Sundays in New Orleans are all about chilling out, although the Big Easy doesn’t do relaxing by halves. In and around the French Market, it’s all about souvenirs, brunch and of course, live music.
The French Quarter, where I’m staying, is pretty quiet. That’s Bourbon Street for you on most mornings though. At 10am it’s already around 16c, and there’s an air of fine mist rising from the street as bar owners shower the road with water and disinfectant. But at 900 Bourbon Street is the place that never closes – the Clover Diner. Located at what might be described as the heart of the gay quarter within the French Quarter, the Clover is 24/7 full on carbs, with extra attitude.
The menu is as nonplussed as the staff. “Your order may take more than five minutes. This is New Orleans, not New York City” reads one item. Then “You’ve eaten, you’ve paid, but you’re not sleeping here. Look how much you’ve gained.” The service, though slow and a little inefficient, still results in a good American breakfast. It’s cheap too.
“I’ve done loads of telly,” says Scarlet. “In the eighties I was on shows with Jonathan Ross – and I did the Balderton Working Men’s Club with Jim Bowen. Channel Four, everything.” Scarlett Ray Watt claims to have been Britain’s foremost black ventriloquist, and moved to the States when the work dried up back home. He cuts a neat act in the middle of the French Market, using his dummy to chat up the ladies in a Yorkshire accent, and scare the hell out of the children. Kids today – if you tried to tell them about Nooky Bear they’d report you as a paedophile.
Further down the Esplanade the New Orleans Food Fest is in full flow. And yet more live music. The Deja Vu Jazz Band rub shoulders with the smell of fried chicken, gumbo, seafood and fries. Further into the French Market the live music continues. “How bout some music from the Seventies,” enthuses a man with a mandolin. “The SEVENTEEN seventies, that is,” before launching into a chorus of Greensleeves. It’s a heady mix, but nothing compared to what’s coming.
“We entered this contest last year and we beat them hands down” says the guy from the Jefferson Parish Fire Department.. Yet this isn’t a feat of physical strength or rescue skills. It’s a Beignet eating contests. These local delicacies are like doughnuts. – sugar covered and full of calories. It turns out that the contest used to be between the New Orleans Fire and Police Departments. But in 2012 the cops didn’t show up. Maybe they only do doughnuts.
Half an hour late, the New Orleans team turn up. They look under prepared. And they are. There was a communication problem and these guys volunteered at the last minute. There follows a frantic three minutes of intense eating, until Brian Schindler from Jefferson Parish is declared the winner, having stuffed ten Beignets down first. At least two local TV crews are here. This is big news.
Bourbon Street is where the tourists go. But Frenchman Street is said to be the place where you get a taste of the real New Orleans. Even on the street corner, you get a feeling that the music is getting a little more random. Bluegrass to be precise