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If I’m honest, yesterday also started off feeling a bit overwhelming. I was tired, a bit jet lagged, and was faced with so many options. No one to make decisions but myself. Again, travelling alone I love, but if you’re on the indecisive, impulsive side (hi, I’m Gemini) then left to your own devices can make for a very whirlwind, busy, scattered, mind!
But I kept true to what I decided what my trip motto would be – keep it simple, take it easy….and well, I had the most beautiful day as a result.
I set off on my bike – my confidence hugely grown from the day previous – and down to a cafe / eatery called The Cake Shop which is in the area. I’m finding this part of town easy to navigate – it’s lots of very small blocks on a grid. And as I said yesterday, with lots of tiny, one way, streets intersecting them to make the blocks, it makes cycling a lovely time.
Cake Shop is one I’d seen pop up as one of the best for the area, and I had no idea what to expect. A French style patisserie? A dine in restaurant? But I was completely wrong – when I stepped inside I was greeted with a relaxed, casual cafe / deli /diner/ bakery. It’s small but bustling with a good amount of small tables. Posters on the wall, and local art. Locals popping in and out to get orders to go. A real buzzing neighbourhood, community vibe. The menu was exactly what I was after – Southern, classic American fare – breakfasts of omelettes, and biscuits and gravy. Soups. Omelettes. Amazing sandwiches. Homemade potato salad. And a bakery department with beautiful treats in the counter. The coffee is bottomless and you just help yourself from the big vats of it on the side counter, same for iced tea. I understand Iced tea when I’m here, it’s just so humid and hot, it’s all I ever want to drink.
I got a chicken salad sandwich, mint iced tea, and when you order a meal, their gorgeous cupcakes are just $1 – so I got a wedding cake cupcake. Wedding Cake flavour seems to be big here – which I guess is just a fancy vanilla- I’ve seen it as an ice cream and syrup flavour too. It felt a little ironic, eating a wedding cake by myself, when everyone keeps asking “why don’t you have a husband to travel with?” Which made the act feel very rebellious and a smug little kick against society!
Chicken Salad, tuna salad – ‘salad’ fillings in the US aren’t what they are in NZ and the UK – they’re so so much more! My chicken salad, comprised of shredded roast chicken, spring onions, grapes, red onion all mixed with a creamy guacamole type dressing. Then layered with pickles and tomato. All on homemade, toasted rye bread. It was a perfect meal.
After devouring that I set back off onto my bike, and decided to just cruise and see where I end up. Which was a good choice. I took down through Marigny and back along to where I ended up yesterday, further along the river, by the French market, and where cafe du monde is. I paused in Latrobe park, where it was leafy and the jazz swinging and upbeat. Then continued along to Jackson Square, and spent the next hour or so just peddling around the quiet back streets of the French Quarter house swooning and people watching. It’s super touristy, still, but the back roads are pretty and on bike you can easily whizz through the busy areas and escape when you need to.
The houses are are just so beautiful. And I’m keen to do a couple of house tours whilst I’m here to see inside and learn more. Quite a few historic ones are open for show. The real estate signs state if a house is NOT HAUNTED. Side note – there’s an awful lot of houses for sale or lease here – is that normal? I’m not sure what is happening, but it surprises me. And also fills my head with fantasies of being allowed a green card, and picking up my own painted house for a steal, learning the double bass, becoming a writer, and marrying some kind of bearded clarinet player.
On my exploring I stopped along the way to take in a few interesting, non touristy, shops along Royal Street – including a fabulous wig store, and a sort of feminist gift shop called Glitter Box full on amazing art, pins, jewellery and strong messages of empowerment, delivered in a cool aesthetic.Plus there was just general great stuff like make up and glitter and a nail bar because that’s what feminism is, after all – we can be femme too! This is somewhere I’ll endeavour to return to before my trip is over.
