Friday, February 26, 2021

Adventures in the South - New Orleans, Part 1

It was the morning after the night before in Lafayette, Louisiana, and we were up and about and ready to hit the road for New Orleans.  If you want to read about our Lafayette layover, you’ll find that episode here.  Or if you don’t know what this Adventues In The South business is all about, you can go right back to the beginning here.
We headed back along Highway 10, and the 18 mile long, stilts-over-gator-country Atchafalaya Basin Bridge towards Baton Rouge.  But from there we didn’t take the direct route to New Orleans.  Our plan instead was to take the scenic route, and approach New Orleans via the Lake
The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway
Pontchartrain Causeway – the longest continuous bridge in the world, at nearly 24 miles.  This detour wouldn’t take us much longer – or at least wouldn’t have done if a landmark like this was clearly signposted.  But no – here’s the longest continuous bridge in the world, which is even name-checked in John Hiatt’s much-loved, much-covered song ‘Feels Like Rain’, and you’d scarcely know it existed from the road signs.  Bizarre.  So we managed to plough on across the state line into Mississippi, where we had to make an impromptu pit stop at a State Park or some such to do an about turn.
Second time lucky, we found the turn-off, and then the bridge.  And it is remarkable, arrowing south across the lake, and over the horizon to N’Awlins – not jaw-dropping, but worth the diversion.
We dropped our hire car at the airport, as we wouldn’t need it for the remaining few days of our trip, and took a cab to our lodgings.  For New Orleans my other half Jill had selected the Hotel le Marais in the French Quarter, just a few steps from Bourbon Street.  Very nice it was too, as we chilled out after the drive (during which we had blessed the aircon as the temperature hit new heights) and the cab ride, by sinking into the pool in the rear courtyard with a couple of cocktails
Hotel le Marais hangs out the flags for us
– Strawberry Mimosas being the order of the day.
Later, in the course of a first wander around, we enjoyed some grilled oysters in one of the numerous local oyster bars.  Then we took the very warm evening air in Bourbon Street, and ended up in one of its well-known music haunts, the Famous Door.  Here we were treated to a soul and R’n’B, so cool one of them was wearing wraparound shades, whipping through a set of classic covers in most satisfying style.  The audience – a decent number for midweek – was rather less cool mind you, as it included a high proportion of Elks.  No, not the big beasts with coatrack antlers, of course.  These middle-aged folks were members of the Order of Elks, one of those fraternal societies so popular in the States, and their bright yellow t-shirts announced they were in town for a Convention.  The Order of Elks is very keen on God, the Flag and the Constitution – but less keen on black members until the 70s, and still not wild about women members.  That
One of the more genteel Bourbon St buildings
evening though, the Elk types – of both sexes – seemed mostly intent on having a few beers and shaking their booty to the band.
When the band took a break we spread our wings and found a bar further up the road where a jazz quartet was in action.  Rather good they were too, with an exuberant drummer who was really throwing himself into it, and a trumpet player who in my recollection bore a startling resemblance to the actor Chiwetel Ejiofor.  What was most noticeable though, was that they were competing with some rock bar across the street, which was blasting out the likes of Bon Jovi with the volume turned up to 11.  If this was the cause of the slightly pained expression that often crossed the face of our trumpeter, then I sympathised.
That trumpeter’s expression, I have to say, sums up my abiding impression of Bourbon Street.  It’s tacky.  People wander up and down it carrying large, garishly designed plastic vessels filled with high voltage concoctions named “Hurricanes”, “Hand Grenades” and such like.  Here and there along the way they pass by a selection of strip joints, with window displays that make their repertoire clear – even to the pre-teens dutifully trailing along in the company of Mom and Pop.  It smells a bit too, like once a week the whole avenue gets sluiced down with slops from the beer.
Appealing, huh?  Well, it still has some plus points.  And there’s more to New Orleans than Bourbon Street!

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