Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Orleans

Introduction: Getting a Faux-Mugging for Free...
     Today's installment brings us to New Orleans: magical, mystical, dirty New Orleans. A relationship with New Orleans can defy simple explanation, can harass the most sophisticated, objective and accomplished distillers of human experience into single words. I dare say categorizing a relationship to New Orleans could even harangue a haruspex. And so, it will be with an abundance of words that I will form sentences. These sentences will conjoin to beget paragraphs. And paragraphs will continue the begetting to beget yet again and form an e-mail. This e-mail, in defiance of the haranguing of the haurspices, will tell of my relationship toward New Orleans. Be careful, it involves a touch of danger, prejudice, Australians, new vocabulary, an honest cabbie and snoring, a deep and rankled snoring torn from the womb of the darkest night.
      And while I may not have killed a shark in slow-motion terror-rama I was faux-mugged by four hoods at 4am on a New Orleans city street. This is, of course, the prescribed time of day to visit an ATM. A faux-mugging is a lighter form of real mugging: same great thrill, less physical violence. It’s 4a. Carondelet is empty with only the hotel porter, a taxi and New Orleans to notice my presence. My flight is early and the cabbie is on his way. So, I gotta get the cash. Scanning the street I see four guys about 50 feet away, walking in a group across the street. I considered visiting the ATM after they passed by but had a dilemma. I figured all the real thugs were winding down around 4a and that crime was waning for the night. Please, don’t ask me why I thought that or figured it was logical. It was 4a, and that’s too late for bad deeds, right? Besides, I want to believe that people are generally good. And how rude would it be of me to assume that 4 random men walking in lurking pack formation would jump me. I guess this story puts the final nail in the coffin of my secret desire to be a spy. So, I decided to get the cash. They cross the street to my side. The cash rolls out as bill by bill flips out to build a growing mound of green currency.
     About twelve feet behind me now I sense commotion. Someone jumps out and shouts “Gimme all you money!” This is followed immediately with a burst of laughter, doubled over snickering and a round of chortles. I jump, turning around with all the cunning and physical alacrity of a six and a half foot tall man being startled by four nefarious looking hoodlums while holding cash on a dark city street at 4a in New Orleans. My flinch prompted more hilarity. As the pack moved on, laughing aloud, they told me to be careful because these streets are dangerous streets. And that’s when I got mad. I hate duplicity.

Staying at a Hostel...
In staying at the hostel last weekend, I feel like I was in that movie "The Island" with Leonardo DiCaprio, except I didn't kill a shark with a homemade shank, I wasn't outrunning drug lords and I didn't join a secret society of hippies and vagrants. What I did find though were Australians, tons of them. What I can tell you now is that if the US wanted to toughen immigration laws against Australians the first step would be to close down hostels. A hostel is kind of like a fraternity. They’re typically dirty, occupied by people who won't stay long (usually), have dorm-style sleeping accommodations, and is party central. The first lesson when staying at a hostel is: bring your own flip-flops. Seriously. You don't want to stand, barefoot on the bare tub in a room that reeks so strongly of mildew that it is literally hard to breath. I guess that might birth a second rule: bring a gas-mask. Third rule: go to bed very early... OR... adopt the schedule of the nearest Australian. It is a guarantee that any Australian in a hostel is there to travel for an undetermined amount of time and will drink heavily as often as possible. Drinking heavily means drinking late into the night. What that means for you is: be prepared to be awoken by drunks, loud drunks that turn all the lights on. One gentleman in particular, an Italian sleeping on the bunk above me, came to bed around 2:30a. He disrobed, angled various objects in random bags at the foot of his bed, and began his climb into the bed above mine. One foot, then a hand, then the entire collection of appendages worked in a loose agreement to scale the 5.5 foot bed-ladder. Now crowning the top of the bed and... Bang! A wooden blade hits a hollow melon. The Italian climbs down from the bed and turns the light on. The Australian in the bed next to me says through laughter: "Aye mate? Did you hit your head? Oh gawd mate, you crack me up? You're hilarious!" The Italian, either truly or pretending, didn't understand the Australian and exited quickly to the washroom. I hope the deep stench of mildew in the bathroom didn't infect his wound via air-contact.
     Not to be outdone in epic moments of depriving others of much needed sleep, that same Australian dug deep within his soul to produce a noise, nay... a death groggle to sound the harbingers of Sleep's most wicked demise. What came next, and I loathe to use so plain a word to describe so violent an offense against man, was snoring. While staying awake during the aural water-boarding, I made a game of the situation. At first, I wanted to find a pattern so that I could focus on it and use that pattern to fall asleep. However, so heinous were the ululations of the sleeping hellhounds deep in his nose-throat that no discernible pattern could be found. Instead, I was able to break his snoring into 11 major variants...

