You can’t go to New Orleans without appreciating the music. And the food. And the art. And the performers. But the music is what it is renowned for, especially Jazz. Sue and I were not sure we liked Jazz, but we were open to whatever experiences we would happen upon in this City. And we did happen upon lots.
Jackson Square is a large park with a corridor-like brick walkway all around it, forming three sides of a square. It was here that we spent many hours each day, viewing, listening and snapping photos. Artists lined the walls, displaying their works for sale. There were many street performers, some dressed as statues that did not move for hours, while others were active acrobats, jugglers and all sorts of sundry showmen and women. And then there were the musicians. All performers shared the space and seemed to have code they all worked by. Each one gets half an hour only and then the next performer goes on. I returned here again and again, over the course of the days, to listen to the jazz players, the brass bands and the musicians playing their own music.
At night, the performers moved to the streets of the French Quarter. We only had to step outside our hotel door to watch a number of different performers doing acrobatics right in the street. A walk down the block and there was a father with three young sons all strumming on large plastic food containers, the kinds restaurants use, and making such nice music with them. Another block away was a band of wash-board and pot lid jammers, literally. I was baffled by all the uses of everyday items to make music and how good it sounded. I also recognized, as I saw the same persons day after day, that many were poor, out of work, or having difficulty making ends meet. They did this for love and for survival.
Speaking of survival, there was another part of NOLA society that baffled me. It was the homeless people, who appeared to be so different than what I was accustomed to in Canada. Firstly, they travelled in twos, threes and packs. They were rarely alone. That was a little unnerving at first, being approached or passing a group of them sprawled out on the sidewalk. But what amazed me, was they weren’t as removed from the population and neighbourhood as they are in Canada. When they would ask for money, I’d do my typical defensive thing, look down, and quietly say, “No sorry” as I passed by, not sure how safe I’d be. They would respond so pleasantly “Well you have yourself a nice day and enjoy your stay.” They were pleasant and not rude, ignorant or pushy. One day as Sue and I were walking down the street, I could hear and then see two homeless fellows arguing on the sidewalk in front of the liquor store. As we approached, a female with them quickly said, “Hush, there’s a lady coming through with a stick. You don’t want to scare her.” And sure enough, they stopped arguing and said hello as we passed. A few minutes later I could hear them taking up their argument again where they had left off. I came to appreciate how they were a part of the area and had some connection to each other, to the neighbourhood and the persons in it. Very different then my experience in TO.
It was the night time and walking around the French Quarter that I became enchanted and transfixed by the musical side of NOLA. There were bars with live performances were we spent many a night with a pop. Or just roaming along, we would encounter on a street corner, a female performer with an electric violin. Or a fellow on an African Bass Harp. We would just stand and listen for an hour to the beautiful music they created. I started collecting CD’s of the musicians I liked. Then after having purchased about five I had a sudden revelation. I don’t have a cd player anymore! When we moved into the condo this year, I got rid of the old stereo and home theater and opted for a multi-room Bose system, fed with electronic music from Spotify. Whoops. However, my friend Bill pointed out on Facebook, that I have a computer, which of course has the ability to download music. Perfect. And the collection of CDs grew bigger!
Of course the food was superb. We tried everything, wanting to experience ‘the south’ as fully as we could. Alligator, shrimp, po-boys, beignets, gumbo, dirty rice, jambalya, Crawfish Etoufee (my favourite!) and shrimp creole to name a few. We ate from take-away places, walking around the Quarter while eating our po-boys. We ate in some more elegant and historical restaurants, enjoying the decoration, menus and presentation of the food. And not to be overlooked, we grabbed a great cappuccino at Café au Monde, anytime night or day. We both enjoyed not only the music, but the food, the taste and texture of it. However, Sue tried the soft-shelled crab, not once but twice. She remembered how much she enjoyed it while living in Texas. In NOLA at this time of her life, not so much lol.
Sue and I enjoyed greatly submersion into the music and entertainment. It is too bad, a city the size of Toronto, that we can’t encourage that type of atmosphere here, instead of being the odd weekend of a festival. The trip was magical and enchanting, and a lesson about the history and the present of our neighbour who may be so close, but is so different. And although I may not return there, as there are so many places I want to go to, I learned the appreciation of a style of music I had not really listened to before. And now, upon arising in the morning, I stream beautiful music from the CD’s I bought while there, able to convert them for electronic playing through my Bose system. Thanks Bill.