Homeward Bound

For our last full day we scooted out sharp to secure some internet time (just so we could update our 15 blog followers) before doing anything else. This was necessary because the hotel we are staying in occupies the only plot in New York that you cannot tap into a free hotspot and, as such, they have used the scarcity to charge six dollars per half hour for a connection.

They will feel the pain for this action in my trip advisor review. Access to the internet is like running water these days. What on earth are they thinking?

After that we took the subway to Prospect Park in Brooklyn to the Smorgasburg market which advertises over 100 stalls selling food (and fleas it says?). I didn’t get any fleas but I did get some great food. Three lots in fact.

SAM_2634

Smorgasburg

The first round was basically a bag of chips with thousand island dressing, but they made it sound better. There was quite a lot of crispy bits hidden under the big fries on top, but they were tasty. Eight dollars though, that’s just ridiculous for a bag of chips.

SAM_2636

Looks good – but does it look $8 worth of good?

Round two was a waffle cone ice cream. This was a fresh, soft waffle folder into a cone with a ball of ice cream and sprinkle stuff. We asked for caramel sauce but they missed it out for some reason. It was also delicious – but ten dollars? Ouch!

SAM_2638

A lot of empty space under that blob of ice cream – LONG LIVE JAMES ICE CREAM IN NAIRN!!

Finally we had a cheesecake doughnut. Four dollars wasn’t too bad. It filled a hole – get it?

SAM_2639

Prospect Park is almost as big as Central Park and is a very pleasant spot to walk about in. It was new to me too so I was happy to have spent some time here.

We then took a bus to its destination – which was nowhere near ours. We didn’t realize that of course. We were dropped at the Barclays Center where the Brooklyn Nets play their basketball and where I knew that I had once met someone who walked there via the Brooklyn Bridge.

If they walked there we could surely walk back that way.

Well if it wasn’t the longest journey since the trip to Boston. We walked forever.

It was thoroughly enjoyable though.  The walkway down the centre of the bridge is divided in half – one side for the several thousand walkers who walk it every hour, and one half for the twenty or so cyclists who use it.

So inevitably the thousands of walkers encroach upon the cycle route a tad. Well you should hear the language!

Anyway despite the bike dodging and the challenges of working your way through a crowd coming in the opposite direction also dodging bikes, and stopping to take pictures, it was good fun and something I had never done before too.

SAM_2672

Can’t stand photo-bombers!

We then walked over to the 911 memorial.

It’s pretty impressive, a matching pair of New York block-sized fountains with the names of everyone who died cut into the huge brass plates surrounding it. They place a flower in the name of anyone who should be celebrating a birthday that date so it is quite sad to find one there. It’s sad enough anyway but that brings it home even more.

SAM_2696

After that we were pretty worn out so we decided to take the Staten Island Ferry to view the Statue of Liberty for free. They’ve got a bit devious since I last did this trip. It used to be possible to take the ferry and then run round to grab the next one coming back. Now they close the doors of the departing ferry just a fraction before releasing the incoming passengers so they have to spend an hour waiting for the next one.

I guess I can see why.

SAM_2722

That boat damn nearly got in the way of our picture

We ate at Bareburger on a recommendation and it was very nice indeed. It was forty five dollars though for our two selves with drinks.

Still good by our UK standards, but we’ve had more for less.

Finally we took the train to Penn Station and walked to Starbucks to check in to our flight home.

Next morning we just had a few final things to tick off before making our way to JFK for the flight home. Firstly, we headed to the Chrysler Building to look at the inside of the lobby which we have never done. I wasn’t sure if you were allowed to.

IMG_2165[1]

‘That’s the door, Sir, when you are ready’

Did you know that the term ‘lobbying’ (when referring to a politician) probably comes from a habit of trying to catch US Presidents inside the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington DC? Because they stay there before their inauguration.

You do now.

Secondly we wanted to visit the New York Library because for all the time I spent in the city, I never once borrowed a book or even stepped inside this place.

It was closed. Something on that involves making a globe out of flowers.

IMG_2177[1]

Sadly we shall never see the planet all covered in flowers, nor inside the library

Never mind the Morgan Library has an original Shakespeare folio and a signed copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost – we’ll pop round there.

It was closed. Monday holiday.

So we had lunch in a place called Penera which was absolutely wonderful. The orange scone was amazing and I am going to set it as a Bake-off challenge as soon as I get home. We also had a Pecan twist and a Pecan Roll to take away. A nice cup of British tea too.

IMG_2174[1]

I wonder if the American reluctance to stock good old British tea (from India) is due to the chaos at Boston? Is it a sore point still?

Anyway we finally packed our bags and navigated the subway system to JFK so that I could sit and complete this final blog entry so that all of my 15 readers can finally get on with their lives.

As I reflect on our holiday I feel very happy and reinvigorated by the journey we have undertaken. I also look back on the blog and read some moans and groans though, and I wonder if I have accurately recorded how good it has been. It has been amazing. I just moan for the fun of it. I don’t like to pay for rubbish but I am not mean, I paid a fortune for this holiday so how can I be?

I also don’t like to see people give less than they ought. I give everything to enjoying my holiday so I expect that from those employed in the holiday business.

We have come from the South to the very North, deliberately to better understand America, its music and its history. I feel better informed and enriched by the experience. Is that not what a holiday is all about?

We didn’t relax – I can do that at home.

Until next year – a poor persons drive in a camper van I suspect – thanks for reading this twaddle.

IMG_2037[1]

Elvis has left the building…

Advertisements

New York and Boston

Its been five years since I left New York so I was curious to see how it might have changed and if, in any way, my relationship with it had been affected by the absence.

