US and UK – Big Easy Illin’ – Part One of Four

Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans. The Crescent City. Birthplace of jazz. And apparently America’s violent crime top performer. It was, humbly, something of a pilgrimage of mine, to head to that fabled Louisiana city above the alligator-infested bayous. I cannot in good faith claim myself to be a real jazz tragic. But, ever since coming across Fly Me To The Moon by Nat King Cole and George Shearing and the novel On The Road by Jack Kerouac, I’d been aware of a significant cultural force that was born there prior to and out of black emancipation many decades before my birth. A force that still has and ever shall have relevance. Such awareness considered, it was a real pity that the week I spent in N’ Orleans happened to end up being more associated with the blues than with upbeat or even smooth jazz. It has already been alluded to, and I must get things in a chronological order. Where shall we begin? With the notes, of course. The winter sun descended behind treeless mountain surrounded Las Vegas, as my plane God-blessedly aimed away from that sick city north toward a connecting San Francisco-flight to the Big Easy. “Far from having lost an interest in life, I must say I have at least lost the thread of its purpose, if momentarily. It’s as if objectively I’m observing my own life, have some control over its story, but have little confident idea of which direction in which to push it. As opposed to some others, I’m known to be able to intelligently weigh my own more-or-less appropriate choices.” I guessed the “fact that I’m experiencing new things is a defence” against the momentary listlessness I was feeling. Also, beyond basic questions of health and well-being, other choices I needed to make during the journey were of no necessarily real consequence. In fact the only thing I needed to do was be back in LA by the first day of 2013 for my flight home. And even that flight could be changed – for a whopping price. Which was good, because such flexibilities or even freedoms allowed me to act on instinct, instead of just intelligence. Perhaps it was appropriate that I was heading to African-American heartland while experiencing so much pure freedom that it was unsettling. “Don’t forget the blue orb of electrical wires pulsating behind your delirious eyes.” No, don’t forget those blue orbs, whatever the hell they were, because whether or not anything above made any sense, you must recall I was both very sick and living within the cultural unreality of that town upon the Mississippi delta, when I made those observations. New Orleans was a town where the United States as I had so far known it held no claim – except for some of the accents, the currency and the obesity. And for all I still know, no particular place in any other earthly nation could have compared. While standing outside the Louis Armstrong International Airport, amid a humid Northern Hemispherical autumn, I knew only that I was entering personally unchartered yet eagerly anticipated waters.

Bourbon Street, French Quarter.  Facing south-west

Bourbon Street, French Quarter. Facing south-west

The airport shuttle-ride to the French Quarter was positive because of two reasons that fed off each other. First, it delivered tourists directly to a particular bunch of hotels scattered throughout touristy areas of the city. Second, I had not booked a hotel. This meant a pleasant obligation to enjoy most of night-bound New Orleans via a cheap tour around its areas I was most interested in, until I became concerned the shuttle was about to finish its drop-off rounds and return to its airport base and I had to get off. On a Monday night of all nights, the party that never ended – only paused to inhale – was in full swing. On August 15, 1945, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki lay still smouldering since their decimation by twin atomic bombs, and the Emperor of Japan’s forces surrendered unconditionally to an unprecedentedly ascendant United States of America. Celebrations were everywhere, and in some places for longer than others. (Personally I’m sad I missed them.) But in New Orleans, far’s I could tell, they’d never ended. My neck craned through the shuttle’s windows to keep in perspective people running wildly through the streets high on drugs, booze, love or simply a deep intake of the spirit of freedom. Until the bus stopped at the Empress Hotel. My medium sized room was the size of a closet and I could tell it was likely I’d be sharing it with possibly thousands of freeloading insects. The Empress was no place any emperor would dare take his wife, or even his mistress. Some black guy with the ugliest fat woman I’d ever seen hanging from him was hassling a receptionist working her first fear filled night at the hotel, when I made my entrance. He wanted $5 off his night’s stay and claimed to be a regular customer. His partner had angry bruises on her face. He was overtly suspiciously friendly toward me. I remembered wishing I had a gun. Despite their violent, bestial humping in the room right next to mine, I was exhausted so still managed to get a solid eight hours’ sleep. I checked out at 12.30pm the next day, and a fantastic man working reception didn’t even charge me for leaving late. Then I gratefully left the Empress by wandering aimlessly into New Orleans’ mean streets and midday heat.

Saint Ann Street, facing Louis Armstrong Park

Saint Ann Street, facing Louis Armstrong Park


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