The first half of my solo sojourn in New Orleans is almost over, it’s been an amazing 10 days. When I first got here I was having some trouble explaining exactly what a Canadian girl was doing living alone in the French Quarter for 3 weeks over Christmas and New Year, it’s not a story you hear all the time. Then someone said to me “oh, you ran away from home” and the penny dropped. Yup, that’s exactly what I did, I ran away from home. After a tumultuous year I was desperately in need of some down time and some mental space to reflect on what had happened and, hopefully, gain some perspective. And I needed somewhere that I would feel comfortable on my own and would be interesting enough to keep me entertained. I guess I could have headed for a beach somewhere, but I’ve fallen completely under the spell of this magical city so New Orleans seemed like the ideal choice. It was surprisingly easy to rent an apartment in the Quarter from Historic Rentals and it has, so far, been an amazing adventure. Here is my morning spot for reading, writing and enjoying coffee. I have to open the 10 foot wooden shutters every morning and close them at night. I love it.
And here is my historic apartment.
When was the last time any of us made the time and space in our life to spend 3 entire weeks alone, fending for yourself, entertaining yourself and cutting the ties to all those everyday responsibilities that just keep piling up, day after day, week after week, year after year. I guess they are just the necessities that come with living a responsible life, but I gotta say, letting them all go for a while is an incredibly liberating experience. In my 20’s I was very much a vagabond gypsy, traveling overseas for long periods of time on my own and living for more than a few years the peripatetic lifestyle of a ski bum, bouncing back and forth between winters in Canada and the Southern Hemisphere. But life has a way of incrementally creeping up on you until it sometimes feels like it’s all just about getting up at 5am, walking the dog, going to work, maintaining that house you wanted such and all the other everyday ephemera. Not that those things are bad, just sometimes . . .well I don’t know about y’all but I need a break. Hello NOLA.
So what have I been doing to keep busy? Walking, lots of walking. Unlike when I was here in May when it felt like being hit in the face with a wet towel every time I stepped out of the air-conditioned hotel, it’s a balmy 70 degrees (oops, been here too long, that’s about 18C) most days. Perfect exploring weather. There is, of course, the French Quarter itself, which is surprisingly big. And every single street is packed with historic sites and buildings, incredible record stores, antiquarian bookstores, vintage clothing stores, voodoo spiritualist centres and purveyors of all things witchcraft. Spending time poking around there is pretty much my idea of heaven. The Voodoo Centre is only 3 doors down from The Clothes Spin, my wash and fold service It was formerly the site of J & M Recording Studio from 1947 – 1956, where pioneers of rock and roll like Fats Domino, Little Richard and Professor Longhair recorded. It’s pretty interesting to contemplate while I’m watching the spin cycle, and only in NOLA.
And of course should you require some refreshment during these sojourns, well there is friendly bar or cafe on almost every corner. From fancy white linen to dive, it’s all there in the Quarter. One of the tasks I’ve set myself is an exhaustive review of all the dive bars (trust me I need 3 weeks for that) so I’ve used this list of the 15 Most Iconic Dive Bars in NOLA as a starting point My favourite to date, The Chart Room. $3 beers and a jukebox with, finally, a great music selection heavily weighted to Marvin Gaye and George Benson. Je adore.
And what about those damn jukeboxes? They are the curse of many a decent drinking establishment here. In a city that is famous for it’s absolutely incredible live music scene, how can so many bars have jukeboxes filled with such really, really bad music? It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe. And a secondary quest that has a surprising amount of crossover with the Dive Bar review is hunting down the bar with the best beer selection. So far the hands down winner is The Avenue Pub, a completely nondescript, 24 hour locals spot with an incredible craft and Belgium beer selection. At 7:00am you might meet the med students getting of shift from the local hospitals and for happy hour oyster fisherman and construction guys who came to rebuild after Katrina and never left. I spent one afternoon helping the gal tending bar that day write-up a chalkboard sign explaining CLEARLY that they don’t have table service, you have to come to the bar. Someone complained on Yelp . . .had those cretins never been in a bar before? Some of the samplings from a few days ago.
Then there are the surrounding areas: the Warehouse District, Magazine Street, the Garden District, St Charles Ave, the Fauberg Marigny and Bywater, all to be subjects of some further posts.
And other than that, I’ve been listening to music, music and more music. From the ever-present street musicians on Royal, through all the clubs on Frenchman’s Street in the Marigny to House of Blues and, of course Preservation Hall. So much music, if I went out every single night I would still not catch it all. I made a really good start on visiting every single bar on Frenchman’s Street my first weekend, it was so much fun. When I landed on that Friday night I dropped my bags at the apartment and headed straight to one of my favourite dive bars, Coop’s, for a couple of Abita’s and some fried chicken and jambalaya. Pretty much my favourite meal in NOLA. When the guy sitting next to me offered to buy me another Abita, I had no way of knowing it would lead to one of the more hilarious weekends of my life. E, R and J were a threesome (well not actually, more like a couple + one) from Atlanta who adopted me for the weekend. They had also arrived in town that afternoon and J had already fallen victim to the Purple Voodoo juice at Lafite’s Blacksmith Shop – she was going down for the count by the time I happened on the scene. So I offered to be a musical tour guide over to Frenchman’s street for the lone man left standing. If there was a bar we didn’t get to that night, we covered it off on Saturday because we didn’t get in before 4am either of those mornings. So awesome. Went to the outdoor market about 1am and I was torn between buying feather earrings and a leather bustier – who wouldn’t be. Loved the female fire-eater show too. Ended up spending a ridiculously long time in the Apple Barrel, a tiny place well off the tourist parade which won the “award” of having the worst bathroom in NOLA, but also great music. It’s important to have strict criteria by which to judge your dive bars. It’s not often you meet a complete stranger and then end up spending an entire weekend having more fun than you ever imagined. It was, I think, a gift and a truly great way to kick off my time here. Thank you so much.
I’ve also managed to catch Kermit Ruffin’s annual birthday bash, sing Christmas carols by candlelight in Jackson Square with 8,000 people, see the oldest Jazz singer in New Orleans (Lionel’s 102) sing “Saints” and “Keep on Smiling” in the Cathedral and then last night I saw Trombone Short at HOB. I’ve seen Shorty before, he never fails to simply blow me away. Shorty is from the Treme and it was, as he put it “tremazing”! I jusst love that feeling of slipping out of you ordinary life and into the magic of a truly great performance. Shorty nailed it, again.
An important musical geek question that would probably never come up anywhere else but in NOLA, but was the subject of considerable discussion all weekend,was the difference between a Tuba and a Souzaphone. I thought I had that nailed, but I shouldn’t argue music with a pro! Nonetheless, to solve the vexing questions once and for all, this short video is most illuminating. And if any of you are thinking of coming to NOLA – you can dazzle people with this piece of local musical trivia.
And if you are wondering about how the city is doing, here is a link to If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise , Spike Lee’s follow-up documentary on post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s an expression that seems to perfectly capture so much of the spirit of this town. That and Laissez Le Bon Temps Roullez, which I have most certainly been doing.
So I guess the only music to close out with has to be Shorty taking it old school with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On”. Not the best quality because it’s live, but I’m a sucker for live performances.