Don't wear Sparkly Ass Jeans in the airport
Write a colourful story for the ‘Hello Yellow’ online journal, he said, and do it in 800 words, he said (Impossible). Hello Yellow, Hello Yellow, Hello Yellow travel journal. It had been a while since I thumbed through its tattered pages. Nonetheless, I’m looking to tell a colourful story, my three days in New Orleans might just be the tale to tell.
Fig. 1, My yellow travel Journal.
As I packed my bags for the last time before heading home, I was exhausted. This was the end of my self-indulgent bucket list road trip to celebrate my 50th birthday. Seventeen days ago, I flew into Phoenix Arizona and fell in love with a place called Scottsdale. Who wouldn’t, it had a shop that had a floor area of an acre, filled with cowboy boots. I left buying only one pair.
Fig. 2, Boots bought in Scottsdale.
From there I went to Tucson where I spent seven days and nights being a City Slicker, at a Ranch called ‘White Stallion’.
Fig. 3, White Stallion Ranch.
Fig. 4, What else would ya be doing on yer 50th birthday.
Then I hired a car and drove to Tombstone (That’s a tale for another day) where I spent a few nights at Marie’s (creepy) Engaging B and B. Back on the road and drove for six hours straight to get to El-Paso for a few more nights, I ate at Rosas Cantina and bought another pair of boots.
Fig. 5, Boots from El Paso.
And from that west Texas town of El-paso I boarded a train that took thirty hours to cross the lone star state of Texas to end up in the most colourful city of New Orleans. The first two weeks of Cowboy and Western shenanigans had nothing to do with New Orleans, the opportunity presented itself and I took it without question.
I had booked every tour and excursion I could squeeze into my last three days of self-indulgence. I started off with the Voodoo walking tour through St Louis Cemetery No# 1, the cemetery visit was by guide only since Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda had caused outrage with their demonic capers in said cemetery while filming Easy Rider many moons ago. The Tombs and Ovens as they are called are mostly above ground as it had been known that bodies were seen to rise from the earth during prolonged wet weather periods. The city of New Orleans is only just above sea level - this is how it earned the name ‘City of the Dead’. There were many tombstones with Irish names, Kelly, Delaney, Murphy.
Fig. 6, A Tomb nameplate, Murphy.
Fig. 8, The old Tombs/Ovens Saint Lewis Cemetery No #1.
Fig. 7, Saint Louise Cemetery No.#1.
Nonetheless, I was mildly disappointed that there was not a Vampire in sight. Yes, the Vampire phenomena that had swept the world over hadn’t pass me by, however it did have the tomb of Marie Laveau, the famous Voodoo queen of New Orleans. Her fans and followers would book tours of the cemetery incognito and leave offerings and mark her tomb with three X’s.
Fig. 9, The tomb of Marie Laveau.
If your wish or spell came true, you were to return to the cemetery and draw a circle around your three X’s. I was also secretly hoping to see the funeral of a local, with all the pomp and ceremony that is seen on television with big brass bands and a field commander leading the way. Alas, it was not to be. At the end of the tour, we were given a Gris-Gris bag, a Voodoo talisman of the spooky, good luck kind.
Next on my list was Coffee and Beignet’s at Café Du Monde. I can only compare this to having a Guinness when you’d visit Ireland. The Café was wedged with every other tourist having the same idea at the same time.
Fig. 10, Café Du Monde.
I joined the lengthy line for a takeaway. The lady to my left struck up a conversation telling me she was from ‘’Outatown’’. Her eyes lit up when she heard my Irish accent, she then went headlong into a speech about how exciting it must be in Ireland on Saint Patty’s Day. She was puzzled by the blank look on my face that was disguising the fact that my brain had just exploded inside my skull. This Saint Patty thing is a pet hate of mine. I asked her did she know where this Saint Patty thing started? She said Ireland, I said no. We sorted out that Patty was Marg Simpson’s sister, and the patron saint of Ireland was Saint Patrick, and the 17th of March may be called Saint Patrick’s Day or Paddy’s Day. She said that she would spread the word to the rest of America. I got my Café au Lait and Beignet, left her with her task and headed for Jackson Park with my New Orleans staple. I found myself a quiet park bench and tucked into my treat.
Fig. 11, Café au Lait and Beignet in the park.
