Tony & Laurie-Ann's
Holiday in New Orleans
April 2001

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Friday April 6   (14th Anniversary of Tony’s arrival in Canada)

Nancy Robertson arrived at 6.15 am to drive us to the airport (bless her). We managed to switch my 9:00 am flight to 8:00 so we could fly together (Air Canada had changed the schedule for me). We left Toronto at 11 and arrived in New Orleans 1:15 central time. Did not hear the immediate sounds of jazz or blues. We shared a taxi with a woman called Carol to the French Quarter and the Quarter House, a delightful period building, and our room within it small but cosy and classy. The house has a calm and relaxing feel. We rested a while after unpacking, and in the evening walked the local streets past all the tarot and palm readers winding up at the Café Du Monde for beignets and delicious café au lait. Back "home" for light supper we were amazed to find the movie The Omega Code in the rental rack and watched this end times and secret Bible codes Christian drama with great enjoyment.

Saturday morning we breakfasted in the Quarter House, where we met some of the other guests. More street walking, a real pleasure in this European - style city, took us to The Gumbo Shop for lunch quickly followed by Pat O’Brien’s for "Hurricanes": Carribean-style drinks with 4 oz rum that Laurie-Ann remembered from her previous visit in 1985. We found the Hové perfumeur and bought L-A some marcasite earrings at Joan Good Antiques. After shopping in the A&P which is one of the few grocery stores in the French Quarter, we returned home for supper. At about 9 we went out to Bourbon Street.

700 Royal Street

Bourbon Street Parade.    Wow! I’ve seen evening mass-street walks in Spain, but here it was more thronged and alive than anything in my experience. Bourbon Street is the traditional home of jazz and blues joints, but there are now more tee-shirt vendors, strip clubs, modern dance bars, bars of all types. However, we were lucky. First we found a good blues band in an R & B bar, Charlie Jacobs, which was not over-crowded. Charlie manages to play guitar and keyboard almost simultaneously. When the band took a break we moved on and found Fritzel’s.

We later discovered by talking to the band that the Fritzel’s Jazz Band is one of the last traditional bands on the Street. We really enjoyed them. Led by Jacques Gauthe (clarinet, soprano and alto sax) they played all the tunes I had grown up with at school when The Chris Barber Jazz Band was in its hey-day. When the Fritzel’s band played Bourbon Street Parade I really felt I’d returned on a direct link to 45 years ago. Laurie-Ann also loved this band, though some of the tunes were new to her. At some points there were twin trombones playing just beautifully. We wandered home well satisfied at about 1:30 am.

Sunday we slept in!    Almost no jazz or blues on local radio stations but we did reach the BBC World Service. Our plans to visit St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest active cathedral in the States did not work out. But we did make it to our reserved seats at the House of Blues for 11:45 brunch, and had a wonderfully uplifting time, after breakfasting like kings and queens, in the company of Betty Winn and "One A-Chord," traditional gospel singers, the type that don’t scream all the time. We both felt Betty Winn’s anointing and love for Jesus in the sincerity of her singing and the way she talked to the enthusiastic audience of about 150 gospel and food fans. Afterwards we walked across the street to the Louisiana Music Factory - huge selection of new and used CD’s, videos, vinyl. 78’s of mainly (but not only) jazz and blues. Interesting how much British jazz was represented, including Ken Colyer, Chris Barber and Ted Heath. I have always loved record store browsing, but here two hours passed in a flash and we left with a selection of treasures to delight our futures and remind us of New Orleans, birthplace of jazz and blues. Next door to the Music Factory was Werlein’s Music Store, and in the window a beautiful mandolin.

Walking home we visited Vintage 429, a store that specializes in musical memorabilia, including Beatles. On display they had a copy of "Revolver" signed by all four of the band, and "Imagine" and "Mind Games" signed by John, as well as porcelain yellow submarine cookie jars and salt and pepper sets. Also on display: a £1 note with autographs of all four. I left my Ottawa Beatles Site card with the owner.

5:00 pm. saw us at the wine and cheese for guests, hosted by Karen Riché We talked to Karen and quickly discovered that she was a Christian and that she and her partner Jean prayed each morning for the guests at the Quarter House. No wonder we felt safe here in the midst of a city of voodoo. We asked if she was worshipping that night, and we ended up taking a cab to her church, White Dove Fellowship, a thriving Pentecostal community on Manhattan Boulevard, Harvey. Pastor Michael Millé preached powerfully on why we should not all expect to see signs and wonders on a daily basis, and if we ever did see either, there would be no mistaking it. Our cabbie home, who doubled as a guitarist and local social economist, ran comprehensively through New Orleans recent history and the sudden drop in population in the late sixties when most gambling was criminalized. I left him my OBS card since he had praised the Beatles while discussing musical history. We also saw a very long train stopped on the longest rail bridge in the world as we returned across the Mississippi.

