A few stops en route to New Orleans.
First, Tallahassee and we now fully understand why Mama Cass threw herself
off the bridge there. Then Pensacola - great wine bar for lunch
followed by quite possibly the worst Indian Restaurant in the world for
dinner. Lindy disputes that it is actually quite the worst, though I
can't even imagine where she could possibly have eaten that beats it into
second place. If you're passing through Pensacola and up for a
challenge, it's called the New Taste Of India - none of those words seemed
to me to be operative!
|Last stop Mobile and a side trip to see
the USS Alabama. You can't fail to be impressed by the scale of
everything, but unfortunately the signage appears to have been created by
competing groups of schizophrenics - maybe a therapy workshop? We lost
count of the number of times we passed the same bemused looking groups
drifting the wrong way up or down narrow stairways in the bowels of the
The USS Drum, a WW2 submarine was tiny
in comparison, but ultimately more impressive. We followed three very
large black ladies, with the kind of bottoms that only seem to exist in the
USA, up the ramp towards the entry hatch. Lindy and I glanced at
each other - those bottoms just didn't look airlock compatible - not a word
was spoken, we just nodded and accelerated past them. For all we know
they are there still!
|And then onto New Orleans for our first
meeting with the owners of our next house sit, Zoe & Theo. I've
tried to think of a parallel to the first meeting between house owners and
house sitters. My first thought was of a blind date. One where
you've spoken on the phone first. But that's not quite right. Or
if it is, it's a blind date where you've already committed to sleep together
on the first night and then to split up, but keep in touch. So
something of a contrived parallel that doesn't really work.
I suppose it must be
worse for the owners. We are home owners/landlords ourselves and though we
never had sitters look after our home we can imagine what it must feel like
- Will those people who sounded so nice on the phone turn out to be Hells
Angels, Satanists, friends of Donald Trump................... For our
part as sitters, I suppose it should matter less. After all, even if
we don't get on we're not going to see the owners again until they return
and that could be engineered to be a very short meeting if necessary.
But truly we know we will be much more comfortable if we feel that they are
comfortable with us.
||So, a bit of apprehension
on both sides, but as is often the case the reality turns out to be fine.
Actually more than fine. Zoe and Theo are charming interesting people
who we feel comfortable with right from the start and we sense that they
have started to feel comfortable with us. Though of course that could
have been the effect of a couple of bottles of wine over dinner.
It turns out, the most
stressful part of the first 24 hours is dropping Zoe, Theo and baby Crosby
at the airport and bringing their car back "home". It's a very new
looking Toyota Prius Hybrid - our own car has been rejected because it
doesn't have a child seat. This is a strange city, I do not really
know the way home and as there is no room for Lindy in the car I'll have
to rely on "The Lady in the Phone" to do my navigating. As a
final bonus we are in a country where, based on last year's experience,
deranged lunatics prowl the streets seeking out stationary British drivers to
crash into. (So, must try to never stop!)
My problems actually
start immediately Zoe & Theo disappear through the airport doors. I
climb into the driver's seat and push the start button - My old 50's Rover
had one of those, but it turns out they're back in fashion. The dash
lights up like the control consul of the star ship Enterprise and just as
incomprehensively, but that's all that happens. The start button has
not fulfilled it's primary function. Bugger! Turn everything off
and try again - same result. I recheck everything I can think of,
particularly all those things American cars have built into them to stop you
from starting the car when you want to - preselector in neutral, parking
brake on, seat belt on, etc. Still nothing. Is it perhaps in
"Don't annoy the neighbours mode"? - and yes there is one of those, or
"Save the whales mode"? - no just kidding, or if there one is I didn't find
it. All I am sure of is that it's definitely stuck in "Stress
out the new
|I try to phone Theo or
Zoe, but they have wisely switched their phones off prior to boarding.
Maybe I can catch them before they reach the boarding gate. I run for
the terminal shouting something garbled at the police lady who is busy
moving on cars in this "no wait" zone. My prayers are answered.
They are still at the check in. "Car won't start" I babble. "Have
you....." and Theo lists off all the things I've just checked. "Yes,
yes and yes again." We return to the car and I repeat the starting
process, with the same result. "You see"? It's hard to describe
the look on Theo's face. Maybe I'm watching last night's
confidence/comfort dissolving in a "Am I really entrusting my home to this
imbecile" sort of way. "It has started. It's fine. That's
just how hybrids are. The engine won't start until you begin
accelerating." .................. "Right, of course, hybrids,
So, feeling more than a
little foolish and with confidence certainly not increased, I turned on the
phone's navigation, propped it tenuously on the dash and with a final nervous
check for incoming loonies I head off into what must currently be the road
works capital of the world. They are building a new streetcar network,
which I'm sure will be nice when it's finished!
is a wonderful city, particularly if you like music and food.
Actually, if you don't like music and food it's probably worth checking out
alternative destinations. Those are two very positive things that
define the city, but it is impossible to visit NOLA without being aware of
||It's ten years
since Katrina struck, flooding 80% of the city (we will be there for
the anniversary) but swathes of the city have still never recovered.
This is often because insurance or relief payments and
infrastructure repairs were so long in coming that families, who used to live in the flooded areas, had already built new lives
elsewhere. They might still own the land in New Orleans that their
homes once occupied, but it is virtually worthless, giving no reason to
return without the money to rebuild. The levies built by the US Army which failed below their design
specification, and were largely responsible for the carnage, are still being
worked on today and act as a constant reminder. And the city is
sinking. It always has been, but sediment flooding in from the
Mississippi used to keep topping up the land. The more effective the
levies and flood defences become, the less flooding takes place, QED!
It's rarely a good idea to screw too much with nature!
Whatever the reason,
Katrina is, and probably always will be, as much a part of New Orlean's psyche
as Mardi Gras, Louis Armstrong, or Crawfish Étouffée.
They are part of the fabric of New Orleans too. Away from the main
thoroughfares - the ones currently blocked by the streetcar road works - all
the minor roads and side streets are pocked with pot holes like the face of
an adolescent with acne. Another side effect of Katrina you're
thinking. We thought so too, but apparently not, it's just
always been that way. A small price to pay for the other charms that
NOLA has to offer and it also has the benefit of slowing down the traffic
without having to go to the expense of building all those speed humps
favoured in other cities.
actually want to get a sense of New Orleans - the culture, the
music, the impact of Katrina and how it picked itself up again
afterwards - and you don't have the opportunity to visit, (which is
a shame) then you could do a lot worse than to watch the excellent
HBO TV series Tremé. Obviously any film or TV programme is
bound to end up being something of a caricature, but Tremé makes a
better stab at capturing the soul of the place than many!
|We are now ensconced in what
will be our home for the next couple of months and a very charming home it
is. Zoe & Theo have made an excellent job of distilling the essence of
a traditional New Orleans home. We have the house and
gardens to look after of course, but nothing onerous and for boat dwellers,
like ourselves, quite a novelty. We have shopping to do, predominantly of the
online variety, but most of all we need to spend some time just being
First stop, of course, is the
French Quarter. Sure it's touristy and some of it, like Bourbon
Street, is shamelessly tacky, but it's still a must see - the sound of music
is everywhere and as you move away from those first few streets it
becomes more subdued, the restaurants become nicer until finally you find
yourself in quiet streets that could be in any small town in southern
France. This impression of foreignness is not confined to the French
Quarter, but extends across most of central New Orleans - there's nothing
quite like it anywhere else in the USA.
We visit a few museums,
but New Orleans isn't really about
museums. The exception is, the amazing
Sculpture garden, one of the most
important sculpture installations in the US - and also free!
We visit more than a few
restaurants. We won't have time to even scratch the surface, there are
so many. They range from the excellent, through the overrated - trading
mostly on past reputation, to the ordinary, but as I said there are just so
many. We try even more after we meet up with our neighbours Jeanne &
Milton. They invite us to join them and their friends at our first
(and second, and third,........) coolinary lunch. Coolinary is an
attempt by NOLA's
restaurants to try and tempt diners out during the brutal heat of August by
offering budget lunch menus (including $0.25c cocktails). This, plus
things like the progressive dinner - one course in each house before moving
on - and a cheese & wine party run by Frank & Alexis for the
street, led to a busy social life (and expanding waistlines).
||Jeanne & Milton
also invited us to join
them at the Jazz Catholic mass to celebrate Satchmo Fest. More than
worth the trip in it's own right, but nothing compared to the chance to join
the subsequent "Second Line" to the Old Mint which formed the centre piece of
the festival. Second Lining is another unique New Orleans institution.
There has long been a tradition of marching bands in New Orleans - Mardi Gras,
funerals, because it's Sunday, because it's not Sunday, because....
And put away any preconception you have - based on any marching band you've
ever seen anywhere else - this is different.
The city passed a
law a few years ago requiring any band to apply and pay for a licence before
they were permitted to march. This was allegedly to pay for the police
presence required to oversee the march. The band with the licence is
the First Line. The very much larger group who follow the band,
dancing - singing - drinking (Yes, New Orleans is the only city in the US where
it is legal to drink on the street) and generally having fun, they are the
Second Line and they don't have a licence. It's an unforgettable
experience. Most of these bands are professionals. When they're
not First Lining, they're playing in clubs, making records, all the things
professional musicians do. And just for a minute stop listening to the
trumpets, trombones, etc if that's possible, and just focus on those snare
drummers. They walk the whole route avoiding jugglers and baby
carriages, exchanging greetings with friends whilst rattling out
rhythms at the speed of light and they never, ever, ever drop a beat -
Another musical highlight was
a trip to Tipitina's with Frank & Alexis. Named after one of Professor
and opened in 1977 by a group of local musicians primarily as a venue for
the great man to play during the last few years of his life. The list
of legends who have played here is almost endless. OK, I know the
acoustics aren't the best, it smells of stale beer, the floor is kind of
sticky, unless you're a basketball player you probably won't see the band and
even if you are in your sixties they still won't let you in without ID (It's
true they sent us home to get our driving licences!), but it's a piece of
|As house sits go this one was
far from onerous. It was a beautiful house. No pets - unless you
count the goldfish in the garden pond, of whom more later. We just had
to look after a small garden and really just keep the house looking lived-in. In the final analysis though I suppose we were also backstop
hurricane insurance. If the very worst happened we would board up all
the windows and make the house as secure as possible before evacuating
ourselves to safety. Of course the job of boarding up would be very
much simplified if this house like many others in New Orleans had shutters
on the windows. Zoe & Theo were cognisant of this and had arranged to
have shutters installed. In fact the shutters would probably have been
completed long, long ago if they had contracted anyone other than Jerry!
