Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 467

The final New Orleans chapter

The Cocktail Tour

I’d like to be able to tell you the fascinating history of each cocktail we encountered on the tour of the finer drinking establishments in New Orleans, but to be brutally honest, I can’t remember. I just remember thinking they were very nice indeed, especially the Mint Julep, and so were the people we met on the tour.

I can’t even show you many photos from the tour, because they are generally very blurry. Suffice to say, it was fun!

I do remember having one of these, though :)

I do remember having one of these, though :)

And I did meet a fabulously Southern couple. She told me she did not go out of the house without her face made up and her hat on, and that she loved cocktails dearly! Excellent work, madam.

A little bit of history

These tours we took were super interesting and I got to see parts of New Orleans that had been intriguing me, and as we went round the city it made me realise that New Orleans just has this thing about it that I will try to explain.

It’s not like ‘normality’. It’s like there is a sense of fun and frivolity and danger and foreboding all in one go. It is sensual and dark and hedonistic and full of intrgiue. And I partly felt that I had stepped back in time. Brad Pitt, who has a house there with his brood, says of the city: ‘New Orleans has real spirit. It is the most authentic of American cities.’ I agree, Brad, I totally do!

This ‘spirit’ may have something to do with the history of New Orleans. It gives it a powerful sense of identity that I have not truly encountered in America before.

The Mississippi

The Mississippi

New Orleans is a place where Africans, both slave and free, and American Indians shared their cultures and intermingled with European settlers. Encouraged by the French government, this produced a durable culture in a difficult place and therefore marked New Orleans as ‘different’. With the prevailing French language of the city, its dominant Catholicism, its bawdy sensual delights, or its proud free black and slave inhabitants — in short, its deeply rooted Creole or native population and their peculiar traditions – it stood out back in the day, and it still has all this culture and history seeping from the streets in the 21st century.

The city has been plagued by floods, disease and hurricanes, and recovered every time, but one thing on the tours that struck me was how many times people referred to those who cam and populated New Orleans in the early years – the French sent their thieves, murderers, prostitutes and general criminal population and some say that this set the tone for New Orleans from early on.

Ghost and history tours

I picked up some interesting NOLA facts on my tours, so I hope the tour guides read this and give me 10/10 ;) .

a) I did not know that Lee Harvey Oswald and Truman Capote went to the same school in New Orleans. This elementary school sits adjacent (yes, that is RIGHT NEXT TO) Bourbon Street and all its debauchery! Interesting choice of location.

b) Brad Pitt has bought a whoppingly expensive house here. Anne Rice, her of Interview with a Vampire fame, lives here and has already set up her tomb in the cemetery for when she pops her clogs. Nicholas Cage lives here and bought some houses off Anne Rice, but now he is in financial dire straits and may have to sell some, and many folk of New Orleans like to take the piss out of him cos he’s a bit wacky and wotnot. Sandra Bullock has bought a house in The [beautiful] Garden District, not far from Anne Rice that is opposite the house where they filmed The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which starred Brad Pitt.

The Benjamin Button House

The Benjamin Button House

c) Fats Domino lives here, but he has lost a lot of weight and the locals now call him Skinny Fats. He stayed in his house during Katrina and then had to be airlifted out of the top floor.

d) Harry Connick Jr and Brad Pitt build houses for people who were affected by Katrina. I love them even more.

The Voodoo Queen

The Voodoo Queen

e) The Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau is much revered and feared in New Orleans. It is not in the least unusual to hear from people who attribute both favors and miracles to her intercession. Not unlike the Saints, her spirit still listens and blesses with humanity, justice and love. “In all Voodoo, in all places, in all times, she is the Queen. “

f) New Orleans as a big home for runaway children and a big recovery home for addicts, both of which are doing great work.

g) New Orleans holds the record for hauntings. My favourite ghost story was about Delphine Lalaurie, who was, by all accounts, a narcissistic nutter.

Delphine was a reputedly beautiful woman with long, black hair, and she and her husband were renowned for their extravagant parties. They had many slaves and seemed a respectable pair, but little did townspeople know what Madame Lalaurie did to make her slaves submissive. She had already been in court over charges of brutality, and on one occasion after complaints of abuse, several slaves had been removed from the home, but few people would speak out against this couple, so they were never arrested. Not even after a young girl jumped to her death from the second floor to escape her harsh mistress. Then one night in 1834, a fire brought a volunteer fire brigade to the home and the Lalauries’ gruesome secrets were discovered.

Spooky at her old place!

Spooky at her old place!

