My feet ache wonderfully. I’ve worn the soles of my boots down to wafers and the only thing that gets me back to the hostel is a cool beer in a dark bar, the cigarette smoke dragged languorously through the air by lazy fan blades.
Of course, it’s usually the streetcars that actually get me back to mid-town – brightly painted wooden carriages clacking and swaying along their rails. They run until deep into the night and they’ve been doing so since the Victorian era (with a few interruptions).
On one such streetcar I was treated to a display of the next stage of evolution of HipHop fashion – for this envelope-pushing sartorialist, merely wearing his jeans below his arse was too conventional so he also wore his underpants below the crack; calmly and happily displaying his large, dark moon to the entire world. Luckily, I don’t think this craze has taken off just yet.
One day, I took the ferry across the waters of the Mississippi to Algiers Point. The ferry is a wonderful, slow-moving way to get a different view of the Crescent City – sunlight gleaming on the forest of towers whilst mist hangs thick and heavy over the steep sides of the levee. Docking on the other side of the levee and entering a strangely different world – the little town, founded in 1719, now a suburb but still feeling like a place removed. It’s quiet little streets free of traffic and lined with thick, lush trees and brightly-painted, ornately gabled cottages. You find yourself moving more slowly along the brick pavements - moving any faster seems somehow sacrilegious. A tiny café on the tiny square before the church – the café grows its own herbs and is covered in charming murals of swirling plant-life. Everyone seems to know each other. The church grounds sport a small monument to ‘unborn’ children.
One evening, a friend-of-a-friend takes me to a gumbo party at one of his friends’ places. It’s a fun, family affair – a large group of neighbours and family all chatting and drinking and helping themselves to servings of delicious home-made gumbo that bubbles away in a pair of massive cauldrons in the corner. The garden is a fresh expanse of close-cropped lawn and beyond it, in the distance, the twinkling lights of the city reach up to merge with the twinkling stars. I learn the house, and most of the neighbourhood, were complete destroyed by Katrina. The hurricane seems to’ve touched most everyone here. But they’ve rebuilt; and the Christmas cheer that flows about the house seems indestructible.
Another streetcar out to the forested avenues of the Garden District – an area originally built-up by Americans moving into the newly acquired State who did not want to live with Creoles. It’s a beautiful and demonstrably-wealthy area. The mansions are a glorious symphony of columns and dormers and turrets and gables and deep green lawns; all kept cool and shadowed by the massive, moss-draped oak trees lining the sidewalks.
Walking back toward town, the forest-like streets soon become more typically urban. Rows of terraced stores sell luxury items and gaudy mardi-gras costumes. One store sells old records – its vast interior crammed almost to the ceiling with dusty LPs and cassette tapes; the woman behind the counter play Xbox video games on a shiny flatscreen with a headset connecting her to other distant players.
Sitting in a little bar somewhere in the Quarter, the late afternoon sun hot against the stucco walls. Just out of sight a jazz band plays languid, plaintive tunes in the dying humidity. The little flames of the gas lamps dance to the cries of the trumpets.
Another street, another evening, a lone saxophonist bemoans his heartbreak in the shade of an enormous magnolia tree. Dreadlocks hang heavily down his back and the brass curves of his instrument gleam brightly as a handful of passersby drop money into his hat. Over the whole scene loom the enormous pale stones of some important Louisiana government building. But all the lights are out and you can’t help but wonder if the place is abandoned.