New Orleans!

There is light and dark in New Orleans.073 A vibrant, exciting and yet troubled city revealed itself to me during my stay with Alfie. We drove the 780 miles from Florida to NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) on the Mississippi river: that fascinating place so horribly devastated by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. Some houses, like this one, remain in ruins.116054


This is such a city of contrasts – scruffy houses down by the French Quarter and then multi-million pound houses in the Garden District – where Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock have houses. I walked around both districts and took a variety of pictures.

I arrived at Carla’s house at 3.30 a.m. (Well 4.30 Florida time, but there was an hour change as we crossed from Florida via the Southern tip of Alabama into Louisiana). It was a 14-hour trip, exhausting and at times frightening – especially at the 2 petrol stations where I stopped to refuel (still amazed at how cheap it is) – which is why I didn’t do any napping. At one point, having pre-paid for the petrol, I was so worried about the dodgy characters around that I almost didn’t bother to take it. Alfie, uncomplaining, had to do without walkies.

060 062 070 088 074It was so lovely to arrive at Carla’s sweet house and find the key under the mat and a lovely note in my bedroom. I collapsed into the comfy bed and slept for 5 hours.

On waking I wished Carla a Happy Birthday, and we went down to the French Quarter – Chez Amelie – for a birthday lunch. Carla told me she hates Bourbon Street so we avoided it – when I visited on my final day I could only walk 2 blocks before I turned off. It really is tacky and seedy. Royal Street is so much nicer. After lunch we had a stroll around the French Quarter, taking in the landmarks such as Jackson Square, St Louis Cathedral, and Cafe du Monde, where you buy coffee and beignets liberally coated in icing sugar that falls over your clothes when you try to eat them – but they are delicious and Alfie was allowed only the tiniest taste.

Carla appears to have the only house in the street with an asshole neighbour. I know he is one because his is the only house in the Street with the Confederate flag – here it is, provocatively floating in the wind.068

To illustrate what flying this flag outside your house symbolises, I turn to an article in the Washington Post, quoting Matthew Guterl, a professor of Africana and American studies at Brown University:

“There are at least two reasons why people embrace the battle flag or the stars and bars, which was first used by the army of northern Virginia. The first, which is a kind of surface explanation, is that they imagine that in that context the flag is a representation of Southern history, Southern heritage, and Southern culture. … It’s bound up, in this sense, in the question of the South as a once nation. But I also think that people invoke the flag because they want to endorse on some level, even if secretly or subconsciously, the very rationale for the Confederacy. When people say ‘heritage not hate,’ they are omitting the obvious, which is that that heritage is hate. When someone says it’s about history, well, that particular history is inseparable from hate, because it is about hate. It’s about racism, and it’s about slavery.”

Which is why, in my opinion, Carla’s neighbour is an asshole. That, and the little matter of the evacuation, by the police, of Carla and several other householders when he was holding his wife hostage with his gun two years ago.094 090 106

It wasn’t planned, but I arrived in New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras and the last day – the actual fat Tuesday.

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I attended 2 of the parades – one in the evening (a new one, apparently) and the popular ‘Zulu’ 103 102 108on fat Tuesday, with Carla – it was difficult to choose from the many photos I took. Alfie came with us and a policeman told me dogs are not allowed on the route, so we found a place which allowed us to take it in turns to stand back on the corner. It is difficult with Alfie as he hates me to leave him behind, but then he hates loud noises too, so it is a case of the lesser of 2 evils. I know he would rather be with me.

On the way back from the parade, Carla and I admired the tree outside a man’s house. We then heard a very sad story – the tree118was decorated not just for Mardi Gras but also in honour of his partner’s son who, at 23, was stabbed to death outside the house during a robbery – His name was Atisha.

130 129 126 131 125 124 123 122 121 120In America, brides-to-be get photographs in their wedding dress taken outdoors before their wedding day. Alfie and I bumped into this lovely girl

The place I love the most in New Orleans is the City Park, with its Sculpture Garden (with my favourite sculpture from the NY Metropolitan Museum – the golden Diana the Huntress by Augustus Saint-Gaudens – reproduced in the garden) – see pictures below – at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the 24-hour Cafe087 “Morning Call” with coffee and beignets (nicer than at Cafe du Monde, actually). The trees in the park are, like in Charleston and Savannah, live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.


Warm weather is following me around on this trip. Since I left New York I have seen a tiny amount of rain twice and the rest of the time the temperatures have been high, the days sunny and pleasant.

Carla’s house is a short driving distance to a lovely park, a bird sanctuary with thousands of birds roosting in the middle of a big lake, and  containing one of the nicest dog parks around – though I have to say, Alfie still doesn’t really know what to do in a dog park. He says hello to some dogs, looks horrified when certain ones (usually pitbulls or pitbull mixes, call me prejudiced…) charge over to say hello, and for the most part looks for squirrels in neighbouring trees to bark at. American dogs see dog parks as a way to be off the lead and chase around with gusto, thankful for the freedom; Alfie, used to being off the lead 99% of the time in the UK, appears to see them as a place to go to humour me and just stands around waiting to leave. We are going to them less and less as he prefers the open spaces outside, even if he does have to be attached to me by a lead.