As they put out the flames, they could smell the stench of death, so they broke into a locked attic room to find a truly disgusting scene. According to several accounts, dead slaves were chained to the walls, but some were still alive and housed in cages, starved or maimed by medical experiments. One man had been surgically transformed into a woman, and a woman’s arm and leg bones had been broken and reset at odd angles. Another woman’s skin had been peeled off, while the lips of a third were sewn shut. A few had been dissected, with their organs still exposed. Scattered around the room were pails full of body parts, organs, and severed heads.

A lynch mob was formed, but the Lalauries had escaped and were never heard from again. Renovations years later uncovered the skeletons of slaves apparently buried alive, but no one knows how many unfortunate victims these two brutes actually had.

Delphine.....

Delphine…..

Smith indicates that this building soon became known as “Haunted House,” and people avoided it. Although it is a beautiful residence in a desirable location, it sat vacant for 40 years. Then several successive owners reported such problems that it again sat vacant for a time. Stories include sightings of a large male in chains, a woman who shouts in French and carries a whip, pictures inside thrown from the walls, cameras not working, and furniture that moved around on its own. The current owner is aware of the tourists who come to see it, but requests privacy.

I feel spooked just writing about her!!

I now want to go and watch all the movies that are set in New Orleans again and go ‘Oh, I’ve been there!’ And soon, I can watch about Delphine on American Horror Story, starring Kathy Burke…. yey!

And that, folks is my New Orleans. I will be back to it…cos I still need to do the French market, the Voodoo tour and the Mississippi steamboat tour (they were annoyingly out of action :( ).

And so, back to Desperate Housewife normality (and school next week ;) ! )

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 466

New Orleans

The food, the music and the eclectic culture!

The Food

If there is a shrimp, lobster, fish, gumbo wotnot and stuff like that on EVERY menu, you can pretty much guarantee that I am sold on a place.

So I was happy as a Desperate Housewife in New Orleans when there were such things as Po-Boys, Jambalya, Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp, Crawfish Etouffe and all that fish-tastic gubbins to choose from.

I did not, however, partake in a Muffuletta (why does that word make me laugh..?), nor a Beignet. Neither are to my taste, but given that I had never had either before I kind of feel I should have done, just because, but I was so full of shrimp and fishy stuff I couldn’t even think about it.

The Muffuletta
The Muffuletta sandwich is Italian in origin and is served on an entire round loaf of Italian bread (about 10 inches across) and then piled high with Provolone cheese, Genoa salami and Cappicola ham, and then topped with olive salad – chopped, green un-stuffed olives, pimento, celery, garlic, cocktail onions, capers, oregano, parsley, olive oil, red-wine vinegar, salt and pepper. It’s perfectly salty and unequivocally mouth-watering. The sandwich is HUGE, so its best split between at least two people, or maybe more depending on how hungry you are.

Get yer chops round a muffuletta :)

Get yer chops round a muffuletta :)

The Beignet
The French-Creole colonists who came to inhabit the city in its earliest days originally introduced beignets to New Orleans in the 18th century. The concept of the dessert is simple – dough is fried then covered with mounds of powdered sugar – but the result is extraordinary. As a precursor to today’s doughnuts, beignets are made from square-cut pieces of yeast dough and do not have a hole in them like most doughnuts. When served hot, they are absolute perfection, especially when accompanied with café au lait or chocolate milk.

Cheeky pastry

Cheeky pastry

The Music
New Orleans certainly spoke to me with its food, but I was hoping for more than just words with the music scene, this being the home of Fats Domino and Louis Armstrong. I wanted to be moved, touched and TRANSPORTED by it. And I was not disappointed. Frenchman Street gave us just what we were seeking, and more.

Oh my, jazz, blues, swing….it was all there to choose from. We met with two charming Southern Gents who I saw looking sassy on a Sunday afternoon and they, with appealing Southern charm, invited us to accompany them to The Spotted Cat. And marvellous it was too!

Steve and Ron on a Sunday afternoon outing to listen to music. Everyone should do this on a Sunday :)

Steve and Ron on a Sunday afternoon outing to listen to music. Everyone should do this on a Sunday :)

To The Spotted Cat

To The Spotted Cat

It was like being a 50s time warp (in a good way!)

It was like being a 50s time warp (in a good way!)

From The Spotted Cat (where we met smashing fellow Brit, John, who lived in NOLA for 30 years and resided from Harrow, where I used to live, and then meeting some girls from the UK, one from Cheltenham and one from Bath, both towns in which I also used to live – can you Adam and Eve it!?) we went to a jitterbugging bar, which, again, was like stepping into a different decade. I can’t describe how awesome if was, and a little unreal. It just felt so authentic.

