Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Orleans – The Adventure Begins

A few days ago I started to reconsider the wisdom of traveling to New Orleans by myself. The city is a city of legend for so many reasons. Always when it comes up, whether in books or movies or plays, it is a city of dangerous magic. The city is always a character, and that character is a Janis (look up.) One face is the fun loving big easy, the other is extremely poor and disenfranchised. One face is elegance and charm, the other is dark and dirty. In the days leading up to my trip I worried whether is was safe for me to travel alone, if I would be a target for thieves or worse. I often feel, even in San Francisco, that I have a sign painted on my head. “Easy mark.” I worry that grifters (look up), pickpockets and the like look at me as easy pickings. Not that anything has happened to me yet, but I think the theatre has taught me something I’ll never be able to get away from: everyone believes they are basically good and everyone wants something. Those two things are what make humans inherently selfish and dangerous. I don’t trust this city. True, I only just got here. But from what I’ve read, seen and been told even the locals don’t trust this city all together.

The plane trips were pleasant enough. Nothing out of the ordinary to report. People always ask “How was your trip” first thing. Usually I chalk universal questions and small talk up to not having anything else to talk about, but “How was your trip?” is a question that is really asking for a story with a follow up for current needs. It’s a fabulous question.

“How was your trip?”

“Fine, thank you. There was a rough landing or two but over all everything was fine. But the stewardess never came back after she dropped of my drink. I’m so thirsty.”

“Can I get you something?”

Isn’t that lovely. What a fabulous question. My trip was fine, both of the landings were a little rough, but Southwest always has two things: funny stewards and rough landings. I drank ginger ale the whole time. I love ginger ale, but I only think to drink it on planes. I think mom had us all drink it once when we flew from Denver to Albuquerque and ever since that is all I drink on planes. She probably did it to keep our stomachs settled. Anyway, ginger ale tastes better at 10,000 feet so I rarely drink it on the ground. I did need to use the bathroom right away when we got in.

It was raining when we touched down. The cab ride was fine, everyone getting off the planes were taking cabs. I felt stupid in a line of tourists and conventioneers. I wanted to shout “I’m not one of them. I’m a writer.” But of course I am one of them, I’m just staying longer. But no one seemed to be renting cars, and when I got to the city I realized there wouldn’t have been much of a place to put them anyway. There isn’t an awful lot of parking. In the cab were signs about the fare, this wasn’t a meter situation like in San Francisco, there was a flat rate to the French Quarter and to Down Town. There were flate rates for a lot of things, but there was also a meter somewhere, I just didn’t see it. The fair rates read like a menu. Here are the places you can go and how much it will cost. I was also warned that I should set a price with the driver before we go and make sure that is the price we stick to. I was also warned that air conditioning is free by law. It all seemed very complicated. I tipped the driver too much when we got to the apartment. I hope all tourists tip too much.

But I have to stop that practice because I have yet to find a Wells Fargo ATM and if I want to be able to tip at all I need to find one, other wise I’ll be giving a lot extra to both the city of New Orleans, the ATM machines, the businesses where I find those ATMs and Wells Fargo for NOT using their ATM. I’m sure I’ll find one sooner or later.

The apartment I’m staying in is beautiful. It’s a creole style construction built in the 1800’s. It has four rooms. The living room which has a full bed, a couch that pulls out into a bed and a full futon. There is a satellite TV, air conditioner and broachers for things to do in New Orleans. Elmo, the man I’m renting from, laughed when he took me to this part of the room. “But you kids have the internet these days with what all on it and I’m sure you have a thing with your trip all planned out.” I’ve always been a broacher gal myself, but that did seem like a reasonable assumption. The broachers are all dusty and unused even though I think this place get a lot of action. The living room in a forest green with those tall shuttered windows looking out on the street. But the shutters don’t work and the other window has a broken window covering that is always down, so the room is very dark and cool feeling. I typing this on the couch. I’ll have to try out several writing stations before I settle on one. This room leads to the bedroom which is where I’ve set up camp. It has a full bed and a little cot that folds out. It also has an air conditioner and a little TV. The room is painted a dusty rose pink. There is only one window, so this room is also very dark. This room leads to the kitchen. It is fully stocked with dishes and has a large refrigerator. It is painted a fall gold and reminds me of my grandfather’s house. Off to the side is the bathroom which isn’t much more than a large closet. There is just barely enough room for the large bathtub, toilet and sink. Elmo kindly stocked this room as well with soaps and such. I don’t think I’ll be using them, but it’s nice to know they are there. The kitchen leads to the back yard with is taken up mostly by a small kidney shaped pool. I’ve never had a pool at my disposal before, and I’m not quiet sure what to do. It isn’t big enough to really swim, it seems like it would be more fun to have with lots of people over. But I think the same thing goes for this whole place. It is a party rental. Elmo commented that he does usually get a lot of people, but that with there only being one bathroom it must get uncomfortable. I agreed completely. He showed me the little ins and outs of the unit. I paid him and then took a look around.

