a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘bourbon street’

living la vita local (also dolce :)

I am back in New Orleans!   In my mind at least… there is still much to tell and recommendations to add to the internet so here we go…

Thursday night I just winged it, hoping I could at least find my way back to the hotel.  Friday night I knew I had to try a little harder.  My first impression of Bourbon Street was that it was pretty sleazy and full of drunk college students.  I think both statements hold but I wanted to see if there was more to it.

So I decided it was time to pull out the guidebook and see if having a plan might yield a better result.

My first stop was Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House.  It’s in a building from the early 1800s with an antique interior my mother would love.  Since I was in the house of Absinthe, I figured an Absinthe House Frappe was the thing to have.  As the bartender promised, it tasted like black licorice.  Worth a try but I decided to stick to bourbon…

http://www.ruebourbon.com/oldabsinthehouse/history.html

and to move on to my next destination.  I had decided the next thing to tick off the list was to stand on a balcony so I could watch the cacophony playing out on Bourbon Street on a Friday night.  My guidebook had recommended a place called Krazy Corner so that was my next stop.

the flavour of bourbon street...

the flavour of bourbon street…

It’s definitely worth getting onto a balcony on Bourbon Street while you are in New Orleans for a unique perspective on the world but it’s a lot more interesting to check out the music so I headed downstairs to where the band was playing.

I don’t think I had even listened to an entire song before a gentleman who sounded like a local asked me to dance.  I’m not sure I will ever get to be a good dancer but I seem to manage to get pulled onto the dance floor in foreign cities as part of the free entertainment.

No one else was dancing – but Chris was a local and he was an awesome dancer so I just tried not to step on his feet or fall on the floor when he twirled me.  It was my “Big Easy” moment when Dennis Quaid makes Ellen Barkin dance 😉

 

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/big_easy/

And the band was wonderful.  That would be my discovery that night.  Bourbon Street is full of excellent cover bands.  If you love “Living on a Prayer”, this is your place 🙂  I think I heard it three times!

At that point, though, I was still on my mission to discover Bourbon Street based on my guidebook’s recommendations so, after five dances, I told Chris I was going to listen to some jazz across the street (the Maison Bourbon I have already written about).

a beautiful balcony

a beautiful balcony

I didn’t realize he was coming with me 😉  It changed my whole night.  That was the end of the guidebook.  I now had a local guide – with a delicious Louisiana accent 😉  One of the best life skills I ever developed was an ability to talk to strangers.  It’s more art than science but I always try my best to connect with locals when I travel so that I get a traveller experience rather than a tourist one.

As Chris confirmed, finding a local on Bourbon Street on Friday night is not an easy task.  But his friend had not shown and he loved to dance so there he was, looking for a dance partner.

He was more interested in cover tunes than jazz so I just went with the flow.  I knew I had two more nights to find some jazz and it would be more fun to just follow his lead.

So I heard a lot of Bon Jovi 🙂  And Aerosmith.  Some Def Leppard.  Chris knew all the tunes and would sing along.  He couldn’t believe I didn’t know this music.  But, when they played “4 Non Blondes”, I was the one who could identify the band!

An indie rock chick dancing to “Living on a Prayer” as interpreted by a Bourbon Street cover band is not a normal sight.  But I have always been very democratic about my musical experiences.  At heart I am a music snob – but opening yourself to new experiences and new people enriches your life.

You end up dancing until 4am.  You get to walk down Bourbon Street with a “to go cup” – and have some drunken kid bang into you with nary an apology so that you end up with a beer facial.  But your gallant local guide offers his sleeve to wipe your dripping face.  You learn some new tunes.  You get walked back to your hotel in the middle of the night.  You get some insight into the city you are visiting from a local.

And – most importantly – you create a unique memory that will last long after the trip is over…

 

winding my way to the mississippi…

Get ready!  There is going to be a lot to talk about… why you haven’t actually heard anything from New Orleans.  I was busy trying to do everything on my list – once I managed to make one – in three days.  But I came pretty close 🙂  And definitely have lots of great tips for anyone travelling to the city.