Next up, a blues type bar showing a band that really blew me away called REVIVAL. This girl has a voice! The band was tight, talented and very funny. Shivers down the spine, folks. A homeless guy stood watching and he was moved to full on tears by this girl cos she had soul.

And those not in the music venues were also pretty cool. This is a totally awesome way for kids to spend their Sunday afternoon, don’t ya think!?

And, finally….the Gospel music. Wow, breathtaking. The hostess for the Gospel brunch at the House of Blues, which, by the way, was the best brunch I have ever had, was a recovering drug addict. She was funny, humble and gave a rocking performance. This was the best hangover cure EVER!

And though all these musical encounters, it made me realise that the people of New Orleans are very proud, but also very humble, very friendly and very welcoming, very funny and also open with their sadness. What an eclectic, engaging and entertaining mix of folks in NOLA.

Next up: history and ghost tours and interesting NOLA facts!

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Let’s talk New Orleans!

When I flew back from Louisiana’s little French/Creole/Spanish swampy party kooky culture-fest last night I felt like I was heading back to Maryland from a completely different country.

New Orleans, whilst it might be described as the ‘adult Disneyland’ (especially by those who work there), and whilst one is encouraged to ‘make bad decisions’ (like drinking Hurricanes all day, and boy those things are VILE!), and although you can spend your time, if you wish, just looking at boobs (strip clubs in abundance), getting your boobs out in the street (if the cops don’t catch you!), getting beads for doing so (if it floats your boat!), throwing down beads from the balconies (and being a little bit leery about it), or just having booze and more booze (there were plenty of those!!), there is more to it than that.

But before we go into all that other bit, it is time to get this topic out-of-the-way. Here it is….

Beads, Boobs and Booze

I honestly did not know that you’re supposed to flash your boobs to get some beads in New Orleans. I felt kind of a fool not knowing. How did I not know this?!! And, FYI, I got some beads….

This is a video about the bead thingymabob.

However, a lovely Southern Gent called Dwayne told me that this was not tradition and not in tune with Mardi Gras.

‘As a fifth-generation New Orleanian, let me say this was never and is still not a tradition. Saying it is “tradition” is like saying that people who get drunk and pass out on Bourbon Street are following tradition as well.

Thankfully, this does not occur everywhere in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but just in the Bourbon Street area of the French Quarter. That’s also an area known for its strip joints, where those interested in this sort of thing can see it year-round.’

Night in Bourbon St

Night in Bourbon St

Yes, it is sleazy, of course it is. BUT the party in Bourbon Street was fun, hysterical, the atmosphere was banging. And whilst you are there day is night and night is night….

As Dwayne said, there are a few strip clubs in the area. For those of you who are interested, this is an amusing review of those dens of iniquity!

And with that bit of the NOLA visit complete, and entirely necessary, of course, let’s talk about….

New Orleans crime rate

‘In 2011 there were 16,761 crimes in New Orleans including 200 murders, 163 forcible rapes and 14,013 property crimes. With a murder rate of 57.6 per 100,000, New Orleans had the highest murder rate of any U.S. city with a population of 100,000 or more in 2011 and ranked 21st in the world.’ (Wikipedia).

However, people in New Orleans are celebrating because this year the city dropped in the rankings and is now only second to Detroit. Honestly, this is a big deal. Plenty of folks told us this statistic.

I was well aware of the sirens in and around the city, but I was also very well aware of a large police presence, on their horses in Bourbon Street, and on foot in and around other areas.

I have to say it. I felt safe. Sure, I didn’t venture on foot out into areas that were not in Frenchman Street, the French Quarter and other more ‘touristy’ areas (I didn’t get any direct warnings, but others have been told where to avoid), but I did drive out and see some of the other neighbourhoods. Yep, those places are poor. I don’t really know what else to say about these areas, because I haven’t fully digested the landscape and scenery that I saw there, but some of the pictures will give you an idea.

Murder rates

Murder rates

However, credit for the supposed drop in homicides is in part due to the ‘NOLA for Life’ anti–gang violence initiative, a program where cops make contact with gang members citywide and offer them the carrot of job-training programs, midnight basketball games, and the like, while also threatening them with prosecution should any of their cohorts act violent. The program has reportedly helped indict almost 80 members of various street gangs on racketeering charges.

Prior to going to New Orleans, I’d been doing some research on the city and its gun violence. This report from website Vice got me….

