Saturday 18 June 2016

Gators and glitter

Yes, yes, I'm in New Orleans now - but, more importantly, the tantalisingly unfulfilled alligator theme that's run through the last few posts finally reached its climax today, thanks to Jerry. I was on a pre-conference familiarisation trip that you might think I had presciently chosen because it was a swamp trip that I suspected would deliver predictably elusive gators. Actually, it was the only one left by the time I was officially part of the delegation.
But happily so! Because we drove not far out of the city to the Jean Lafitte Swamp to go on a slo-mo flat-bottomed boat tour along waterways and bayous where there were more alligators than you could shake a stick at. Not that you would, of course. Officially, gator-human contact is limited to mere observation: so seeing them gliding towards the boat, you wondered how sinister that behaviour was, and were they, though modest in size (the biggest well below 3 metres), taking a greedy interest in us as a potential meal?
The answer is yes, but not because they were hoping for a bit of human flesh - really, because, despite the official line and the notices on the boat not to feed the wildlife, Jerry trains them to come by sneaking out now and then with no passengers, and chucking them marshmallows. It was rather foolish of him to admit that to a boatload of media people - he even made a joke of it: Why marshmallows? Because they live in a marsh. Ha ha. Actually, because they float and are easy to see.
So having flared my nostrils in disapproval, I then got stuck into appreciating having such a close view of the alligators, especially Snaggletooth, who has a tooth that sticks out of his mouth, and a missing front leg and is, in Jerry's words, "suffering from reptile dysfunction". Then, we got even closer, when Jerry produced out of a cupboard a young gator, less than a metre long, for us to hold and pose with. Which I did, sigh, driven more by the desire to complete the pair (I've done the same with a crocodile) than by a concern for animal welfare. Though he will be returned to the swamp when he gets a big bigger.

I've removed the photo I originally posted here, of me holding the alligator, because I've decided that I shouldn't have got sucked into that exploitative kind of behaviour, which is no different from riding an elephant in India or stroking a tiger cub in Malaysia, both of which I've also done and am now ashamed of. It's wrong, I should have known better, and I won't be doing it again.

It was a good trip, though. Jerry was funny, informative and interesting, and very much a local - "Huck Finn had nothing on us, as kids," he said, describing messing about in the bayous with his mates as a boy; and the gator thing is now officially sorted.
Then we headed back over the Mississippi on the Crescent City Connection into the Big Easy where I bumped into my daughter in Canal Street, won a Keith Urban-signed guitar in a lucky draw and chatted with a couple of unenthusiastic mounted cops in Bourbon Street. I soon understood their cynicism: observing rowdily drunk fat people staggering along the street clutching tall plastic 'grenades' of luridly-coloured cocktails, my view of humanity rapidly became jaundiced too.
But then the short-notice Gay Pride parade began. It was prompted by the shootings in Orlando that everyone is still very shocked by (if uninclined to do anything about the gun ownership issue), and cheerfulness swamped the street. Floats, marching bands, drag queens, all sorts of organisations and people represented, strings of sparkly beads flying through the air, dancers and cheerleaders doing their routines, singing, chanting... it was quite the spectacle, a lot of fun, and quintessentially Nola.

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