It was immediately clear that I felt right away that New York is truly ‘where it’s at’.  I’ve seen a lot of great American cities in my effort to populate this blog, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and many in between.

None of them come close.

What has changed is the number of people sleeping on the streets, the bums begging at every corner and the strong smell of marijuana at regular intervals – day or night (Mayor De Blasio has decriminalised it). When I was here in 2013 the previous mayor had long held a view that Manhattan should be kept clear of anyone who might be involved in crime, and anyone who slept rough or appeared in any way to be even slightly dodgy would be stopped, searched and driven to the New Jersey border to go and live there.

But it still feels very safe I have to say. There are loads of cops all over the place and none of the beggars or homeless try to get in your face too much. There’s a change, but it doesn’t change New York. It can take it.

More to the point though, what happened to proper English usage in the last five years?

It seems that here, more than anywhere, the use of adjectives, verbs and adverbs have been replaced by the word ‘like’ and a snippet of associated role play. You will have witnessed this in our own young people in the UK too (the ones that watch too many American shows at least), it’s not confined to New York, it’s just much worse here.

So a group of young girls pass in the street and the conversation relates to a recent experience with a good looking boy. Instead of saying, ‘I looked at him and thought he was very handsome’ we hear ‘I was like “whoa” and I’m like [action: opens eyes and mouth wide], “omigod” and I just thought “all right boy – lookin’ fine!” [action: uses hand to wave cool air on face] “mmm….mmmm”’

The use of ‘I’m like’ followed by a replay of the actions undertaken at the time has become the new language of the younger generation. It’s as if they don’t know any other way to describe something.

An overheard conversation relates to a recent shopping experience. Can you translate?

‘I was like “omigod” but the guy says “sixty dollas”- I’m like “no way”  – he’s like “for you fifty” so I’m like “get them in a bag then” and he’s like “yeah I will” – check them out [action: points to shoes]

Amongst the noise of chatter in the street the most commonly heard word is ‘like’.

For our first day in New York we decided to go to Roosevelt Island, something I have never done before. There’s a cable car that takes you from Madison Avenue and 60th over to the island which is home to a visitor centre, a mental health facility, apartment blocks and a couple of parks. The main attraction is the cable car and you’ve done that by the time you get there.

We walked for a bit trying to get a feel for the place but it turns out it is just a different place to look at Manhattan from and wish you’d stayed there. We did, in fact, have lunch there and it was perfectly acceptable.

I’m glad we went over though, just to know not to do it again.

SAM_2370

Cable car to Roosevelt Island – the highlight. Just go and and come back.

We then walked down to Macy’s on 34th and did some exploring amongst its vast halls of expensive goods listening to lots of ‘likes’ amongst the other shoppers and trying to locate the toilets. Truthfully the toilet was our main purpose in being there.

As we walked away we stepped out on to the road and were promptly honked at by someone turning into our path when we were perfectly within our rights to cross.  I was like ‘duh!’ and I threw my hands in the air.

Dinner was an Italian affair at Forlinis in Little Italy – pricey by our standards but very nice and very traditional New York Italian with bags of Sicilian atmosphere. No pictures because we were frightened we might be mistakenly photo-bombed by a Mafia don and be whacked on the way out.

For our second day in New York we went to Boston.

Boston is three hours away from New York and it takes three and a half hours to get there on a tour bus. We didn’t realise that it takes five and a half hours to get back at the end of the day on a tour bus. If we had we might have chosen to do something more productive with this day.

We rose excitedly at 5 am in order to shower and walk uptown to our meeting point. There we boarded the bus to Boston with our tour guide Chris whose actual name was Yaou Chang but he translated it for us so we would understand him more clearly. That was as much as we could understand of his broken English.

We then took our seats behind the ‘Recliner family’.

I don’t actually understand why planes and buses have reclining seats. There’s little enough space to squeeze your legs in without having the guy in front kicking back and lying in your lap. Honestly the recliner in this bus went so far back I could have rested my coffee on his forehead and hung my headphones over his lug. And he didn’t even give me fair warning. One second I’m looking down at my growing belly (holiday food), the next there’s a blob of a bloke looking up at me. Well be would have been looking up if he wasn’t slurping and grunting his way through his sleep ritual.

We were on the bus two minutes and he was off to sleep – in my lap.

I glanced behind but the poor woman who would have had to suffer my ginger bonce in her bosom looked too sweet to cause such distress to.

I would ban recliners in all public transport. I don’t care if you are a recliner or not – it’s just not right.

Anyway, apart from the dreadful journey there and back, the trip to Boston was – well actually it was dreadful.

Our first stop was that internationally renowned seat of learning, Harvard. Well they don’t use adjective, adverbs or verbs there either. These doctors, lawyers and business leaders of the future were ‘like “omigod – this is Harvard you know”.  Not only that, our tour guide, ‘Chris’, had not checked ahead – and when we got to Harvard it was closed.

SAM_2393

Translation for the under 30 – ‘like “omigod – go away why don’t you”‘

Closed to vote in a new president – I was like ‘you’re joking aren’t you?’

So we walked around the yard that we were meant to be inside and pressed our noses against the railings of the fence wondering what it must be like to go to Harvard and be a future president or something. Truthfully we hadn’t known it was part of the tour so we didn’t get too fussed.

SAM_2411

The highlight of our visit to Harvard

Now ‘Chris’ was full of facts (translate from Cantonese = completely made up rubbish). Harvard is the best university in the world he tells us. MIT is the best technology school in the world. The library at Harvard is the biggest in the world, Boston is the biggest marathon in the world. Reclining seats are the best thing since sliced bread.

