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Our train into the city got delayed, waiting to cross the Mississippi, so I didn’t arrive at my final destination – New Orleans – until well after midnight.
The first thing that greeted me as I stepped off the train, was the Superdome – huge, gleaming white, lit up to a glowing ice blue. It felt fitting, and eerie, that this should be the first thing I see. The Superdome became a landmark during Katrina, and before leaving to watched the Spike Lee HBO documentary, When the Levees Broke, about Katrina, and the horrors and social injustice in the aftermath – the Superdome featured heavily and has its own dark stories.
I feel an affinity with this city, coming from my own, which also was ravaged by natural disaster. And though I’ve always dreamed of visiting NOLA for the music, architecture and food – like most – I feel it important to not forget or overlook the hardships and the story of the past 12 years. At it’s core, NOLA is a black city, with huge amounts of poverty, and people have been let down – many have never returned. And so, when people come to Christchurch and see only the, untouched, airport side of town, or the disaster tourism, and new buildings, of our CBD, and I wish they knew of the poverty, insurance struggles, and red zone, of our East. I feel we have a duty to acknowledge what has happened here, what is still happening here – because the French Quarter and Bourbon Street certainly ain’t every day life for most.
So the Superdome meeting me at the station felt fitting, and right. And I was grateful. Keeps some perspective.
My taxi brought me to my Air BnB – it’s always hard choosing an Air BnB hoping that the location will work. Though I’ve always been very lucky/ chosen well.
I’m in St Roch, North of Marigny – it’s a residential area and definitely tourist free which I like. Uber drivers and other tourists think I live here, and ask me directions and then I have to say in my painfully awkward NZ/ English accent “I have absolutely no idea”.
The house is a dream, and 100% me – owned by a furniture designer Tara, and her sculptor partner – it’s a simple, modern house with open plan kitchen and living on the ground floor, and stairs to a mezzanine which contains open plan bedroom and bathroom.
It’s the sort of house I’d like to own – modern but with character, just the right size for one, and lots of simple but elegant finishes using stone, tile and ply wood. Best of all is the decor – It’s filled with sculptures and furniture made by the couple, lots of local art and prints that are just to my tastes and antique and vintage artefacts dotted around – like a typewriter, old cinema seats, shoemakers tools, medicine bottles and upstairs is a huge bookshelf that doubles as a wall laden with design books, and classic fiction. There must be a lot of great vintage and antique shops here. I guess its an old city.
It’s also got a lovely lush, secret, garden, strung with lights, and the house is tucked away in it – you have to push though big gates and walk up the garden, round to the back of the house to enter – so I feel very secluded and safe.
There’s also three cats – John, Bitsy and Rusty. One tabby, one ginger and one black. They always want to be fed, but pop in from time to time to say hi and make demands on me. It’s nice but I forgot how selfish cats are, compared to owning a loyal and devoted dog.
You know that moment when you wake up, and you’ve arrived at your destination – a place you’ve wanted to go for so long, and spent ages thinking about all the things you’l do when you get there – and suddenly you’re there. And then, all you can think is “shit, I don’t know what to do”.
It was like that. Too much. And the flip side of being alone and being able to do exactly what you want is well…you can do ANYTHING!
So I decided to stay local for the morning and afternoon. I met Tara, and got a run down of some things, then walked over to her place on St Roch to pick up a bike to use for my stay.
My house is further out than I thought, not too far, but in 32 degree heat, a block can feel very far! I’m not the most proficient or confident cyclist but want to be, and on looking around noticed how many other people here cycle. The city is dead flat and apart from the odd intersecting busy road, all the side streets around here leading to the quarters are tiny, mostly one way, and very very quiet, so I very quickly felt at ease and comfortable to set out and explore by bike.
My first stop, on Tara’s recommendation, was the St Roch Market. Which I thought was a convenience store / deli – but it’s actually this incredible food court type place set in a beautiful building. It has about 15 food vendors in it- all local produce and specialities – creole, cajun, chicken, loads of seafood, French cakes, coffees, and a beautiful bar. It’s got tons of casual seating, wi fi, and it open until 11pm each night. As it’s pretty close to me, it’s going to be a handy place for an easy but varied meal, and drink when I’m tired and done exploring. It’s a fabulous find.
I always feel that the first meal in a destination is really important and should be 1) high quality 2) iconic to the location 3) considered and memorable. So on that basis, I made my first meal Louisiana crab cakes. We don’t really get crab in NZ, which I don’t understand as we have seafood everywhere, and it’s delicious. The food was amazing- a sweet and spiced crab cake, set on roasted potatoes, with a softly poached egg that had the most amazing yellow yolk, and a corn salsa sauce. On this first mission, I feel I did well!
Still feeling a bit overwhelmed, I decided to keep things simple and just explore locally for the day, take time to get my bearings in these areas, and get confidence on my bike.
South of St Roch is the neighbourhood Marigny, which is known for it’s small, brightly coloured villas and cottages, and trendy food and bar scene. I headed all the way down until I hit the Mississippi and crossed the train tracks to this great little park that sits on the shores – very industrial chic with the railway, disused storage shed/ warehouse, which is super fun to hoon around in on your bike, weaving in and out of the steel columns, and metal seating. I paused, and took a seat on one of the cute swinging bench seats, over looking the water. I watched ships sail past, runners, cyclists, dog walkers, and looked down towards the French Quarter and city, and storm clouds brew dark overhead. I love the storm clouds. They’re so dramatic.
