Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2.14 – Nawlins

It seems odd to start with a story about shoes – it should probably be a footnote – but bear with me.
When I was leaving Las Vegas, I got to the airport early, but was disappointed to find no business lounge. With time to kill I looked around and spotted a shoe-polishing guy.
Now my shoes are pretty battered after a winter biking through the Amsterdam snow, many gigs, and many drunken dancefloors, so they could use a spruce up. But they’re nubuck (like suede) so you can’t just polish them.
“Relax!” I thought, this guy’s a shoecare professional, he’ll know what to do. So I sat down and asked if he could do anything with nubuck.
“Yeah, sure” he replied and polished them to a shine!

Flash back nine years. The first time I arrived in Louisiana was on a road trip with Craig. We were playing pool in a hotel bar when a “good ol’ boy” demanded:
“How can you visit Louisiana, and not go to Nolene’s?!!”
“Well” I replied defensively, “we’re not here for cities, we want the open road. So we’re not going to New Orleans”
“It’s not “New Orleans” it’s Nawlins!” he insisted. “…go there, go to the French quarter and you’ll see some of the craziest shit you’ve ever seen!!”
Craig and I mustn’t have looked convinced. The guy continued:
“A kid will come up to y’all, and tell you where you got your shoes…”
Craig replied: “But I know where I got my shoes, I was there when I got them”

As I arrive in New Orleans from Austin, my shoes still wearing their unfamiliar shine, I recall this puzzling conversation.
Fifteen minutes.
That’s all it takes from the moment I leave my hotel until someone says:
“I know where you got them shoes!”
It seems that even nine years on the locals are still making money from tourists with their incredible powers of insight. Or is it just a load of cobblers?
Vegas has the strip. Austin has Sixth street. New… sorry, N’awlins has Bourbon Street.
And what a street it is?!
Even at 5pm on a Monday it’s an attack on the senses. There’s neon everywhere, street performers banging on all kinds of things, greeters trying to usher me into bars, clubs or “cabarets”, and the smell!
The buildings are old, the streets are tiny, and the sewers are odorous.
It’s all a bit crazy, so I take refuge in the Hard Rock café, eat some grilled salmon and talk to a couple from Maryland, where I’ve been:
“You probably didn’t stop!” says Phil, perceptively.

With some Dutch courage I head back down the street, and find loads of live music. There’s covers band after covers band, though they’re mostly playing the usual cheesy rubbish.
I find a blues band playing Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top, but without much conviction, and I actually find myself following a subtitled documentary on ESPN, about the 1983 NFL draft, while they play.
And so it’s an odd night. The bands make it hard to talk to people, but I’m enjoying the music, so I roam the street looking for a better band.
I find one place where they’re playing Heavy Metal covers with vigour. I stay and headbang for an hour until they take a break.
Next minute I’m dancing to a Maroon 5 song, then I’m in a crowded club and some guys with a brass section are belting out “Superstition”. I’m surrounded by young people in fancy dress having a good time. They turn out to be Aussies, with lots of energy.
Finally the band quits. Out in the street again, but New Orleans is slowing down after midnight. The Heavy Metal band are belting out some AC/DC so I end the night there. They’re no ETB, but not bad for a Monday!

On Tuesday I take a tour around the French quarter. It’s a good size to walk around, and with only a couple of days I feel I can just “do” this area, rather than trying to take in all of the city.
There’s a definite buzz to the area, none of the corporate cleanliness of Vegas though, which makes it feel a bit edgier to walk around. Lots of ornate buildings, trinket shops and entire streets of galleries displaying art and stuff…
Time for a run.
It’s a sweaty one around the edge of the French Quarter and along the Mississippi river. It’s not so hot, but it’s plenty muggy. And after three weeks of partying I’ve lost a lot of my Kiwi fitness. I’ll have to get healthy back in Amsterdam.

But I’m still on holiday, so it’s another night on the town. I start with a pizza slice, and as I queue to pay I here familiar sounds
“Are you guys from England?”
…and that’s all it takes to draw myself into a night of madness!

Four guys called, er, Morton, “Rocky?” “Rocky’s brother” and “Rocky’s brother’s flatmate” welcome me to their group. It seems I’m not the only inductee:
“No, I’ve just got here from Indiana University”, says the Australian, confusingly. “These guys are in my hostel”

We’re on a mission tonight, to find some real Nawlins Jazz. We’ve been told to “head for Frenchman’s street” but first we have to get down Bourbon Street, and all the hustler’s beckoning us into their establishments.
“Come on in!”
“No thanks”
“Where you going, you’re missing it!”
“No thanks”
“Cheap beer!”
“No thanks”
“Two for one”
“No thanks”
“Best bar in town!”
“No thanks”
“Three for one”
“No th…. Wait a second, did you say “Three for one?!”
“Yes sir!”
Well, it’s a long walk, we need some sustenance.

And so, we battle our way down Bourbon, encountering persistent midgets offering “Tooters”, surviving mechanical bulls, dodging “hand grenades” until we reach “Fritzels, a European Jazz bar”
We get a table and wait for the band. The place is packed with old people, the band must be good.
And they are. It’s a trio of pianist, bass and guitar, tootling away. I’m not a jazz man so it’s hard to describe the music, maybe “ragtime”.
But we were hoping for something more energetic, so we plough on. Eventually we make it down to Decatur Street and almost to Frenchman, but there’s a great sound issuing from a bar.
Inside we find what we’re looking for, a great band belting out the sort of high-energy jazz music you associate with Nawlins, well, I do.

Of course the band eventually takes a break, so we finally reach Frenchman’s street, and at least three more entertaining bars, before returning to our favourite. Nawlins begins to wind down again, and the boys are feeling the effects, so we decide to head home.

Via Bourbon street of course.

And hence I find myself on my last day of the trip, and quite possibly the very first day that nothing memorable has happened. After two nights of raging in every bar in the quarter, three weeks of partying, and two months of full-on experiences I’m done-for. Time for a quiet night in, some rest before the long journey back to Europe. And barring an entertaining flight, the final blog entry.

It’s been a great trip, a wild ride. I hope I’ve managed to capture most of my memories here for myself, and in doing so, entertained some of the people who care enough to read this foolishness.

I’ve met a heck of a lot of nice people, and a few truly special ones. I’ve been to incredible places and encountered awe-inspiring surroundings. I’ve seen and done so many things that made me glad to be alive, and out there trying. And again, going away makes me appreciate even more the people I left behind, and look forward to seeing them again. I know I can be a paranoid, miserable sod, fixating on the few things that remain tantalizingly out of reach, but I appreciate how fortunate I’ve been to make another epic trip. I hope I can find a reason to settle down, or better, someone to share RTW3…

And I know where I got my shoes:

I got my shoes… right here on my feet in New Orleans.

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