Decided to take a wander over to where I was to get the coach for the Swamp tour the following day, which was to follow my Steamboat excursion. The Steamboat wasn’t at the quay side yet, but I could see the coach for the Swamp tour boarding. I had them booked so I’d get off one and straight on to the other. I enquired at the ticket desk nearby about the two tours meeting up. 'What’s your name, Mam?'. 'Daniels', I answered. 'You are booked for the Swamp tour today, Mam! The bus is boarding now, Mam!' What can I say, my Gris-Gris bag had just performed its first miracle.
I had chosen the slow meandering swamp boat over the Air boat. Beside the fact that you had to wear ear defenders, the boats were whizzing by so fast everything must have been a blur.
Fig. 12, Air boat in the bayou,
The swamp or bayous were everything I expected and more. The variety of wildlife both in and out of the water was enthralling.
Fig. 13, A tree draped in Spanish Moss.
There was even feed the wild alligator’s marshmallows on a stick thrown in for good measure, I gave that a miss. I had seen these beasts leap several feet straight out of the water for their prey.
Fig. 14, Feeding the savage beast marshmallows.
This was followed by hold the baby alligator for touristy photo moments. He was just a baby, what harm could he do, so I stepped up. The alligator’s name was T-boy, he felt weird. He looked wet, but wasn’t, and I’m not ashamed to say that the only thought that was going through my mind was, when he grows up, he’d make a lovely pair of cowboy boots.
Fig. 15, Me and my new friend T-boy.
Fig. 16, Tombs in the swamp.
Back to the city again and honestly, I was so hungry I would have eaten T-boy. However tonight I wanted to try a Po-boy, another New Orleans staple. The bus driver directed me to a little place nearby to eat. I have found on my travels that it’s always a safe bet to eat where the locals eat. I ordered the Po-boy and French Onion soup. The Po-boy got its name way back when there were Poor Boy’s. This was a cheap and cheerful meal for extraordinarily little money. Over the years restaurants had cashed in on the Po-boy appeal and it had now become a glorified roll that was big enough for three, the soup was second to none.
Fig. 17, The New Orleans Po-boy.
I still had time and took a walk down Bourbon Street. What can I say except it is the maddest ducking place on the planet. The day was now done and so was I. With the humidity almost unbearable now, my hair had taken on a strange form and was something a kin to a Perm I had back in the early 90’s. Between the heat and humidity I couldn’t get my head around the fact that it was only eight days to Christmas. I boarded the Saint Charles streetcar and headed to my Airbnb back in the ‘hood’.
Fig. 18, Saint Charles streetcar.
Up early, checked my itinerary for the day to avoid any mishaps, and take the pressure of the Gris-gris bag, off I go. The steamboat was waiting by the quay tooting its horn while passengers boarded. The boat called the Natchez was the only steam powered boat left in New Orleans. All the other boats had converted to diesel engines. We had left the quay side now and the tooting continued. Crikey, it was loud, but I didn’t really care, there I was, taking a Steamboat ride on the Mighty Mississippi, just watching the word go by.
Fig. 19 & Fig. 20, The Steamboat.
I looked around the boat and got myself a $4 coffee that was clearly made from Mississippi mud. The resident jazz band had started up a session inside on the main deck. It was easy listening popular Jazz, so I venture inside, and great there was free shite coffee.
Fig. 21, The Jazz band on The Natchez.
Back on dry land and my coach was waiting to do the extended city tour. We visited another cemetery called Saint Louis cemetery No #3, it was such a contrast to the Saint Louis Cemetery No #1. One of the tombs was built like a castle, and the name on it was Kelly. Even in death an Irish man’s home is his castle
Fig. 22, Kelly’s Castle.
On the tour we visited two city parks, we had time for a coffee in one and where I sat under a mighty white oak tree draped in Spanish moss, where I spoke to an ugly duck as it waddled on by.
Fig. 23, Time for a coffee in the park.
Fig. 24, Ugly duck with his Misses.
Back on the road again, we were brought by Plantation houses & city Mansions, Colonel & Antebellum houses, Cajun, and Creole homes, & the most colourful homes of the Haitians.
Fig. 25, A colorful Haitian home.
Once again, the tour was excellent. Back in the city again and I wander around the Art for sale area outside of Jackson Park.