As mentioned in an earlier post, it’s very much thunderstorm season here. It’s crazy hot and humid, but there’s always dark angry clouds looming and loud rumbles of thunder are never far away. I’m not used to this kind of weather and always think that thunder means rain, though it seems it can thunder for a couple of hours without anything happening…which is hard because eventually it does rain and it rains like crazy! So gotta learn these patterns.
From the river I headed up a couple of blocks to the heart of Marigny, on Frenchman Street, parked up my bike and headed off to explore.
Marigny was a bit touristy, but not horribly so – loads of bars and eateries and record shops that I’ll explore another day. Amazing music coming from every joint. The sound of of jazz quartet in a bar was so clear and wonderful that it succeeded in luring me in for a beer. And I enjoyed just sitting, taking in the beautiful old building, and watching these amazing musicians. And I thought “if this is what I find at midday in my first hour of exploring, then it’s not going to be too bad here”.
And I think that’s the thing I have to remember. The city is called the big easy. I need to just pause and take time. Take it slow. The beauty is when you stop and just enjoy what’s happening around you, rather than always thinking ‘what’s next?’. There’s no list or deadline. Just absorb it.
There’s a LOT of American tourists here and they are definitely the opposite of what I want to be. Bad shorts and tacky t shirts, plastic neon yard glasses holding their cocktail, wearing plastic Mardi Gras beads draped round their necks (Mardi Gras is in February).
I’m terribly judgmental considering I’m a tourist myself!
I spent some time wandering the blocks in the area – taking in a great vintage / design shop, where I picked up some locally made earrings, and an alligator pocket knife (I don’t know why this shop had a whole counter of amazing yet cute pocket knives, but I had to have one). And I stopped to street art, scribblings and oh, oh, the houses! Such swoon!
Imagine every wonderful wooden villa or cottage you’ve ever seen. Now paint them in beautiful shades of pink, blue, green and yellow. Add shutters in a contrasting shade. Adorn them in tropical plants and flowers. Now multiply them by hundreds. And that’s this city. I knew about these houses, but had no idea until I saw them in the flesh just how beautiful they were. I have to so often to admire!
I then wandered slightly further west, towards the French Quarter where things got a whole ton more touristy. There’s a lot of very tacky bars and hens and stag groups. Souvenir shops and I found a market, but was filled with mass made plastic junk. However I did find a great brass band of teens playing on the street and no matter the setting, a brass band is always something to revel in and celebrate.
I headed back to the house for a siesta, and that evening, headed back out, as I had a ticket for a show at ten. The show was over in the warehouse district which is a way away, so decided to compromise and get an Uber to Jackson Square – for my first taste of the French Quarter – then slowly wander over to the venue, which was about hall and hour away, via dinner.
Jackson Square seemed cool – tourists by the hundreds, but the setting and space makes it a pleasant place. There’s rows of fortune tellers – tarot, runes, crystal balls, sage burning – whatever method you want! Lots of tour groups who I like to listen in on. My visit was fleeting but I’d like to return and sit and observe – it’ll be a great people watching spot.
I passed though, and out of the French Quarter, as fast as I could. The buildings looked beautiful, but it was Saturday night, and was every kind of chaos. As someone who is not a ‘town’ person when it comes to drinking and partying, this is definitely not my scene. But again, it’ll be nice to return in the coming week and have a proper look. That’s the beauty of spending longer in a place – there’s not the mad dash to tick everything off in two days.
My walk took me through Downtown / CBD, across the Theatre district and into the warehouse district where the show was. It was quite a trek and made me realise how spread out the city is, and in this heat, I’m probably going to uber to further destinations a lot more than I thought, or else I’m going to be too exhausted and melted, by the time I get there. Sometimes you just gotta make life easy, eh.
I ate dinner at a restaurant called Cochon which is an off shoot from the great butchery that adjoins it. I was surprised to be seated right away as it seemed really busy and trendy, and I got a seat at the kitchen bar, so I got to watch the chefs and listen to their banter. That’s a cool thing about eating alone, is that you get put in weird and interesting spots, that wouldn’t work as a couple, or a group, but for me, it turned out to be perfect and all the entertainment I needed.
I ate pork cheek, which came with an apple slaw, raisins and almonds – the pork was so tender and wonderful that it melted into nothing. And a side of mac n cheese – again, gotta do the iconic! And I got a given a little side of pate on crusket which was just the most incredible thing ever. I’m always grossed out by the idea of pate…but then I eat it and I’m transported to heaven.
The meal was great, and I’m making an effort to eat well and quality. I generally only have two meals a day when I travel – brunch then dinner – so I like to do it well, without breaking the bank, and in places that don’t intimidate me, as a solo diner – because lots of places do feel to ‘groupy’.
I headed a block down the road to my final destination for day 1 – Howlin Wolf – where I was going to watch a Bowie tribute/ Burlesque show. After all, how could I not?! It was a great venue – big but not too big, and certainly where the quirky kids came out to play. I think I’d go to a lot here, if I lived here. There were lots of amazing outfits to be seen.
The show was gorgeous and fun and perfect – a 9 or 10 piece band, with revolving singers, all decked out in white and angel wings like Bowie’s angels. And a burlesque performance on stage to each song. There’s such amazing musical talent in this city – it just seems to be in everyone’s blood. They were selling drag / burlesque make up glitter, and I got gold star glitter applied to my face, and came away with my own little pot of gold dust – so my Bowie dreams can live on even when I’m home.
Not bad for a first day.