   1. The Whoopee Cushion: brrripp!
   2. The Inverted Whoopee Cushion: the air is being forcibly sucked into the whoopee cushion
   3. The Hissing Cat: a violent rasping of air
   4. The Cat Hissing During Sex while Drinking Milk: see above but with some gagging and choking
   5. The Emphasemic Gorilla Choking on Milk while Being Beaten on the Chest with a Cricket Bat, through Chicken Wire: this one’s pretty obvious
   6. The Elephant's Lungs Filled with a Million Whoopee Cushions, Sputtering Milk while Trying to Breath and Burp and Trumpet Simultaneously: I’m not lying.
   7. The Angry Tiger Cub: It’s like a tiny growl with a hissing noise.
   8. The Mischievous Farting Tiger Cub: see above but more spluttery
   9. The Subliminal Devil's Flatulence:
         - Playing the snore backwards yields the unmistakable sound of the Devil passing gas with a vengeance, producing extreme agony.
  10. The Gasp for Air
         - This is the moment when the snorer's body realizes it needs oxygen.
  11. The Tease
         - Two quiet moments without snoring before fresh batches of kittens are slaughtered in the macabre machinations of the Australian's snore factory

The St. Charles Trolley and S. Carrollton...
     The St. Charles Avenue Trolley is a fantastic ride. Take the ride from Carondelet to South Carrollton. If you're a fan of anachronisms then this trolley is just for you. First, imagine a wooden submarine, but smaller with windows (yes yes, I know. use your imagination). The woodwork is aged but cared for and every piece fits together like the mosaic of an old gymnasium floor. At night, sitting in the slow breeze of a meandering trolley, the wide cavity is lit by 12 incandescent lights possibly of the type used in old marquees. The seats and set-backs are wooden, slightly cramped for the passengers and loose-fitting in its assemblies. With each minor jolt of the trolley comes a predictable series of clacks as seat-backs bounce in seat-hinges. The trolley is simple and the manner of this simplicity brings a warmth and appreciation to be without the frills of modern gadgetry and blinkety-lights. Unlike those modern frills, the input devices, mechanics and presence of the trolley do not beg for attention nor fight for affection. The design is simple and warm. The lighting creates a minor cosmos absent from the daily threads of time. To be sure, when you step-off the trolley and into the night, you are back in the present day and Time finds you once again. However, and let us be honest on this point, if you are on this trolley then you are in New Orleans and as long as you're in New Orleans, time doesn't keep such a steadfast schedule nor does it necessarily bother looking for you here. This is where even Time comes to relax after working hard in New York, Tokyo or London. It rides the trolley and forgets to keep pace (seriously, I was late for an appointment).
     As the design of the trolley relates to any gadgetry, modern or archaic, I chuckle silently. The trolley operator has three main input devices: door (toggle Open/Close), bell and lever. The operator can alert any nearby drivers or pedestrians to the trolley's presence through the use of a bell. Not a horn of any automotive variety. No squeeks or honks, beeps or meeps. Out in front, hanging off the side of the trolley is a bell. At the foot of the operator is a pedal, like those used in sewing machines. Rocking the pedal rings the bell. When a feisty trolley operator is at the helm, the ringing of the bell sounds like a traffic collision of milk-cows reaching three miles long. The lever though is my favorite part. The lever is hinged at one end allowing a near 180 degree rotation from dead-stop to full-speed. A 3 pound, iron handle on a 4 pound, iron lever drives the trolley. Each turn of the lever brings an abundance of unnecessary ratchety noises. Off-key clicks and clacks assault the air with a staccato arrhythmia. I wouldn't be surprised to see Charlie Chaplin operating my trolley inside this amodern time. A parting warning: there's a large box above and to the left of the trolley operator. Stand away from the innocuous box. This is the electrical housing. The discharges are loud, bright and unexpected.

A Few Myths Dispelled About Australians...
   1. Australian's drink Foster's beer: False. This will get you a punch in the mouth with the wrong Aussie crowd.
   2. You can find Aussies in a crowd by shouting "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!": True. A real Australian will shout back "Oy! Oy! Oy!"
   3. Australians occupy 95% of all beds in American hostels: True... without a doubt.
   4. Australians speak English: False. I can't understand half of what they say. So, good luck to you on that one mate.
   5. Australians like TacoBell: True! This is a true fact. Even after repeated attempts at describing TacoHell as having terrible food, the Aussies just love it. And this assumption about all Australians is accurate based on a small random sample of late teen travelling Australians that stay in hostels on a budget of expendable cash. The sample size of this testing group is 2... or 3.

New Vocabulary...
    * Ginger (n), British-English: a red-head. This used to be a derogatory term until everyone in Britain used it. Now I've been told it's ironic. In a sentence: "Look at that ginger, she's smokin!"
    * Piss-take (n), British-English: a spoof. In a sentence: "My categorization of Australians as not speaking English is a piss-take on their ultra thick accents and strange cannibalistic customs."

