USA :: Mardi Gras in New Orleans

“Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine, I look right into the heart of good old New Orleans. It has given me something to live for.”
– Louis Armstrong

Aaah, New Orleans… The only place on my three years and two weeks of travelling that I got assaulted… I mention this to most people not to trash on the US, but to open peoples’ eyes a bit as most people I talk to seem to think it completely obvious that the most dangerous places I’ve travelled are all in Africa, with the possible exception of one or two places in Asia.

Bringing it back to NOLA though – I didn’t have too much time there, but I still have a positive feeling about the place, despite the rough departure.

I took a taxi from my cousin’s house, saying goodbye to her and her family and one of the, (sorry, going to have to use a Norwegian word here), hyggeligste weeks on my trip. The taxi got me to a Starbucks in downtown Houston right next to a bus station that looked like a huge parking lot. The taxi driver was actually a little reluctant to let me off by myself until I said I’d wait at the Starbucks… So probably not the best part of town. But it was daylight still and I was optimistic. (That being said, might want to skip the absolute cheapest modes of travel some places in the US. To this day it is still the only country where I have had actual feelings of not being 100 % safe and the only country where someone actually assaulted me).

Anyway, I got on the bus and was left to myself while we travelled across Texas and into Louisiana, arriving after dark at another not-the-best-area.

Got myself another tax and checked in to IHSP French Quarter House where a bed in an 8-person dorm room cost you about $100 per night(!). The price is insane, but bear in mind this was during Mardi Gras and the location is literally across the street from the Louis Armstrong Park and an 8 minute comfortable walk from Preservation Hall. The location is worth the price, trust me.

It was especially worth it for me, because Martin (Koldaas) randomly decided to sponsor a little of my adventure and al wired me money all of a sudden. It was such a wonderful surprise and I made a SnapChat video showing my dorm room off and exclaiming (as much as we Norwegian exclaim anything) my gratitude – I hope I manage to convey my feelings.

Thank you, Martin ❤ You awesome person ❤

Check out Martin, Marie and Anders’ “Klagenemnda” on Radio Nova

After check-in with the lovely Nicole “Do you want shots?” Haeyoon, our receptionist and residential cosplayer, I was shown my dorm room, the facilities and left to unpack, all the while reassured that the “are shots and people downstairs”. It was the friendliest peer pressure I’ve ever encountered, tbh. I also realized that quite a few of my room mates either 1) hadn’t travelled much 2) had been extremely lucky before and therefore hadn’t learned or 3) where too drunk to care about expensive belongings, because -just like in South Africa- the room was empty and their beds held all their expensive shit. We’re talking cell phones, laptops, money, headphones… Yeah… I just shook my head and hoped they didn’t lose any of it.

Also: Why do dudes still wear their pants BELOW THEIR ASS? I don’t mean to sound 90 years old here, but seriously… How do they not just drop off..?

 

PO’BOYS & CREOLE ARCHITECTURE

My first night I went out to get me a “po’ boy” (“poor boy”), a traditional Louisiana sandwich. Not wanting to wander too far by myself I checked Google Maps and found “NOLA Poboys” a five minute walk from my hostel. Didn’t even really know what the sandwich was exactly, I’d just heard of it a dozen times and figure “when in Rome”. That’s pretty much a description of my whole trip right there… “I’ve heard of this, researched a little MAYBE, but anyway, here’s Wonderwall.”

My Po’boy came with excess salad and some yummy yummy roast beef. It was flavourful without being particularly spicy (unlike some later cuisine I sampled), so judging the meal satisfactory I wandered across the street where I’d seen a souvenir shop and… well… shopped. I got a Fleur-de-Lis Christmas ornament (with NOLA colours) and a bottle opener for my brother and sister-in-law – you never know. Maybe I wont find another Christmas ornament… I mean, the odds are exceptionally good, but hey… I can never have too many Christmas ornaments, let’s be real.

The next day I wandered around trying to get a feel for the place and really enjoyed the architecture and colours. New Orleans has some really beautiful areas that really reflects the history and multicultural heritage of the place. The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans and is characterized by it’s balconies and Creole cottages. The whole district (Vieux Carré) has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

“A typical Creole Cottage façade is symmetrical with four openings, usually four sets of French doors or two sets of French doors and two double hung windows, all shuttered. The front façade is typically sheltered from the weather by an overhang (abat‐vent) that directs rain away from the front façade and windows.”

*

“A BAD NIGHT OUT”

Later that evening I joined Sharon, Kate and Amina, my new all-girl crew from the hostel, on a night out. We quickly decided we should be a band and dubbed ourselves “Bad Night Out” with our new album called “Hangover” dropping soon. It’s gonna be fire, ya’ll, look out for it.

