Wednesday, 5 November 2014

My Introduction to Party Town

As I was leaving Lawrence, someone said "Oh!  You're going to see Nola!"

It took me a minute to realize he meant New Orleans, Louisiana (NO, LA).  The name immediately struck me as a sort of vulgar shorthand for a city that I hoped would be more beautiful than that.

The train ride from Mississippi felt short compared to the 20-hour ordeal I went through travelling from Kansas to Memphis.  By noon I had crossed the border into Louisiana, and started getting acquainted with the changes in the terrain.  The land and climate helps define a city and its people, and for the first time I found myself travelling through this...

To the right of the train was this marshland, dotted with green.  To the left was open water as far as I could see (with, inexplicably, a set of high-voltage electric lines going off into what looked a lot like nowhere at all).  Somehow this climate and this place gave rise to the home of jazz and Mardi Gras and parties and intensity and all of these things that ended up looking a lot like...

The French Quarter of New Orleans.  This is Jackson Square, adjacent to the St Louis Cathedral and the Louisiana State Museum. 

The square, which is only suggested by this photo and isn't clearly visible, has a spread of street performers, ragtime bands, tarot readers, palmistry booths and other seers and strangers ready to take your donations.

I hiked through the French Quarter and explored, still wearing my 60-lb pack and trying to find a place that looked welcoming and interesting.  The whole city has a thick fog of religion and superstition - even Mardi Gras is predicated on preparing for lent.  The voodoo shops spill incense smoke onto the neon of Bourbon Street and the traces of pagan practice mix with the bells of the cathedral.  New Orleans is what would happen if someone tried to recruit the Catholic church to work with a hundred houngans to build another Las Vegas at the South end of the Mississippi river.  There were no traces of irony or mischief that I could detect when I saw these signs advertising spaces for rent.

I prefer the haunted ones.

As far as I could tell, these signs were absolutely sincere.  When I struck up a conversation with a few locals one of the first things I heard about were hauntings - construction sites, houses, parts of town, mostly with the lead in of "I consider myself a skeptic, but..."

The Visitor's Centre was extremely helpful.  I got a steep discount on a hotel in the French Quarter and settled in for a few days.  I settled in and settled down to a hotel room, where the view from my window looked like this...

About then, I decided that New Orleans and I would probably get along just fine.

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