May 032012
 

NEW ORLEANS SNAPSHOTS

 

It’s a dang shame we can’t photograph music.

Although if we could, Arabic writing might be close as I can imagine.

Fortunately for me, a day that promised rain held off long enough for me to wander the streets all afternoon.

But not before I made that excursion on the trolley, oops sorry, that’s Texas talk, I mean street car, out to Whole Food Paycheck for my Texas salsa to eat with my corn chips tomorrow on the train.

That street car was a timeless wooden thang clattering so loud my ear drums were vibrating, rattling so wild my teeth were chattering, ding ding dingin’ all the way up St Charles Avenue, along a parade of grand old houses that bespoke a different time and a different tune. And I’m not talkin’ ’bout the music.

The wind blew through those wide open windows on the street car; occasionally the bruised purple clouds above broke, throwing down water like a sheet. The wheels and the tracks of those street cars must be all steel to make a noise like that.

I had my eyes peeled for Jefferson, because down Jeffereson I’d find Magazine and on Magazine I’d find my food barn heaven.

Wandering along past those beautiful homes reminded me of Rathgar, the stately old mansion in Grafton where my grandparents ran a home for girls whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t take good care of them, many years ago.

The houses were gorgeous, of course. The trees lining the streets, sprinkled in ancient moss, of course. Jasmine wafted my way, of course. The gardens, unsurprisingly I guess, and disappointingly, were of a genre we might term ‘modern maintenance free’.

Now and then I sheltered in dry spots beneath the old trees, moving on when the rain backed off.

I turned the corner onto Magazine and a pretty little street lined with small boutiques brightened my already raised spirits. Designer shops, coffee shops, a beauty parlour that specialised in shoes . . . of course, any southern belle worth her salt wants new shoes with her facial.

In food barn heaven I stocked up on everything but that fresh tomato sugar free Texas salsa and sat on a bench with my pocket knife crafting little smoked salmon rolls crammed with fresh mozzarella, snapping off salted dark roasted almond chocolate for dessert.

I licked my fingers clean, picked up my paper shopping bags and headed back the way I came to the street car, past the grand old houses . . . it wouldn’t take much . . . perhaps evening to fall, creating shadows on the trees and houses, mist from speckled evening rain, and the New Orleans of my imagination springs to life . . . but in reality I’m praying those purple clouds would not make good on their promise of rain. At least till I got those paper bags onto the street car!

I started singin’ a new song . . . jambalaya and a crawfish pie and file’ gumbo . . . apparently, I had to try the gumbo, it was just a small matter of where.

The street car turned up before the rain, its cyclops eye lit bright to let me know it was coming round the bend on those grassy tracks, and my paper bags made it home in time to put my cheese and fish in the fridge. I eat a second lunch of pilgrim food –  hard cheese and apple – and head out again lookin’ for bookshops.

A beggar man stopped me near Canal Street, showin’ me his limousine driver licence to prove, I guess, he wasn’t really a beggar. He wanted money to get a shower at the Salvation Army.

‘You gotta pay to shower at the Salvation Army?’ I asked, incredulous actually. What are we all donating to ‘em for if they charge for a shower?

He assured me he did.

‘How much they charge?’ I wondered aloud.

‘Eight dollars,’ he said. Eight dollars for a shower at the Salvation Army?

I reached into my jeans pockets, figuring he could have what was in there.

Fortunately for him, there was a ten. I glanced at it, knowing it was more than I intended. Anyone who’s read My Pilgrim’s Heart knows that a while back I suspended my alms policy. It’s been reinstated on new terms, one of which is that . . . well, my reasoning’s irrelevant really.

I gave him the ten, figuring at least if he got clean he’d have a better chance of gettin’ a job. He wanted a hug. I declined. He said he understood, he was dirty. I said it wasn’t cos he was dirty. I was gonna say it’s because I can’t be bothered being hugged by men who want anything at all from women (and I’m not talkin’ about the money), but decided to keep my attitude to myself.

I walked on in air blown warm by the wind. I have a friend who says Los Angeles is the USA’s gaudy face, New York is the masculine meeting the world, and New Orleans is the moist softness of a woman.

I turn into Royal Street, one down from Bourbon. It is mid afternoon and men of varying backgrounds and cultures, tourists and locals with a problem with sobriety, swagger along the street with a beer in hand. Most would not do this in their home town . . . I wonder what is so heroic in their own minds they need to do it here.

Church Quiet Zone

I wander along Royal, past galleries with gorgeous paintings of the city, my favourite an oil with a turquoise background with four skinny lampposts swaying to music of their own making. I turn down Pirate Alley – how could I not? Check out this sign. I figure it must be for the pirates.

I follow the music to  the end of Pirate Alley, and there in an open square I find the New Orleans I might have imagined in a modern world, for like Woody Allen I am prone to romancing the past and tangling it with the present, thus disappointing the future.

Those men could play!

