Wednesday, 25 January 2012

New Orleans

Up the Mississippi to New Orleans.
Local ragtime jazz band
From the Gulf of Mexico, you have to travel 100+mls up the Mississippi River to arrive at New Orleans. We docked alongside the Riverwalk at just after 8am, on a dull, misty day, the first poor day since leaving Tenerife all those days ago! We were here all day and evening up to 11pm. A local steamboat jazz band have been invited to come on board and play for us tonight, which we're looking forward. I suspect the people who have paid £140 to go on a trip to see a jazz performance won't be looking forward to it quite as much.
The entertainment on board has been quite mixed, with an unfortunate couple of singers being sent on the next plane out of Tenerife, because there was a mass walk out! We've got a great singer on board called Phil Brown, who has sung in theatres in London and in the Lion King. Unfortunately his repertoire is aimed at the over 70s, and when he does try to do a Gnarls Barkley song, or something from the last 30 years, the backing band are so downbeat it's a real struggle. That coupled with some people sitting stony-faced, or childishly pretending to go to sleep (a Dutch custom) , it's a tough audience to play for! That said, he got a standing ovation for that current song "Old Man River", appropriately sung as we were about to join the Mississippi.
French Quarter
All the way up the Mississippi, there are massive oil rigs, a reminder that this area is rich in oil, and had a recent disastrous spillage which decimated the shellfish industry, which is big in this area- crawfish, prawn gumbo, jambalaya and other creole dishes. I was supposed to go to a cookery class in the Riverwalk shopping precinct, which had to be cancelled. I was quite relieved when I saw the rather uninspiring setting for the class.
We had a tram journey, which seemed to take an interminable length of time, it being actually quicker to walk, along the river bank, in the hope of taking grandma on a steamboat. In classic American positivity, we were told that the steamboat was running but was in dry dock, so in actual fact it wasn't running, but we could go on a trip to the dungeons and museum, which we regretfully denied! So after a stroll back to the boat, now that it had stop raining, we had lunch on board.
Whilst Florence rested in the afternoon, we explored the French Quarter, on foot. The atmosphere in this part of the city is very European and bohemian, not a bit American. You can hear the distinct southern drawl, "yawl", of passers by. They are proud to be different to other parts of America, to have a laid-back approach, which goes well with the hot, humid conditions. It must be unbearable in Summer. New Orleans has had its fair share of disasters, with the BP oil spill, Hurricane Katrina and flooding. There is a French Market area, with bars and cafes. More shops than anyone might need, but beautifully ornate old buildings with wrought iron balconies, hanging baskets, faded and peeling painted shutters, all reminding you that this a very historic city by American standards, dating back to about the 1780s, and sharing a Spanish and then French history, the French selling Louisiana to the Americans, in order to fund Napoleon's wars in Europe, with the Louisiana Purchase.
Typical Paddle Steamer
In the French Quarter, we had our first experience of an impromptu jazz performance by a group of six young street musicians, playing rag-time jazz. It was great foot- stomping stuff to make you smile. New Orleans is famous for its rich musical heritage, with big names like Louis Armstrong coming from here. Jazz is big here, and Mardi Gras is world famous. Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, was about eating up all the rich food before you went into Lent. The quarter was festooned in green, purple and gold. Masks are sold everywhere, and coloured beads dangle from balconies. Very colourful.
We decided to return to the ship for a rest and go back into town for the evening, because the ship didn't leave until midnight. We wandered down Bourbon St, which is a bit like Soho, with big-busted women hanging out of strip clubs and posters advertising strip shows. A bit in your face for the US which is usually so proper!
We returned to the French Market area for the evening, and opted to be cycled in by a local, who worked particularly hard, especially after the traffic lights had changed. Opposite the Jax Brewery, there is the only micro-brewery in NO, the Crescent City Brewery. Architecturally interesting, an old warehouse, the large copper stills behind the bar, a jazz band in the corner, courtyard at the rear with a fire. It was a warm evening and we opted to be in the thick of it in the saloon. We ordered a sample of the beers- 150mls of five different types of beers- signature Red Stallion, Black Forest, Creole Alt, and a Weiss beer and a pilsner. We shared a wonderfully light crab cake, much nicer than the coated dried ones we get at home. Ian had a Prawn PoBoy, deep-fried, battered prawns in a large bun, and I had a very pink, and delicious tuna salad. We walked back calling in at the massive Harrah gambling hall, the ones place you can guarantee to find a restroom!
Managed to arrive in time for the guest jazz band, a local six piece band who had been invited onboard to perform for us. They were great. I hadn't realised how much I liked jazz. Not the experimental stuff, but the rag-time type with a foot-tapping beat. A really good show, they said they'd played in the Keswick Jazz Festival, and would be returning to that this year.
At 1159 we departed for Galveston, Texas, about 300mls SW in the Gulf of Mexico. Another whole day at sea, before we arrive 8am the following day.

No comments: