Fore corresponding photos click here.
My final day in this gift of a city. Let’s make it a good one.
My first mission of the day was a little shopping errand, via breakfast. Back to Bywater to collect as many Mexican Folk items as my budget and luggage capacity will allow. The shop, the Bargain Centre, a huge junk shop with 1/3 dedicated to the best collection of Mexican Folk that I’ve ever seen. I visited last week, and swore to return. I collected my tin and clay treasures, painted with bright emblems of hope, of sin, or death – skulls and devils, body parts, and full breasted women, dogs and flaming hearts, crosses nailed with lucky tokens. These will live on my wall and remind me of this trip, and also of all of these things that make up life – the joys and the pain, and the beauty. Much like this city. There has been pain, but there is joy too.
A brunch at a cafe next door that I’d heard was exceptional – Satsuma – touted as a ‘health food’ cafe – but to be honest, it was pretty standard fare by NZ standards – just delicious fresh salads, baked bread, juices and espresso. And it was lovely to have a clean and simple bagel , with hummus, onions, the most amazing, tiny, capers, tomato, and cucumber. I am to the point of this trip where I am craving fresh, green things. Even when trying to be reasonably balanced in what you eat, there isn't too much fresh produce, which is a shame given the climate and how readily things must grow. So my meal, with a watermelon lemonade, on that 35 degree day, was exceptional.
When you decide to take your time, meander, and look around you – the street gods are kind the curious photographer – and an abundance of material, of life, falls your way. That's what I saw as I slowly pedalled my way through Bywater and Marigny – endless scenes of vast industrial Americana, street art, architecture marvels, abandonment and signs. It was like the areas were saying their goodbyes.
I decided to duck home to deposit my purchases, and recharge, before heading out again. But not before stopping at a place i’d seen on my travels, on the way home, an ice cream place called Freezy Street. It sells rolled ice cream and snow cones.
Well I had no idea what rolled ice cream was, I thought rolled meant scooped. I was very wrong. I was presented with a board of amazing flavour options. Overwhelmed, I asked the cashier for her recommendation and she said the cereal flavour – Fruity Pebbles. I went with that. And just as I was expecting for a tub of it to be produced and scooped into – instead, my name got called and I was beckoned to a viewing window in front of a large circular metal plate.
The ice cream chef, I’ll call her a chef as it’s the only word I have to describe her skill and art, took a scoop of fruity pebbles and poured them onto the plate. With a long spatula like blade in each hand, she chopped them up. Then she took a cup full of cream from the fridge, and poured it onto the chopped cereal on the plate – which I now realise is a freezing cold plate. The cream begins to solidify and freeze, and the chef continues to scoop, swirl, chop and craft the rapidly forming ice cream to incorporate the cereal, stop it crystallising and to keep it smooth and fluid. She then smooths and flattens it into a single, thin round, sheet. Then taking the blade, pushes it away from her in big, complete, satisfying rolls, like you would when stripping paint from a wall. The frozen sheet makes about six rolls, all attractively placed into a paper cup. Choose your toppings – there’s literally every kind of nut, fruit, cereal / cracker, syrup going. I get more cereal, cream, blueberries and condensed milk – on the girls recommendation. And well, that’s your rolled ice cream! A work of performance art and just so unexpected and I was so very happy I decided to call past – imagine if I left without having experienced this! How did it taste? Beautiful – fresh, pure, smooth. The same texture and taste as ice cream, I guess, just…flatter?! More condensed?
A pause at home for an hour or so to escape the hottes part of the afternoon. Then back out on the bike for my last excursion of this visit. I had a rough itinerary in mind to take me through to nightfall. It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day, with a slight breeze – so a perfect afternoon for lazily meandering around the French Quarter.
Firstly, a frozen mango daiquiri from the Canopy Cafe. My favourite drink whilst here, spent sitting outside amongst the leafy shade of the park, watching people and listening to their jazz band play. Slowly sipping the beautiful smooth, icy, fruity, boozy treat, which is the most perfect thing ever on hot sunny afternoons and it felt wrong to not go back for one final cup of perfection.