I sat on the steps among the elderly and disabled, the young and the sober, tapping my toes to a feast of sound. Gypsy fortune tellers touted for customers on the fringes. An old man with a golf club for a walking stick, not so sober, danced with a young woman, a little more sure footed but just as inebriated.  I watched those musicians belt out music they pulled outa thin air, they were wonderful. I wondered why it is women don’t take up public space like this. I gave them a fiver.

I circle Chartes, still looking for bookshops. In the end I give up on them – they’re all antique shops parading books like ornaments, though one gives me a list of modern bookshops on the other side of Canal – and so I turn my attentions to the best seafood gumbo I can find.

Rocking horse monkey

I turn on my heel and head back up Royal. There is a French gallery owner who engaged me in conversation in his shop. He has lived in Noo ORlins for 30 years, he’d have to know where to find good gumbo.

He does. There’s the Gumbo Shop on St Peter and there’s Acme back toward Canal. He says try Acme. I take his advice.

On my way back up the street I found her, a woman playing music on the street of New Orleans. It was the melody that called me, stopped me, enfolded me and, when I sought to ignore it and move on, caused me to weep.

Ram Goddess

I turned to the music. She was playing a violin. If I am an angel without wings, as those fridge magnets like to say, then those are my notes. I try to move on, the music calls me back. I make a point of stopping properly – where on Earth could I be going that’s more important than this?

She finishes her tune. I walk up to Acme. I’m not particularly hungry, but I figure I’ll see if they take bookings – from the line outside I doubt it. Must be good gumbo.

I stand in line. I am one person. She lets me in, along with the woman behind me. We sit together at the bar, ordering our food and drinks, separate, each in our own world.

I order the gumbo. I order a beer. I raise the bottle to the mirror behind the bar and say ‘cheers, me!’

Okay, I forgot I was in public.

The woman beside me laughs and raises her glass. We toast each other. She’s a television presenter from New York.

Did you get that?

She’s a TV presenter from New York.

Serendipity is a blast, isn’t it?

We laugh. We chat. We go our own way.

But not before exchanging cards.

The gumbo is awful. It’s like dead food. Like tasteless beef stew with prawns in it. I’m sorry I didn’t order the po’boy the woman next to me ordered. Po’boy, I now know, is fried fish in white bread.

The beer wasn’t great either. Shiner Bluk Bock. I added the bluk.

But whenever I spend a single moment disappointed about my gumbo, I remember Marta, the television presenter from New York.

That gumbo and that beer were worth Marta – not for the contacts she generously shared, but for the hope of what’s possible in this world.

I just hope that hope spreads to restoring liquidity tomorrow when the banks open. For some $%^&* reason not a single ATM between the restaurant and my hotel will accept my card and I’ve given away all my paper money. At the very least I need a taxi fare to the train.

But that’s tomorrow’s problem.

Today, I’m a woman who’s spent two days in New Orleans.

And tomorrow, I’m going to Jackson!

Look out Jackson town.

The link is Johnny Cash and June Carter at San Quentin – were they singin’ about my Jackson? Dunno, but check it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 032012
 

NEW ORLEANS

 

That’s N’Orlins to local folk.

And tomorrow, I’m goin’ to Jackson.

It’s the only afternoon train outa Noo ORlins and considerin’ prices in this city double tomorrow for the Jazz Festival on the weekend, the festival is just gonna have to wait for me to come round again.

So as I spoke to the train woman on the phone and she was rattlin’ off the train route and I was lookin’ at my google map, Jackson seemed to shine a little brighter than the other spots . . . and then I started singin’ I’m gonnna Jackson

But in the meantime ahm here in Noo Orlins!

Deciding to take Danny’s advice and catch the street car up St Charles Avenue and take a geezer at the stately old homes. I googled Whole Food Market New Orleans and whadyaknow! There’s one right down the end of St Charles and over a bit.

I am a woman catchin’ trains – there is nothin’ I won’t do for good food.

Actually it’s always been that way. When I walked the Camino with Ben and his then girlfriend Renee we had a deal – Renee paid for the food, I cooked it and Ben carried it. ‘It’ being brown rice, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, tamari, fresh vegetables etc.

And in Darwin, 35 years ago, I would drive 20 miles outa town for a ham sandwich. And I didn’t even eat ham. I must have been starving hungry one day and those ham sandwiches must’ve been all there was, but I’m here to tell you that that ham on that fresh white bread was unbeatable. At least in 1977.

In 2012, it’s smoked wild salmon, blue corn chips that a are unaffordable in Australia and three bucks here, berry keffir, the crunchiest red applies this side of New Zealand and the ingredients for Sheri’s fabulously smart ‘jar’ salad – chopped fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil dumped in a glass jar with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

In truth I went all that way for that sugar-free Texas salsa – I remembered the rest when I got there . . . only to discover they had NO TEXAS SALSA in Louisiana.

But hell, I’m gonna Jackson, and that’s a fact.

Right now though, I’m headin’ back out into that billowing black sky for the book shops.

I might be having the time of my life but I am, after all, here to sell books.

 

 May 3, 2012  Tagged with: ,  1 Response »
May 022012
 

NEW ORLEANS

 

Bourbon Street smells like vomit.