Rubbish Chris! Just because Wikipedia says something that doesn’t make it true.

So we then went into Boston to follow the Freedom Trail and to learn about American History from Chris.  We were then rushed through the key locations in the story but given ample time at gift shops and eateries all of which were run by Chris’s family I think. At one point we had to go rogue just to grab some pictures in the city centre while Chris told the tour group about the oldest church in the world right in the middle of Boston.

SAM_2465

Boston is actually quite beautiful

SAM_2466

And the local traders in the Square where we went rogue are fantastic

SAM_2521

The food at the official stops was less appetising and – of course – Chinese

SAM_2523

but we managed to sneak away again and get some amazing cheesecake

And then on the five and a half hour journey home (the longest journey in the world) my wife and I had Mr and Mrs Recliner to nurse in our laps all the way.

What I can say is that Boston is a truly lovely place and we will be back (without Chris) to do it some justice. One day.

Next morning we got up much later and took the subway to 125th street, crossed the platform and took another subway back to 81st street where we had originally planned to be. We then got our and I ran round Central Park one more time. It was exhausting – I am not in shape at all.

SAM_2546.JPG

and that’s before I started running!

I then took my rucksack and tried to change in the Bethesda Park toilets without touching the sides of the cubicle, the floor or the bowl with any part of my body. That was much more exhausting.

We then decided on a lunch at the Boathouse. That was very nice. I had soup and Cobb Salad while my good lady had a burger.

SAM_2555

To relax we hired a row boat to have a romantic meander around the little pond in the park.  It was more exhausting that the last two experiences.

The place was so busy we took most of our hour trying to get out of the chaos of first time rowers (myself included). We nearly sank twice.

Then we realised that, instead of the modern plastic oars attached to all the other boats, we had two lumps of wood that someone had hacked off a tree and carved into baseball bats with a penknife. Worse still the linkages hadn’t been greased this century so they squealed with every heave and squawked with every ho. It was painful.

We timed our trip out knowing that we needn’t to head back after half an hour to avoid the extra charge for exceeding the hour. That wouldn’t happen to me.

But we hadn’t realised that coming back into the flotilla of hapless sailors at the start required the navigational skills of Admiral Nelson to overcome. We were inside ten minutes of our return time and it looked like we would fail with less than fifty nautical yards to row. I spotted a guy to my right who was also clearly under the clock, and he was heading for the same narrow strait I myself had pointed my bow to’ard. He came amidships and rammed me, the blaggard, and I had to haul astern to avoid us both ending up feeding the fishes.

He caught my eye and I held his a moment. He flinched and smiled. ‘You have that one,’ be politely said. I was like ‘duh!’ and I steered a course for port within moments of the clock running out.

Truthfully we were ten minutes early such was our panic.

However, the stress was so significant I was glad to hand it in and return to land.

SAM_2569

False smiles suggesting we are enjoying ourselves

SAM_2560

The log I was expected to paddle with

We made our way next to 72nd and Broadway and walked down to our hotel on 31st street where I showered before we hit the trail again.

We walked to the Highline on 11th Avenue where we intended to walk on this former elevated railway line down to Greenwich Village for dinner.

It was closed.

I was like [action: wtf]

So we walked to the side of the Hudson to make our way down and crossed into Greenwich where we wandered amongst the streets watching the locals walking their dogs and pretending they live like normal people and don’t just stay there so tourists can gawp at them. We popped our heads in a few doors looking for the right place to eat but were put off my ‘omigod!’ being shouted from every corner and the ‘omigod’ prices being charged for salads.

We finally landed on Bleeker Street pizza which sits discretely between 7th Avenue and Bleeker Street (surprisingly). The 14 inch pizza with three toppings and two drinks came in under thirty dollars and it was magnificent.

SAM_2600

My wife from six feet away

It was just the thing to energise us for the twenty five blocks home.

This morning we had to come out to Starbucks just to do this blog. We Skyped my sister who celebrated a birthday ‘like “really don’t mention that”‘ Here she is

WIN_20181007_15_27_06_Pro

HAPPY 50th TRISH!!

Washington DC Comics

The flight to Washington was short and sweet. The only hitch was having to pay to put a bag in the hold because it was an internal flight (not sure what my holiday company thought I would do with it but that will be sorted I am sure) and there was a bit of a to do as to whether or not my guitar was hand baggage or not. It was as it turned out, but it still went in the hold at airside and the case ended up at the other end slightly dented.

I was fine with this – the guitar was in good shape still, the case needs a bit of bashing to make it look more ‘Nashville’. It now sports a ‘DC’ sticker to say it toured here. I forgot to get a Nashville one but eBay will no doubt come to my rescue.

SAM_1764

Woody – ‘The dent was THIS BIG’

We took the metro to within five blocks of our hotel which (thank goodness) was perfectly situated for all that Washington has to offer.

On arrival the reception guy immediately struck up a conversation about my guitar and I proudly told him the story of its purchase in Nashville and so on and so on.

Then the bugger raises his eyebrows and says, ‘it must be expensive is it?’

We unloaded our luggage and found the best spot to hide my ‘not expensive’ guitar so that the nefarious cad behind the desk couldn’t easily describe its location to his mates in the hotel robbing trade.

Under the bed as it happens.

My determined spouse then dragged me out, reassuring me everything would be alright, to the Washington memorial and down to the Washington Monument just to get a feel for the place.

Flipping hot as it happens.

We checked if Mr Trump was in but they appear to have layered up another level of security to prevent anyone getting anywhere close to the boundary of the Whitehouse. Pictures from afar until he is impeached and thrown out I am guessing.

