Mississippi River running sweet and wild,
running like a slippery dip,
aslidin’ side to side,
dancing Dixie round the Basin,
jelly-rolling round the waist
in hot cuisine of New Orleans
our Mamas never got to taste
like catfish over crawfish
like an Alligator pie
then a big ole bowl of gumbo
followed up with jambalaya
jambalaya – it’s a language of its own
you learn to speak on Bourbon street
between the slide trombones….
oh yeah….burpin’ poboy
We checked in late to our modest hotel in the famous French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, tired and hungry after flying from New York via Charlotte, North Carolina. The very obliging hotel doorman steered us foodwards thus: “Jus woke on down the street a ways to the corner, take a rart one blark, take a left, and ya’ll see a few places”. So off we went. Suddenly we’d left our quiet, unassuming street marles behind and BOOM! We’d hit Crazy Street!! Bourbon Street may well be fondly remembered by many as the highlight of their New Orleans (correctly pronounced N’ Awlins) sojourn, but not by us.
If they saw the street, as we did, overflowing with smashed, noisy people, carrying large “go-cups” to keep from dehydrating between bars, shouting to hear each other above all the Jazz/Beat/Rock bands pumping out competing covers on all sides, we’d conclude that they need to get out more. Not pretty – even a little scary. It’s so popular that traffic is stopped for the evening so the crowd can have the whole street!
Back at our quiet hotel the desk staff laughed, “We never go to Bourbon Street; it’s only for tourists!”
Because our N’Awlins’ dates clashed with Halloween, and our accommodation budget couldn’t cheerfully treat hotel accounts tricked to four times their usual size, we had but two short nights to give this wonderful city our best shot. So we grooved out in the French Quarter on down home Cajun grits and pralines,
overloaded ourselves in boutique art shops, power-listened to our great Girl-guide on the best bus tour of the city,
and dined royally on the Creole Queen up and down the Jazz scale, washed generously down with Margaritas and Blue Bayou Daquiris sweetened with pralines brought to Louisiana by the French Settlers because of the abundance of sugar and pecans.
Onboard the paddle-wheel steamer “Creole Queen” for a dinner cruise, we met Elizabeth and Mike from Austin Texas. Annie had picked Mike straight away for a bikie when we’d seen them boarding.
Sure enough, the 60+ couple had, that very day, ridden 500 miles on their Harley! We had a lively chat about him leaving her and her leaving him; their reunitings; his being a tattooist for 30 years; his tattoos; her tattoos; their son’s tattoos! They seemed pretty happy with each other – for now?
Next stop Memphis, Tennessee, “…on the train they call The City of New Orleans”. which was saved from imminent decommissioning through the power of its story as chronicled by Steve Goodman in 1971, made famous initially by Arlo Guthrie, then Willie Nelson, then everyone who’s anyone plus the creators of “Good Mornin America.”
Best bits, apart from riding that iconic train itself, were 1. crossing the 5.8 miles of railbridge over the waters of Lake Ponchatrain on the Mississippi Delta, which, who cares if it is or isn’t the longest in the world – it was scary enough seeing the cars go past in parallel with us on the longest highway bridge in the world 2. dining with Martin and Pam, a fabulously agreeable, multi-talented and accomplished pair of best-culture/agriculture practice advocates in and of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and beyond, who felt sufficiently safe with us to admit being Democrats; and 3. being satisfied that the observation by a fellow passenger, looking out her window that “those woads are lockinbarr”, translated to “those woods are looking bare” – because they were!
Memphis…a sad, deeply-wrinkled city we thought, which far from growing old gracefully, desperately flogs its ancient relics in the hope no one notices they’re plastic facsimiles made in China, and that current Memphis posterboy, Justin Timberlake, is unlikely to ever graduate into long pants, so far is he from approaching the ecclesiastical bootsize of his glorious predecessors.
Breakfast in Memphis: 2 nights at a Holiday Inn-equivalent, breakfast included. Those DIY waffles on the first morning: pour batter onto the electric waffle-iron, close lid, wait for happy “beep”, remove golden, light, sweet fluffy thing and drown in syrup….eat. Yum. Annie saw it all. Yum not lost on her. Try that tomorrow. Easy peasy…next morning Annie duly pours liquid onto waffle iron, watched by several laidback breakfasters lining up to take next turn..beep! sudden, rapid beeping…not happy beeping, breakfast-room assailed with frantic waffle-iron distress noise. Breakfast-room attendant attends waffle machine…addresses breakfasters – quizzical; said breakfaster witnesses helpfully suggest that “she put the biscuit gravy in”; b-r attendant duly declares “well that’s over”, glaring Anniewards, and announces pointedly “she messed it up” to every next waffle-seeking breakfaster’s disappointment…Annie does penance with cold, hard-boiled egg…well, who ever heard of white gravy? For breakfast?
So we high-tailed it on to Nashville by Greyhound for a four-nights/three-day stay on a houseboat at the Port of “Old Hickory” on the Cumberland River, a distant relative of the Mississippi…
very tranquil but far from the city and unserved by any public transport, which prompted us to try “Uber” for the first time. If you haven’t tried it, next time you need a taxi, download the app and be amazed as we were. Uber is great! It helped us get into and around Nashville and back to the boat, for about a quarter the cost otherwise. And all the drivers were friendly – all going that extra mile as it were, sometimes two. We were the second passengers for our first driver, Greg, a manically “retired” Tennessee native (as in born there), now living six months about in Tennessee and Kalamunda, Western Australia where he listed an extraordinary range of business, mining and investment interests. He dropped us at the history wall, let us ride free, and would’ve wined and dined us with his wife the following evening had we not had a prior commitment….
with our even more manic host, Steve. Steve just loves boats and thinks “anyone who can’t relax around water, well – they just can’t relax anywhere”.
Steve collected us off the bus from Memphis with his lovely teenage son who’d bought him birthday tickets to that night’s touring “Queen” performance, plus dinner, which meant a rush for him to drop us 30 miles away, then get back, have dinner, and get seated before curtain up….
and while we immediately felt the maelstrom force of Steve’s tempo, it all blended with the powerful warmth of his generosity which persisted the entire time we were there, until he waved us off at Nashville airport in time for our dawn flight via Charlotte, North Carolina, to Unicoi in eastern Tennessee. So thanks to you Steve, and to your wonderful friend Carol who was our tour guide/driver/cultural advisor on our Saturday morning shopping spree….but we certainly do wish you’d relax a little more often!
How wonderful it was to be so warmly welcomed to Tennessee by the very gentle, kind and unflappable Loretta Toms, who Annie used to work with a dozen years or so ago in Alice Springs.
And we hadn’t aged a day! Nor put on a single extra pound!…uhuh …Loretta and her husband, Jim, collected us from the Tri-Cities airport and transported us deep into the late fall colours of them thar Smoky Mountain woods for a week of down home southern comfort…
which it was, with bells on.
Who can tell us now where that week went? Into alotta talk’n food, n wine, n trips to the store,
‘n to this ‘n that town, ‘n some of watching Jim blow leaves….’n learning new applications for spoons and chicken feet…’n sternly assessing Jim’s cocktail repertoire, then? Wal, then, after a modest sleep-in, we’d just start over…
Until the time was sadly up and we were safely deposited back at Tri-Cities airport for our NY departure to Ireland via – yes, Charlotte, NC, for the 3rd time. Since that sentence, this blog post has been updated and now The last paragraph has been lost. So I must say again how absolutely touched we are to have been looked after with such warm care, grace and humour in the home of Loretta and Jim. (See Janet’s review of your effort which speaks for itself!) we can only hope to meet again sometime across the miles. That we will ever be able to return the pleasure is doubtful, since they don’t plan a return visit Down Under, so herewith we post the invitation to your family to make sure you take it up should you ever plan to come our way.