||Zoe & Theo confessed that in
reality they had just about given up on said Jerry, and that he was probably
never going to complete the work, but we were more than happy to try and
chivvy him along. You never know, new people hassling him.......
Well even after much good cop, bad cop routine from Lindy and me extending
at one point to threats of physical violence, (He really did drive me crazy!)
and with much cajoling by Jeanne and Milton - to whom Jerry also owed
money/work, but because of possible future work held much more sway over him
than us, we managed to increase the total number of completed shutters from
1 to 3 (That's shutters not pairs!) out of the dozen or so pairs required.
It also has to be said that the workmanship was truly horrible.
which we tended to
hear second hand from Jeanne & Milton became more and more surreal and, in
retrospect, I suppose more amusing - He'd given the doors to a couple to sand
and paint, but they had barricaded themselves in their house and wouldn't
return them! The next instalment was that the female half of the door
kidnappers had now moved in with Jerry, but had not of course brought
any shutters. She was also refusing to put on any clothes so couldn't return
home to release them from captivity. It further transpired that Jerry was actually squatting in the house where he lived and had now had his
power disconnected. Something about running a business (sic) from a
Truly, there is more chance of the US making baseball illegal and taking up
cricket than Jerry ever finishing the shutters!
|I mentioned that we had some
shopping to do. I'd bought a new laptop and I wanted a Bluetooth
mouse. Or to be more specific, I wanted a Bluetooth 4.0 mouse.
By now I had ordered 3 online and returned 3 - not Bluetooth at all, not
Bluetooth 4.0 and simply not working! My money had been refunded of course,
but I still didn't have a mouse. "Let's go to Best Buy" I said.
"It's the other side of town and it will be more expensive, but at least
I'll have the thing and we'll see some parts of New Orleans we haven't seen
|Off we went and we
can tell you that the further you go from the centre of New Orleans the more like
any other big American city it becomes. But the guys at Best Buy were
very helpful and searched their store room for the only mouse they had which
they thought met the spec. It was an Apple mouse and they even
contacted Apple who confirmed that this was exactly what we were looking
for - Hurrah! Best Buy even matched the internet price.
Hurrah again! All sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Well of course it is. As soon as we got home and opened the box it was obvious
that this was not a Bluetooth mouse at all, of any sort.
Next day, back to Best Buy.
Driving through the car park Lindy spots a car starting to reverse out in
front of us. I'm just able to stop the car before he hits us.
Phew, that was close. He sees us and pulls back in, but before I can
continue moving forward - CRUNCH! I may have avoided the guy trying to
reverse into my right hand side, but I had no way of avoiding the guy who
just reversed into my left. Were they hunting in pairs now??
It's incredible - Two visits to the US and each time we've been driven into
by crazy people whilst we're stationary! " I'd seen you in my mirror,
but I thought you must have gone by now" he said. What????
I won't bore you anymore with
this except to pose the question - Since we wouldn't have been in the car
park if Best Buy hadn't sold us the incorrect product, are they culpable and
can we therefore sue them for millions of dollars? This being the USA and
all! I think that goes automatically onto that long list of questions
to which that answer is obviously - No. Like - Is Barak Obama an
illegal immigrant? Is K-Mart a good place to buy lingerie? Has
Donald Trump got an alien creature living on his head? etc...
Oops, just a moment, I think I might have put that last question on the
|On the subject of caring for
creatures, I did mention that we had just the one "pet" in our charge, the
goldfish in the pond. How hard can that be? Well, almost as if
to spite us, he turned up his toes just a few days before Zoe and Theo were
due to return. And yes I know goldfish don't have toes, but you do
know what I mean. We scoured the local aquatic stores, of which there
are precious few in New Orleans - given that most of the city is below sea
level and still sinking that seems to show a distinct lack of foresight.
Apparently nobody sells adult goldfish, so the best we could manage was
three babies. I did consider maybe sticking them together in some way,
but the lady in the shop was pretty confident that wouldn't work. I'm
still not so sure, we have a lot of experience with waterproof epoxies!
But in the end I didn't have time to experiment, so three babies was the
best we could do.
And now with Zoe, Theo and the
much more mobile Crosby safely back at home, it was time for us to head off
to Mexico City, en route to our next assignment. A big thank you to Jeanne and Milton
would drop us at the airport and we would leave our car at the body shop for
the couple of months that we would be in Mexico, thereby saving a fortune in
parking charges. So maybe every cloud really does have a silver
lining after all.