‘This year I joined the ranks of New Orleanians who have seen a dead body in the street. It was in February, outside a car parts store in the section of town that real estate agents these days pass off as “New Marigny”, a bloody man lay shot dead beneath the SUV he’d been trying to fix. Weeks later, a thug robbed the dollar store at the end of our supposedly gentrified street (which also features a sweets shop and a wine bar with live jazz), shot the police officer who showed up on the scene, then fled. For the next three days, helicopters hung low over our corner of Bywater. My friends posted photos on Facebook of SWAT teams trampling through their backyards in the early-morning dew. These days the show The First 48 is camped out here, documenting New Orleans’s authentic and still horrifically robust murder culture.’

Someone will surely be the first to say on a blog comment to this piece ‘all areas have their bad places and crime and violence, and so do Manchester and London and Glasgow etc’. This is not a comparison piece, it’s simply a commentary piece about the city that I fell in love with over the weekend, and how it has sometimes been defined by its dark side which I, fortunately, did not catch a glimpse of, but that I am well aware exists.

Marks on the house showing the impact of Hurricane Katrina

Marks on the house showing the impact of Hurricane Katrina

Desolate houses

Desolate houses

Quite different here from South Charles St and the Garden District

Quite different here from South Charles St and the Garden District

So, that’s the two ‘difficult’ topics out the way. Sex and crime, hey?!

Next up…the food, the music and the eclectic culture!

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 464

How to say New Orleans

Right, before we get started on the New Orleans blog, let’s get it straight about how to pronounce this place.

I, being a Brit, have called it plain and simple ‘New Or-leens’.
But, my chums here in America-land tell me it’s ‘N’awlins’.
But, some dude on a tour who’d lived in the city for his whole 72 years told me it’s ‘Noo-oor-lins’.

To be honest, say it how you want, because by the end of your night in Bourbon Street, I pretty much guarantee you won’t be able to say it at all ;) .

Anyway, I tried and I tried to say it like the locals do, but I just sounded like I was trying to do a bad Scarlett O’Hara impression, as per this:

How New Orleans won my heart

I get that for some people New Orleans holds little or no appeal. In fact, many folks quite happily wrinkled their noses and sneered at New Orleans when we said we were visiting. Others rated the place, and they obviously remembered the good times they had there cos there was definitely a twinkle in their eye…! :)

So, for a start, there’s the heat; there’s Bourbon Street; there’s the smell; there’s the crime; there’s the poverty.

But, for me, this is what MAKES New Orleans. It is all the above and much, much more besides.

I like the swampy heat; Bourbon Street amused me; I got used to the smell and it was no bother; I saw NO crime (though the sirens told me it was there!); I was broken-hearted by the impact of Hurricane Katrina in some of the neighbourhoods around the city.

But, most of all I liked the city’s vibe, the mix of cultures, the art, the history and ghost stories, the music, the houses and the architecture, and the people.

Happy to be in New Orleans!

Happy to be in New Orleans!

Eclectic burbs

Eclectic burbs

The legends...

The legends…

Daytime dancing!

Daytime dancing!

On the streets

On the streets

Some strip clubs were better at promotion than others... ;)

Some strip clubs were better at promotion than others… ;)

Absolutely!

Absolutely!

Some fabulous NOLA houses

Some fabulous NOLA houses in S Charles St

Next up: what is it that I love about the city of New Orleans, the culture, the history and ghost stories, the food, the music, the houses and architecture, and the people? Find out!

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 463

Thank you, Dennis Lane

It’s been over a year since the Blogfather, as I like to call him, Dennis Lane was killed. His death rocked the Howard County community and bloggers who knew Dennis united in their blog tributes to him.

I often think of Dennis, or Wordbones, as was his blogging moniker, because he was a ‘connector’. In both life and death, Dennis has provided me with all sorts of connections, but particularly with my now very, very good friends here in Howard County.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtbjmLEAxaU

When I met Dennis to be on his podcast (video above) called ‘And Then There’s That‘, which he ran from the Columbia Mall, he came across as an intelligent, bright, cheery spark with a twinkle in his eye and a host of opinions on topics both local and national. It was then that he said to me, ‘You must meet Tom Coale, haven’t you met him yet?!’ And so I did meet Tom, and his wife Nicole, and we are now the very best of friends thanks to Dennis.

My chums, Tom and Nicole

My chums, Tom and Nicole

When Dennis passed three months later I attended the moving, funny and touching memorial service for him at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. A few days after the event I received a message from a local guy called Andrew, who also knew Dennis and had been at the service too, but felt it was not the right place to introduce himself.

