I am opening this second blog post with a heartfelt appeal to the people of the UK on discovering that the USA is caught in the grip of the most horrific epidemic since Cholera wiped out half the country in the 1830s.
It’s the dreadful practice of shouting ‘dilly dilly’ whenever you drink beer.
I am aware that the Bud Light advert has just appeared in the UK and that there will be a strong temptation for those with little mind of their own to catch the bug and start hollering it at every opportunity; and Saturday nights, stag parties and (heaven forbid) Hogmanay are all in very real danger of becoming little more than advertising events for an insipid beer.
Don’t let it happen. Dilly, dilly is a nursery rhyme in the UK – the advertisers have stolen this phrase from Lavender Blue and turned it into a drinking game, referencing our medieval history (a la Game of Thrones) in an effort to infest our minds and force us to buy Bud Light. I have already witnessed one British family with a round of this lemonade substitute toasting the Mississippi sunset with a chorus of ‘dilly, dilly’ and it was very uncomfortable indeed.
Of course I may be too late as the disease is highly infectious and a whole weekend has passed since the advert appeared in the UK. Sadly I can tell you that, if you do find yourself shouting ‘dilly, dilly’ you will more than likely lose your friends, your job, your partner, your children and (eventually your mind). You will die a lonely death in a metal skip in an alley-way amongst half-eaten Chinese food and urine soaked cardboard boxes.
I have seen these people in New Orleans.
The choice is yours.
Anyway enough preaching, let’s talk food.
On day three of our Norlins visit we started the day by walking up to the French Market and wandered amongst the trinkets and crafts on display. My eye was caught by a multi-pack bag of beads for two dollars, three multi-packs for five dollars, and I mused over why someone would purchase so many strings of plastic beads. Then I realised that Norlins has that age old tradition of offering beads-for-boobs described in my last blog entry. Aha! I thought. So a bunch of lads on a stag party (or other male bonding event) can hoover up some cheap beads and take part in a great feminist tradition AND indulge in gross misogyny as the same time. It’s genius.
Remember now – no dilly, dilly.
In actual fact throwing beads has a more innocent and satisfactory aspect which I will come to later.
We couldn’t find a decent bit of scran in the market so we returned to Jackson Square where we waited twenty minutes for a seat in Stanley’s Bistro.
I had the Stanley breakfast which is Oysters in Corn crumb with poached eggs, ham and hollandaise on a muffin. Very nice. Sixteen dollars worth of nice? Not really.
My dearest wife had another locally named dish which turned out to be scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and over-fried tatties. They had a very sweet cinnamon flavoured signature dressing which we asked for a sample of and it was graciously provided at the cost of 50 cents plus tax. It was both sweet and tasted of cinnamon.
Truthfully it was a nice breakfast but not as good as Ruby Slipper and it sat rather heavily for most of the morning torturing me as the saturated fat content made an assault on my heart. We walked it off by making a visit to Congo Square to stand in the stead of the creators of modern music.
I don’t think it is overstating it to suggest that we inhabited the same space as those who crafted the earliest rhythms and sounds of rock and pop music. Of course similar things could have been happening all over the USA, fusing tribal drum beats with classical instruments was probably always going to happen, but jazz is a New Orleans thing. You can sense its connection to the place. The fact that is played everywhere today shows its importance. There little else being played – it has grown here and has matured here.
And jazz is the start of blues is the start of rock and roll is the start of rock is the start of funk and on and on.
But we were hungry for a deeper history of New Orleans and we were booked to visit the Whitney Plantation at mid-day.
Now it takes around five hours to get to the Plantation and, while I am about to tell you it is not very good value for money, it is very hard to do so with any humour. It’s not very good value for money because, not only is it badly presented (at least ours was), a tour operator is profiting from something that should probably be a compulsory part of the education system. Sadly there is a cost to confronting the reality of slavery and I can only suck it up on the basis that people have suffered far greater problems than being screwed over for a few dollars. I just wish the money was going elsewhere.
I am only going to post two pictures of the Plantation visit but I will make an observation on the tour guide. He was very passionate about the need to learn lessons, the need to understand that education ended slavery and that we should pass that to our children (if they want to get on in the world – stay in school). However, he had little else to say to us and we were left wondering what is was we came two hours out of New Orleans for. I knew all that already.
What I can relate to you is that the humidity was crazy, we were falling over with the heat and the insects in the air were making gumbo out of our bare legs. We saw the tall sugar canes and sensed the challenge of harvesting it with hand-held scythes with your life on the line as the only motivation to work. We saw beautiful little statues of children each representing a person who had lived on that Plantation and we saw their living accommodation. We saw the master’s house by contrast.
As a firm believer in the evolutionary truth of our existence (not to deny a God of some sort) I was taken by a comment that our first tour guide made (the one who Voodoo’d us into a graveyard yesterday). He told us he was once challenged by a white man on the street who asked him ‘do you ever think about going back to your roots in Africa?’ Born in New Orleans he looked at the man and said ‘do you?’
