Wednesday, 14 January 2015

New Orleans, Louisianna

Craig Writes;
Sunday 28 December
We sat on the tarmac for what seemed like an eternity waiting for other passengers arriving on a connecting flight.  With the delay and the one hour time difference it was just after midnight by the time we landed in New Orleans.  After the arid freezing temperatures of the Rocky Mountains the atmosphere here seemed almost tropical.  It was foggy, humid and a threat of rain hung in the air.  Thankfully our demur Indian taxi driver drove like she was Daniel Riccardo after one too many Red Bulls.  Before we knew it we found ourselves pulling up at the Maison on St Charles.  We checked in and were all tucked up in bed by 1am.  We decided to sleep without an alarm and chance the 10am breakfast cutoff.

History lesson. It was the French who first claimed Louisiana in 1690.  The French Quarter was born in 1718 when they founded the city of New Orleans as a means of controlling the traffic on the strategically important Mississippi River.  The streets were all branded with the names of French Royalty, aristocrats and Catholic saints so Bourbon st is not named after a barrel of Kentucky's finest but after the ruling House of Bourbon. Disappointing to hear I know.
In one of the deals of the millennium the Americans bought the entire State of Louisiana off the French in 1803 for the equivalent in today's money of .43 cents per acre.  It was called The Louisiana Purchase and will go down in history, along with the purchase of the Island of Manhattan, as one of the greatest real estate deals in history.

We're only here for a couple of days so we have booked the standard guided city tour for tomorrow.  Today though we caught the tram down to the French Quarter to do some exploring of our own.  First stop, Bourbon Street of course.
It's apparently not the Bourbon street of old, the brothels, the burlesque shows, the striptease clubs and the seedy bars are still there but they are a lot less prominent. Although I don't think you have to scratch to far below the surface to find it, particularly if you decide to do your scratching after the witching hour.
You can feel it just simmering, waiting for the sun to set.
During daylight hours you can see it is still a melting pot of bums and bar flies, jazz buskers and tap dancers, cafes, pubs and bars, voodoo shops and art galleries.  It has a vibe about it, no doubt and that vibe changes the moment you turn off Bourbon st, the sleaze factor seems to fade like a fart in a breeze.
Who wouldn't want a huge ass?
We turned into St Anne's st and headed towards Cafe Du Monde. We were hungry for their famous beignets and coffee. The cafe is an institution and has been around forever. Christina knew of it but the first I had come to hear of it was in that great little movie of 2013, Chef. Unfortunately we weren't the only ones to have seen that movie.  The line was a hundred metres long, and that was just for the takeaways. 
Some expensive fried dough here.
Screw that, I offered a waitress a $20 bribe to bring us two serves of Beignets and a couple of coffees. She jumped at it, I should have started at $10. Total cost for six doughnuts and two coffees, $31. But hey, we were sitting in Jackson Park licking the icing sugar of our fingers while others were still shuffling on the spot to keep warm against the cold wind blowing off the Mississippi. Totally worth it.
Who would have thought a lump of fried dough could taste so damn good.
We took a short walk along the boardwalk before turning back into the French Markets where we found a corner cafe with an old time jazz quartet and a sidewalk of people to watch. We went totally local and ordered shrimp and oyster Po Boys, Gumbo and Muffaletta. Delicious.
We walked back along Royal st to a much different vibe than Bourbon st.  Art galleries, busking magicians and guitarists, antique shops, stately hotels and restaurants line both sides of the street.  There are sections that are cordoned off just for pedestrians and this is where you'll find the buskers and the magicians. 
These guys were incredible.
The day turned brisk as the wind picked up so we were glad to climb aboard the next tram and head back to Maison on Charles.

Monday 29 December
It appears that the avenue our apartment is on, Saint Charles, is one of the major avenues that the famous, New Orleans Mardi Gras travels down. You can plainly see the remnants of past Mardi Gras's on trees and the power lines that are strewn with countless strings of shiny beads and colourful baubles.
A Mardi Gras tree.
That was just one of the many illuminating facts that our tour guide, Jarrad, bought to our attention on our two hour ride through New Orleans.
We saw the point where the levee broke in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina smashed through with winds of 200klm/hr. She killed over 1800 people and caused over US108 billion in damage. When the levees broke it didn't come through as a trickle, it was a terrifying tsunami of destruction that none could have predicted.  Those poor souls that stayed to protect their homes were washed away like twigs.
The point where it came pouring in..
We saw the area where jazz was born and heard the story of how a fusion of European classical horns and pulsating African drums gave birth to the syncopated rhythms of early Ragtime.  The negroes would gather after church on Sundays and celebrate life the best way they knew how, by making music and dancing.  It didn't take long before ragtime led to blues and blues led to jazz and by the early 1900's jazz and the blues had become an indomitable part of the soul of New Orleans.
Probably the most interesting stop we had was at the St. Louis Cemetery.  Because the city is a couple of metres below sea level, people are not buried in the ground but in crypts. Now land is scarce and people just keep dying so they have a very interesting way off cramming maximum numbers in. The dead are semi-embalmed, just enough to get them through the burial, then are placed in a wooden coffin inside the crypt which acts like a hot house. One year and one day after the burial the remains are removed from the box, placed in a bag and then beaten to dust by a man with a big mallet. The remains are then put back into the crypt and using a ten foot pole they are pushed to the back and down a shaft at the rear and bingo, the crypt is ready for the next member of the family. Apparently they can accommodate up to five hundred guests in the one crypt.
New Orleans creepy crypts.
We had a drive through the Garden District and stopped to have a peek at author Anne Rices house before being dropped back in at The French Quarter.  We were very keen to see the Katrina exhibition but wouldn't you know it, they're closed on Mondays.  We decided on a walk through the flea market and then doubled back down Royal st listening to the busking jazz bands and the touting magicians before catching the tram back for lunch at The Voodoo BBQ. 
The Voodoo BBQ
Christina and I ate there last night and liked it that much we thought we better take the boys. Gumbo, jumbalia, slow cooked brisket and pulled pork, fried shrimp and oyster Po-Boys, Muffalettas and of course bags of sugar dusted, deep fried beignets, we have tried them all.
Just a small sample of the simple but tasty offerings of The Voodoo BBQ.
The Garden District is very close to our apartment so Christina and I put on our runners and decided to walk off lunch by going for a stroll and having a look at some of the beautiful houses.  We thought we'd try and find Sandra Bullocks house, which we did, and also happen to stumble across the house where Brad Pitt lived in that Benjamin Button movie.
Well it's time to pack again.  Tomorrow we head to sunny old Mexico via Houston, arribba.

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