Aug 27

New Orleans – a mixed bag

by in Architecture, Culture, People, Personal reflections, Photography, Tourist traps

I was disappointed and disgusted by New Orleans on the day of my arrival.

Well, actually I did not arrive in the day but at night. So I was ready for a bite of food and a beer after a long journey.

Since Bourbon Street – the party street of New Orleans – was nearby, it seemed like a sensible destination to go. And there was certainly something for my senses in Bourbon Street.

The first thing that struck me, as I entered the street, was the horrible stench of horse manure, garbage, urine and vomit that mixed in the hot and humid air. Oh boy…

At the same time my eyes were met with the flashing signs of the various establishments of Bourbon Street. And the first few establishments on the street were exactly “establishments” if you know, what I mean – and I think you do.

If the signs were not enough to get your attention, one or more girls of the said establishments would stand in the doorway “wearing nothing but a button and a bow” – to quote a song by Leiber and Stoller – while pointing at you and yelling: “come heeeeere!”

The girls had to yell pretty loud because the street was like a disco inferno. It seems that the loudspeakers were turned out the windows and doorways in another attempt to get your attention.

The crowd was as thick as the stench, and everybody seemed to be intoxicated to the point where they had lost any inhibition.

From the balconies “pearl” necklaces went flying though the air aimed at the ladies walking on the street. Some would pick them up and in turn flash something the other way. It is apparently a New Orleans tradition…

In the pubs I witnessed a way of “dancing” that I had not seen carried that far before. And I have to admit that I am not ashamed on a dance floor. Let’s give them something to talk about, right?

But hey, the “dry dancing” that I saw that night was a bit over the top. In one place the singer of a band put her big behind over the railing. A guy in the audience would then stick his whole face – well, you know where – and rub it in. His wife cheered him on…

If that was not enough, the big mamma on stage would then turn around, grab his head with one leg around his neck while standing on the other and rubbed his face in again. Meanwhile, another couple was “dry dancing” against the railing. I left…

In fact I left Bourbon Street after a couple of beers and walked back disgusted by the place.

I was thinking to myself – what is this place? Well, it was certainly dirty in every meaning of the word.

It really is a shame, because there is so much history, culture and cuisine in New Orleans, which is easily overshadowed by all the decadence and tacky touristic stuff.

Now, it is not as bad everywhere in Bourbon Street as described above. But being just by myself, being sober and unable to engage anyone in a normal conversation, I took a negative focus, I guess.

However, the next day I started to view New Orleans from a different perspectives. I received an email from my hiking buddy, Tania, who I had met in Yellowstone. She was in town with her colleagues for a convention and invited me to join them for lunch. How nice – I ran to the “Crazy Lobster” to join the group!

We had some nice seafood, and afterwards Tania and I went for smoothie (not smooching) and a chat on a bench overlooking the mighty Mississippi. As mentioned in other posts, the social experiences on my trip are really the best part of it. And it is really amazing how you sometimes can have a great conversation with someone that you have just met recently.

Tania was a bit stricken after a few days of attending the convention (and partying with her colleagues), so she went back to her hotel to get a nap, while I wandered on through town and looked at some of the nice galleries and antique shops in the French quarter.

In the evening I had the opportunity to hang out with Tania and her colleagues again. I really appreciated that. Suddenly, I saw Bourbon Street from another angle as I was now part of a group and could focus on my new friends instead of feeling alienated by the too-much behavior of some of the people.

We had a ball, and I was thankful that I did not have to go straight to the airport like my new friends from Texas.

In fact, I stayed a few more days exploring the Big Easy and trying to discover more of the genuine culture, cuisine and architecture.

It is there – actually, there is so much of it. But it is like grasping for gold nuggets in a muddy stream, if you do not come prepared: you do not know where to reach, the stream might lead you on a detour, you might grab something unintentional and get your hands dirty, if you are not careful…

So, during the next couple of days I tried to grasp those nuggets in the muddy stream and avoiding the cheap offers and the tricksters of the town.

Among other activities, I went for a nice historic walk in the garden district with a very educated guide, Nancy, and a couple of other tourists from New York.

We were just the four of us, so it was a real personal experience and I even had the time to do a bit of photography along the way, setting up my tripod etc.

We started at the historic Lafayette Cemetery, where Nancy explained how a Louisiana burial works.  A family tomb usually consists of a small mausoleum with two burial chambers – one above the other.

When somebody dies, the body is placed in the chamber below in a thin wooden casket. When the next family member passes – if at least one year and one day has passed – the burial chamber will be cleaned out and the remains moved to the “second floor” with the rest of the family. You see, after a year of “cooking” (as Nancy put it) in the Louisiana heat and humidity, the body and casket is broken down almost completely. Only the scull and pelvis may be left with the remaining dust…

We went on to see a lot of interesting homes in the beautiful garden district – a very nice break from dirty downtown. As we stopped at the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, where he in fact died, I had to ask Nancy how southerners feel about the civil war.

I had expected a rather complicated explanation, but almost before I finished the question, Nancy blurted out: “we should have won!”

Nancy went on to explain how Lincoln had not freed (all) the slaves; that the proclamation of emancipation was only directed at the Confederate States as a measure of war. The slaves of the rest of the country (Union states and various other areas) were only freed in 1865 when congress passed the 13th amendment, she informed me.

Well, I learn and experience something new every day. Hmmm…

Nancy could also tell a ghost story or two. In her house, the pictures would come off the wall. They would not fall down and break. No, the ghost of a young woman would gently pick them down and put them on the floor. Hmmm, Nancy, maybe you husband is playing tricks with you!

Anyway, it seemed like a fitting story, as we would soon pass the house not only of local residents Sandra Bullock and John Goodman, but also the birthplace of Ann Rice, who wrote “Interview with the Vampire” – which by the way was filmed in part at Oak Alley Plantation, which I would later visit.

I highly recommend such a walk in the garden district, if you visit New Orleans.

Back in dirty downtown I continued to explore and grasp for the golden nuggets in the muddy stream of New Orleans. One nugget was easy to locate: Preservation Hall just off Bourbon Street. The building truly looks dilapidated and the interior is even “worse” – but that is part of its charm! And every night it comes alive with original and acoustic New Orleans jazz without any amplification whatsoever. It is great – go there, if you are in N’awlins!

I also got to hear some great amplified music in another street – where you definitely have to go, if you are in town – Frenchmen Street. It is just off the French quarter, but more authentic than the tourist district. There are lots of places with live music on Frenchmen Street – and as opposed to Bourbon Street it is fortunately not a bunch of Bon Jovi cover bands. It is the real thing.

One night I heard the greatest blues-jazz-funk I have ever experienced. The band was smoking hot. In the middle of a set a blind gentleman, who looked like the ghost of Ray Charles, stepped up to the vintage Fender Rhodes and set the place on fire. Well, it looked like his fingers were on fire the way he played. And what music he/they made; man it rocked – or as a native son of Louisiana, Jerry Lee Lewis, once put it: “down in Louisiana, we call that boogie-woogie…”

By the way, in that pub I had the good fortune of meeting a nice young couple, Kim and Jason, from Chicago. They seemed to match each other perfectly like yin and yang. Kim had her 32nd birthday and probably had a drink or two to celebrate it. Or perhaps she just let all of her charisma and extrovert personality shine through on her birthday. Jason on the other hand was calm as a rock taking in the experience of the band in a cool relaxed fashion. I enjoyed hanging out with my new friends for a couple of drinks and enjoying the incredible band together. By the way, thanks guys, for the party photos – I really appreciate it! ;-)

As I walked home, I passed a couple of poetry writers on the street. They were typing away on old typewriters, writing poetry at demand. One of them was sitting on a chair. The other was sitting in a (clean) trashcan on a cushion. Hmm…

As I approached my hotel, I was approached myself by a working girl, but she was fortunately no hassle. Then next a fat rat crossed the street and literally ran over my feet as it headed for the basement of a luxury hotel, which I will leave unnamed.