By about 2pm it was ridiculously sunny and hot and I was melting so returned to Latrobe park where I’d noted the Canopy Cafe, on my way through, which was serving fresh blended cocktails, and had lots of shady, leafy, outdoor seating. Turns out this cafe (well the bar is more a kiosk) is famous for it’s original ice cream blended daiquiri’s which come in a whole assortment of fruit flavours. I got the strawberry, and for $7 they contain a huge amount of rum, and can confirm that they are incredible, and the most perfect thing ever for a crazy hot afternoon. And though the area is really touristy, its also historic and pulsing with energy and was a perfect spot to relax.
I was tempted to linger longer in the park and have another daiquiri , but decided I wanted more music and felt the need to start exploring some of the jazz clubs around the place and get a feel for what I like and where is good. Plus the beers are cheap and the air is cool inside! The provision of Air con dictates a lot of decisions! A quick google pointed me back to Frenchman Street, where I started off yesterday, and top of the list was Spotted Cat music bar.
You know how you just get a feeling about a place – it’s either you or it’s not. When I walked into the Spotted Cat I knew it was for me. Divey, dark, a good mix of people, $5 beers, an open floor, with benched seating around the side. An incredible quartet called the Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses were playing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a jazz clarinet player like that before, but I get it now. I understand how important clarinet is.
What was gong to be a quick beer and a pit stop, turned into two hours and three beers. They were just that good. And the bar was that good. And though I’d been loving the music until now, that set was what it took for the jazz spell to be cast over me and I’m literally hooked. I’ve not been able to get enough since. That’s me now, gone. And it has that effect on everyone. It’s fascinating watching a set and the bar can be quiet, but as soon as the bartender opens the front door and lets the music out into the street the place is filled within five minutes. It just has that magic.
Before too long the bar was full, wonderful, inspiring older couples were dancing and there was so much swoon in the air!
Alas, sadly Royal Roses finished, and though I wanted to stay, I had to go back home to drop off my bike, and get my ticket for the show I was going for later. On my way I called into St Roch food market for a quick dinner of some beautiful shrimp and pork Bao (Vietnamese food here is huge, and very very good – I had no idea), and I was so energised and filled with the spirit of jazz that I didn’t even nap when I got home – I just got changed and with two hours before needing to be across town – I Ubered back to Frenchman to keep exploring.
And that was such a good choice! Frenchman at night took on a whole new energy. A fairy light strung art market popped up, poets sitting behind typewriters lined the streets, music flooding out of every door. I did a quick tour de force of a handful of clubs – a couple weren’t so great or to my taste – but that was helpful as it made me realise that I’ll know the good stuff when I see it, and what to look out for. I got serenaded by a trumpet player (seems NOLA really loves a chubby Amy Winehouse in a leopard print dress) , and then! Then! As I exited, a brass band had set up on the street corner and the whole road was filled and blocked by people watching and dancing. It was electric and life-giving! And I know they’re probably there most nights, but the energy is indisputable. It was a really special moment and quite surreal to be seeing it in real life.
I love Frenchman Street and think I’ll be finding myself back at the Spotted Cat regularly.
I had to leave my spot though and head back across town to Howlin Wolf, where I went the night before, but this time to see Hot 8 Brass Band – who are one of the biggest brass bands out there, who these days play internationally, and have been nominated for grammy’s. They play each week at this venue and really were a must to see whilst I was here.
I clearly remember at the start of this year, walking home, and Hot 8 came onto my recommended Spotify list – with their rendition of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. I fell in love with it immediately and played it several times on loop on that walk. I’ve been playing it all the time since. And I remember thinking how vital that music was, how it made my heart burst, and how I’d long to go to New Orleans…and well, last night they played Sexual Healing, and it dawned on me how twisted and unexpected life can be. Back on that walk, I never would have imagined that in 6 months I’d be standing in front of the band, dancing to that song, live. Back then I thought I was going somewhere else. But then life does a lil flip and takes unforeseen, sometimes unwanted turns. But hopefully, if you play it right, and you’re lucky, you can re-direct it to somewhere else, somewhere utterly amazing beyond your dreams. You have that control. I took control. I was lucky.
And that was the end of a beautiful day two, where I caught the jazz bug.