After the initial shock of everything being so nice wore off, I realized I was in a vacation rental like any other. The furniture all picked out with a loving hand with an eye towards making the place feel old and a mind to keep the budget small. The effect isn’t far from feeling like I live in an old woman’s house. There are doilies and old rugs and teapots and fake flowers (some with the price tags still on them.) I can smell the cigarette smoke of past tenants, and here and there I can see their ashes. The bed seats have the telltail burn marks. The air is so full of room sanitizer and air freshner that there is no way this room wasn’t used by smokers. But there is a genital sort of honest charm to it. Drunken revelers my not appreciate it, but I do. I read on a review of a hostel “It’s not great and there isn’t much to it, but if you came to New Orleans to just sit round a room all day then you came for the wrong reason.” I did come to sit around a room all day, so a hostel wasn’t really the place for me. Also, I’m into food, but I’m not into drinking, so I would like a place that feels good to be in. I’m so happy with this place, which is called “Night of the Iguana” by the way, that I’m considering coming back here next year at about the same time and staying for another week or two. This time Matt will come with me the whole time.

Feeling at home is hard for me. It is one thing to lay about a room or make food in a kitchen, it is another to take a shower or sleep. Making one self at home seems to imply a general sloppiness of living. Don’t be afraid to get in the fridge and eat anything, put your shoes where ever, leave your dirty clothes about. But making your self at home means you are comfortable being vulnerable there. In short, I didn’t sleep at all last night. I left the TV on so I couldn’t hear the house noises, I left a few lights on so I couldn’t see the house shadows. I’m pretty good at scaring myself silly. I’d imagin little noises were people trying to break in, that I’d wake up with a stranger standing over my bed, that there were ghosts in the house. Also, it is hard to sleep without Matt. Even at home I have a hard time. It’s odd, I can’t sleep with lights on, or TVs or Radios, but I’ll have them on the first few nights I’m alone because I don’t want to face the dark. I think I finally found sleep around 5am, when the light coming through the windows was enough to scare the ghosts and villains away. I turned off the TV and slept a good sleep for three hours. Consequently I got up later than I wanted to because my body was finally getting rest and resisted by urges to rise. But I needed to get up. I have no food here and I really don’t want to spend all my money eating out. I heard there was a farmers market and a French Market, both of which I wanted to try. Also, I needed to recon a grocery store, maybe a Walgreen’s, a Free WiFi source (if you are reading this in July I found one) and a Wells Fargo ATM. Also, I wanted to see the place with out my camera. I just wanted to walk around a little and look.

The French Quarter is beautiful. All the tall shuttered windows and the lace like embellishments in iron and wood. The rainbow of painted homes and the hanging plants. And everywhere I looked I saw for sale signs. That was unexpected. Hanging in front of those old doors, hanging off the balconies, posted to walls and in windows. That many for sale signs never look like a good think, it always looks like a bad thing.

The other thing I saw were lots of closed signs. Take heart dear readers, I do not mean they were closed and gone away, I just mean that I got up earlier then I needed to. The city wasn’t up yet. Myself and the other tourists were wondering about will silly looks on our faces wondering what to do with ourselves. Most shops don’t open up until 9am…and those are just the T-Shirt stores. The ones I wanted to go into didn’t open until noon. I had always planned on staying in and writing in the morning, now it was cemented. I can sleep in too. Silly me. In a city of drinkers, what was I thinking getting up before noon?

I did stop by Café du Mond for bingets and coffee. They were tasty, but really, how hard is it to mess up a square of fried dough? I’ll go again, but not until after I’ve tasted the other similar places around. A balloon man made me a flower and we chatted for a while about San Francisco. I walked up and down French Market and Decatur. I didn’t get as far as Canal, but not far. I went out and looked at the Mississippi River then walked around some more. I found a used book store and video rental place I want to try on Chartres. Again, open at noon. A grocery store that I had found on-line was the first store I went into, but on closer inspection it was higher end Italian food. It looked good, but not really what I was looking for. I put my basket down and decided to head back, but I’d go up a different street, and maybe I’d find something. First thing I found was a Walgreen’s, where I got bug spray (four bites already!) So I went back up Saint Philip where I passed a coffee shop called Community Coffee (CC’s) that said it had WiFi and then I found the grocery store on Bourbon. I now have breakfast and snack supplies. I think after writing I’ll turn on the TV, mark some possible dinner and shopping places for tonight, eat a little something, then read and then head back out. If it’s a nice night I may go for a swim, but I don’t know. I saw a Lush and I might stop in and get some bath supplies and take a nice long self spoil bath. I did buy a bottle of whine, so that may be really pleasant. Unfortunately, when I set down to lunch (on cherries, cheese and crackers) I found the crackers had completely EXPLODED in their little bag in the box. The box had not sustained any damage, but there was not a single survivor. I had to take a picture of it.

It is also very hot here, but at the moment it is not unpleasant. I know it is not all that hot, and not all that muggy. I’ve felt worse and been warned about worse in New Orleans. But the humidity is down and the sun is out. It’s hot, but it’s the kind of summer hot I don’t get a lot anymore. Also, the knowledge that air conditioning is only a shop away is pleasant. Plus, the muse willing, I’ll be in writing one opus or another.

Here’s to retreating!

1 comment:

autumnmaple said...

That was lovely, Claire. I like how they painted the walls such bold, vibrant colors. I hope you get more settled into your little abode so you at least sleep at night!