|This is not a po-boy btw, this is just a great egg, avocado and cheese breakfast, my favourite!|
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
''America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland''. Tennessee Williams might have forgotten one, two or ten cities, but the writer of the great play ''A Streetcar named Desire'' definitely named three cities that are nothing like another city. New Orleans has a certain authentic vibe that hit me the moment I arrived there, and still makes me shiver sometimes. But in a good way. New Orleans is definitely one of a kind.
When I was in Austin, everyone told me that the best was yet to come. Many people I met there, described New Orleans as a dark city, mystical, mindblowing. My host Tyler described it in the following manner: Austin and New Orleans are both creative cities, but Austin is light creativity and New Orleans is dark creativity. The more people told me about the city, the more confused I got. Is this all meant to be positive? On the other hand, they told me about all the places I should go to to see live music, art and history. What's not to like?
The trip from Austin to New Orleans was another overnight bus ride. It might sound weird, but I felt kinda sad. It was gonna be my last Greyhound trip! And it definitely proved to be the typical Greyhound ride, since I met so many weird people. When I was waiting for my ride on the station in Houston, I was peacefully sitting on the ground and eating my banana. A Mexican guy sat down next to me and started a telephone conversation in Spanish for several minutes. Suddenly, he grabbed his water bottle and as I thought he was just gonna take a zip of water, he was actually starting to puke! The substance streamed out of his mouth and the water bottle didn't do its work. His puke came all out over the ground. Fortunately, I was sitting on the right side of him, cause he aimed for the left and I was on the right.
Another guy wasn't that lucky, however, and sat down right in it. At the same moment, two random guys started asking me all sorts of questions and my only answer was: calling my friend Charlotte in the Netherlands, who was still suffering from a jetlag. ''Bente, where the fuck are you? Do you know where you have to go?!" God, where had I end up?
The Greyhound driver was in a hurry, luckily, so we arrived in New Orleans pretty early. I had another expensive breakfast at 8 in the morning, had a great conversation with two old folks from New York and made my way to my Couchsurfing address. My host Nick wasn't there, because he was busy working on a cooking program - he works in film production, even helped out at the set of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, cause he's from New Zealand! - but his roommate Max was there to give me recommendations.
I decided to start off good and join a free walking tour. I'd discovered free walking tours during my Interrail travels a couple years earlier, but somehow I always forget how awesome they are. This trip was all about voodoo, the religion many people from the South follow. How come? It is distinct from the various African traditional religions, that the slaves brought from West Africa to the South of the States. Our tour guide was an extremely enthusiastic and inspiring guy with long limbs and even longer hair.
It turned out all I ever associated with voodoo was wrong. I'd love to describe the entire tour we did, but that'd bore even my most devoted readers. What it came down to was: dancing, role playing and the knowledge that voodoo is not scary or dangerous at all; the idea of stabbing voodoo dolls is only meant to cure sicknesses. Something I found very interesting was the story about the voodoo queen Marie Laveau, who lived and died in New Orleans. She was born as a free person and was the hair dresser of the rich nobility from Lousiana. She used the gossip she heard in the advantage of the Creole slaves and freed many of them that way. Another interesting fact: many slaves were free on Sundays and that's when they practized their religion in the present Louis Armstrong park. When the slave owners came by, they pretended they were practizing the Christian religion, since interestingly enough, voodoo and Christianity are similar in many ways.
The rest of the day I walked around in the French Quarter, which is one of the most amazing areas I've ever been in. All of the houses are colourful, people are very, very friendly and I tasted great chocolate and caramel pralines everywhere, until I got slightly nauseous. That night, I met up with Julia, who I met in Austin, since she was a friend of a friend of my host. She showed me around in Bywater, which is kinda like the hipster part of the city. We cycled a lot, ate a salad at her place and afterwards, Max picked me up and took me to listen to some great jazz in a bar.
My hosts were the best, they drove me around everywhere, showed me the city, took me out for breakfast, lunch and dinner and were awesome company. We talked about politics, about relationships, about food and about music. About everything, come to think of it. On Wednesday Max, Julia and I went to a marvellous piano bar to drink wine, eat cheese and listen to music. If I wasn't in love with this city yet, I definitely was now.
One of the other days, I did another tour about the history of New Orleans. The French influence - which is still visible everywhere! - the slave trade and the hurricane Katrina; I began to understand the dark creativity of the city. Its history is so sad, there's dirt everywhere, addicted people, but still, there's a certain hope and positivity. That probably has a lot to do with the influence of music as well. There's literally music on every corner of the street, mostly jazz, and Bourbon St and Frenchmen St are alive every evening of the week. The first street is a bit overrated, there are so many tourists and drunk people that you feel like a 16 year old celebrating carnival in Den Bosch again. Frenchmen St, on the other hand, was super cool.