Monday April 9.    Laurie-Ann went off to her class at The New Orleans School of Cooking, and learned how to make authentic red beans and rice, pecan pie, pralines and corn bread, entertained and taught by "Big Kevin" Belton. In the afternoon, we returned to Werlein’s for Music where we had the pleasure of buying Laurie-Ann’s (electric) mandolin. We also took home a washboard.

In the evening we strolled down Riverwalk with its historic plaques of fascinating local history, and boarded the Creole Queen for our dinner jazz cruise. In the company of several hundred tourists we ate a tolerably good meal, listened to the gentle sound of the Creole Queen Jazz Band, and after dinner strolled the upper decks and watched the Mississippi banks, lined with cargo ships. It would have been more fun had there been a master of ceremonies to tell us some history.

Back on shore we went to Sweet Kathleen’s for a beer and some spirited dixieland by the Storyville Stompers brass band, young men clearly enjoying this old music, and a contrast to the band on the boat.

Tuesday.    This was free breakfast day #2 at the Quarter House, so of course we were there and it was nice to see Karen and Jean again. After lunch we joined a city tour guided by Clive Smith who hailed from Liverpool and was a mine of information about New Orleans past and present. On the tour we visited one of the unique above-ground cemetaries of New Orleans, the City Park, and many other interesting and historic places. He dropped us off at Jackson Square and we walked home via an Internet Café and a shop called Laura’s where we bought shortening bread and Mississippi mud. Laurie-Ann practised her new-found Cajun cooking skills for supper, coming up with a delicious Louisianna stir-fry In fact, throughout the holiday, L-A saved us a bunch of money since we only ate main meals out on three occasions - the power of timesharing!

After dinner we went to O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub. We were instantly attracted by the voice of a singer. I ordered draft Guinness and L-A had Harp. There were not too many there, but the personality of Vali Talbot was enticing as she entertained us with Irish folk song. During the breaks and after the final set we chatted with her and found her to be a delightful lady. In fact our experience of the musicians in this city of music has been one of people who were genuinely interested in their audiences and reaching out to them on a personal level. We bought Vali’s CD, a tin whistle music book and some Cadbury’s chocolate made in Dublin from another charming lady in O’Flaherty’s souvenir shop. O’Flaherty’s bills itself as an Irish Channel Centre & Pub: "Where the Celtic Nations Meet" - Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Galicia, Brittany, Scotland, Isle of Man.

Wednesday.    Arnaud’s where we lunched is one of New Orleans most well-known restaurants and we both enjoyed the Creole food in quality surroundings, including very tasty alligator. Afterwards I visited the Louisiana State Museum which now houses the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Here I saw one of Louis Armstrong’s trumpets and many other fascinating artifacts and photographs. I came home via the French market.

In the evening we walked along Canal and N. Rampart St. to the Funky Butt for some fairly modern extemporized blues, and then back along Burgundy and Bourbon to the Storyville District Jazz Club where for the price of a couple of beers (the normal price for entertainment) we greatly enjoyed the fusion-style George French band.

Thursday April 12   - This day we separated (only for a few hours). L-A explored the New Orleans transit system as she worked her way to Fashion Bug, her favourite clothing store. I was uneasy as she went off into the unknown, since OC Transpo, the Ottawa bus system, is a mystery to me. However, I was soon involved in my own exciting swamp tour. Swamp and plantation tours are staple tourist fodder in the area. I had imagined flat bottomed skiffs punting through tangles rain forest with snakes dangling from low branches. Actually it was more like the Norfolk Broads on muddy waters. About 60 passengers on a regular boat cruising around the bayou about half an hour from central New Orleans. Our capt’n had a very strong Cajun (?) drawl. He was quick to spot wildlife, and indeed we saw about six alligators, which he threw marshmallows to tempt them into the water. They swam right up to the boat hoping for more. Most were about four feet long (= four years old) but a larger one remained unperturbable on a log. I think he liked to be on show. We also saw wild birds and turtle, and quite a variety of trees and vegetation in this area where even where there seemed to be land, you would probably sink swiftly.

On my return I was relieved to find I had preceded Laurie-Ann by just a few minutes. She had spent two hours each way on two buses, becoming familiar with the city of Kenner. She had bought a bunch of clothes at Fashion Bug including a very becoming bathing suit. This was a stroke of luck because we now went and had a pleasant dip in the Quarter House pool, sipping beer and andouille (spiced ham). At about 6:30 we left for out last evening in New Orleans, first visiting the famous Napoleon House bar /restaurant, built around 1820 as a potential refuge for Napoleon. However he died on St. Helena too soon for the plan to be realized. We opened with Pimms cups, followed by "Greco Foccacia" followed by Jambalaya followed by Italian ice cream desert with cinnamon and honey. It was the next best thing to a church supper on Maunday Thursday.

We had heard about the Red Room, where the swing revival was happening. L-A loves swing. I love trams. So we took the St. Charles street car to the Red Room. Unfortunately the band failed to show up, but we both agreed it had been worth the trip for the excellent cocktails that we sipped in luxurious surroundings. A fitting final venue. Next morning we rose fairly early and followed our return trip schedule back to Ottawa and a great welcome from Nancy and Steve who brought us home.