Sunday, June 19, 2016

Transport(ed)

I’ve never eaten oysters for breakfast before, or shrimp Arnaud. Sheltered life, I guess. And call me unadventurous, but I passed over the rabbit (it was the curiously still-liquid five-hour egg broken over it that put me off). I was starting the day at an IPW function in the beautifully-restored Orpheum Theatre where a variety of local restaurants were showing off their specialties, while a selection of performers, including an a cappella Gospel Choir (it is Sunday, after all) did the same.
Then I turned it real, following along behind Jeff on his Confederacy of Cruisers bike tour of the Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater. Three hours, six miles, totally flat terrain, a comfortable no-gears back-pedal brake bike, and Jeff a knowledgeable guide with an amusing turn of phrase: I thoroughly recommend it. He started with Louisiana history, of course (I liked the idea that the Spanish “regifted” the Territory to the French) – 300+ years in about 10 minutes; and then we were off along the quiet, bumpy streets, past neat, pretty little wooden ‘shotgun’ houses painted bright colours and all set off by the crepe myrtles and other bright flowers.
We stopped often for more stories and explanations, and ended up at Marie’s Bar for refreshment before finishing with grander buildings decorated with pillars and cast iron lace. The whole look of the place was Ponsonby with a touch of Sydney’s Paddington, all done with casual Nola style.

The city is small and on a grid, so it was a simple walk via Armstrong Park where a Cajun and Zydeco music festival was in progress (always something happening here) and I had my first crawfish pie – actually a deep-fried pasty, which was pretty tasty although not as sinfully delicious as the loaded fries my daughter had indulged in at Dat Dog: really crispy chips and bacon bits liberally drizzled with mayo and melted cheese. Yup, my mouth is watering right now.

The next thing was the World War II museum where the docent who greeted us started his spiel with, “Well, since you’ve only got two hours before closing…” And he was right – this is a half-day museum. Typically thoroughly done, the idea is that you’re assigned a serviceman and follow him through his war, whether in the Pacific or in Europe, by swiping your dogtag at the various exhibits. Good idea – except that of course we didn’t have time for that and flitted through, museum guilt raging as usual.

Even so, we learned a lot, and were frequently horrified by the facts, figures and defiantly un-pixellated film clips. Of course, the focus was entirely American, and for most of the way round, there was little acknowledgement that anyone else was involved in fighting the Germans and Japanese. Hard not to bristle at least a little bit. But it was well done, otherwise, as it should be – it is the National WWII Museum, after all (a development of the D-Day Museum established here because the local Higgins Industries built all the amphibious landing craft that operation depended on). There’s a very good movie, too, ‘Beyond All Boundaries’, narrated by Tom Hanks (who is second only to Morgan Freeman in the authoritative delivery of US history).

And then, because it was such a lovely evening, and I had the time, I rode the St Charles streetcar (the oldest continuously-operating streetcar in the world!) to the end of the line and back again, getting a taste of the Garden District’s more elegant houses back behind their live oaks, with their pillars and porches and neat and tidy gardens. The tram broke down for a while underneath the Robert E Lee statue on its column, but Jeff taught me this morning that that’s a New Orleans thing – and it had already happened during the movie at the museum. It’s just an opportunity to, as they say here, visit with the person next to you (at the museum, it was an old man whose sister, moving to Okinawa in the ‘50s, gave up on starting a garden because every time she dug the soil, she turned up human bones).

And, finally, the conference had its rowdy official opening in the immense and soaring Superdome, with more food stalls, dancers, a mini Mardi Gras parade complete with floats, marching bands and stilt performers, plus musical acts, and surprisingly big indoor fireworks. Long day.

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