As I said, I got along really well with my hosts and got into quite some adventures with them. One afternoon, Nick and I were driving around in his huge truck for a couple of hours and talking about our ''spirit fruits'', when he suddenly noticed he had to take a certain turn, in order not to be stuck on a highway for another half an hour. He discovered it a bit too late, though, and the car swayed all over the road. We stopped exactly at the right moment, because we were aiming straight at a swamp. I already envisioned my wallet, phone and other stuff drown in the water. But thank god, we didn't hit the water. The car was stuck, though, and Nick had to be at work in an hour. We were never gonna make that, and besides, the car belonged to the company he worked for.
I was not worried at all, because I've always loved adventures ;) As Nick told me later: ''When I looked to the right, you had this mad look on your face and you were laughing. Most girls would be scared to death''. Jup. On the other hand, it was frustrating, since how on earth would we manage to take the car out? Nick started waving at cars and pretty soon, one stopped. It was a big truck and the guy was a bit hesitant to help out, but his wife had given him a big-ass chain for his birthday, so it was sort of meant to be. Our idea to start his truck and pull Nick's out didn't work though, and eventually the chain was stuck to his car too. Ah oh. So we went into a gas station, and luck was with us, since there was a guy buying a donut or something, and fixing car problems was his job. So in the end, it only took about half an hour and we were back on the road!
The rest of my stay I mostly ate great food, like po'boy, which is a submarine sandwich filled with either meat or fish. I had mine with shrimp, a bit of salad and tomate and LOTS OF mayonaise. It was delicious, though. We also saw more music, for instance an amazing hiphop band, kinda like The Roots, in a basement.
On Friday, I mostly lay in the sun, because it was pretty darn hot (around 20 degrees celcius) and I knew the weather was gonna be shitty back in San Francisco and even shittier back home. I was right, it's literally freezing in Amsterdam at the moment and that's why I think about New Orleans even more. Tom Waits said it just right: ''Well, I wish I was in New Orleans, I can see it in my dreams, arm-in-arm down Burgundy, a bottle and my friends and me''.
Friday, February 19, 2016
Food, music and sun. There are few people on this planet who don't like these things. If you are one of them, don't go to Austin. Because Austin has to offer the best of all three aspects. The word Texas might scare you off at first, but for real, Austin is one of the coolest cities I've ever been to. The city's slogan proofs it: ''Keep Austin Weird''. And remember that I wrote about Portland in my hitchhiking episodes? Well, it's no coincidence that Portland has adopted the slogan (''Keep Portland Weird'') - the two cities are often mentioned in one breath. It almost can't get any hipper than this.
The Greyhound ride from San Antonio to Austin only took about 1,5 hours, which was awesome, since Austin was one of the places I'd been looking forward to most. My Couchsurfing host Ashley - the first female one during this trip! - picked me up from the station and drove me back to her house. She shared a marvellous house with two other girls, Erin and Caroline, and their three dogs: one for everyone. The house was kinda chaotic, but I absolutely loved it: full of fluffiness, attention and laughter. Ashley and her roommates told me that this week was my lucky week - it was Free Week in Austin! Even without knowing what this was about, I was thrilled. It sounded like something I would like, me being typical Dutch when it comes to money.
Free Week was pretty much the way it sounds: all concerts and live shows at the music venues in Austin were free that weekend. And Austin has a lot! The city gave itself the nickname ''Live Music Capital of the World'' for a reason. Artists like Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Willie Nelson did their first shows here, and every year one of the biggest festivals in the States takes place in Austin: South by Southwest (SXSW)! Unfortunately, it happens in March, so I wasn't gonna experience it, but I'm definitely gonna be back one day to see it with my own eyes. That night, we took it pretty easy, went for drinks and checked out a band.
The next day, Ashley had to work but she brought me to the center, where I went for a bigass coffee first, to find out where to go to make my tattoo appointment! Because yes, I had been thinking about getting a tattoo the entire semester, but somehow I didn't find the inspiration in San Francisco. The last months I came up with the idea to get one during my trip, since it was gonna be such a lifechanging trip (yes, I already knew beforehand). I did it all on my own, after all, couchsurfing and living the gypsy life. After a couple days on the road, I noticed, this is the life I love most. ''To be on your own, with no direction home, like a rolling stone''. Yes, it was gonna be my favourite Dylan song, that somehow described my life motto perfectly - aside from the sad Edie Sedgwick inspired part. I also found out I wasn't ready for a symbol or drawing, it had to be words. After all, words are my way of going through life!