SAM_1794

We were pretty hungry by now. The Nashville airport breakfast of egg and sausage bagel was long digested and we had missed lunch due to fears of a raid on our hotel room and the additional time needed to shore up security.

Some research by my good lady had suggested a restaurant serving a Chicago style pizza, and that was where we determined to go.

At this juncture I should wax on inanely about the history of Washington in order to spice up the interest level in this blog, as is my usual practice. So we will come back to the food if you will bear with me.

Washington is the only city in the US that is not inside any of the states. It stands alone as the District of Columbia. This was a deliberate act on the part of the founding fathers of the US since it houses the federal government and is separate from the states themselves. At the time of its early construction they decided on a couple of essential qualities that would set the tone for the new country, reflecting on it aims to be a pure democracy. Firstly they hired a French architect, Pierre l’Enfant, to stick it up to the British – and he laid out the grid pattern around the Capitol we see today. Secondly they wanted everything to reflect the symbols of democracy that history gives us from Greek and Roman architecture.

So there are bags of ornate columns and Greek inscriptions all over the place, grand domes and Classical fountains, sculptures etc. This is a city that tells the British Monarchy, ‘stick your Royal prerogative up your aristocracy!’

Anyway – my learned wife knows a lot about lots of things. What I have never realised though is how much she knows about this ancient aspect to Greece. So imagine my surprise when she spots the restaurant from afar by virtue of seeing the symbol for pi written over the restaurant.

‘That’s the symbol for pi she says.’

‘3.1415926?’ I say.

‘No, you idiot. Pizza pie!’

SAM_1774

About 0.15342 of a π

Anyway we enjoyed a kind-of Chicago style pizza pie in π and it was very cheap for the two of us so we finished the day pretty satisfied and myself better educated.

We deliberated long and hard next morning over the priorities of our Washington trip. We wanted to do a lot but we really needed to get off our feet for some of the time. New Orleans and Nashville had been hard work and we are supposed to relax on holiday aren’t we?

We plumped for a Big Bus tour. Two full days of someone driving us around the sights, dropping us off and on at our leisure to meander round the historic monuments and take in some scenery. As a bonus for our two day booking we could join the night tour for free and get into Madame Tussauds as well.

Walking is for mugs, we sneered as we boarded the first bus.

SAM_1996

Oh how we laughed at the thought of people who walk everywhere on holiday!

We headed North towards Mount Pleasant where one of the first major stop offs was the Zoo. Well if we didn’t pay to get into the zoo in New Orleans we weren’t going to pay to get into this one.

Ah! But the Zoo in Washington is free; it’s part of the Smithsonian Institute.

Free? My ears pricked up.

It’s not only free, it’s fantastic.

So we ended up walking heaven knows how many miles around that zoo.

SAM_1842

Panda at the zoo…

SAM_1870

… elephants at the zoo …

SAM_1877

… gorilla at the zoo …

SAM_1926

… lion at the zoo ….

SAM_1899

… monkeys at the zoo.

Our lunch was at the zoo. It was fine for zoo food.

SAM_1972

We actually had pizza slice and ice cream but this is funnier.

With weary legs we re-boarded the big bus and took a relaxing twenty minute break before we reached the next stop, Georgetown, where we decided a few more miles on our feet might just wear the blisters down to bone.

I had hoped we might find a boat hire to take a relaxing paddle down the river, but the Potomac was flooded recently and all hires are suspended until the deadly currents subside. So inconvenient, we had to walk two miles to find it and two back when we saw the closed sign.

When we got back to our hotel I got changed and went for a four mile run from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and back. I’m not sure why now that I read back how this day went. I felt that I wanted to do it.

Arlington Cemetery is a military burial site close to Washington DC. It’s also the site of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the site of interment for JFK who has a rather inspiring eternal flame over his grave. Using the big bus we made our way to the start of our four mile walk around the cemetery.

There is nothing amusing or even interesting to say about Arlington. You possibly need to come from a military background to really appreciate it. It’s not a site like ones on the Somme in France, although it appears to emulate the symbolic nature of white markers all in perfect rows. The graves are not anonymous though, these are the graves of servicemen and women who have died, not just in conflict, but at any time.

The most poignant tribute is the one paid to the Unknown Soldier all day and every day. A military guard marches in front of the tomb that houses unidentified remains. We witnessed the changing of the guard, a highly disciplined ritual that seemed all the more commendable in the heat of the afternoon sun.

After Arlington we went into the American History Museum and thought we would have lunch there. Unfortunately, while the admission to this museum is subsidised, the food in the restaurant is clearly part of the means of doing so. Fifteen dollars for a sandwich?

We dipped out to little food court where a sandwich shop called Timgad was selling some decent pieces for under ten dollars. In fact we managed some lemonade and a gigantic Blueberry muffin too.

SAM_2073

I do enjoy American History even though it is pretty anti-British stuff. Maybe I’m a sympathiser?

If you don’t know your American History here it is in a nutshell.

Ancient times – people arrive from the Garden of Eden somewhere in Africa via the Bering Straits and become the first people – Native Americans.

About a thousand years ago – Leif Erikson from Iceland finds America but it’s too warm so he heads back home to become a Viking and raids Scotland instead.

13th century – Spaniard Christopher Columbus crashes into the West Indies on the way to China and he comes home to tell the Queen.

13th century to around 16th – Spanish explorers follow Columbus’s navigational guidance and end up in various other places in the South of the US. Realising the continent is there British sailors grab a slice landing in New England, the French take Canada and the North while Spain continues spreading into Mexico and up into the West of the US. There’s a lot of problems getting work done so the Pope says God wants the people of Africa to be enslaved to help in God’s work over there. Everyone believes him and the fact that they will make shed loads of money is just a bonus.

