Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Of all the cities to get a pounding from the gods, why New Orleans? One of the most beautiful cities on the planet, it just breaks the heart. Why not Crawford, Texas thus decisively and inconveniently interrupting the leader of the nation’s extended vacation/Sheehan siege?

When I traveled the US, I was struck by how much it looks just exactly like the movies, wherever you go you see snatches of images you’ve seen before in some movie or other. Driving around Missouri’s backroads, I kept thinking Deliverance, I could hear the freaking dueling banjo’s all the way through Potosi to the cabin overlooking the river, which we floated on tractor tubes keeping an eye out for guys with squinty eyes. Texas and Mexico pure spaghetti western territory, Dallas just like Dallas, and trundling through the bayous of Louisiana and Missisippi was a trip through the Big Easy, Angel Heart, Pretty Baby and SwampThing.

I fell in love with New Orleans instantly, it was so French it stirred my Hugenot blood, yet African too, loose and colourful and full of music and indulgence and yes, so damn easy. Falling into the rhythm took exactly 60 seconds and the first cocktail from a list on a blackboard behind the barman. After four or five parades and halfway down the cocktail list, I was ready to give up everything to live in New Orleans.

I do this with a few cities, fantasize about leaving beautiful Jozi for London or Amsterdam, but I really really wanted to move to New Orleans, New Orleans spoke to me in a profound way about good clean fun, it had street performers, mimes and musicians under every rock, wizards and ghouls and exotically painted creatures with feathers around their heads. Walking down the street was a guide to the wonder of jazz, dixie from a cosy wood-panelled pub, swing from a vast cavern next door, the slow mournful wail of the blues across the street. It was the sountrack to an assault on the senses that along with the alcohol might compel you, when taunted by a mob of strangers, to lift your shirt and show your tits.

It is imperative in New Orleans to be well hydrated, so after frequent stops to try another cocktail from the list, the jazz became sweeter still, the colours brighter, the witches scarier. I bought a cloth doll which had pin-points for voodoo printed on the fabric. I refused the cockroaches they call crawdads, and ordered deep fried calamari, expecting the conventional squid rings, what I got were miniature tiny baby squid, their legs outstretched in a terrifying rigor mortis as they were plunged into the boiling fat. I went for jambalaya instead, it only had one pink, innocent baby squid nestling on a bed of rice.

On our last day, we walked along the street after breakfast, wistful, pensive, sodden with a week’s debauchery, we reeked, we hummed, we vibrated with alcohol, garlic, calamari and saxophones. We were thinking along the lines of a nap before afternoon cocktails when we walked past a house, which was peculiar in that it sat on a block almost all by itself, everything around it had been demolished, it looked like the last holdout against some greedy developer wanting to build an ugly office block. It was a typical New Orleans house with a large balcony on the first floor, where three beautifully dressed women sat, drinking wine in the middle of a lush garden of pot plants. It was a snapshot image of style and elegance, and as we passed one of the woman got up, leaned over the balcony, said “here” and threw a necklace at me.

I was an ace Mardi Gras necklace catcher, I had loads of plastic multi-coloured beads from aggressive elbowing during parades, but something about this necklace was different, I caught it, said thanks and slipped it into my pocket. When I looked at it later, it was not a Mardi Gras necklace at all, but an old 50’s style necklace made out of opaque glass beads with an old-fashioned silver clasp. It’s a lovely piece of vintage jewelry and I’ve no idea why she gave it to me, maybe it belonged to someone she despised, maybe it was a voodoo thing.

Whoever she was, thanks for the necklace, I’m so sorry about your city, hope your lovely house is still there, hope I can come back soon.

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