Lit!

We stopped by “Port of Call” for burgers before heading out… or so we thought. Turns out it’s even more popular than we thought, so we started with drinks right there while waiting for a table. This was another place that was semi-famous by word of mouth, but I hadn’t heard of it before. Glad I got to try it out though, adorably amateur website, fantastic burgers and good drinks. Can’t remember what I had, but I remember the taste was awesome and I wanted to marry the waiter because he was so incredibly adorable ❤

We went through the French Quarter after dinner and stopped by several bars listening to the bands playing live. There was such a copious amount of really excellent live music it was almost “twilight zoney”… in a good way. I can’t remember any names of any bands, can only remember the names of the clubs where I took a picture of the logo (Hey there, Spotted Cat!), I just remember thoroughly enjoying myself and having a blast with the girls.

Amina insisted on buying us a drink at the Spotted Cat though and I remember that one(!) It turned into two drinks for me as I literally had to go up to the bartender and lament my shameful weakness. It was way to strong for me, could he perhaps mix it out a little bit for me pretty please?

After a round of “Don’t you worry, I’ll fix that for you, miss!” I ended up with two glasses of drinks that were only a little too strong for me… I guess the booze is cheap in NOLA.

I had two major stops left for my visit to NOLA, but after the burgers and booze the night before I walked right down to the entrance arch to the Louis Armstrong Park and took a hard left instead of right. To the Congo Square Coffee House (now permanently closed, unfortunately). I needed to stock up on a not-too-heavy-not-too-light breakfast before m day of sightseeing began, because reasons.

*

LOUIS ARMSTRONG PARK

The park took a good decade to plan out after a substantial part of the area neighbouring the famous Congo Square was levelled in the 1960s. The park as it is today includes several buildings dedicated to the Performing Arts, several of which are owned by the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. The park is also a lush, green area and a respite from the city which can seem pretty heavy on the asphalt and concrete (even if it is dotted by the many vibrantly coloured houses).

There’s a little lagoon the park, plus walkways and small bridges that are quite ornate. There are sculptures of musicians, not just Louis Armstrong though he has pride of place close to Congo Square and by himself, and several memorial slabs on the ground honouring various contributors to the world of jazz and music. The park also features the French Opera House, Sculpture Promenade, Louis Armstrong Sculpture Garden, Jazz Compound and a rose garden.

On a sunny day this park is perfect for a calm stroll and perhaps a picnic, it is just beautiful.

“Arguably the park’s most notable landmark, Congo Square, previously known as Place de Negres and Beauregard Square, still stands as a vibrant remembrance of local African-American history. In Congo Square, slaves would come together on Sundays, their day off, to socialize and celebrate in this open field with music, drumming, singing, dancing, and the sale of homemade goods. Locals and visitors also came to Congo Square to listen to the music and dance, including dancing the Bamboula and the Flat-footed Shuffle.”

 

*

PRESERVATION HALL

“In the 1950s, art dealer Larry Borenstein from Milwaukee managed what would become Preservation Hall in the French Quarter as an art gallery, Associated Artists. To attract customers, he invited local jazz musicians to play for tips. After a time, the music started drawing more attention than the art. In May 1961, Borenstein turned management over to Ken Grayson Mills and Barbara Reid, who turned it into a music venue and named it “Preservation Hall”.”

Arguably the most important stop on my trip to New Orleans, Preservation Hall is THE place to go to get a basic history lesson in jazz and to hear some of the greatest music you’ll ever set ears on. You are not allowed to take photos or shoot video while the bands are playing for you, because they want the audience to be present and experience the music and atmosphere. It’s a tiny room with a space in front for the band where they barely managed to squeeze in a piano and some 4-5 chairs for the band that was playing. Us, the audience, either sat on the basic wooden benches, pillows on the floor o stood propped against the walls like yours truly (BECAUSE I WAS SECRETLY FILMING THE SOUND FROM MY BAG AMMAGAWD!)

I now own three videos showing a totally black screen with some of the best jazz music I’ve ever heard on the audio.

I’m a criminal mastermind.

I bought a t-shirt for my brother and my sister-in-law here, plus two cd’s featuring Preservation Hall music that they probably can’t play on anything because nobody has CD-players of any kind anymore, but who cares. I love souvenirs. They are great. It’s a fact, stop judging me.