Fig. 26, Art for sale at Jackson Park.
People are busking and performing to huge crowds in Jackson square. There are a lot of carriages in the city that are an alternative mode of transport, but they are all pulled by mules. Even the mules are colourful, some had nail polish on their hoofs.
Fig. 27, Crowds being entertained at Jacksons square.
Fig. 28, Mule and carriage.
Fig. 30, Mules and their carriages at Jackson Park.
Fig. 29, Mule and his stylish owner.
Boarded the streetcar and head back to the hood early tonight. Tomorrow is a self-guided local wander and buy souvenirs day.
I bought a day travel pass and get the bus into the city. The French Flea market is first on the list, I get the streetcar to the end of the line, where the coolest thing happened, before the passengers disembark, they all flipped over the seats, so the backrest is now the seat, and the seat is the backrest, ready for heading back in the other direction
The Flea market was full of aromas from the outdoor cafes and food vendors. But had little else of any interest. However, I spent some time wandering around the stalls looking for a turquoise bracelet. I had travelled across several states and still hadn’t found a bracelet I liked, something that stopped me in my tracks and said BUY ME kind of bracelet. Back out on the streets again and I’m surrounded by Voodoo shops. I look inside one out of sheer curiosity, Tarot cards and herbs, Voodoo dolls and beads, nothing too sinister on show, but Voodoo is sacred here and I’m sure behind the curtains there would be practices of a nature that was not for tourists.
I keep moving and spot a little jewellery shop in a side street, in I go for look. Yes, I see a beautiful bracelet. The lady wanted $125 for it. I try it on, then the lady said, go and have a coffee, and think about it while she gave it a polish. I do that and return. She had it polished, I’m loving it even more. Then she said you can have it for $100, SOLD!
All hail the Gris-gris bag.
Fig. 31, Turquoise bracelet.
There was entertainment on every street corner. Came across a performing drunk dog and his metallic owner and dressed up cars blaring music.
Fig. 32, A very modest performing Dog.
Fig. 33, Fancy musical car.
The next place to visit is Frenchman Street. This is where all the cool music establishments are. The first one I come across is The Spotted Cat. I had seen this place on Richard E. Grant's best hotels T.V. series. In I go and order a beer. There were some cool art works hanging on the walls. It’s not too busy and there are a couple on stage warming up for a performance. The entertainment begins, Sweet Holey Cheeses, it should have been called ‘The Strangled Cat that was being used as a set of Bagpipes’. Perhaps that name may be a bit too long, but Ooooh no, that contemporary jazz stuff is not for me.
Fig. 34, Inside the Spotted Cat.
It was getting dark now, so I move swiftly on to the next place. I hadn’t gone far when I meet a brass band and field commander leading the way. All marching to the beat of the music. Another tick off the bucket list and now me and the Gris-gris bag will never be parted.
Fig. 35, The Marching Brass band.
Next intriguing moment I saw was, a fat ass cop on a fat ass bike, smoking a fat ass cigar while tapping his toes to the beats pumping out from a dive bar.
Fig. 36, Cop, Bike Cigar.
My own toes started tapping too, the music is fascinatingly catchy, I ventured into Lafitte's Blacksmith Bar. The atmosphere was engaging, and the Cajun and Zydeco music was fantastic. I see a cocktail menu and order myself a Louisiana frozen Voodoo Daiquiri. Had no idea what was in it, it was a reddish-purple colour and gave me brain freeze several times over, so I had another one. It wasn’t long before one of the locals started chatting and the lively crowd in the bar were celebrating the life of a friend that died the previous week, after being stabbed. That was probably where the brass band had been coming from and it was also my cue to leave.
Fig. 37, The sign outside Lafitte’s Blacksmith bar.
Next place I visit is an open air bar, looked civilised and had an older crowd, unlike some places on the street. The music was decent Jazz, songs I recognised. Regardless, my feet were tired, and I could smoke a cigarette in peace.
Fig. 38, Open air bar on Bourbon Street.
Ooooh, they have Louisiana frozen Daiquiris here too, different colour from the last ones and even more tasty.
Fig. 39, Louisiana frozen Daiquiri.
