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Happy Mondays

25 Mar

It’s springtime in the States, and boy, do the starlings know it. At around 6am they flock to the courtyard of the hotel for a morning chorus. The low set trees and high walls create a noisy amphitheatre and an early wake up call for the residents.

That said, it wasn’t a late night. An afternoon in the Apple Barrel saw to that. I blame Bill from Chicago.

“Yeah – I’m Irish alright. I LOVE Guinness. But only in Ireland. Get this guy a beer.” With his wife in tow, one drink turned into a long session, accompanied by live music and a young group of people from Tennessee. It was one of the girls’ birthdays, which unleashed the new tradition of Pinning A Dollar On The Girl. I’ve never seen it before, but apparently it’s a ritual that’s sweeping the States.

“Hell, I’ll have some of THAT,” says Bill, with the kind of dirty look that meant he thought it was good value for a quick grope. Particularly where he ended up pinning the dollar. The afternoon melted into the evening, but I was so tired I barely had a energy for one song at the infamous Cats Karaoke bar on Bourbon Street. Nothing had changed from my previous visit. This Love by Maroon 5, thanks for asking….

So to Monday morning, and thanks to the starlings I’m up early. Another day means another huge American breakfast, and it’s another return visit to the Streetcar Cafe. Just off Canal Street, this diner is as basic as they come. And the more basic, the prouder the staff are of their home made food. Today, it’s bacon stacked on two enormous pancakes.

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Springtime or not, the temperature plummeted overnight to near freezing point. This isn’t uncommon for the South, but this morning requires a sweater and a jacket. Even the air conditioning on the Canal Street streetcar is vigorously blowing warm air. It’s more like New York than New Orleans.

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The streetcar takes me to City Park, a surprisingly large open space. It’s actually bigger than Central Park in New York, yet is neither as famous or busy. The entrance driveway takes me to the Museum of Modern Art, a good stop off for me – at least that’s what I thought.

“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t think I can authorise that. You see – I don’t work here.”

“But it’s just behind the shop. Really, I’ll only be two minutes.”

“I see. But I’m not sure where we would stand one public liability,” explained possibly the least helpful woman I’ve met in the States. After all, I only wanted to use the toilet. But with the museum being closed for a change of exhibition – and despite there being plenty of other people in the building – I was denied the convenience of a convenience. Had I just ignored her and walked past, she wouldn’t have noticed.

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City Park is just a couple of miles away from the French Quarter, yet it seems a world away from the rest of New Orleans. And its size means that it’s a quiet oasis. If it weren’t for the artists changing the exhibition, I could be the only person here.

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Apart from the strange sculptures.

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With the Mississippi River at its heart, New Orleans used to be famous for its paddle steam boats. Today, a couple of tourist steamers still offer cruises, although the prices are pretty high and the views, frankly, are less than romantic – though not without interest. So instead of paying for the privilege, a good way of getting out onto the water is the Algiers ferry.

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Algiers itself resembles a hurricane hit ghost town. Although there are pretty buildings – and cars parked outside – most of the houses seem deserted on a quiet Monday lunchtime.

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And business could perhaps be better.

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If they bothered opening, that is

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Yet the tranquility of this place hides a sad tale. A numbers of homes have placards outside saying “Save Our Ferries”. The authorities have plans to ditch the Algiers ferry due to cost. The service used to be subsidised by tolls on the adjoining bridge – but they were scrapped. If officials get their way, a free ride could be a thing of the past.

A walk around Algiers point takes about half an hour, and a collection of bored tourists wait for the return ferry. In the meantime, the wind has really picked up, and don’t the locals know it.

“Hell, that COLD!” shouts a woman at the Riverfront streetcar stop. “Sweet Lord – ah’m gonna need another layer oh’n this!” She’s not wrong. On my last visit here two years ago, New Orleans was enjoying a heatwave. Today the windchill has people diving for cover indoors. In my case, the Rivers Edge restaurant at the corner of Jackson Square. This is James, one of the many helpful staff.

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Along with a substantial burger and fries, today’s lunchtime includes a game Tip Roulette. Tipping in the States isn’t really an option – everyone knows that. But they could at least have the courtesy to offer some change from a $20 bill, which can then be divided according to how good the service was and how generous your feeling. No change comes from the $13 check. But it was good food, and fast service.

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Posted by on March 25, 2013 in Travel Stuff, USA 2013

 

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