Andrew had been reading my blog for a while and wanted to meet up to chat. So, being the curious type I met him. And it would be a blatant lie if I did not admit that that was one of the best decisions I ever made, because Andrew and I are the bestest buddies ever (in fact, people think we’re married!) and through him I met the other #hocohomos, who welcomed me with open arms and a full glass of wine into their fun, lively and fantastic world here in Howard County.

#hocohomos

Fun with the #hocohomos

Fun with the #hocohomos

So, thank you Dennis, for your your connections and networks because they have made my life a brilliant one here in the USA. Your memory and legacy continue.

New Orleans weekend

Whoop, whoop! Call us mad, call us crazy, call us silly British fools, but we’re heading to sweaty, swampy and steamy New Orleans for the weekend, just me and hubby!

I have wanted to visit this part of the USA for a while, and whilst some people take much pleasure in telling me how dangerous, dirty and seedy it is, others revel in the fun, frivolity and history of the area.

The city

The city

So, let’s see what I make of it whilst I’m partaking in a cocktail walking tour of Bourbon Street, watching a burlesque cabaret show, attending a Gospel Brunch, taking a steamboat down the Mississippi, eating amazing local food, and touring the historical French Quarter and the plantations.

I’m also interested in seeing how the city is coping after Hurricane Katrina, because I hear it is still suffering from the havoc it wreaked and I’m planning on going volunteering in this area to help rebuild houses next year. I’m sure it will all be an eye-opener.

Down the Mississippi

Down the Mississippi

See you after the weekend! :)

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 462

The missing H

I love to tease my American friends about their pronunciation of the word ‘herbs’.

‘Say the words I spell out,’ say I. ‘H-E-R-B-S.’
‘Oh, ‘erbs,’ they say.
‘What are you, effing French!? It’s only acceptable to say that word that way in a French accent,’ tease I. ‘Now say this word: H-O-T-E-L.’
‘Hotel, with the H pronounced,’ sigh my friends.

But wait…! There is a rebellion and a retort from the American team!

‘Say the word H-O-N-O-R,’ says one friend.
‘Ah, you caught me,’ say I in defeat. ‘Honor, sans the H.’

(Although, I am thinking in my head, I’d spell it with a ‘u’. ;)

Eddie Izzard gets it right. Watch and smile!

Enid Blyton

I was shocked to discover my American friends had not heard of British children’s author and legend Enid Blyton, nor read any of her books in the 70s and 80s when they were growing up. (I know this because there were seven of us and I referred to us as ‘The Secret Seven‘!) They’d not even heard of her when her life story was made into a movie starting Helena Bonham Carter ;)

Of course her writing is now considered rather sexist and racist and the writing is certainly dated, but Enid Blyton’s skill for weaving a thrilling adventure still enthralls me, and there’s much to be said for encouraging the imagination with stories such as The Magic Faraway Tree and The Famous Five books.

So, what did American children read with a torch under the duvet covers after lights out in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s? The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew? (We read those too in the UK ;) ).

Answers to the above on a postcard please, or better yet post a comment below!

Helena as Enid

Helena as Enid

Tennis Shoes

I still find the American use of the words ‘tennis shoes’ funny in a cute way. I can’t help it, I just do. :)

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Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 461

American ‘schools’

I get very confused when Americans say, for example: ‘My girlfriend is at school’, especially when those Americans are in their 20s and 30s, because then I have to remind myself that when they say ‘school’ they actually mean ‘university’ and not that their girlfriend is a ‘minor’ and in high school, cos that would be slightly wrong, and plus I’m not sure that’s legal, even in Alabama.

Howard County State Fair

Ah, a county fair or state fair, the epitome of Americana. Bring on the corn dogs, the deep fried Oreos, the cows for Best in Show, the parades, the line dancing and the Demolition Derbys (we ‘darby’, you say ‘durby’ ;) ).

State fairs look like this :)

State fairs look like this :)

Hmmmm

Hmmmm

Best in show!

Best in show!

The summer’s almost over

Yep, it flies by, even if the school holidays seem to go on foreverrrrrrrrr.

Ten days still school starts, and that means shelling out hundreds of dollars on classroom necessities like markers and erasers and folders. I don’t know if this happens back home in the UK, but it’s quite the thing over here. I’m all for recycling, so some of those pens that Harry’s classroom will receive may only last for a few pictures ;)

Two years down

We’ve been in the USA for two years this week. Boy, it’s flown by!

Here are a few links to some of my favourite memories and blog posts over the past two years.

Enjoy!

The Kettle Blog

The Going Out for Ice Cream Blog

The Miami Blog

Bringing up my British boy in the USA blog

Bacon Festivals and American/British accents Blog

The American Driving Blog

:)

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