By the time we arrived in New Orleans we were once again suffering from travel fatigue.
Although we planned the last few months of travel better by staying in places longer, moving on weekends and generally going at a slower pace, van life was still taking its toll. We were excited to be arriving in NOLA, but our hearts ached to be back in Indianapolis and stationary for a few weeks and, beyond that, to be back in Australia in a home without wheels.
Thus, our first two days in New Orleans were the antithesis of most people’s NOLA experience. They were spent largely in our Garden District Airbnb with short jaunts out to soak up the French Quarter and eat some beignets and other Cajun specialities. By the time Saturday night rolled around, we figured we should get out and see some live music, even if we planned to have dinner and an early night back in the comfort of our apartment afterwards.
So, we ordered an Uber to take us down to the infamous Spotted Cat jazz club. Our driver was young, friendly and a little nervous – an obvious Uber newbie. As we wound through the streets it gradually became apparent he was lost, continually blaming it on his GPS (which he was holding in his lap and looking at more than the road). After our fifth u-turn, it occurred to us that we actually might be in an elaborate plot in which we would ultimately meet our untimely end. I surreptitiously got out my phone to check where we were and that we were actually heading in the right direction. Having confirmed that we were, I was then able to assist the now sweating driver get us to our location.
By the time we finally arrived, the Spotted Cat was between bands so we decided to wander up and down the street. We came to a night art market so did some shopping whilst chatting with local artisans about their unusual pieces. On the way out, I saw two poets at typewriters writing on demand for people. I almost mentioned to Erik we should get one done, but quickly brushed the idea aside.
On our return to the Spotted Cat, an eight-piece band was playing and the place was packed. We ordered a drink and listened for a little while, but quickly became overwhelmed by the multitude of tourists trying to take snaps of the perfect jazz experience so decided to check out some of the district’s less well-known clubs.
On exiting the Spotted Cat we heard the sounds of a brass band playing the way only brass bands in New Orleans play, so followed our ears. We were led to a street corner where about 20 people were playing various instruments to hundreds of revellers (many of whom had little-flashing lights attached to their eyebrows and eyelashes). They had blocked the entire flow of traffic but nobody seemed to mind – the cars all wound down their windows to catch a free show as they moved at a snail’s pace through the crowd. We watched for a little while, swaying to the music whilst enjoying cocktails purchased from a little hole-in-the-wall.
As we walked back past the poets, Erik turned to me and said ‘we really should get a poem done’. Our poet, Brandon, quizzed us about what we wanted a poem about, who we were and what we were doing in the Marigny on a Saturday night. We left him to ponder over his typewriter, promising to return and collect our poem in 20 minutes.
We continued to wander. As we did, an incredibly cute dog approached us. Having just spent a week in Austin with our dog-crazed friend, Dani, we were well trained to stop and say hello. His owner asked if we wanted to see him do a trick. Of course we did! We watched the clever boy bark at however many fingers his owner held up, as we clapped and cheered them on.
As we crossed the road to explore a little further, we heard the subtle sounds of a fiddle band coming from what looked like a closed shop. As we approached, we realised the six of them had crammed on the shop’s step to play. As we watched, captivated, more people crowded around. We bought a CD from them and pulled ourselves away – we had a poem to pick up after all.
Brandon had just finished writing it up, and we asked him to read it for us. It might have been the sazeracs, but we were pretty chuffed. You can judge for yourself.
It was now 9.30 and we were no longer interested in carrying through our plans for an early night and dinner at our apartment, but we needed to eat. Wanting to simultaneously continue our musical exploration of New Orleans, we wandered into a funk jam club that offered tacos. It was the perfect combination and gave us the sustenance to drop in and see several more of Frenchman streets musical offerings.
Our musical needs satisfied, we decided to wander back towards the French Quarter. We stopped in at another art market, before heading over to Bourbon street to absorb the craziness that is a Saturday night in NOLA. Erik was also keen to watch the end of the Ohio State football game, so we found a bar that was televising the game. The woman on the door offered to find us a seat before leading us past all the TVs to their bandroom where she squeezed us in the front row to watch a phenomenal jazz band. Erik missed the end of the OSU game, but neither us were disappointed in the result.
We stumbled home in the wee hours of the morning. New Orleans now had us in its grip and so – despite a lack of sleep and weary heads – we allowed ourselves to be carried away on the same tide of music, great food, cocktails and dynamic personalities the following night.