A couple of days after I arrived, Carla welcomed her lovely friend Kate who is travelling around teaching NIA or ‘no impact aerobics’. I had the pleasure of doing a class with 6 other women and really enjoyed it – the only real exercise I get at the moment is walking Alfie and the swimming I did in Florida. After the class we went to have burgers in a lovely nearby restaurant and Alfie lay as patiently on the floor as he did in the exercise class.067

The next day, Kate and I did a tour of a number of NOLA’s thrift shops (‘charity shops’ in UK parlance). We each got a number of bargains and had great fun. The shops are cheaper than in the UK and much bigger.

The train sound: There is a sound here that you cannot hear in the UK – the sound of the train’s warning horn, a throaty long sweet musical hoot.056 085 086 Think of many American films and that sound as a train passes through…. I love it. Here in New Orleans you can hear it from Carla’s garden and it evokes so much for me – the real America, I guess. All trains, big and small, wherever I have been in the country, have the same sound.

I long for a decent cup of English tea. I have the teabags, but they don’t react to the water and the milk in the same way here. One day I will succeed in making a cup that tastes like it does at home. So far, it has not been possible.

I took the streetcar several times whilst in New Orleans (Think ‘A streetcar named desire’ by Tennessee Williams, a local). It is surely the slowest form of transport I have ever taken (even pushbikes go faster). Part of the issue is the selfish drivers who literally squeeze themselves across the lines and get stuck when the lights change. One day, I swear, a streetcar driver will lose it and smash into one of those selfish souls.

147Whilst waiting for ages for a streetcar to inch up Canal Street I sat and chatted to these 3 sweet homeless men. They were respectful towards me and affectionate to Alfie. The one on the right of the photo kept saying, as if to convince himself ‘Its all gonna be ok’. If I ever became exceedingly rich I would want to help as many homeless people as I could. It is so hard to maintain your dignity when you have nothing.

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New Orleans’ cuisine reflects the melting pot of French, African and American cultures and the coffee is the best I have tasted – mixed with just the right amount of chicory. Delicious!

058 059 081 080 079 082 136 129I was debating about whether to talk about this, but here is an edited story about a NOLA ‘adventure’. I met a nice couple in Central Park. They introduced me on Facebook to a number of their friends. One guy who remains nameless for what follows, invited me to stay with him in New Orleans. Staying with a friend of a friend is not the same as staying with a friend of a couple you have only just met, so I stayed with Carla instead who is a friend of mine – and thank goodness I did. I arranged to meet him. As it happens, on the final day of Mardi Gras – the actual Tuesday.
When I turned up things took a very dark turn. First, he was a sight to behold and not a pretty one – I think the dried bogey hanging from his right nostril did it for me, along with the bruises on his face and the shuffling gait.

Then he didn’t even realise that the restaurant we were meeting at wasn’t open, although he was sitting outside and had had time to check. Unwisely letting him get in my car, he sent me down a street full of revellers off their faces – I managed to negotiate that 145 139 140 141 137without killing anyone but it took some time, and then although, after I parked in an extremely dodgy area, he found his street, he couldn’t find his house. When he found his house I was surprised to find it one step up from emptiness. It was a house arranged as a ‘shotgun’ – here is a picture of one – you literally walk in a room, to another, to another to another at the back. No corridors and no privacy. There are many in New Orleans. It is a ‘shotgun’ because you could shoot from the front door to the back door unhindered, apparently. This house does not look anything like the one this man lived in.

I continue: Stepping in the house I found myself in a room that was black, all black. It contained his sweet niece who had a tattoo straight across her forehead and a boyfriend possibly on crack. After that, an empty room with a stepladder, the next room was the ‘bedroom’ he had offered me – containing only a thin stained mattress. His bedroom was the last room. Flopping on the bed he invited me to sit next to him so we could take a selfie.133 117

My English politeness had kept me there until that point. ‘No thanks. I think we can take one outside.’ I walked back to chat to his niece: a sweet, if evidently troubled young woman. I sat and chatted for a while until he came to the room and started talking about where we would eat (there was no kitchen in the house). At that point, I got up and said ‘I am just going to get some sun’, opened the door, shut the door, and ran to my car, locking myself in. Then drove home.

That was my NOLA dark adventure.

Apart from that, Alfie (who wasn’t with me at this juncture, but at home with Carla) and I had a very interesting time in New Orleans, loved being with Carla and loved the parks. New Orleans is really something else…. As is this adorable tranny with perfect make-up I bumped into as I arrived in the French quarter with Alfie071