July 4th, 2001: I'm on my FIRST EVER EVER trip to New Orleans. Come with me as we ill-advisedly travel back through the mists of time to a charmingly naive journal entry. I had been in the city about three days. Essence Festival was on, I didn't really know anybody aside from Todd P (the catalyst for meeting EVERYBODY) and I knew almost nothing about New Orleans other than...I liked it. Ah, if I knew then what I know now.
Anyway, here's my impressions of my first July 4th in the US and my first day or so in NOLA:
"So aside from the fact that the climate here makes walking around the place an experience not too dissimilar from negotiating your way around a vat of warm soup (turning your faithful correspondent into some kind of human crouton), I’m quite enamoured with this city. The economy seems to be kept bouyant by the twin money-spinning collossi of strip bars and shops that sell shiny plastic beads, allowing everyone else who lives here to take advantage of the liver-shrivellingly liberal licensing laws. It’s a nice existence - a bit of lounging, perhaps some concerted loafing, maybe even a touch of remedial lolling. New Orleans - so good they named it.
They have that southern hospitality thing going on - from the disconcertingly friendly US Immigration Official (I’m sure it’s just some kind of mindmeld tactic to lull you into confessing to that fake visa) to the serving staff in restaurants who are really very chatty for the several millenia it takes to get served. I’m hoping this attitude stretches to hotels not charging you for towels that you cynically secrete in your light luggage on leaving, but I feel this could be optimistic.
I celebrated the 4th of July in the traditional way, ie, by necking a truckload of alcohol whilst frolicking in a stranger’s pool, followed by some touchingly old-fashioned and chest-beatingly proud laughing at fireworks by the river before moving on to that hugely enjoyable time-honoured display of patriotism that is snogging anyone that was unwise/judgementally impaired enough to come close. God bless America.
In worrying development news, I do seem to be now being stalked by the corporate-approved harmonies of Destiny’s Child. Last weekend, their musical stylings pervaded the airwaves in a live concert just outside my house in London, and now here they are, practically begging for my attention in Nola. Independent women? Like bogroll they are. Go bug someone else, sistas."
I'm starting my New Orleans blog with a story about leaving New Orleans. The flight out of MSY predictably has more interesting characters on it than the Chicago-London leg that I take a lot.
This encounter took place in 2011, and remains one of my favourites. I wrote it down as close as word for word as I could get it as soon as I could. Humans. You have to love humans. Here's the entry that I wrote in my journal, and the conversation that made leaving New Orleans a little easier, for once.
My final conversation with a New Orleanian on leaving for a few weeks turned out to be one of the more surreal, and as you can imagine, that’s up against some pretty stiff competition.
Willy is an amiable young man from the West Bank, and has the misfortune to be sat next to me on the New Orleans-Chicago flight I took on Monday morning. I'm probably one of the few people on the plane that was annoyed it was taking off at all (as always when I’m leaving NOLA), so I was never going to be the best company.
Despite my conversation-repellent body language, he nevertheless broke the ice, saying he was going to Chicago to see his family and asking me where I was from as he’d “never heard a weird-ass accent like that before”.
What followed was maybe the most disjointed conversation I have ever had, a case of verbal pinball that left me spinning, but amused. Here’s how it went:
Willy: “Where do you live now?”
Me: “New Orleans sometimes, but I’m based in London.”
“Can you get Courvoisier there?”
“You know. Courvoisier cognac.”
“Oh. Yes. I think so.”
“Do they have brothels there?”
(I mishear this for “brothers”) “Er…what?”
“You know. With prostitutes.”
“Oh. Yes. I think there are some. They’re not legal, though.”
“How close are you to Amsterdam?”
“About a 45 minute flight.”
“They have them there, right?”
“Do you have highways in London?”
“Um. Yes. We call them motorways.”
“Nice. Those brothels in Amsterdam are legal, right?”
“I’m not sure. I think it’s decriminalised.”
“Yes. You got someone picking you up in London?”
“Er, no. I take public transport.”
“Man, you’ve got it aaaaaaaaaaaall worked out, haven’t you? All worked out. In advance.”
“Er, I guess so. I’ve done the journey a lot.”
“And you’ve been to Amsterdam?”
“A couple of times.”
“Man, you’ve got it aaaaaaaaaaaall worked out, haven’t you? Aaaaaaaaall worked out. I work for Wolfgang Puck.”
“Oh, that must be great.”
“Yeah. We got soups, pasta, burgers, salads, sandwiches, chicken salad, veggie pasta…(goes on to list what sounds like the full menu of a Wolfgang Puck outlet). You should try it some day.”
“I’ll try and do that.”
“Man. I’ve GOT to get me a plane ticket to Europe. What do you pay?”
“Well, it varies a lot depending on when you travel. It’s usually between…”
“I’m going to Amsterdam. For the Cour-vois-i-er. Man, you got it aaaaaaaaaall worked out, ain’t you?”
"Oh yeah. Aaaaaaall worked out.
His curiosity sated and seemingly satisfied at how much I had things all worked out, he retreated into his magazine and didn’t speak the rest of the flight. Which was a shame. I had so many questions.