Usually when I visit NOLA I hit up my old haunts, the same places I’ve been to time and time again. This time was different. This time my sister and I went for Halloween weekend and almost all the things we did were novel to me.
Friday: We drove all day. Traffic made the trip 11 hours, a stretch from the usual 8 1/2. Once in our hostel off Canal street, we decided to head to Frenchman street. We brought bikes to transport our fleshy exteriors, which made getting around a breeze. No need to call for an Uber driver (a hip service I have never used). We rode to Frenchman and parked where we pleased. We found some good music at our spot Vaso. We meanderd some more, and ran into a group playing on the street. There was a keyboardist, a guy on an effects machine, and an extremely skilled violinist. The genre seemed to be hip hop/trance style beats with wicked gypsy violin. My sister also plays violin, and we were amazed at how dexterous this guy was with the thing. He danced around wildly whilst sawing out electric clear notes all jambled together to produce his hypnotic tunes. In the middle of a lick he would throw the bow to the ground in one blurry motion and play the thing staccato horizontally. We danced at the front of the crowd alternating faces of enthusiasm and disbelief with sips of high-quality spirits. After a while, we decided to retire and started the thigh-strengthening ride back to the hostel.
Saturday: Oak Alley Plantation, a place straight outta Interview with a Vampire. Our frugal energy manifested itself once again. Adult tickets were $22 and for minors it was $8. I told my sister we’d try to get her in as a minor to save some fundage for drinks and food later. Luckily for us, the lad at the ticket booth gave her a toddler ticket. Free entry for her! The ticket checker ripped them up, and we were elated to have gotten two people in for the price of one. The house was gorgeous. But, none of the info signs described the horror of the institution of slavery for what it was. We joined a tour around 2:00 pm. One tidbit of info that stood out to me: Back in the day: “it took a rich cotton plantation owner to make a poor sugar plantation owner.” Later that night we hit Frenchman again. Not quite the same scene as the previous. We dressed up as a pirate and mime. Enter a slew of drunken political and social justice conversations, subjects on which my little sister is highly keen.
Sunday: We rode around the Bywater on our bikes. We rumaged through some old thrift stores. We ate at the delicious Willie Mae’s, the best fried chicken and catfish this side of the Mississippi. We took a nap at Audubon park. Mosquitos seem to like my sister more, nay, way more than they do me. That night we didn’t go out. We drank wine and played music at front part of the hostel. Some people seemed to really enjoy our practice which was uplifting.
Monday: One last walk around French Quarter and one last fried chicken and catfish lunch at Willie Mae’s. The trip back took the expected 9 hours with stops for food and gas. It was Halloween day, and to set the mood we found a Spotify station that had a man reading ghost stories that people sent in to the show. That seemed to pass the time I and enjoyed listening to people’s accounts of encounters with the paranormal. Finally, we made it to Austin. Another NOLA trip down, extra love for la Nouvelle Orleans, and some nice sibling quality-time.
Recently I spent the 4th of July in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans! After living there in 2011 – 2012, I try to make it there at least once a year. Since I’ve already done most of the touristy things, when I go I just visit some of my old haunts. The thing that made this trip different was time this time I went by motorcycle.
The ride there was long and tiresome. I broke it up by spending the night in Houston at a friend’s house. Even so, the trip the next day was hard. It was close to 100 degrees (38 Celsius) and humid as hell. I ran into rain at the start of the trip. Also, a wasp hit my helmet face shield and somehow ended up inside my helmet with me! He seemed unconscious but I could see him waking up and I had to stop and try to take my helmet off to shake him out. Despite the heat and humidity, it was a pretty drive. I especially like the tall coniferous trees around Bastrop, TX. The bridge over Lake Ponchartrain in LA is breathtaking, it’s such a huge lake you can’t see the other side. I also like the view from the bridges over the Mississippi river in Baton Rouge.
A friend of mine who lives in New Orleans was nice enough to let me crash his place. During the days, I spent my time riding around and visiting places I used to frequent. I had drinks on Magazine St. I walked the Quarter, especially the quieter parts away from Bourbon. In fact, I didn’t go to Bourbon St. at all. I cruised down St. Charles gazing at the old, plantation-style mansions and shotgun houses. I read a book in the Lafayette Cemetery. On Independence Day I went to watch the firework show on the Mississippi. Afterwards I went to Frenchman to watch a show, the Brassaholics at the Blue Nile. They’re a local brass band and they put on a badass show. That was the second time I’d seen them.
The next day, I started the long ride back. My friend gave me a windshield that he didn’t want for his bike anymore. It helped take the wind off my chest and I didn’t get so fatigued on the way back. By the time I hit Houston, I decided I would just go all the way to Austin. All in all, I was on the road for more than 10 hours that day. When I finally got home I was beat. I just threw my dirty self on my bed and didn’t move. The next day, I decided to take my car instead of riding my bike. On a day without rain! There’s a first for everything I suppose.
This trip, I felt like my feelings for the city changed. Until this trip, I usually felt a sort of longing for the city, a desire to move back there someday. This was the first time I didn’t feel that desire. I now feel that New Orleans was the stage for an important chapter of my life. I guess they’re all important aren’t they? Though, that stage is in the past, and I can’t go back and recreate that place in my life even if I wanted to. So I left there feeling that I had finally made some sort of peace with residual feelings about the past. New Orleans was a wonderful stage for that chapter in my life.
More interesting tidbits I learned about New Orleans on a walking tour of the city. New Orleans, like many colonies, i.e. Australia, Florida, plus others I’m sure, was populated by ex-cons and prostitutes early in its history. When the colony founders asked for more fellow colonists, King Louis opened the jails and freed the poor devils. The murders, rapists and thieves that made up the colony needed women, so ol’ Louis sent the ladies of the night to placate them. For this reason, New Orleans had an extremely high murder rate from early on (not much changed from what I hear), and the population didn’t grow in those early years. Something else I found really interesting, the array of colorful houses in the French quarter isn’t, or at least wasn’t, random. The colors tell a story about the occupants. A pink house is occupied by French Creole. An orange or burgundy house by Spanish Creole. If the shutters on the windows were green or blue it meant that the people inside were Roman Catholic. A yellow house belonged to ‘Free persons of color’, and for them the color of the window shutters signified which language they spoke. Green meant Spanish. I’m not sure what color French speakers used. Purple, grey and gold colors on the houses didn’t mean a damn thing, the occupants didn’t play the game. I doubt very much that this use of color continues, more likely that the current owners just keep painting the house its original color.
St. Louis cathedral, built in the 1800’s, very pretty building as far as American cathedrals go. The style of the outside is an interesting Disney-castle-esque. More interesting is what used to go on the in the Place D’Arms, Plaza de las Armas, in front of it. Apparently this was the spot in town where the guilty where punished. From hangings, to firing squads, to medieval torture. One account was that the extremely guilty were taken there, tied to a wheel, all their bones broken in front of a crowd including kids, and then said children would pour fire ants and other vermin from boxes onto the still alive perpetrator.
Apparently if you walk around the Place d’Arms late at night when there are no people you can hear the moaning of the poor devils who were tortured and killed there. Although all this sounds fantastical, I think I believe in spirits because of an experience I had a few years ago in a faraway country. I’ll relate this story sometime soon.