Loading my souvenir loot in my bag I skipped across to a small bakery called “Café Beignet” (best keep it simple) to try out “beignets”, another local delicacy. It’s a French doughnut that is made up with yeast, sweetened dough, squared cuts and then fried. Then dusted with powdered sugar… So basically I ate a sugar bomb. I was good. The world is better for them.

The some moar seeing of the city (also looking for the Christmas Shop that I had googled and knew existed somewhere around here…

Before deciding on dinner. Creole dinner. Because that wont be too spicy for me.
Said no one ever.
Well, someone probably said it, but they weren’t like me… It’s that weakness again…

“Is this spicy?”
“No, ma’am, it isn’t.”
LIIIIIIIESSSS!!!!!

I found the Christmas Shop – managed to buy a Christmas bauble for both me and my sister-in-law (she’s heavily into jazz so I’m definitely coming back here with her one day), before heading “home” to the hostel.
Nicole was up and a about with her vodka bottle asking everyone if they wanted a shot and the guys were already into it when I got there.

Our two new “crew members” Logan and Cameron had been out checking out the floats and parades and for some reason Logan had a cut on his elbow. How and why I never found out as he was already drunk as a skunk. He donated all his beads to me before bed time though, so… lucky me, I guess ;-D (that’s not a metaphor, he had actual beads).

*

THE ROUGH END TO A GOOD VISIT

I looked up what the cheapest flight to anywhere in South America was and ended up with a trip going from New Orleans to Fort Lauderdale to Medellin, Colombia (I had to be able to say I’d been to all continents!) (With the exception of Antarctica).

My flight left New Orleans airport at 05.15 am(!) so I didn’t go to bed that night, rather just packed my bags and hung out downstairs with Nicole and the others before my car which was SUPPOSED to pick me up outside the “Best Western Plus French Quarter Courtyard Hotel” – the building next to my hostel. I walked out half an hour before pick up and waited for over an hour before worrying I would miss my plane. While I was waiting I saw a lot of weird stuff, clothing, people, cars… New Orleans can be a bit of a freak show/circus…

I was getting steadily more annoyed and started trying to figure out alternatives to the not-so-trusty GO shuttle that never came, never e-mailed me and never called. Seriously… F*ck those guys. I was pissed. I know it’s Mardi Gras and all, but if you know that it’s such a problem, maybe not allow people the opportunity to book online and take their money(!)

All of a sudden, while standing there with one backpack on my back and the other in front I realized a guy was approaching me. I saw movement coming towards me in the corner of my eye and turned towards it. I caught on just in time to back away from the guy as his hands brushed my throat and I realized he was trying to get a choke hold on me. He kept walking towards me, focused completely on me and saying “GET DOWN!” in a really menacing way. I got really angry, an instinctual reaction I didn’t control at all, and told him to get away from me. It became clear to me that he was either drunk or high (maybe both), but he kept coming after me and telling me to get down. I reacted completely on instinct again and rushed into the Best Western lobby hoping to find help and luckily there were two enormous guys in there, in large leather jackets and cowboy hats who immediately assessed the situation and asked me if everything was OK. I was a little breathless when I pointed at the guy who’s followed me into the hotel and said “I don’t know him, he’s following me and trying to choke me.” They immediately put themselves between me and Choke Guy and when he simply tried to pass around them to get to me one of them led him firmly outside and watched as he disappeared down the street. He came back in after a good while and said “he walked down the street and disappeared around the corner, I don’t think he’ll bother you again. Are you ok, miss?” At this point my adrenaline was flowing hardcore, but I took a deep breath said I was fine and thanked them. My knights ❤

Can I just stress this one thing? 8 months in Africa and Middle East, almost 1,5 years in Asia and 2,5 months in Oceania and nothing like this EVER happened to me. I’m not saying bad stuff never happens in any of those regions, but I really want people not automatically think, in particular, Africa is super unsafe and you should “vacay in the states instead”.

After waiting a little while I walked out, flagged the first taxi I saw going the right way and took it straight to the airport, because you know what? Contrasted against bodily harm and the likes, lost money for a shuttle that didn’t come and extra cash for a taxi is not a big deal. Perspective. I even gave the driver a solid tip, he was a good guy. Cool conversation and he tipped me off to GO Shuttle having a desk at the airport and maybe I could get my money back from them? My third knight that evening.

So yeah, even after all that I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. The desk for GO Shuttle was right there too, but of course it was unmanned. Not closed, mind you. Just unmanned. Like they knew I was coming and decided to hide…

I boarded the plane getting pretty tired now that the adrenaline was wearing off and feeling a little numb. I think my brain was trying to process Choke Guy maybe… At least the captain made me laugh out loud after take off. I love airplane pilots with a sense of humour, they make everything better.

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