Thursday, August 04, 2005

Our US Trip: Part 8 -New Orleans - The Bell-Toucher

Friday 10th December

A late start this morning with a touch, just a touch mind you, of hangover. Probably that last Bass Ale in Ryan's Pub was off. We were woken, and not the last time on this trip, by housekeeping. The little "Do Not Disturb" sign just wasn't working its magic for us.

We'd decided that we'd had over a week in the States, it was laundry time. If it hadn't have been for the souvenir shirts boughts in LA, Disneyland, Universal and Vegas we wouldn't have made it this far. So while Ali showered, I hunted through the phone book and found The Washing Well LaunDRYteria on Bourbon Street. It was only a short walk away. Bourbon Street Washteria

The Washing Well was yet another in those eye-opening experiences we had. The woman running the place was as old and as large as my grandmother (except alive, of course). White, she had an equally old (though slimmer) black woman working for her who she ordered around to the response of, "Yes Maam." We obviously had no clue how the system worked so the old woman took charge of it all without moving one centimetre from her chair behind the counter. Two hours to wait, so we headed off to explore.

We headed down to the Decatur and decided to have some breakfast, despite being closer to lunch, at Cafe Beignet. A beignet is a little bit of a cross between a donut and a croissant, heavily dusted, OK, soaked, with powdered sugar. They were gorgeous. Ali had a more substantial breakfast that included grits. I'd always wanted to know what grits were, and now found out. They seemed to be a sort of tasteless ground oatmeal, a little bit ilke semolina. I heaped on the melted butter and the syrup to get a little taste out of them.

The Mississippi MudWe walked west up Decatur and down to the Riverfront. We were accosted by this bloke, who gave me a ticket for being "too good looking" and demanded $10 off us for the New Orleans cap he had thrust upon us. Interesting sales line. The money was for some charity so we acquiesed and went on our way. The Mississippi is a very dirty river, a bit like the Yarra on a good day. Much wider of course.

While walking along the riverfront we were stopped by a couple of black kids who looked very, very out of it. One of them was the one who had tried to con us the previous night on Canal Street. And he tried the same trick again! Either a very short memory or very very out of it. We danced through the interruption and headed for the French Markets. Well I wasn't that keen, but you know, chicks. After wasting about an hour or so looking at the trinkets and the t-shirts, we thought we heard some music, and so we followed it's siren-like calling.

Listening to Jazz
We ended up in a small bar just off the Markets, where I had a couple of Heineken and Al had something exotic and chicky. The band were very basic, Clarinet, Accoustic Guitar, Trumpet, Tuba. They were playing Trad Jazz, At The Jazz Band Ball, was swinging along. I calculated that it wasn't too early to send an SMS to a friend in Australia (about 7:30am). So I sent a message to Ray saying we were sitting in a bar in New Orleans listening to the standards and got one back moments later complaining that he was in Brisbane airport listening to the rotten muzak. We listened for a while, gave the bar a tip and went on our way.
The Band in the bar

Back to the Wishing Well to pick up our laundry. We had to fold and sort it, but that was no problem of course. The poor black woman was still being ordered around, and I noticed this time, muttering under her breath as well. We walked the length of Royal to get back to our Hotel and to rest, change and to book that evenings activities. We'd done a fair bit of walking and so were a little tired. We discussed for a bit what we would do the following day, and being a bit tired and niggly, we couldn't make any decision and so decided to make the decision in the morning or later that night.

Dressed in our finest and on our way. Down Canal to Decatur, and then the long walk east to Frenchman's. The restaurant guy was right, even that way was a little scary, New Orleans did really not make an effort to entertain 21st Century street lighting. So up Frenchman's, and we were aware walking along that here were some more contemporary Jazz locations. Snug Harbor, though spelt differently gave us a beautiful and local dinner. While I had the Atlantic Salmon, Ali had the Hush Puppies, which were like corn meal dumplings. A lovely dinner and some nice wine.

Delfeayo Marsalis
Downstairs after dinner to the tiny little entertainment area. We were seated towards the back of the room, but were still close enough to see and hear everything. I sneakily snuck off a few pictures without flash which came out moodily blurred. Delfeayo Marsalis was playing with his quartet. So him on trombone. This freakishly superb musician on Piano and Guitar, a Bass (tree not electric), Tenor Sax and of course, kit. All very, very good musicians. Despite the 30 minute wait for our bottle of red wine, we enjoyed the show. Delfeayo is a great trombone player, easily the best I've seen live. Interestingly, he's a "bell-toucher", which is something every learner trombone player is told NOT to do. When he plays notes in 3rd postion, the slide handle is adjacent to the bell of the horn, and almost every time, one of his fingers flicked out to touch the bell. Even on lightning fast runs up and down the scale; flick out it goes, flick in again. It didn't detract from the performance.

Afterwards we trouped outside. Ali was excited because on exiting through the crowd, Delfeayo had looked at her and thanked her. I mean he did that to twenty other people as he walked through, but it made it special for her of course. She chatted for a little bit with the bar lady, and managed to score a free CD of Snug Harbor recordings. Woohoo!

Across the road was The Spotted Cat which was crowded as buggary, and they had a large, and we both thought, not great, Jazz band playing. There was this old guy propping up the bar despite the crush and as the band played one tune, this old bloke pulled out a trumpet from beneath him and took a turn at a solo! We had one drink each only, but we weren't really in the mood for shitty music after the good stuff we'd heard already that night, so we decided to give it up.

We'd heard about the Beignets place, Cafe Du Monde on Decatur and so we stopped there for coffee and beignets on the way back to the Hotel. The place was crowded as, and we had to fight for a table. The waiter was very attentive, and I think I remember hearing that they don't actually get paid properly by the Cafe, but they make their money from the difference between what the Cafe charges for coffee and what they charge the customers. I could not spot any price boards in the place. I wasn't impressed by the coffee though I must say. Beignet was beautiful of course. This was our last call for the night and we tiredly walked back Decatur and Canal to our Hotel for another sleep.

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