New Orleans...
     There is no city in the US like New Orleans. If you mixed the history and architecture of Boston with the general debauchery of Las Vegas you'd have the facade of a fair attempt at New Orleans. I mean it as straight as I write it. New Orleans is dirty, lazy in appearances, mystical, darkly veiled, vibrant, a living relic, historic, violent, unapologetic, unconcerned, and slow. Walking around even one night in New Orleans emotes a feeling of dark and unspoken mysticism. I don't mean the new-agey shamanism prevalent in television, popular culture and yoga circles. I speak more of a presence in the city that exists of the same roots from which the city was born. So thick is the air of the otherworldly that the various Day of the Dead relics sit not as tourist junk but as broadcasters and conduits in the store-front windows.
     In almost every aspect of downtown New Orleans exists a lean, unkempt presence. Something hungry watches and lurks. It's behind the overgrown plants escaping onto the sidewalk, or the rotten shutters north of Canal Street. The heart of New Orleans watches the passersby and either opens up, hides or lashes out. This unkempt presence extends from downtown out west of along Magazine street and the surrounding area. There is very little about most of New Orleans that would pass a homeowners association inspection. There is no agreed aesthetic except that which was built and deserted or handed down through generations. Vines and plants grow largely unchecked. Paint fades or peels at the sole discretion of the weather or the complacence of the standing structure. Gates are old and iron and generously dusted with rust and peeling black paint. Sidewalks sink or rise per the wishes of the old and sometimes restless oak trees.
     Bourbon Street - This is what Las Vegas wishes it was: all the debauchery with none of the excessive hype. Bourbon Street is terminated by Canal Street on the southern end. Where it goes on the northern end I don't know. I always visited Bourbon Street at night and this is when the soul of New Orlean's Mischief is at play.
     The entrance of Bourbon Street, from Canal, is immediately inhabited by a few bars (The Bourbon Cowboy has a mechanical bull), a high end sex shop stocked with risqué lingerie, 'who needs an imagination?' lingerie and toys. Also sitting in the first block off Canal Street is the Royal Sonesta Hotel. There is no hiding the purpose of visiting Bourbon Street: gluttony and lust in the delivered forms of: strippers, hand grenades (a highly potent alcoholic party drink… they’re freakin huge), beer, dance clubs, beads all year round, public drunkenness, and even public displays of dancing. When the Royal Sonesta Hotel establishes a permanent residence on Bourbon Street, it further solidifies the cultural acceptance of a never-ending party. The farther I walk down Bourbon Street the more common strip clubs and dirty men seem to be. The street is not without its dirty women. They are slightly removed, standing recessed in doorways or dancing in various states inside the adult-clubs. Near the very end of the lit section of Bourbon is an adult house promoting acts as indelicate as their burning neon signs. Of the multiple times I've visited New Orleans and walked down Bourbon Street there exists a section of Bourbon where the lights don't shine anymore. This line is further demarcated with a final police fence. Tourists, such as myself, warn each other about walking down Bourbon past the lights and daring the dark to scare and spare us. I dared a fellow traveller to walk with me into the first darkened block. He wouldn't do it and I am honestly grateful. Bourbon Street is best understood by living it, if even for a day.
     Canal Street - is the connective tissue tying all the disparate, emotional states of New Orleans together. It is the arbiter between the carnal, darkly lavish feasts of Bourbon and the refined pillars and gardens of the gentry of St. Charles. The world makes first contact to New Orleans via Canal Street.
     St. Charles Avenue - is gorgeous. This is where the homes of past thrive. Mansions against mansions against the open air gaiety of well trimmed shrubs and personal gardens. Sights worth seeing: Academy of the Sacred Heart, Tulane, Audubon Park, S. Carrollton Avenue and the oak trees. Academy of the Sacred Heart, Tulane and Audubon Park are all worth your time and can all be seen from the St. Charles Trolley (line #12) and can be read about in travel books. What you might not read about are the oak trees. The old oak trees cover the street and create, or reflect, the same shadowy veil of mystery that can be felt in the dirtier and darker corners of the city. Even out here, in the noontime sun on St. Charles Avenue, twilight hides in the trees and falls like slow to the concrete below. This silent dusting of the shades of night reveal hints of the city’s other face. In this falling dust of the city’s twilight eyes, history mixes with superstition, voodoo, and something wild to create a doorway that almost shows itself in the shade of these trees. Just behind the trees lay the secret of New Orleans. As the trolley sparks and abuses its bell toward traffic obstructions, pedestrians and random squirrels this twilight passes as a dark dusting from the old oak trees of St. Charles Ave. I am deeply enchanted. I favor the trolley ride and the old oak trees as my brightest highlight about the city of New Orleans.

Restaurants of Note:
    * Slice - On St. Charles. Locally owned pizza joint that sells by the slice or by the pie. Big slices, great taste.
    * Juan's Flying Burrito - Local favorite
    * Tris - Haven't been here but it looks fantasic. There's an outdoor patio. It's on S. Carrollton which is very timeless.