We are two days into our trip and New Orleans has gotten into our bones already. It’s completely addictive.
But it’s really hard to describe and I am certain my pictures are going to fail to give you a full understanding. I’m going to have to try some of my pseudo-philosophical codswallop to evoke the sights, sounds, smells and the vibe of the place.
It’s a fact that I have taken more video than snaps (forgive alligator reference) and that is because a still image just doesn’t cut it. The city is filled with movement and sound. You can’t ‘get’ it without that.
So here’s my attempt to bring New Orleans to life for you.
Let’s start with the jazz thing. That’s why I came. I wanted to catch the bug, to see why it all started here and just how important jazz is.
Jazz originates in a place called Congo Square just off the French Quarter in New Orleans. It’s where slaves were permitted to spend Sundays and where they started to fool around with their music.
Now bear in mind that all music at this time was either classical (using traditional instruments); or something more primitive used to fire up the blood prior to battle, hunting or mating rituals. The African American fusion of classical horns, basses and woodwind together with drums and percussion provides the main ingredients. Then we add this simple, repeated blues sound that makes it so easy to listen to.
That has to come from the bloody heat!
Bear with me while I divert a moment to the New Orleans accent.
The people of New Orleans have some unbearable heat and humidity to suffer. It’s really tiring and you don’t want to waste energy on anything at all. And New Orleans folk certainly like to take it easy – hence ‘The Big Easy’. And this seems to extend to their use of vowels and consonants.
New Orleans has way too many vowels so it is simply Nuorlins (roll the u and the o into one if possible). Dollars are dolla.
In fact the vowel ‘o’ is actually harder to say than ‘a’, so very often ‘o’ is replaced by’ ‘a. Nuorlins sounds more like Narlins and dolla is dalla.
The French founded Norlins so there are other possible origins to removing vowels (think gateau) but I am convinced from listening to the locals that my theory is right. It’s the bloody heat.
Now back to jazz.
Why bother with more than one chord progression when one works perfectly well for a millions songs? You can mess about with the notes all days long, but never divert from the simple easy going 12 bar blues sound that everyone is familiar with.
We have heard a lot of jazz the last couple of days. Here is a sample proving that the Slosh is not only performed in Scotland.
Our first morning was spent looking for something nutritious for breakfast as we had suffered from 10 hours of airline food the day before. After considering some light continental fare at ten dollars in the hotel we walked to the more usual first port of call for tourists in New Orleans (pronounced Norlins remember) – the Cafe Du Monde.
This cafe is famous for its cafe au lait flavoured with chicory and its square doughnuts called beignets. You get three of these for a handful of dollars and they come fresh from the fryer loaded with grease and covered an inch deep in icing sugar to help the grease enter the arterial system more quickly.
After breakfast we went to a local tour vendor to make some significant financial decisions based on the advice of a man on 20% commission. More of that to follow.
We then decided to walk into the French Quarter to leisurely wander round the streets and marvel at the architecture. The first street we turned into was home to the Voodoo Museum and, surprise-surprise, they saw us coming!
So we were drawn by some spiritual longing for enlightenment into a tour of the museum and a walk to one of New Orleans famous graveyards.
You have to admire American entrepreneurialism (god knows how the folk here pronounce that!). They suffer a bit of vandalism in their local graveyards and decide to charge admission to prevent it. It’s twenty dollars to get in – AND you have to have a guide. He or she costs whatever … plus tips.
I developed a theory in the middle of the night (or mid-morning UK body clock time).
When we come to any holiday destination seeking new experiences, we have a tendency to want to do the stuff we have seen others do in the movies, or on the TV in documentaries etc. We don’t really make up stuff ourselves. We go into the graveyards because there was a shoot-out there in a film we once saw, we go to a swamp in an air-boat become James Bond did.
And I thought that’s the secret of American entrepreneurialism. If it’s in a movie – people will pay to do it.
So could we be better at this in Scotland? Could we block off the best viewing areas in Glenfinnan and charge £20 to see the ‘Hogwarts Express’ pass across the viaduct? Could we lock the gates of Greyfriars Graveyard and charge people to come in?
Speaking of movies, it seems the actor Nicolas Cage had a tomb built in the graveyard we visited and he may or may not choose to be entombed here.
Our tour guide who used some kind of Voodoo to spirit us off the street talked a lot about very little and the main focus of our graveyard visit was to the presumed resting place of one Marie Leveau who was known as the voodoo queen of New Orleans in the bygone era when people believed in such tosh.
I then went to buy an unnecessary hat which will never see the light of day when I return to the UK.
For lunch we broke things up a bit and had a wonderful waffle tub of ice cream from Kilwin’s followed later by an alligator sausage with chilli and a roast Beef Poboy.
That second half of our lunch was taken aboard the steam paddle boat, Natchez.
Now as much as I love some trains I have to profess that the weakness is more about the engineering than the numbers or names of the engines. I’m not a complete geek!
So the steam engine running this incredible boat took as much of my attention as the Mississippi (pronounced Misipi but slightly drawn out). It’s fantastic.
There was also a jazz band paying aboard and other stuff that I won’t bore you with.
Our day ended with a walk round a shopping village (yawn) and a jazz parade which we followed all the way to Bourbon Street (we’ll come back here later where there will be boobies and other dreadfully hedonistic stuff happening). These jazz parades are like the funeral parades you have seen in the movies and people hire bands to take them around the city for all sorts of occasions now, weddings, hen and stag, staff party etc. We have seen at least three over the weekend.
People will pay anything to do the stuff they have seen in the movies!
For dinner we followed bad local advice and went into a place called Popeye’s. It tasted like Popeye had squeezed it out of a spinach can, sucked it through his pipe and spat it out onto Bluto’s beard before we ate it.
Today (day two) I started the day by running three miles around the French Quarter just to sweat the grease out of my pores. I certainly lost a lot of water in the process as the humidity was still 90% before seven am. It was slow but I was proud to have it mapped on my running log.
We then walked to Ruby Slipper in Canal Street for our breakfast. I had the Southern Breakfast which combines grits (porridge I think) with fried eggs, crispy bacon and a scone (called a biscuit for some reason), while my delicate flower of a wife could only manage the French toast….
… with cheesecake filling …
… and mango ….
… and crispy bacon ….
… and maple syrup.
Oh and a cup of tea.
It was marvellous.
Today’s main event was a swamp tour out in Lake Pontchartain. No point me trying to describe this for you. It was an amazing experience. See video for some tiny glimpse of the sights we saw.
Lunch was a cookie ice cream from the gift shop. I was still working on the porridge filled scone.
The swamp tour takes most of the day so when we got back it was as near dinner time as dammit and we had heard about a Chicken Festival taking place in town.
Now I know how jealous you must be feeling just now. How can I be so lucky to have been in New Orleans just at the time of the Chicken Festival? I know – I know! What can I say – I was born lucky.
At the Chicken Festival we enjoyed eating some chicken and then we moved back into the city for some dinner.
Oh sorry – we did listen to live jazz at the Chicken Festival after we had eaten some chicken.
We walked up to the French Market and came back down Royal Street where most of the Spanish Colonial architecture is. The ironwork is wonderful and a lot of the areas are lit by gas lamps giving the place a wonderful old world vibe.
As the evening wore on we settled on a cafe/bar in Bourbon Street where there was a live jazz band playing and we took a table near the band for our Club Sandwich and Tuna Croissant – both called something more Louisianan on the menu.
As we headed wearily home we meandered through the hedonistic centre of New Orleans, Bourbon Street, where we witnessed the wonderfully quaint (and apparently feminist) practice of showing ones breasts to a group of drunk men on a balcony in exchange for a chain of beads. Female empowerment is such a wonderful thing to witness in the flesh.
Giddy with the sights and sounds of snapping alligators, jazz singers, festival chicken fillets and other mammary enhancements, we headed for our hotel stopping only for a gambling-averse gawp at the Harrahs casino next door and frozen yoghurt dessert from the hotel.
Two days in and I’m starting to get it already.