I decide to write a few things in my journal just in case the Daiquiris clouded my memory. Cigarette, drinkies, decent trumpet playing (I love the trumpet, went to Mexico once just to hear a Mariachi band). I was in a happy place. Well, I was until an ould fella leaned over my shoulder and said are you writing a diary? Holy Sweet Cheeses, the screech I let out, would have gotten me a gig in ‘The Strangled Cat that was being used as a set of Bagpipes’ place. He plonked himself down beside me. He was old, half plastered and harmless. His name was Alan. He was full of chat and was drinking a ‘Grenade’. Minutes later we were joined by his wife Marie. She was very apologetic about her husband and said she had only taken her eyes of him for a minute. They stayed and chatted for a bit, they were from Texas and came to New Orleans this time every year as she had family here. Then Alan asked was I married as he had a brother back in Texas that was looking for a wife and he proposed by proxy for him. His brother was a 70-year-old dude. There was a bonus as he was a millionaire and had oilwells. I declined the offer and again Marie apologised for her husband. Two more Daiquiris and I may have considered the proposal. They left shortly after that, and I gathered up my belongings and moved on too.
The chaos on the streets was in full swing. I wobbled up the street and came across men is skirts, another with a top hat and wings. All kind enough to pose for a photo.
Fig. 40, Man in his frilly skirt.
Fig. 41, Man with his Top hat and wings.
Further along were policewomen perched on their ponies like the great Joan of Arc, keeping law and order on the streets.
Fig.42, Joan of Arc statue. New Orleans adopted daughter.
Fig. 43, Policewomen on horseback, patrolling the streets.
I get the bus back to the Hood this evening, It’s a shorter walk to the Airbnb on the other side. I was tired, but what an eventful day. I met some of the friendliest people ever and some of the weirdest people ever. I learned that every conversation in New Orleans must include the word 'Katrina' and 'Contemporary Jazz is not for me'. I buy a Cajun and Zydeco CD just before I get the bus. This really is a city that never sleeps. At this moment I could travel forever, and my heart is sad and glad at the same time. I’m sad my road trip is at an end, but I’m so glad and proud of myself that I was brave enough to do this on my own. And New Orleans was a bonus and had been outstanding.
Fig. 44, Thank you, please call again.
My bags are packed and weighed, and not an ounce over the allowance. I’m showered and ready for the off. I sit out on the stoop of the Airbnb in the hood and have a last cigarette before heading for the airport. Taxi arrives on time and a lovely kind black man puts my heavy bags into the trunk of his car. 'Where are you flying to?', he asks. 'I’m flying home to Ireland', I tell him. 'Ireland', he says! 'Tell me do you really have to pay for plastic bags in the grocery stores?' 'Yes, we do', I said, 'but we have become pretty good at recycling the same bags over and over'. Next question, 'Does the Blarney stone really work?' I could hardly draw breath I was laughing so hard. 'It does', I said, 'and Big Foot came to visit it last year!' We nearly left the motorway we were laughing so much. Then he decides to sing me several Irish songs. He must have written them himself, never heard of any of them. We arrive at the airport and he puts my bags on a trolly and bids me fare well.
Two hours before by my flight I decide to check in. My hands are free now and I’m allowed carry on, I decide to have a look around the Duty-Free shops. I line up for the first security check. BEEP BEEP BEEP. I set off several alarms. I empty my pockets and take off my belt and boots. BEEP BEEP BEEP. Security come at me with a handheld metal detector. BEEP BEEP BEEP. They find the cause of the alarms. The rhinestones and sparkly stuff on the ass pockets of my jeans. There was no alternative, I either take them off or let them search my pockets. I opt for the latter. All clear and I am allowed through the gates.
Fig. 45, The offending garment.
I browse around and make a few purchases. The tobacco is dirt cheap and I buy a six-month supply. Don’t even have to carry it as it will be loaded on the plane with my corresponding flight number. Another security check leaving the duty-free area. I’m hoping for the best. BEEP BEEP BEEP. I save them the trouble and say It’s my ass pockets. Another search is conducted. I head for the internal departure lounge. Oh no, another security check ahead. Gone well past duty free now so I cannot even buy another pair of jeans. BEEP BEEP BEEP. In the departure lounge and only a half hour to boarding time. I relax and then suddenly remember: I must get a connecting flight in Boston. BEEP BEEP BEEP.
So.... don't wear Sparkly Ass Jeans in the Airport.