17th to 19th centuries – Colonists have built the US mostly around the handful of states in the North East where farming is easy. When it comes to the South where it is harder they really start to give the slaves a hard time. Sadly they also teach them to read and suddenly it becomes apparent that they are human beings after all.

The colony starts to build confidence and decides it wants to go it alone. Taxes from Britain start to rise and a revolution starts. They sign a Declaration of Independence and fax off a copy to the King.  He wages war. The British Navy is the only thing that prolongs the war so the colonists go to the French with some cash and borrow their Navy. The French are happy to see someone give the Brits a doing and say ‘remplis tes bottes’.

Once the USA is born they write a Constitution and stuff and laugh all the way to a field where they build Washington DC.

But all is not well. The slaves want out. They’d also like a piece of the action. The North agrees but the South say no. Civil War begins.

Abe Lincoln wins freedom for slaves and he is promptly assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while watching a play in Washington.

19th to present – jazz, Hollywood, prohibition, financial crash part I, two wars, JFK assassinated, Vietnam, end of segregation, financial crash part II, first black president, Trump, end of world as we know it.

Oops the last bit is the future.

We had dinner in Chinatown – a place called Chinese Garden. It was nice.

We then did a night tour of the city which was very pleasant. Mainly because we stayed on the bus most of the time and didn’t walk our little socks off. The city looks different at night – it’s dark for a start.

SAM_2141

SAM_2144

Our last day here we got up and messed around at Madame Tussauds to make use of our free pass. After that we lunched at Au Bon Pain, a lovely place with great sandwiches and a nice outside space to eat in.

SAM_2165

‘This play is crap Abe, can’t you see that? I’m going to find something more interesting to do’

 

SAM_2201

‘Yeah baby! Now we’re talking RESPECT’

SAM_2196

‘Sorry Jennifer, love. Better find the wife. Where is she?’

SAM_2199

‘Over here darling!’

We did actually tour the Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was shot and the presentation of it was very well done. It was just across from Tussauds so not too far to walk this time.

The walking started over though as we toured the Capitol (yay) and Library of Congress (meh), then we pushed on to the Space and Flight Museum which is (you might have guessed) free.

SAM_2231

Inside the dome of the Capitol.

The Capitol is an excellent visit and it was a great way to finish up. Tomorrow we head on the train to New York for our last wee bit of the holiday. But before we go …

As we were missing our happy Golden Retriever Harry, who we learned today has suffered a bee sting to the nose (all together), we dined at Harry’s Diner on E Street. We stayed at the nearby Harrington Hotel the first time we came to Washington so it felt fitting that we honour our puppy this way in his time of suffering.

SAM_2333

Harry’s burger. We wish you well soon.

SAM_2331

A little cocktail of Water on the Rocks.

SAM_2326

Daddy hurt himself too!

Lovin’ Nashville

So coming to Washington today marked the end of our musical journey. While New York might have some Rock ‘N ‘ Roll in it, Washington DC won’t keep the momentum going long enough for us to hold interest.

However there is some stuff to tell before we start in the Nation’s Capital, and plenty musings on the origins of music according to moi.

Thursday morning we started out by heading straight to the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville. When I say straight there I mean we waited half an hour for the regular free transport to appear, got it to within five blocks of our destination and walked the rest.

The bus only goes 2.5 miles from the Nearly-OutofTown hotel we are staying in.

SAM_1549

We love Cash…

Securing our tickets for the museum at $22 each we paused for breakfast in the little cafe near the gift shop. It looked nice and I had a decent bagel with egg, cheese and round sausage (like square sausage but round!). Wife had the French toast for a change. That kept us going for the tour to come.

SAM_1499.JPG

Johnny Cash is a genuine hero of mine. Even before I took any interest in country music, he was up there with all the other rebels of rock music that I took a shine to as a once pretentious young lad with ‘a soor look on ma puss’ (you know the teenage James Dean look we all aspired to) . However soor looks aside, the museum is pretty poor for so much cash (ahem).

There’s some guitars in the cabinets that he once played and costumes he and June Carter wore on stage (different ones – Johnny was never a cross-dresser – in public). But then it’s really just a series of banners telling his story from rags to riches, teen angst to drugged up hell-raiser, heathen to religious convert.  There are artefacts such as pages of handwritten lyrics and all the gold discs he won, but when compared to Graceland you don’t feel that you had value for money.

SAM_1519.JPG

It’s good stuff…

SAM_1518

…. just not $22 worth of good stuff.

But it’s good value compared to some of the other stuff we did – that’s to come later though.

After Johnny, we set out on that most important of musical journeys, the pinnacle of any man’s country adventure.

The search for a second hand guitar.

There are several essential qualities in a Nashville guitar –

1) It needs to look like a country guitar, 2) It can only be a Gibson or an Epiphone, 3) It needs to be second hand, and 4) It must twang at the very touch of your thumb.

It’s like magic. The right guitar is wand of country music – ‘the guitar chooses the cowboy!’

Of course price is also a huge factor.

So while several guitars spoke to me as we hunted through the Gulch for the elusive instrument that would take me from strictly rhythm to riff wizard, only one touched me where it mattered most.

The cheapest one.

SAM_1561

Happy but with a soor look on ma puss….

However I destroyed my wife’s day having to watch me like a kid in a sweetie shop at Carter’s Vintage Guitars twanging on $3000 dollar guitars (second hand), and that felt good.

Cruel?