And that big brass noisy band of lively boys on the corner promised so much more.

Bourbon Street these days is a lascivious right of passage for men and boys looking for girls drunk enough to pay them the attention they believe is their due.

Frankly, I wouldn’t eat there if they were givin’ it away.

Anyway, I couldn’t possibly open my mouth to that smell.

I wandered along with the early evening crowd, sure footed among the cacophony of booze and lights and smells and promises of barely legal girls, and then, suddenly, one more step and the air cleared.

I was still on Bourbon Street, but the stoopidness of inflated and hateful and broken masculinity passed with the crossing of one more street. No longer performing for me, the tourist and stranger, the street brightened into a corridor of pretty houses.

The air was easy.

The homes built like those of the Spanish, with enclosed courtyards shuttered from the street.

Tiled signs declaring ‘Calle de Bourbon’ . . .

And now I’m wondering why they call this the French quarter?

And then this:

Bar on Bourbon Street

Look carefully at this picture.

I turned left, circling back to my hotel via anywhere but Bourbon Street, and left again into Dauphine Street.

Ahhhh, a small sweet deli (there’s tomorrow’s breakfast), a seafood restaurant (lunch).

And up across Canal Street to the gorgeous Pavillion Hotel.

Home.

La Pavillion Hotel

 

Apr 172012
 

‘There is nothing else to do but yodel from the edge of courage and claim all of myself and all of my life and trust the freefall and fallout will lead me somewhere alive and true.’
From My Pilgrim’s Heart

 

There is a space where the world pauses to take breath: between tides, before a storm, at equinox.

That breath marks a turning, the point beyond which everything changes, again.

This morning I am that space.

My whiteboard, six weeks ago marked with weeks, a week ago marked with days, overflowing with tasks, is wiped clean.

The whiteboard is – was – on my mother’s lounge room floor, where I have been sleeping – another pause.

Six weeks between full time work and an American book tour.

There was so very much to do and now there is just one word left on the board:  Fargo.

The word came to me recently in a dream.

It was the name of a publication, an old fashioned comic book-like magazine published by me.

Its name was Fargo.

The word is written bold and black on the whiteboard and seems to me a poetic metaphor for the fact I am going very far.

On Thursday, my tide begins to run again, when I board that plane for LA. To catch the train to New Orleans. And from there the train to New York City.

Journeys. Landscapes. People. Crucibles.

Once again I am at the edge of my known world, trusting the freefall will lead me somewhere alive and true.

Intrepid, a few butterflies, I stand alone as I do the farewell rounds of family and friends.

Connected. Distant. Fargo.

 

Apr 162012
 

 

“Mountains everywhere sing the same song. They might differ in shades of tone or pitch, but like good folk songs that circle round and back again, everyone, everywhere thinks them their own.”
From My Pilgrim’s Heart

 

On Thursday I fly.

Then I catch the train.

The train they call the City of New Orleans.

From Los Angeles, City of Angels – whose original settlement was known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula or The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Little Portion. Although not named for the beautiful river that flows from the north-west, the beautiful river was named for . . . actually, it’s a long Spanish Catholic story. Much like the name.

The train!

The train they call the city of New Orleans, I’ll be gone 500 miles before the day is done.

Except hopefully I won’t. I’ll be jumping on and off that train – deboarding as the Americans call it – all the way to New Orleans and then on up to New York City, meeting folks, meeting the land, meeting myself as the United States of America.

Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me?  

Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City.

Three Americas, staring back at me.

Good mornin’ America HOWAREYA!

I pull into New Orleans on the weekend of the jazz festival – I’ll be hard pressed attending my own book event with all that smoky music pressing up against the door!

I might be leavin’ Lousiana in the broad daylight but not before I head down in the swampland, where anything goes, it’s alligator bait and the bars don’t close, it’s the real thing down in Louisiana.

New Orleans, the moist city whose shadows woo the elegant and the wicked. As a daughter of the hottest driest continent on Earth, I am eyes wide, watching.

But before that Texas! Dust bowl country. Wing and a wheel and Nanci Griffiths, whose two friends remind her in the most glorious way there is no need for any human being to be complacent’.

And Janis!

Whose voice was our gift and our glory, a reminder that ‘freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose’.

Janis.

And Townes – so walk these hills lightly, and watch who you’re lovin’, by mother the mountain I swear that it’s true – Wrecks Bell and his crew are still waitin’ for Townes to show up for his final gig at The Old Quarters, home of the annual Townes van Zandt wake.

And after that New York City, our collective Great Love, but before that Emmylou and the red dirt girls just across the line and a little south-west of Meridien.

Many years ago, I worked as the editor on an Australian country music magazine. I might have known it beforehand, in a hazy background kinda way, but that year my lights went on in appreciation for American country music – those songs are a prayer to our home the Earth and a celebration of appreciation for what it is to be livin’, lovin’, strugglin’ human.

In America, that ol’ highway goes on forever.

And all the world is a song.

Call me down off that train! I’d love to meet you.