We got back to New Orleans around four thirty and took ourselves to the spiritual home of jazz, Preservation Hall. Lined up tightly on benches with about fifty others, no drinks or food allowed, we were treated to some incredible traditional jazz by five very talented musicians. The twenty dollar fee was supplemented (rather amusingly) by a five dollar request fee – and they didn’t play much other than requests!
I loved this place – it is legendary of course – and I paid a crazy price for a t-shirt just so I could show the world I’d been there.
Now we decided on the advice of the local woman who guided us to the Whitney Plantation to add two things to our day. The first was our dinner location – Mothers on Poydras Street where I chose to try the Crawfish Etouffee, a traditional New Orleans favourite, while my good lady plumped for the Jambalaya, also a taste of the South apparently.
A taste of the toilet might be more appropriate!
Okay, a little unfair. It actually tasted not too bad – but look at it!
The restaurant is the catering equivalent of the Preservation Hall, basic with absolutely no frills. Sadly the produce on offer wasn’t as nice to our stomachs as the jazz was to our ears.
The second recommendation was much more fun.
Frenchmen Street is not in our guide book and we’d have missed it if it hadn’t been for or local contact. It’s an insane place. Not like Bourbon Street – that’s for drunk tourists – this is the local jazz haunt. It’s where it’s at!
We looked into a few bars where there were great sounding bands in every one. You couldn’t choose. But that was fine, because when we got to a corner there was a street band mixing up brass with Cuban rhythms and a street party started right there in front of our eyes.
It just happens like that.
We passed a shop selling gothic and voodoo charms on the way back and I was amused by a sign on the door. It read – ‘carpe noctem’.
How’s your Latin?
Today was our last day in New Orleans. We headed out to get the St Charles Street car to Washington Square to explore the Garden District. This involves looking at big houses we can’t, and never will, afford.
We brunched at Ruby Slipper. I had Croque Madame – ham with béchamel between two toasted slices of Brioche, an over-easy egg on top and a side of fresh fruit.
My lady companion had the exact same thing she had last time. See previous blog for amusing reveal of that feast.
Sadly the sweepings from the Bourbon Street gulleys I had consumed last night were still swirling around looking for the exit from my stomach – and I couldn’t finish it all. It was delicious though.
We walked round Lafayette Cemetery which turned out to be free to get in. In fact you’re dying to get in (ahem). We heard someone calling the cemetery’s the ‘cities of the dead’. It’s a good description – there are posh houses and old run down ones in amongst just like the city itself.
After looking jealously at the big old houses with wrought iron fences and balconies and stuff we wandered into Audubon Park and took a stroll down through an avenue of giant oaks and listened to the musical humming of a local insect – Cicadas – all the way to the … closed zoo.
We didn’t really want to go to the zoo anyway but we both needed a pee.
So we then wandered up a couple of blocks towards a park I had spotted on the map where there would surely find a place of rest near the Mississippi.
A slight error of navigation meant that we had to back track a little and we headed south with the sun beating on our backs and the Cicadas buzzing a little louder in the background.
When we reached the little park it turned out to be a deserted baseball pitch next to an industrial area where tourists are not meant to be at all.
With the sun melting our poor little heads and the friggin’ Cicadas making that constant bloody buzzing noise that would drive you to murder if you had a knife at that very moment, we plodded wearily back the way we came.
Thankfully a lovely air conditioned bus was exactly where I expected it to be and we managed to jump on board before we collapsed in a heap at the side of the road.
Now the bus route was meant to take us to Mardi Gras World but it turns out Mardi Gras World has only recently moved to this side of the Mississippi – and they haven’t gotten round to adding pedestrian routes to it yet. This resulted in me and my poor wife (who really, really needed to pee by now) having to work our way across the interstate into an industrial yard belonging to a haulage company and beyond that to the back door of a warehouse which, it turned out to be, was a new location for Mardi Gras world.
But it was worth it.
We peed for half an hour!
No really, the experience at this place is fantastic. You get to see the workshops for the props and the floats and, after an hour’s tour, you can spend the rest of the day exploring the warehouse taking pictures to your heart’s content. Twenty dollars? Happy with that.
You can then get the provided shuttle bus back to your hotel like the way you are meant to in the first place.
But the story of Mardis Gras is worth touching on. It’s a non-profit event, no advertising allowed, not televised anywhere in the world and it is paid for by those who take part. The tradition is that you take part in order to spread a message of giving and you must be masked to anonymize yourself on the floats. This is where the throwing of beads actually comes from, the feminist movement just hi-jacked it so they could show their boobs.
The thing about Mardi Gras is that it officially goes on for weeks – finishing before Ash Wednesday – but it really goes on in New Orleans all the time. Every night is like Saturday night, and every Saturday night is like New Year. It’s an absolute buzz.
My final little video last five minutes so you can bow out if you want – but the kids will love it. These are all the pictures from the Mardis Gras warehouse with some street jazz to accompany it.
I nearly said ‘dilly’ dilly’ to end there…..