Not at all – that was the set up. My second hand guitar was the instrument I needed to play for her my own song celebrating our 30 years of marriage this year. I played it for her in Nashville – the first time it has ever been heard.

It was rubbish – but it was personal.

SAM_1572

The love of my life….

SAM_1619

Oops! Wrong picture…..

And even better – my guitar is an Epiphone, it’s a hybrid electric so it looks well country, I am not its first owner (let’s assume some Nashville hero had it first) and it 100% twanged when I hit the strings.

My worry now is getting it home in one piece. The case has taken one dent already on the flight to Washington – a character dent we will call it.

So after that excruciatingly uncomfortable moment for my poor spouse (she should be grateful I couldn’t find a working guitar at Sun Studios), we headed out to hear some real music at Pucketts where we had our dinner.

I ate the pulled pork with Mac n Cheese on top and fries on the side. My bashful belle had Southern Fried Chicken with tatties and veg.  We finished with Pound Cake with ice cream then wandered into Broadway to hear some more actual music from the many bars.

 

Our last morning in Nashville was hot for a change. We’d had rain most of the time.

I started with a 5k run around the park near our Nearly-OutofTown hotel. There’s a replica building of the Pantheon there so there is an interest in the area. I would have preferred a Downtown run by the river – but you gets what you pay for.

We then waited about forty minutes for our regular transfer bus to almost reaching distance of Downtown Nashville and then walked the six blocks to the river side.

There is a foot bridge over to the Nashville Football Stadium and there is a lovely riverside park there which has great views over the city. You can still hear the music from Broadway (a little quieter) and the screams from the Party Cars are less screechy from here. When you’re my age you need some respite – considering this is half ten in the morning on a Friday and the town is already in full party mode.

SAM_1642

Bonnie Scenery from the park near Nashville Football Stadium

SAM_1663

One of many party buses to hire and screech from.

We moved on to take a tour of the original Grand Ole Opry theatre – the Ryman and ate a nice lunch in their cafe before going for our tickets. I had a steak sandwich and my muse had a chicken sandwich. Sounds plain but they were very nice and accompanied by freshly fried ‘crisps’.

We then paid $24 each for the theatre ‘tour’. We were a little annoyed to find that we could have got 10% off the cafe had we bought the tickets first. I bit my tongue.

Now the Ryman theatre ‘tour’ is basically getting inside to look at the theatre auditorium. That’s it, no backstage peak, no guide to tell us what wonderful things went on where. There is a video to watch telling the history of the place, and in case you forget that, you can read it all in the banners displayed around the back of the auditorium. There were tickets for the evening performance at this price. We could have seen the show and we’d have got the ‘tour’ for free.

SAM_1670

Ryman Theatre Tour… that’s it … you won’t have to go now.

The only joy in my heart at this moment was knowing that I’d be going home sometime to a lovely guitar that I bought second hand in Nashville.

SAM_1566

Yes, I did stop on every corner to pose like this.

We took the local bus to Opry Mills which is like the Eastgate Centre of Nashville.

When I say ‘like’ I really mean completely unlike of course. You can buy a 25 ft motor boat at Opry Mills. You can’t get a charger for an iPhone 4 at Eastgate.

You can also buy assault rifles and enough ammunition to start a small revolution if you so wish. They’re for hunting of course.

SAM_1710

‘Need a gun, Sir? Try the pick and mix.’

But the main purpose in being here was the Friday night radio show – the Grand Ole Opry.  We had ‘right-at-the-very-back’ tickets for the evening’s entertainment and we would be part of the wonderful history of country music forever now. Our claps, ‘whoops’ and cheers would enter the archives of Country Music recordings and be heard for all of eternity.

Now I had to grab a few pics with some of the locals before taking our seats. They all wanted to be seen with me. Must have known I had a guitar at the hotel.

SAM_1727

‘Not a bad guitar Johnny, but can you play an F minor ….’

SAM_1732

‘Can I take this one home?  … the guitar of course…’

The musical event that is the Grand Ole Opry is a joy to be part of. There are legends of the scene on every night and we were treated to some great performances. There are also some new bands on – and most of them are great too.

The best bit for me is the DJ who stands at the side of the stage and does all the ‘adverts’ live in front of the audience. Dollar Stores were sponsoring part of it so we heard all about their offers, and Boot Barn were giving three for two on cowboy boots.  It was hysterical.

The worst bit were the young performers trying to schmooze the elderly audience (not me – just everyone else in the audience). They were playing to the religious and portraying themselves as the new saints of the country scene. It’s as if the Opry is run by the church (maybe it is).

One girl sang a song in tribute to her brother who died three years ago. That I could take – lovely sentiment.

Not to be outdone the next band dedicated a song to an uncle who died of cancer and might have been in the audience if it hadn’t been for that. But praise Gawd nonetheless.

The next guy blasted out Amazing Grace before dedicating a song to a night he lost by getting pissed. He was serious.

I was waiting for the last guy to dedicate his number to his second cousin’s pet dog’s fleas which were eradicated by a vet two weeks ago – but he didn’t go there. Too emotional I guess.

SAM_1733

Grand Ole Opry Theatre. You still have to go there.

I was left thinking about this religious aspect to the whole music scene and wondered about its significance. The congregating slaves in Congo Square were there to praise and brought a new type of music to the world in the process. As music filtered north it was embedded into church gospel and country. Think about Elvis and his gospel, Johnny Cash and his later stuff when he got all Churchy.

Aretha Franklin was a gospel singer.

I wondered if the passion, the emotion that people put into popular music, was born in churches. It wasn’t so deep before that – Beethoven never ‘saw the light’. Bach never ‘broke down and cried.’

