Too good to be true?! Indeed. Back to back posts!
Considering the last post took me over 2 weeks to finish I figured I should try to redeem myself with an equally tangential rant about my recent travels before my brain relegates the memories to the cluttered attic of my mind.
So, after 4 days of total relaxation in Florida, we set off for New Orleans in the rental car. Carine, her sister Jocelyn, brother-in-law Mike, myself and a collective, months worth of clothing and luggage with multiple, full suit and dress attire included, packed into a mid-sized sedan makes for a potentially cranky 6 hour drive.
The car was one of the newer Impala models by whoever makes those, complete with cigar/cigarette smoke stink and a cd left hidden behind the sun visor with music that can best be described as rape rap. Offensive or risque language in music is nothing new and I usually get a kick out of it but this stuff was next level/earmuff the kids and pray for salvation kind of stuff. Wow!!! So of course we cranked the volume and hit the road, hell for leather.
Cruising along a major highway, there isn’t much to see for the most part. By the time we reached Biloxy, we were starved for a little aesthetic diversity so we turned down towards the gulf and we got what we asked for. I had forgotten or maybe I just never put it all together in my head but that stretch of the gulf got hit hard by hurricane Katrina. Although largely recovered, you can still see the remnants of devastation along the waterfront. Exposed foundations where buildings once stood, massive complexes and shopping centres with missing roofs or buildings with only 2 or 3 walls left standing, precariously askew behind safety barriers. All of the palm trees along the waterfront boulevard had crew cuts from having their tops shorn off by the unfathomable winds. It really boggles the mind to think of what it must have been like when it hit.
Having never been to Biloxy I was surprised to see the mix of sea side beach vacation vibe and old revival(s) (Greek, French, Gothic etc…) architecture. You can see big, beautiful, old plantation estates right across the road from a long, white sand beach strewn with palm trees and sunbathers. A unique mix from what I understand and with time hopefully, it will get back to its full, former glory.
The closer we got to New Orleans the more evidence we saw of Katrina’s scorn. A deadly breadcrumb trail of empty lots where you know something stood before but there’s just nothing left of it to prove it ever existed. Other than a complete void in the landscape. There were huge rusted out, steel cargo ships battered so far inland that you couldn’t see the body of water they came from. Surreal little anomalies like that, tucked in and around the otherwise normal urban and rural landscapes kept showing themselves as we traveled west. It was an unexpected and ultimately sobering dose of living history that I’m glad I was able to see.
We stayed the course on the same road through Biloxy until we eventually arrived in New Orleans. After weaving through some of the dodgier parts of town we eventually got our bearings and pulled up to the historic Hotel Monteleone on Royal st in the French Quarter of New Orleans. A beautiful building right in the thick of it. We dropped the ladies off at the hotel with the bags and Mike and I went to drop the rental car off at the airport. On the cab ride back to the hotel I noticed something that would, unbeknownst to me at the time, haunt me for the rest of our stay. It was a billboard advertising what they claim to be the “worlds STRONGEST drink” called The Jester.
Once we were all settled in our rooms, we arranged to meet in the lobby and head out in search of food and adventure. Turns out, the hotel is one block away from the tail end of the legendary Bourbon st. We jumped in to the nearest, nice looking restaurant and got our first dose of local cuisine which deserves its own entirely separate write up. Another time. Now full and intrigued by the parade of nonsense passing by the window of the restaurant we set out to see for ourselves.
Bourbon st is crazy! Even in the “off season”, as it was while we were there, the street was still packed with thousands of people as far as the eye could see, young and old, mostly drunk, spilling in and out of bars with their ridiculously large, novelty shaped take-away cups and Mardis Gras beads. We must have had the look of stunned pray walking into the melee of debauched tourists and cunning predators. Cunning may be too generous considering the state of most people walking around. It was more like shooting fish in a barrel. Within 10 minutes, if that, I was already dishing out $40 to a girl who seemingly jumped out of the shadows and started pouring shots of mystery juice down our throats. Never saw her coming. Just a blur of excessive cleavage and a fist full of test tubes filled with an assortment of coloured liquids and a bill for $36 + tip. This happened within the first block of Bourbon st. and it must be at least half a mile long. It used to bother me that I never made it to Mardi Gras for spring break back when I was a student but in hindsight, I think that is a good thing. It’s an easy place to get into trouble for a young, unrestrained and enthusiastic young man or woman. Good thing I am such a responsible and conscientious ….. I can’t even finish that sentence. It’s a crazy place!!!! The problem, as I see it, is that it’s an easy place to lose your wits but it’s last place you want to find yourself once you’ve lost them.
The thing that I noticed pretty quickly was that of all the hundreds of bars along Bourbon st., most of them with live bands of some sort, none had anything close to the New Orleans jazz music I was hoping to hear. Plenty of extremely talented players but they were all playing crowd pleasers and top 40 covers. I had this romantic vision of a place that eschewed American pop culture in preference of it’s own, incomparable blend of musical styles. A cultural Galapagos! Which it is in many ways, you just need to know where to look. And it ain’t Bourbon st.
The wedding itinerary allowed us a few hours here and there to wander around town. The memories are already a little vague but I believe Mike and I set out early the next day while the ladies went off on their own mission. Having forgotten about the billboard the previous day, we turned the corner on to Bourbon st and there in front of us was Jesters. Styled like a 50’s diner, full of colour and chrome and classic old spinning stools along the milkshake bar. A bank of machines along the back wall that are basically just slightly modified slurpee mixers, full with every colour of the rainbow of icy, sugary, alcohol saturated goodness. Home of the Jester! Strongest drink in the world! What is one to do in the face of such a claim?!
I can’t tell you exactly what goes in to a Jester but the end result is a 32oz styrofoam cup full of boozy slush, similar in colour to engine coolant. Which may actually be one of the ingredients. Best not to know. I’ve never ingested engine coolant but I imagine that it has a similar effect of making your tongue and lips go numb followed by a mild euphoria, laced with an underlying fear of what you may have just done to yourself. The genius of this stuff is that it never melts! The styrofoam cup helps I’m sure but this also lends a little credibility to my engine coolant theory.
This thing took about an hour and a half to finish. By the time I managed to get to the bottom of that massive cup of beautiful, green lunacy, it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for the evenings events. To my surprise, I was feeling pretty good at this point. No loss of speech or motor skills, wits still intact and slightly limbered up. Good to go! I took down the, so called, strongest drink in the world and I was feeling fine, more or less
It wasn’t until later that night that I realized I was in Jester withdrawal when I finally started coming down from the sugar/coolant high. This would mark the beginning of an intense yet short lived love affair with those slushy, sugary sirens of the Bourbon st. strip.
Anyway, as I mentioned in my previous post, there is something very appealing about getting dressed up and looking dapper in New Orleans and there was no shortage of occasions for everyone to get right in to it. As a side note, I didn’t come away with very many pictures of NOLA. I forgot my camera one day, the battery died the following day and the good majority of pics I did get were terrible, indoor, low light blurs and streaks of indiscernible subjects. Luckily there were more qualified and prepared people on hand to pick up the slack.
More about New Orleans coming soon.