Yes, New Orleans is a mixed bag indeed. But do go to the Big Easy to visit – especially if you have somebody to go with. Just prepare yourself so that you know in advance where to find the golden nuggets of your interest. Then you can have a great time spiced with some rather unusual impressions…

To my surprise, I was almost thrown out of Jackson Square for setting up my tripod to take a photo of the equestrian statue and the cathedral. Notice that this is one of the rare equestrian statues, where the horse is only resting on two legs. Usually, the statue is also resting on the tail for structural strength.

 

St. Louis Cathedral is a catholic church.

 

I met Giovanni just around the corner from Jackson Square. He was down on his luck and I gave him a buck or two. In turn he posed for a photo or two. I promised to tell everybody to go look for Giovanni, if you go to New Orleans!

 

Preservation Hall also looks like it has been through a lot. It is a great place to experience authentic New Orleans jazz.

 

There is a woodoo shop just across the street from Preservation Hall. Here is the shop's window display.

 

A waitress, Rita, was hanging out in the doorway waiting for guests. She kindly offered me a glass of water as she saw that I was dehydrated. In return I took her portrait and this silhouette as I cooled off inside.

 

Certain parts of Bourbon Street are quite dirty...

 

...in every sense of the word. I will spare you from pictures from this spot at night, when the "staff" started working...

 

Here is another shot from Bourbon Street before sunset, when the creatures of the night would really come out. I was heading back for my hotel as I did not want to get stranded there with all my photo equipment.

 

A residence in the French quarter a bit earlier in the day. I think somebody likes white here...

 

Here are a couple of garden cottages in the French quarter. I used the Canon TS-E 24mm II to blur the top and bottom of the photo - but it really only shows at the bottom as there is no detail in the sky. A nice effect, I think.

 

Now we are in the garden district, which is much nicer and cleaner. I just love the the Greek revival architecture and the columns.

 

Here is another set of columns. Former President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, died in this home in the garden district. He was first laid to rest in New Orleans. Later his remains were moved to Richmond, Virginia.

 

The members of a secret society are resting in these tombs. Nobody knows exactly what it was about, because the last member burned all the papers of the secret society before passing away. Your guess is as good as mine...

 

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6 Responses to “New Orleans – a mixed bag”

  1. From Tania:

    Woo hoo! I made the blog twice! Scoreboard! :) It was so nice to catch up with you a second time. Wishing you the best!

    Posted on August 31, 2011 at 19:29 #
    • From Erik Thrane:

      Thanks a lot Tania!

      You certainly have made the blog again – that is how it goes with cool people! ;-)

      Best regards
      Erik

      Posted on August 31, 2011 at 19:59 #
  2. From Thomas Mikkelsen:

    Great story, Erik. It’s almost 20 years since I visited New Orleans and I must admit your story brings back some great memories. We really had a ball on Bourbon Street with live Jazz music – and maybe also a couple of those Dancers you describe. But I guess being twenty will probably let you appriciate such spectacles a little more :-)

    Keep up the good writing – we’re following you from good old Europe…

    Cheers

    Thomas

    Posted on September 3, 2011 at 17:48 #
    • From Erik Thrane:

      Hi Thomas

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment – you know feedback such as yours is what makes it worth while doing the blog!

      Best regards
      Erik

      Posted on September 3, 2011 at 17:55 #
  3. From Lis Nordahl:

    Hello my friend

    I heard yesterday about all huricanes in US and especially at the east coast
    where you are now!
    Promise mee to be careful
    In Denmark – Lars Løkke is going better
    We talks

    Lis Nordahl

    Posted on September 5, 2011 at 07:25 #
    • From Erik Thrane:

      Hello Lizzie

      Thanks for caring about me!

      I left New Orleans a while ago. When I was at the “Bounty Beach” in Destin, Forida a front approached, soo I moved on to Jacksonville Beach on the Atlantic Coast. Then bad weather came there…

      Now I am in historic Charleston, South Carolina where I expect to visit the old slave market among other sites. Bad weather is apparently approaching, but I think it will hit further north, before I head in that direction.

      You also take care!

      Best regards
      Erik

      Posted on September 5, 2011 at 13:56 #