Think about Bono and how he delivers his words. Rock music, even when it is punk or anything that seeks to offend those with deep beliefs, is probably sung with passion because of those origins.

Now before I leave the music for you to decide, I must finally recount our getting home from the Opry experience.

We knew we would need to get a taxi home because the buses stop before the show finishes. What we didn’t know it that the entire civilised world outside of our little country has gone Uber daft and taxis no longer exist outside of a few hard-core companies determined to ride out the internet age. Good luck there.

The taxi stance we expected to wait at did not exist. The car park and all entry and exit roads were jammed with Ubers and people holding up their phones to see which one was theirs.

The one taxi we spotted shrugged us away when we asked how much it was to town. Clearly he was looking for a mug to sting for the week’s wages he had lost to Uber.

Sadly WE don’t have Uber because WE  won’t pay the extra cost and so WE don’t have a phone that works in this country!

Thankfully my lovely wife makes friends within five seconds of meeting someone and knows their entire life story within three minutes. Honestly, I can turn my back for five minutes and then find her arm in arm with a woman from Kansas who has three children (Ruby, Joy and Henry), married to Gary for fifty three years next Tuesday and who has been suffering from an in-growing toenail for over six months but fortunately it will be operated on my Dr. Milton of the Happy Acres Practice at three pm next Friday.

And this lovely woman (none of the above details are correct but my wife can fill you in if required), has told her husband that this poor couple ‘all the way from Scawtland’ are stranded and need a lift to their hotel.

He, being an absolute saint, agrees to pay for our Uber on his credit card and I have to fight to pay him for it back in cash.

It was a wonderful end to our night. Whoever they are – we love them.

SAM_1487

‘I’d like to dedicate this song to a couple we left behind in Nashville. God Bless them for saving us from having to pay forty dollars for a cab’

Walking in Memphis

The journey to Nashville took just over an hour and we arrived in good time to enjoy most of the day in the city. Unfortunately my unwillingness to part with money forced us to wait for the delayed local service bus which then took well over an hour to find its way through most of Nashville’s lesser desirable areas to Downtown Nashville.

This is when we discovered that our hotel was located – not in Downtown Nashville but in Nearly OutofTown Nashville.

However there was a free shuttle bus service to and from the hotel and you just had to give them a call any time you needed a lift.

Give them a call?

Sadly my unwillingness to part with money meant that we were not equipped with mobile phones that are usable in the USA. We eventually found our way to the Hilton Hotel in town (Downtown), which is where we would have liked to stay, and imposed upon the lovely staff there to call their rival accommodation provider to come get us.

Our hotel is very pleasant though. Just not Downtown pleasant.

We hadn’t eaten much since brunch at the airport – a rather mundane bagel thing with scrambled eggs on it – so were anxious to get to town to find our first burger of the holiday.

SAM_1178

Those potatoes were as bad as they look!

When we went to get the shuttle we discovered that the ‘every half hour’ schedule is interpreted by the drivers as ‘any time we can be arsed’ and it was going to be a inordinate delay before we could get into town (Downtown that is). However the valet ordered us an Uber (on the hotel) to take us to Broadway Street where all the Honky Tonks are.

SAM_1199

No ‘dilly, dilly’ remember.

So we mooched about Honky Tonk central listening to some fine music coming out of the bars, marvelling at the fact that these hugely talented people are performing from four in the afternoon whether or not there are people to listen.

We chose Pucketts Grocery for our first burger as I had it on good local authority that this was the burger to eat in Nashville. We walked past the Ryman Theatre which is the home of the Original Grand Ole Opry, and determined to come back for a visit backstage when time permitted.

The queue to get into Pucketts was twenty minutes and we almost decided to go elsewhere. So glad we stuck it out.

I had the Mojo Burger which is their signature meal with baked beans, pulled pork, other stuff I can’t even remember. It was phenomenal. My good lady had the standard burger with extra toppings and it was wonderful too. Fries came with the burger too and, at 12 dollars, that equates to under a tenner per meal for something far, far better than I have ever had in the UK. So good we booked the place for Thursday night when there is live music on too.

SAM_1207

Got my mojo back!

We had dessert too, a pecan sponge thing cooked in a skillet with a blob of ice cream on top. Dear Lord it was sweet!

SAM_1211.JPG

Ridiculously sweet thing.

Now I had been checking the ticket sites for Ice Hockey games for all our locations this holiday but nothing appeared to land right for us. So I was delighted to step out on the street and see hundreds of fans heading to the Bridgestone Arena for a match between the Nashville Predators and the Carolina Hurricanes. We adopted Nashville as our team, headed to the ticket office and grabbed two tickets for 22 dollars each – sitting somewhere in the roof space.

SAM_1215

The cheap seats.

Now sport in the US is something to behold. It’s not like watching football or anything else in the UK, especially not in Scotland. The fans treat it as a game for a start. If they are losing they boo like they were at the Christmas pantomime, but they never throw coins at the ref, fight with the opposing fans, sing songs about religion or political conflicts that are completely unrelated to the sport, and they don’t appear to go home and beat up their partners afterwards (I can only assume the last one).

The spectacle of a sporting event in the US is wonderfully family friendly and wholesome. The kids are showcased dancing to music whenever there is a pause in play, servicemen are honoured by the crowd at half time and everyone follows the cue of the commentator who appears to tell them when to cheer and when to boo.

Anyway Nashville lost 5 to 1 and I felt as though I’d lost an ancient battle with a life-long enemy.

SAM_1390

They just don’t play ball here.

We headed home after that as we had an early start for our Memphis excursion.

