I'm currently in New Orleans for a conference. My hotel room has a small balcony, which I ventured out onto since it doesn't have a sign warning me about "desert critters" like my balcony in Arizona did, and took in the view:
which is a tiny crack of the city, visible between the tall buildings surrounding me on every side. Since I couldn't actually see any of the city from the balcony (I can see the pool, which on Sunday was filled with dudes and bros in their twenties, but I felt sort of old and creepy staring down at all of the pectorals from my secluded perch) I went out yesterday, walked around with my camera, and took in the sights, right before things got weird.
The weirdness wasn't totally unexpected, though, because this is New Orleans, and I've been here before.
The other time I visited New Orleans was in 2003. We went to a football game, went on a cemetery tour, and drank pretty much continuously for a four day weekend. I also met this dog:
He sat quietly on his crate while people put money in his cup and posed with photos with him. You were supposed to think he was there all by himself, a street-performing canine panhandler, but I figured out pretty quickly that his owner was standing a few feet away, watching to make sure that nobody hurt him and directing him to keep sitting with hand signals. He trembled a little when people touched him, but overall he was just adorable, and it's the part of my trip that's stuck with me the most in the decade since. This probably makes me a horrible person, but when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and death and suffering rolled continuously on the news for weeks, I thought about that dog every time I saw the press coverage, and hoped he was ok.
I bring up Katrina because I had a discussion about it with someone who tried to sell me tour tickets down in the French Quarter yesterday. When I came down before, there were Ghost Tours, Cemetery Tours, Haunted Tours, Historical Tours, Swamp Tours, and Plantation Tours, but now there are also Katrina Tours, and I'm wasn't sure how to feel about that, so I asked the tour guide.
"Do people ever ask you if those tours are, you know, kind of in poor taste?"
"Those tours help people. People lost their homes, their jobs, those tours help those people."
I can sort of see that. If there are no jobs, I guess making some money by touring people through the wreckage of where your home used to be is the kind of optimistic "life hands you lemons, so make lemonade!" spirit that Americans love, but at the same time it still seems kind of terrible and exploitative.
"How, exactly, does it help people?"
"Well... the tourists come. And spend money."
"So some of the tour money goes to the people who lost their homes?"
I see. The Katrina Tour helps people who already had money by exploiting people who need it.
Needless to say, I did not buy a ticket.
I did take a cab down to Jackson Square, though, in the heart of the French Quarter, so that I could walk around and see the psychics and performers and artists and pretty buildings:
Later I saw one of the robot guys taking a break:
I guess after a while you just get used to walking around covered in silver body paint.
I passed on having a psychic reading, on going on a French Quarter carriage ride:
and on visiting Café du Monde:
because I've done that before.
I called my parents, letting this duo serenade them over the phone:
and then I walked over to the river:
and the French Market:
and then I ran into the devil:
Watching Satan pose for photos on the steps of the church wasn't even the strangest thing that happened to me yesterday.
The strangest thing was the crying girl who gave me a hat on my way to Bourbon Street.
As I was walking toward Bourbon Street, I passed a girl leaning against a wall, sobbing, and screaming into her phone:
"NOBODY SAYS I'M PRETTY! NOBODY! YOU SAY EVERYONE ELSE IS PRETTY, BUT NOBODY SAYS I'M PRETTY!"
She was probably slightly drunk, and probably relatively safe since she was in a tourist area in the middle of the afternoon, but I was still a little concerned because she was so upset and distraught, so I stopped.
"Are you ok?"
She was so into crying and screaming into the phone that I don't think she was even aware that I was there until I spoke.
"Are you all right?"
"MY BOYFRIEND IS A JERK!" Possibly, although you may not be an unbiased source. Is that him on the phone? "NOBODY SAYS I'M PRETTY!"
"YOU'RE SO NICE. HERE! TAKE THIS! HE DOESN'T DESERVE IT!"
And then she gave me a brand new New Orleans baseball cap with the tags still on it.
I didn't think I should take it, but she was already walking away, and hey, free hat! I took all of the tags off and put it in the pocket of my cargo shorts, but ultimately did not keep it. Instead I have it to Richard when I met him and his wife for dinner, where I had an authentic New Orleans muffaletta:
Before I did that, though, I did do one other thing to commemorate my previous trip.
I walked down to Bourbon Street to the Tropical Isle:
and even though it wasn't yet four in the afternoon, I ordered myself a Hand Grenade:
On my previous trip to New Orleans, we drank a ton of these. I had so many of those little plastic grenades in my suitcase when we got home that I could have played "war" and been my own plastic army, so I figured that if I was back in New Orleans again there was no better way to experience nostalgia and attempt to recapture my lost youth than to wander Bourbon Street in the middle of the afternoon with a delicious Hand Grenade in my hand and a song in my heart.
Except that I discovered yesterday that I must have already been drunk to the point of tongue numbness the last time I had one of those.
Hand Grenades aren't really all that delicious, and wandering the streets of New Orleans with a drink in my hand at four in the afternoon just seemed kind of sad.
I drank the whole thing anyway.