We had not been to New Orleans in at least two years and had considered going someplace new, but with a limited budget and travel time, it seemed best to go the place that is close, familiar, and with a specialness for us both (see Sun Feb-10-2013: Love). So I booked us a couple of nights at the Queen and Crescent on Camp Street and we made the four hour drive on a day with a forecast for rain, but that turned out clear and warm.
We found our hotel room to be small, but clean and cozy. The hotel was older but the staff was friendly and though there was no pool, it had cable and wifi. Breakfast was free, but it consisted of a meager buffet of bagels, toast, boiled eggs, cereal and oatmeal. There were two choices for coffee--one OK and the other bad. The hotel was a good place to rest, watch TV, and check the web, but that's all. There was a lounge that looked interesting, with two windowed sides overlooking the street, but we didn't try it. We didn't stay in the hotel much, anyway. We hit the streets pretty soon after our arrival.
On our first day, we walked down Camp in the late afternoon light and felt the cool shadows slipping among the tall buildings to pad our way out of the business district to Canal Street. There, we turned south with the intention of checking out the Riverwalk. We passed Harrahs and the trolley rails and reached the ferry terminal. We made our way along the river's edge where the jazz cruises were waiting for their evening fares. Beyond the expansive, moldy, metal fountain we reached the Riverwalk entrance only to find the mall closed and barricaded. We could see that extensive remodeling was going on inside, so there would be no shopping there this trip. It was just as well since we had little money for shopping, anyway. So we turned about and headed for the French Quarter.
We crossed Canal and headed down Carrollton Avenue. We passed Jackson Square where street performers were drawing a crowd and mule-drawn carriages were lined up waiting for their fill of tourists. Beyond all that lay the Cafe DuMonde where we had coffee and beignets. The treat gave us an energetic second wind and we pushed on to the French Market.
The French Market is a huge flea market with resellers for all kinds of things displaying their wares--even produce items. There were several sellers of African clothing (judging by the signs and that the sellers were black people with African accents) where Donna found four dresses she liked.
At one point, a rack of hats caught my eye and I investigated. I felt drawn to one rack of straw hats in a very tight weave (far more so than in the Bahama golf hat I picked up on Block Island) and a classic fedora-style shape. I tried on on and it struck me as a "writer's hat" for some reason, and Donna thought it suited me. The saleslady showed me a tan-colored version that I settled on. I'm wearing it in the accompanying photo.
With these purchases, we had spent most of our cash. Nevertheless, we headed from there to Bourbon Street.
It was just late afternoon so the hard partiers hadn't hit the street yet, but then the party never really stops on Bourbon Street. A crowd had gathered around some street performers who were dancing to some recorded music. We skirted them and followed a trail of music that was more from our era. We stopped at a lounge where a fairly young band of guys was playing 70's music, and doing so very well. We listened for a while and I was struck at just how well these guys knew this music. They had to have hours and hours of practice behind their performance. And the crowd they were playing for was couples our age and older, who were partying like they were still eighteen. I think they're a significant market for Bourbon Street.
After a while, we pushed on to a couple of other places with bands playing similar music to similar crowds. In one place there was dancing and one old guy was really cutting the rug. He was older than me but he must have been heck when he was twenty. Of course, he wasn't the only one; there was a pretty good bunch of older dancers and some young ones, too. They were all pretty much dancing the same way so it was an interesting blend of generations in a common party mode.
I didn't have the same spirit so I didn't dance. Age tempers my "partying." Still, Donna danced for me and out-shone them all. She always supplies my lack.
The weather was beautiful during our time there, though a bit hot. We walked the French Quarter anyway and held up very well. We didn't eat rich, though. Since our funds were small, we took advantage of the hotel's free "breakfast" and otherwise ate at McDonald's, Subway, Popeye's, a food court, etc. It worked in that we didn't have to go into debt over this little trip.
On our second day we decided to do McDonald's on Canal Street for lunch. Walking there, we passed a young black woman who cried out "Don't touch me!" as we passed. I'm not sure her cry was meant for us, but we kept a wide berth. She said no more and just stood there wearing a backpack.