From there a slow, lazy, cycle along the riverside park, which runs the length of the Quarter, sandwiched between the Mississippi and the train tracks. Elevated, and catching the breeze, it was a beautiful spot. Stopping every couple of hundred metres to pause in the shade. Watch the boats going up and down the river. The grand Nachez steamboat parked up, reigning over the river like a NOLA Queen.
A quick Happy Hour beer at the House of Blues – pretty touristy but was in the area and felt like a good place to tick off and the decor was cool and place impressive. Then over a few blocks to get close to my final destination – Preservation Hall.
Preservation Hall is the legendary concert hall / jazz venue in the Heart of the French Quarter, just off Bourbon Street. It’s called Hall, but really it’s a room, no bigger than 100m2. It has been open for nightly concerts since 1961, and is dedicated to protecting the venue and the traditional jazz that gets played there.
There are shows 7 nights a week – typically three – at 7, 8 and 9pm. But often there’s a 6pm too.
You don’t buy tickets, instead you line up outside the venue, prior to the showtime, and hope you get in. I guess the hall fits around 100-150 people. It costs $15 to get in, and apart from a few benches, it’s standing only. There’s no drinks for sale, no air conditioning, no toilets and no phones. You’re there for the jazz, for one hour, and it’s as simple as that.
After returning to Pat O’Briens, for a Hurricane, which is literally next door to Preservation Hall, I steeped out to join the line at 7:30pm, for the 8pm show. I wondered if this was overkill, as it was a Tuesday night in the quiet season. But no, I was about 30th in line, and the line very quickly grew behind me and around the block.
This is the quintessential, classic, NOLA Jazz experience, and I’d purposefully saved it until the very last night as I figured that for all of the amazing music and musicians I’d seen over the past 11 days (there have been LOTS) this was the textbook classic, and whilst touristy, it’s still authentic and a real experience. It’s a classic.
And I wasn’t disappointed. We all packed in at 8pm. I got a good standing position, at the side, against the wall. The place was dimly lit with tattered and beaten up walls. Peeling paint. Paintings of jazz greats on the wall. And over on the stage – which is not a stage – just a clearing on one side of the room – set up are six chairs, some lamps, an upright piano, trombone, drums, cornet, clarinet and double bass.
The lights dim. The six musicians of the Preservation Jazz Band come on stage. And they play beautiful jazz classics for an hour. We sing. We dance. We tap our toes on the well worn wooden floor. We sweat. Oh gosh so much sweat. All packed in, crammed so tight in this tiny hall of history. It’s like being transported back to another era. A sense of magic and atmosphere that I really was not expecting at all.
Sure, half the crown are tourists, who don't really get or like the jazz. They’re there to tick it off the list and mainly they just look uncomfortable, uneasy and miffed by the music. But it doesn't matter because the sounds coming from the band, the historic sounds, and the rest of us who do get it, far eclipse them. It all gets lost in the atmosphere.
And then it’s over. The doors open. And we all spill out onto the mayhem and noise and vulgarity of Bourbon Street. It’s like being thrown into another world, and already I want to be back in the safe, smug time warp of Preservation Hall.
I contemplate if I should do anything else. Should I go home via Frenchman for a lat couple of sets? But I decide no. It’s always best to end on a high, wanting more. And that experience was as good and authentic as it gets. A different real ness to the Spotted Cat, or seeing a brass band play on the street. But for tonight, for the end of my last day, this will happily be my high note. My break.
And so I get onto my trusty, beaten up, old bike which has served me so well this past 11 days (I still can’t believe I successfully cycled everywhere, me! I’m no cyclist…but I am now!) and I slowly pedal though these quiet back streets of the quarter that are now so familiar, like home. I feel like a local.
As I head down Royal I look to my side, and see the entrance to Louis Armstrong park, its grande arched gateway, all lit up in white lights. Like the gates to heaven. And that’s when I know it’s my goodbye. It’s the Crescent City’s goodbye.
I blow those pearly gates a kiss. And cycle home, one last time.
The flickering gas lanterns outside the beautifully pastel painted, awning trimmed, houses, guiding me along my way.
The perfect last day.
The perfect goodbye.