Anyway, I'd decided where to go to make the appointment: Golden Age Tattoos. But before this, I went to check out the State Capitol, which looks almost European. I strolled around for a bit, looked at all the Republican paintings. Bush was one of the few I knew, how sad is that... Afterwards I followed Ashley's advice and walked across the river to the cool part of the town: the East part, on South Congress. This is where I met up with my second host, who was gonna host me the next day: Tyler. He's a pretty awesome guy as well, if you wanna know more about his travelling philosophy, check out Humans on the Road once more. He showed me around at South Congress, which is extremely cool, in my opinion. So many weird stores (Uncommon Objects being the coolest), food trucks and bars.
That night, Ashley and I checked out the graffiti park at Castle Hills, which has a great view over the city. So much creativity in this city! We continued our evening with Thai food and drinks at Ashley's friends place'. Afterwards they took me out to a full Texas night: twostepping at The White Horse, drinking shots at Sixth Street - Austin's version of Bourbon Street, full of drunk teenagers and old guys, but fun to see - and I even rode the mechanical bull! In other words, a crazy, crazy night ;)
On Saturday, it was finally time for my tattoo, but not after a good hangover and goodbye breakfast with Ashley, Erin and Caroline. Breakfast tacos are a big thing in Austin, so that's what we had to try. Also queso, which is a gooey cheese dip, kinda like nachos with a thick layer of grilled cheese on top of it. De-li-ci-ous. We also had a mimosa, a combination of champagne and orange juice, which we should definitely introduce for breakfast in Amsterdam as well.
We also went to the Cathedral of Junk, which is awesome. A guy collected so much trash during his life time that he could form a cathedral of it. Weird stuff everywhere! After a walk in the park, which was extremely cold, since it was unusually freezing in Austin - 9 degrees celcius! - I went to the tattoo shop to finally get the job done. Or actually, just sit and let it happen. Just like the last two times, it only lasted for about ten minutes and didn't hurt that much. Before the tattoo artist pressed the needle down, he'd already taken it off, since the words are so thin lined. Tyler, my Couchsurfing host, picked me up from the shop and we went off to dinner, me feeling a bit dizzy still from the adrenaline and the idea that suddenly there was this visible, slightly big, tattoo on my arm. Weird!
We had more Tex Mex for dinner and the most interesting cocktail I had so far: an avocado cocktail. To be honest, it wasn't as good as I had expected, since it was pretty thick and creamy (come to think of it, this is exactly what you can expect haha) Anyway, that night we went to a David Bowie & Elvis Presley tribute party. Another one, you might think. Well, Bowie hadn't died yet, that night. This party was more of a birthday celebration for the two legends. It wasn't as Bowie&Presley inspired as we thought, since the band that was performing was playing their own songs and not that many people were dressed up.
We had a marvellous evening anyway, that started off good with the girl that let us in (how do you call these kind of people? There has to be a better word than doorbitch, right?) saying: ''Girl! I honestly thought you were Cara! I saw her last weekend, at a Kanye show, and Rihanna was there too. You belong in LA, girl!'' What I thought was: uuuh no, I belong in San Francisco and is that even a compliment, LA? What I said was: ''ahhh that's so sweet! Thank you!'' And secretly, I really was kinda flattered. That night, I heard I looked like Cara at least six times. I guess she's famous in Texas too.
On Sunday, Tyler and I took it easy, he had to work a bit, I strolled around in the center, ran into a hobo version of Clint Eastwood who looked so angry that I didn't dare to tell him he looked like Dirty Harry. After Tyler's yoga class, we went for Asian food and met up with his friend Reynaldo, who advised us to go see a show at some underground spot. It turned out to be an awesome show, but I was glad to be back in bed that night, as I was super tired. The next morning I woke up quite shocked: David Bowie was dead.
I have no idea how they dealt with the news in Amsterdam, but I have a feeling that in world cities, these messages have a huge impact. Everywhere in Austin, I saw Bowie stuff in sale, signs with his quotes on it, etc. I just remembered him that day a bit more by listening to songs like ''Space Oddity'' and ''Life on Mars''. What else I did that day? I ate a slice of Homeslice pizza (verrrry good) and read a book in the park. It was my last day in Austin, but I was ready to go to New Orléans. Everyone had told me SO MANY good things about this city, and now I was finally gonna see it with my own eyes.