The plan is to organize my thoughts a bit and group activities and stories together so it won’t be a play-by-play of every moment in New Orleans but the moments will get captured.

To start us off, I am going to commence at almost the beginning… the first moment I took the trip seriously and tried to actually DO something in any event.  We will talk about the first night but, due to all the work commitments that extended right up until the moment I got on the plane, it was just an aimless stroll without any sort of plan.  But serendipity hit and it ended up being a wonderfully memorable evening!

I knew I had to get off Bourbon Street though and see something of the city.  My guidebook had recommended a steamboat trip on the Mississippi so I wandered into what I thought was an official tourism centre.  Not so much… really just people trying to pitch you tours.  But the young guy pitching the tour had a sweet disposition so I wanted to help him make quota and there was a brochure for the Natchez so I asked if he could book me on it so that he could earn his commission.  (I think I ended up overpaying so would recommend just going to the Natchez to buy your ticket but the US economy is suffering so I was there to help 😉

It also provided the agenda for the afternoon.  At that point I could locate Canal, Bourbon and the street I lived on (even though I didn’t know what it was called).  But my first step in a new city is always to walk around so I know where I’m going without having to pull out a map too much and look like a tourist.

At that point I was on Royal so wandered down a bit.  It’s a gorgeous street and fulfilled my Disney dream of the French Quarter.  It really IS as cute and charming as Walt portrayed it.

It’s also filled with dudes who have the same charisma and raffish charm Dennis Quaid exemplified in “The Big Easy.”  I don’t know if they birth shy people in New Orleans 😉  They definitely birth people who know how to party.

here come the beads!

here come the beads!

I had only been wandering for a short while and I heard a parade!  It isn’t Mardi Gras so I wondered what was up.  Of course I always head toward the happening when I travel.  It’s how you really get to experience the place.  It looked like a St. Patrick’s Day parade, complete with copious quantities of green beads.  But it was March 8th, not March 17th, so I wondered what was up.

Well, my photos are not so great because taking out my camera and standing still made me a target for lively guys brandishing green beads, which I quickly discovered were meant to be placed around my neck in exchange for a kiss.  Cheeky dudes 😉

But I did learn what was going on!  Apparently it was a PRACTICE parade!  Only in New Orleans would they have a practice parade J.  Later in the day, I was talking to another tourist who had also seen the practice parade.  As he astutely pointed out, this way they get to party TWICE for the same occasion 😉

It certainly got my trip off to a roaring start.  And I had free beads as souvenirs!

Once I had dispensed with the practice parade, I took a long, meandering tour of the Quarter and tried to take some photos to add to these posts.  Unfortunately for you, my camera is brand new so I am still learning.  Next time I am in New Orleans, the photos will be better 😉

I definitely learned that the first few sleazy blocks of Bourbon Street I had encountered my first night were not really New Orleans at all.  There was a tremendous amount of serendipity on this trip – and only wonderful encounters with strangers – so I ended up at the French Market without even consulting my map.

It’s the original Native American trading post, later used by the French and the Spanish to trade all sorts of cool stuff between the colonies and fancy Europe.  Now it’s filled mostly with junk made in China or Bangladesh but it’s still fun and festive to wander through.  And there are some gems if you look for them.  My favourite souvenir came from my second visit to the French Market – but that’s part of another tale…

The most intriguing thing I saw at the market was alligator!  Alligator heads, alligator on a stick, alligator bites… luckily no one walking an

gators and masks

gators and masks

alligator on a leash.  I wasn’t hungry at the time so haven’t tried it.  But learned as the days went on that it is really big in Louisiana and I will definitely have to check it out on the next visit…

http://www.frenchmarket.org/history/

I figured then that I was close to the river so wandered in that direction and there it was – the mighty Mississippi.  As dirty looking as I expected.  I grew up due north of the Mississippi and, as a child, I dreamed of taking a steamboat the length of it.  I did read a lot of Mark Twain 🙂

For now I was just going to settle for two hours on a steamboat – but I wanted to find it to be prepared for the next day.  Once I reached the river, my steamboat was easy to spot.

