“Down at the levee waiting for the Robert E Lee”.
It may be slightly silly but I was positively excited to see the sea again as we drove towards New Orleans. It was our first glimpse since New York. It was also fascinating to experience the freeway crossing the Louisiana swamps, the bayou, and the unusual looking trees which rise up through the water. Because we are staying in the heart of the French Quarter, the final part of our journey was through cramped streets, teeming with colour with the sounds of jazz everywhere, and manoeuvring our way amongst the horse drawn tour carriages which moved at their own slow pace. We were happy to hand the car over to the parking valet and step into the beautiful hotel, which definitely reflects a ‘grand age’ with every possible modern amenity.
We ‘hot footed’ it out and enjoyed a ramble. We seemed to be close to all the places I wanted to see and quickly happened upon the Mississippi River Boat cruise. Oh yes! A two hour cruise down the Mississippi in high temperatures and humidity offered at least some relief with the odd breeze crossing the decks. This is apparently the only true steamboat on the river – we know that it is steam driven as we saw the boilers “Thelma and Louise” and even braved the engine room. Some way downstream the guide pointed out a monument to the Battle of New Orleans. Ear worm once more of Lonnie Donegan’s song: “Well in 1814, we took a little trip,
Along with Colonel Packenham down the mighty Mississipp’.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans,
And we fought the bloomin British in the town of New Orleans”
Not just the “bloomin British”, in this case, the clouds began a-coming, lightning flashed in the distance but nothing reached us. The boat’s hooter sounded impressively as we hailed a cruise ship setting out for sea, following the path we had taken alongside the levee. Instructions for our docking were done the old fashioned way – by megaphone. Fascinating.
We had explored some of the lively streets along the way, so made it a quick dash back to the blissfully air conditioned hotel. I think the last time I perspired at such a rate was in Mumbai.
We went to claim a complementary drink from the bar and found there was a different jazz group playing each evening. What a fabulous band it turned out to be. This was real New Orleans jazz with trumpet lead, amazing saxophonist, drummer, bass and keyboard. Quite outstanding and we enjoyed cocktails (thankfully normal strength) whilst simply loving the entertainment.
A short stroll around the local streets finished off the evening. This is the vibrant ‘happening’ place I had expected in Memphis and we just love it.
Day 2 – and as a start to the day we enjoy a real Louisiana breakfast of poached eggs on top of crabmeat with a crayfish sauce over the top and three colours of fried potato. I may never eat again! As we leave, the day is hot and sunny. Here I am totally understating the case. The heat rises up to say hello, but instead of moving on, it sticks to you until satisfied every pore is working. This really is something else. However, we have walked! Around the French Quarter, around the French Market, into St Louis Cathedral (blissfully cool, light and airy), and on to a drinks stop. We (sorry, I), wanted to take a photograph of the Mississippi Steamboat setting off. Of course, the darned thing was late setting off by a good 10 minutes. But we stood under the relentless sun, waited and dripped a bit more. Finally….!
Back for a circuit around the already heaving streets with the pulsing sounds of the street bands. I presume these are the guys who can’t get a gig in the bars but make a living from this type of busking. I stood besides the Rib Room whilst Carolyn took a video of a street band. Inside were groups of the gentry – southern gentlemen in their cream suits, sitting at pristine tables with silver cutlery and linen napkins, eating huge plates of hot food. Groan!
It is late afternoon and definitely time for some air conditioning or even a swim before contemplating a tour of the bars for a selection of music when the sun goes down over the grand old Mississippi. Later tomorrow we begin our homeward journey with a flight back to New York. What an amazing trip – again, another slight understatement!
Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌
Well , what can I add?
It’s been a wonderful trip – not yet over – and the past two days have added so much colour and texture to it!
Kath had had New Orleans on her to-do list since we started planning this musical journey. We both have eclectic tastes in music but Kath will tell you that I have a fascination for difference and quality. If it’s good, it’s good – and I may enjoy it!
The stop-off point from Memphis to the Big Easy wasn’t a planned music stop but we researched and found some. New Orleans’ music scene doesn’t require any research. Walk out of the door or, even, down the lobby and you hear it and then see it. Blues? Yes. Jazz? Yes, of almost all types. When we walked past bars in Las Vegas last year, we commented how each bar had different music. But those bars were, sometimes, a block long and the music was piped. Here, every bar is the width of a house and the music is live. Not just the bars. They play in the streets and we saw the archetypal New Orleans Jazz Band walking by – surprisingly followed by a State Trooper motorbike and SUV as well as the traditional crowds of ‘followers’.
My anticipation of New Orleans was fed by James Bond’s ‘Live and Let Die’ with McCartney’s theme tune. Our hotel was only a block away from the site of the film’s funeral procession. Did it match the film? Yes – as picturesque and more vibrantly beautiful. But, we were warned to be careful, especially at night. We were and, frankly, felt safe but we didn’t stay out very late.
Our musical experiences were so many. The map shows only some of the bars – we listened at all of them! However, we had more formal traditional jazz last night from The Luneta Jazz Band and New Orleans Jazz tonight from The Doyle Cooper Jazz Band. It was Thomas Beecham who said, “There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between.” With jazz, that rule still mainly applies but it does matter what goes on in between, of course. We’ve seen three quite different types of jazz on our Musical Road Trip but all played with expertise and passion. From a core melody, the players extemporise each as individuals although, somehow, in time, tune and passion with each other. Tonight, J.W.Pepper’s creation, the sousaphone, replaced last night’s double bass, a guitar replaced a keyboard, a trombone replaced the tenor and soprano sax whilst the trumpet (‘horn’) and drums were common. All playing separately and yet totally together. I have to make special comment about the trombonist tonight. He seemed autistic as he sat uncommunicatively until he began playing and then… the trombone sang as did he! What a player!
We caught several street bands and a band on the Steamboat Natchez as well. Joy!
Talking of the steamboat… this is regarded as the only true steam-powered on the Mississippi. The others are riverboats but not steam. The Natchez is the ninth boat wth that name and an earlier one lost the famous race with the Robert E. Lee in 1870. Despite the Mississippi being 200 feet deep in the centre, Natchez only has a draft of five feet. The river is mind boggling in its size. It’s the third largest river in the world by the area it drains. Where we are, sees 1 million cubic feet of water per second pass by. Because of this flow, there are no tides here and no salt water. The Natchez was only built 42 years ago but its steam engines are 92 years old and its style is even older. Great addition to our musical journey with a New Orleans Jazz Band playing on board. (Being able to spell Mississippi has been a buzz for me since Primary School: M – I – double S – I – double S – I – double P – I )
Musical nudges? Kath has mention ‘Down at the levee’ but, what about ‘Proud Mary’:
“Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis
Pumped a lot of tane down in New Orleans
But I never saw the good side of the city
Until I hitched a ride on a riverboat queen
You know that big wheel keep on turning
Proud Mary keep on burning
And we’re rolling, rolling, rolling yeah (rolling)
Rolling on the river.”
(“tane”, by the way, is an abbreviation of “octane” and is slang for gasoline – I looked it up!)
I also remember ‘Way down yonder in New Orleans”, of course.
A final note about the size of this country. As we left Jackson for New Orleans, the next largest big town, our Sat. Nav. blithely announced, ‘Continue on the I55 for 185 miles”. Cruise control set, we drove here and it was worth it, indeed.
And, then, we spotted two tee shirts – sums it up!