Menu McDouble is 35 Czech crowns, or $1.85. For New Year's Eve lunch, $20 bought us a Big Mac, grilled chicken wrap, fries, two Diet Cokes and a pair of hot apple pies, about 150 percent of US prices.

Having achieved our goal, we rushed back to our corner suite at the sprawling, splendidly grand and old-fashioned hotel, where we sequestered ourselves to watch Last Holiday while other guests partied for $350 per person in the Baroque grand hall, where we'd dined in splendor the night before for $40 each.

While others zipped up couture, we slipped into pajamas and loaded our DVD of Last Holiday into Millie's laptop. We planned this whole trip around spending New Year's Eve at the Grand Hotel Pupp, as Queen Latifah had done in this tear-jerker feel-good movie.

Just before midnight, as the movie's sad story turned to joy, we were both wiping away tears and congratulating each other on pulling off this crazy idea.

Then the fireworks began, just 50 yards from the six balconies in our corner suite, in the park facing the town casino that was featured in the James Bond film Casino Royale.

Blasts of jewel-hued gunpowder exploded all around us; it was invigorating, almost scary -- total immersion in the experience. Then huge shocks of color lit the sky above the surrounding hills, and we knew we'd made the right decision to be here.

Things couldn't be better.

How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.

How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.