Wild Young Minds: Roadtrip last part: New Orleans, the city of jazz, voodoo and vintage

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Roadtrip last part: New Orleans, the city of jazz, voodoo and vintage

''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. 
This is not a po-boy btw, this is just a great egg, avocado and cheese breakfast, my favourite!
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''. 

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