At seven am we boarded our minibus with a small group of folks from all over the USA all taking the same pilgrimage to the home of the King of Rock-n’ Roll. It was a three hour drive with one stop for coffee to Graceland where we had VIP tour access to the home of Elvis Presley.

Now I can take or leave Elvis, but my holiday is about tracing the origins of modern popular music and that has to include the man who kick started the whole thing. As John Lennon said; ‘before Elvis there was nothing.’

Graceland is an experience unlike anything else. You could not believe the number of things to see and the four hours we had for it was not enough. The mansion itself is surprisingly small but fascinating to walk through. What you are getting here is a picture of a young man who had nothing and suddenly got everything. We even got a look inside his private jet. It’s completely bizarre to think the extent of his wealth.

SAM_1293

The Pool Room at Graceland

SAM_1287

Elvis’ TV room.

What you don’t get at Graceland is any real sense of his importance as a performer or how influential he was in forming our modern understanding of popular music.

But after Graceland we headed into Downtown Memphis to visit the home of Blues, Beale Street, and then on to Sun Studios where some of the most significant developments were set in motion.

Walking in Beale Street is like walking through a Blues festival. Just as you can listen to amazing jazz on any corner of New Orlean’s French Quarter or to Country Music in Nashville’s Broadway, in Beale Street you hear the most amazing guitar riffs being pounded out at every turn. It’s brilliant.

We ate dinner in Beale Street at a place called Alfred’s. I decided to try Catfish which tasted like … fish, while my dear lady decided to have something a little lighter – just some nachos.

SAM_1409

A wee plate of nachos.

If Beale Street was brilliant it was not as brilliant as a visit to Sun studios.

If you don’t know much about the history of rock, blues or country – then Sun Studios is wasted on you. But if you realise that Elvis Presley cut his first record ‘That’s all right’ here – that Johnny Cash cut ‘Hey Porter’ and ‘Cry, cry, cry’ here and people like Roy Orbison, Ike Turner, BB King and Jerry Lee Lewis all started out in this small studio – you have to stand in awe at how this tiny location has been pivotal to all that followed.

The tour here costs just 12 dollars and is worth so much more. They have an amplifier on display that belonged to Ike Turner but which was damaged in a car crash on the way to a recording session. When patched up it sounded fuzzy and distorted. That was the birth of distortion for guitar players.

SAM_1452

Birth of the fuzz-box right here.

The studio is also still laid out with the markers on the floor for optimal recording. Spots where Elvis stood and where a thousand other artists have stood since

I stood there too.

SAM_1423

I’m off to make my first record.

SAM_1475.JPG

‘You ain’t nuthin but … a complete poser!’

Our trip home was eventful too because we had a tyre blow out around the half way point and had to spend an hour at a gas station waiting for the AAA to come and replace it. I tried to be a hero and help with a roadside repair but the wrench in the van was the wrong size for the nuts on the wheel. The poor driver was quite embarrassed and we will be chasing a partial refund – mainly because I have an unhealthy obsession with holding on to my money – but also because we never got home til midnight and slept in, losing a couple of hours out of our time in this amazing city.

SAM_1384

Beale Street, Memphis.

Our driver on the trip to Memphis was Adam Pope – a top bloke from Nashville who only drives the van to keep the wolf from the door until he makes it big with his band. Check him out.

http://www.adampopemusic.com/

 

 

Every Night is Saturday Night

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.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

‘Ali there’s a moose in the bathroom!’

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.

SAM_0886

Stanley Breakfast – Oysters with poached eggs, ham on toasted muffin

SAM_0887

Scambled eggs ‘under’ toast, fried tatties.

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.

SAM_0897

A traditional jazz parade in Congo Square

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!

SAM_0972

Crawfish Et-blerghhhh-oufee…..!!!

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.

SAM_0988

Crowds starting to gather for impromptu street party

 

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.

But first!

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.

SAM_1014

My five a day along with some kind of giant loaf cut in two

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.

SAM_0999

A street in the city of the dead – slightly run down area.

SAM_1023

Large house in the city of the living – very posh area

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.

SAM_1038

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.

SAM_0995

Not the bus but I forgot to show you the lovely street car

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…..

Parading About the Place

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.

Some examples….

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.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

A light breakfast to start the day.

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!

SAM_2465

The Queen of Voodoo just out of the shower.

SAM_2467

‘See you later Alligator’

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.

SAM_2484

That bag is the presumed resting place of twenty seven of my dollars

I then went to buy an unnecessary hat which will never see the light of day when I return to the UK.

SAM_2510

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.

SAM_2500

SAM_2535

Is that an alligator in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

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.

SAM_2576

Shrimp and chips, deep fried with a scone. Never combine these ingredients ever!

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.

SAM_2472

Spanish Colonial House in French Quarter

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.

SAM_2560

Some actual female empowerment.

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.

SAM_2550

Adopted son in New Orleans

Bye bye Ali

Amber alert

Pack your blogs its holiday time again for the hungriest couple in Scotland!

Tomorrow we set off for New Orleans leaving storm Ali to you lot (there’s irony there somewhere).

And this year our American adventure takes us on a musical journey as I chase my dream of understanding the origins of rock n roll (I wake up in a cold sweat most nights fearing I will never know).  We’ll be taking in jazz in the South, then head to Nashville to let some country into our souls with a side trip to Memphis, Graceland and Sun studios.

If we don’t find the origins there we’ll console ourselves by eating a lot of good ole American fast food.

After that it’s on to Washington DC and New York for the second half of our trip. There we will … do other stuff. And we’ll definitely eat more food.

So join us please if you fancy hearing about all the exciting things we will see and do, the music we will make pretentious appraisals of and the food we will guzzle gluttonously.