Today we leave Ren on her laptop. We are going to explore the arts scene and the civil war museum, but it’s Sunday, and as we walk, the church bells are appealing across the city. We find out most places are closed, so step into a couple of art galleries and one in particular has some gorgeous jewellery from local artists. I’m trying to decide what will be my momento from New Orleans when I hear the shop assistant showing someone else some Mardi-gras beads. In a strongly Catholic society the beads originate from years ago when during the Mardi-gras, rich people would throw beads, candy and money out from floats to the poor. It was ‘party time’ before lent and traditionally a sharing of wealth and food before forty days of abstinence ending in Easter. Many years ago they were beautiful coloured Czechoslovakian glass beads but for a long time now they have been cheap plastic beads and fake money. The beautiful glass beads are quite rare now and this artist has been collecting them to make jewellery from. I’m intrigued and pick out a gorgeous necklace. Perfect.
We see at least thirty different groups of young people on the street of twenty or thirty per group, all in their matching tees from one bible youth group or another. It’s holidays now and not sure if they are here for a convention or to save souls, or perhaps both, but the place is filled with them. We are told later it’s a national convention and there’s around thirty thousand of them here in New Orleans. No wonder they’re everywhere!
Chelsea is standing on the footpath and stops me to ask where we come from to have a great tan like we have. I tell her we got this in Cuba smiling and she tells us excitedly she wants to go there soon. Turns out she’s selling tours but we’re already sorted so we chat on and she asks if we’ve gotten into any trouble yet. “Trouble? Hope not to get into any,” I laugh. “Be careful, most people get into some sort of trouble”. Everywhere we go we are told to be careful. The concierge tells us not to go down any side streets, stay in the main roads and says Bourbon street in particular is all about boobs and bourbon. Says not to have anything on our back and keep wallets in particular in front pockets. Says they often work in groups and in a crowd there’s a little push and shove and they’re so good you won’t even know it’s gone, until you reach to pay for dinner. “I swear they must have a pick pocket school down there,” she adds shaking her head.
We wander around the French Quarter and French Market. Not wanting to buy anything, just sitting on a park bench and enjoying listening to all the buskers and people watching. A guy is playing a saxophone nearby and he’s amazing. As we get up to leave I slip over and put a couple of bucks in. There’s a heaps of buskers around but none as good as him.
“Is that a Jade necklace?” A guy blurts out to Gilbert from a bench seat. Yes it is he tells the man. It’s a NZ stone. “Can I have it? He asks. “No” Gilbert replies as he continues walking past, without batting an eyelid.
We stroll down the riverfront of the Mississippi. It’s looking a bit grey and boring today as thunder rolls overhead with the promise of rain. Touristy now it’s where wharves used to stretch for miles along the riverfront. It was of course the main thoroughfare and was so busy, packed with steam boats picking up barrels of sugar and sacks of cotton they say you could walk from boat to boat. Now it’s all about river steam boat cruises and tourists, though I can see tugs on the other side moving barges up and down constantly.
I copied this pic of yesteryear. Tons of sugar in barrels and sacks of cotton.
We leave Gilbert behind and grab a taxi to the ‘Allways Lounge and Theatre’ on St Claude’s St where Ren has found there is a one hour free swing dancing lesson and then a live band and dancing. I’m excited. Ren’s out’ve her tree excited but when the taxi drops us off, I’m not so sure this is an ok place to be at night. There’s quite a few young people milling around on both sides of the road in amongst what looks like housing. A bit like what the end of K Rd used to look like.
I peer in a few open doors to see some dodgy looking bars with very dark interiors and the distinct smell of weed. We see a sign that says ‘open’ that just looks like a house and Ren merrily leads me in but I’m looking around and quite anxious. I’m wondering how the hell we are going to get away if it all turns to shit here. It’s a coffee bar and the girls lovely and we get the last coffee before she closes. We ask about the dancing and she says it’s a fun place. We’re almost the first in the door of the ‘Allways Lounge’ but they arrive thick and fast and there’s about thirty for lessons in the end that are easy and fun. It’s a tiny place and couldn’t take much more I’m thinking, then the real band starts and they are awesome.
The band is a foursome but the main singer is the drums, with only an old washboard and tap shoes on. The music is jazz and blues and whatever else it’s called between that, but more importantly great to dance to. The place has about fifty there by then and it soon becomes obvious most of them know what they are doing and there’s not much room for beginners as the dancing is fast and furious. Everyone seems to know each other and they swap partners often.
Some are in gorgeous cocktail dresses and others in shorts
The average ones are great and the good ones are amazing. It’s a pleasure to watch. There is no way I’m getting up amongst this group. Ren however pairs up regularly and looks pretty good too!