But first I spotted a lone gentleman playing a West African drum.  I took a photo of him and his music was really good so I thought I should give

the mighty mississippi!

the mighty mississippi!

him a tip.  It was money well spent.  We ended up having a conversation and I found out he was from Ghana.

I also found out he was a good guy.  Some young men came by and chatted with him while I was there.  Apparently one of them had lost his ID and the Ghanaian drummer had found it and gone to great trouble to get it back to him.  He’d done the same for some drunken teacher during Mardi Gras.  It really seemed to be the spirit of the place.  If you were standing on the street and looked a bit quizzical, someone would be checking if you needed assistance.  You hardly even needed a map 🙂

So, we’ve made it to the Mississippi!  Lots more happened that day.  I got to bed about 5am!  But we will let the stories unfold in themes.  New Orleans is a place for storytelling so I will do my best to reveal it like a good story.

To circle back to my questions… there is definitely a pretty, surreal, Disney vibe to the French Quarter.  There is a lot of music in New Orleans.  It’s not all jazz but you can find jazz (and I did!) but what is more delightful is the many varied musical styles you will stumble across just wandering the streets.  There is no shortage of charm in the men of Louisiana – and they have that delectable accent… 😉

getting to the “big easy” not so easy…

I have not abandoned my blog. I just made the usual mistake of booking travel time a couple of months in advance when my future schedule looked really quiet.  Eventually I will get to my semi-retirement phase and that will be true.  But working does pay for the travel so happy to NOT be unemployed 🙂

Last year I threw a splashy, almost year-long birthday celebration.  As I learned at 41, not many people are interested in non-milestone birthdays (unless you are under 21).  So I decided to take myself to New Orleans to celebrate.

It’s been on my list for a long time.  The image in my head comes from a few divergent sources.

The first – my mother’s obsession with everything Disney, which led to an early visit to New Orleans the way Walt visualized and imagineered it.  Part of me is expecting to see the entrance to a Pirates of the Caribbean ride down an alley off Bourbon Street 🙂  And a French quarter as pretty and fake as the one in Disneyland.

The second voice in my head creating images of New Orleans belongs to Richard, a boyfriend from my twenties.  The man who introduced me to jazz.  He felt it peaked with bebop and that the tenor saxophone is the most perfect instrument.  Not only do I still have his pictorial “history of jazz” in my memory box, I also have strong feelings about jazz, including a love of bebop and a weakness for great improvisation on a saxophone 😉

The final image I bring to the city is Dennis Quaid in “The Big Easy”, an early crush.  Not really on Dennis Quaid, but on the cop he played in the film.  The good guy with a gigantic slice of Cajun charm capable of seducing uptight northern girls…

I am writing this in the Denver airport en route…  so we shall see what kind of stew – or jambalaya – the city of New Orleans really is.

Will there be some cute Disneyesque architecture?  Will I hear some great jazz?  Will a Cajun gentleman with a southern accent sweep me off my feet?

That is the wonder of travel.  The anticipation of the unknown.  The discovery of other cultures.  The personal voyage as you mix with the new place and learn new things about yourself.

This is my first visit to the south.  Granted this is not really “the south” of the Confederates.  But they ain’t no Yankees!  Or laidback west coast Liberals.  I will be in a country I have travelled extensively but yet be in a foreign land.

Louisiana represents a fascinating piece of North American history.  Had the French played their cards better in this part of the world, we might all be learning French as our lingua de commerce instead of English.

Stay tuned for the full report on the REAL “Big Easy” circa 2013.  Post Katrina.  Post Saints Super Bowl victory.  Sans Dennis Quaid 😉

 

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