In McDonald's, we got our food and took our seats at a long counter. At one end, two black men were eating and discussing religious matters. It wasn't so much a discussion, though, as one of them was obviously dominant in the theme. The listener left and soon the young woman from outside passed through. She said something "off the wall" to the religious man and it was apparent she was one of the mentally ill homeless. We fell sorry for her and the man tried to offer her some of his food but she wouldn't accept. She just demanded to know where her steak was. The man said he had no steak and she left.
The episode led to a conversation between Donna and the man who said he had been preaching on the streets for some 30 years and often dealt with people like the young woman. He said there was really no helping them and that the city needed to provide shelters. He went to say he had been preaching in New Orleans for the last 12 years, mostly on Decatur Street. That's when I noticed the bullhorn on his table and an image came to mind. He was a nice guy and I suspected his sympathy for the street people was real.
Later, as we were wandering down Chartres Street, we came upon the Crescent City Bookstore. It caught my attention from its big sign and I felt compelled to have my picture taken in front of it. After all, I was wearing my writer's hat. We didn't go in, though. I had the feeling it specialized in old editions and catered to collectors. That might not have been true, but a lot of New Orleans is like that. In the midst of 150-year-old buildings and voodoo shops, you'll find an antique or clothing store catering to the elite.
We moved on and passed a street musician who called out to us because we were holding hands and wanted to play a song for us. I expected a love song but he launched into a talk about the blues and then sang a song about being down but surviving because he found the Lord. What? When an older couple walked by he did the same thing but sang for them, The Sea of Love. Maybe it's my crusty exterior. Still, he was a good musician and I tossed a dollar in his guitar case.
Passing down Canal again we reached Decatur where our friend from McDonald's was preaching over his bullhorn. I should have taken a picture. Sitting there, bellowing out a fundamentalist "sermon," he was as much a street performer as the bluesman we had just left.
Further down the street, we saw a marquee for the Sanger Theatre announcing that Jerry Seinfeld would be performing there tonight. We headed for it to see how much tickets were. The theatre had apparently been renovated and a lot of work was still going on around it. Seinfeld's performance must have been its inaugural because there were people in suits talking to apparent reporters and getting their picture taken. In the lobby, there were people dressed nicely coming out of the theatre and milling around tables of food. They all ignored us. We asked about tickets at a counter and a nice lady directed us to the box office next door.
We found the box office and it was also being worked on, though it displayed an "open" sign. We asked a somewhat harried, but well dressed, man behind a glass about tickets and he searched his computer. He said they were sold out for tonight but had seats available for tomorrow night. We would be gone by then so we declined. We never learned the cost.
The impression I got about the Sanger Theatre and the Seinfeld show was of entertainment industry types working up their big show in picturesque New Orleans. They were going about their business catering to each other and their 1% clients while we, rudely dressed, scurried among their legs, just tolerated. Money makes the difference, in their eyes.
It would have been nice to have seen Seinfeld, but we probably would not have been able to afford the tickets.
That night, we relaxed in our room and watched a cable movie. It was the George Pal classic version of H. G. Well's The Time Machine. The time theme reminded me of the age gradients among the patrons in the lounges we visited. The older ones were defying time by dancing like they were young, and the younger ones were unaware that time would pass.
Then I thought about the musicians in the clubs and on the streets. Many were quite good, as were the artists in Jackson Square, along with the carriage drivers and fortune-tellers. These were people doing what they wanted to be doing and surviving at it because they would rather "be the poor slave of a poor master" than live like "them" (i.e., those of deluded thinking who equate money with success and happiness, who stare at computer screens in cubicles and count widgets). The street preacher was like that. Though I didn't agree with his message or would want to live like him, still, he was obviously very fulfilled in his work.
All these are living in the wider world, engaging it and dealing with it on their own terms. Selling, cajoling, sometimes conning to get by, they are mostly living as they wish. Rough and crude, in a Walt Whitman way, they play music, read palms, paint pictures of French Quarter scenes or draw tourist caricatures. It's their life and not their job.
The next day, Donna and I packed up and bid New Orleans farewell once again. We returned to our jobs.