Tree-lined Esplanade Avenue led all the way from the French Quarter north-west to New Orleans’ Lake Pontchartrain straddling City Park. So, perhaps suicidally in my condition, I decided to walk the approximately six-mile round trip to, through and back from the park. After passing stunning French-colonial homes, relaxed bohemian cafes and clapboard churches, I was greeted by the New Orleans Museum Of Art at the park’s entrance, but didn’t go inside. This only literally walk in the park took me through the Botanical Gardens, within which lay bizarre sculpture and installation artworks such as a small-tree-sized red safety-pin. Then I drifted ghost-like through an almost devoid of buildings and other people, dry-grassed and overgrown north of the park to the Bayou Oaks Golf Course, where I swilled a Pepsi and took a photo for and of a group of Italian tourists on bicycles. “Uno, due, tre”, I said before clicking the shutter. The women giggled, and cycled away. I continued up Wisner Boulevard and Beauregard Avenue, the wretched illness inhibiting my every step, to sit beside the lake and gaze across it into the heart of those United States of America. Then I crossed the lake-fed Bayou Saint John to follow St Bernard Avenue past stately and not-so-stately homesteads to Harrison Avenue, which I used to cross back over Bayou St John to the park. I bought a burrito and homemade lemonade at the Pan-American Stadium – where a soccer match that sounded more like a Latino music festival was underway, and I swear I was the only person of non-South American descent there. Not for the first time, I had experienced that unique American reality: that by travelling through the US one can in many ways visit every country on earth. After following the sun setting through haze rising from distant swamps back to the dubious safety of the Tremé, a third night sleeping prostrate on Jo and Flo’s lobby floor followed. Then I spent Sunday doing little else but booking a Tuesday flight to New York and washing my clothes. The only two reasons I didn’t book the flight for Monday were first that it was cheaper the following day, and secondly I hoped to recover enough in order to enjoy one last night in New Orleans – exactly a week since I’d arrived. Final night sleeping in the common room, before a mid-morning delirium nap in a proper bunk bed then a checkout from Joe and Flo’s. Despite everything, I still have fond memories of that place. Memories of hiding out from a world that had briefly defeated me in the hostel’s backyard listening to jazz on my phone, smoking and watching stray cats stalk through abutting properties still recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina damage.
With one night left in the Big Easy, I walked with a full pack to the Olde Town Inn, north-east of the French Quarter in the Marigny area. According to conversations I’d had during the previous week, Frenchmen Street nearby the inn was famed. I walked it in the Monday afternoon sunshine, though felt a real fish out of water slinking through a street featuring poor black peoples’ homes. Though the south of the street did host some interesting looking music joints, this was not surprising as they were all gathered by or near the Mississippi, adjacent the French Quarter. Unfortunately, and depressingly, I simply still wasn’t strong enough for a night of loud music and heavy drinking; and the afternoon reconnaissance into Marigny’s beating instrumental heart only reminded me of what I would miss that night while lying disconsolately in bed before 11pm. Deliriously belligerent, I trekked into the French Quarter’s riverfront one final time to choke down a Hard Rock Cafe burger for dinner, which was accompanied by overbearing yet friendly service. After being assured “I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes” by a street-hustler for the last time I could tolerate, I limped back to the inn. But I guess I should explain the whole “shoes” scam, hey. During that fateful first but hopefully not final night ever out in New Orleans, I was quite aggressively yet smoothly stopped-short by an energetic black bloke offering shoe-shines.
“I bet I can tell where you got your shoes,” he drawled, pointing to the pair I bought in Las Vegas. “And if I can, you have to give me $10.”
This should be interesting, I thought, knowing there was no way he could even suspect I’d bought them in Vegas and that a grift (deprivation by deceit) was afoot.
“Alright,” I responded, figuring 10 American bucks would be worth the entertainment-value, “go ahead.”
He proceeded to clarify very quickly and lengthily something to the effect that he had never exactly said that he would tell me where I’d bought them, but simply where I got them. “You got ‘em on your feet,” he concluded.
I gave him the $10, he shined my shoes with a rag after spraying some unknown substance on to them, we grinned at each other, and then parted ways.
So you can surely conceive that by the fourth or fifth time from different swindlers that I’d experienced this routine, I was literally and figuratively sick of that particularly seedy aspect of New Orleans. Back at the inn I indulged in some escapism by spending a great deal of time finally emailing some photos of my now two weeks previous Pacific north-west road trip in a Wicked Camper to Mr Dudgeon. But it just made me miss the Dragon and that wonderful period of the journey prior to Las Vegas in which I wasn’t concerned I was dying from some unknown illness. And I was tired. And thoroughly tired of being sick. So I retired early to my surprisingly cheap private room.