Recollections of a Journey Through the Deep South
Part IV - Chooglin' on Down into New Orleans

copyright 1995 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 21 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Sept '95

If Memphis were the heart of the American South, New Orleans would surely be it's sex. It is garish, mysterious and provocative. Emboldened by centuries of free living, New Orleans is an anomaly in the perception of the United States being the new world. This city is certainly the most other worldly of America's multi-hued complexion.

Toss in a potpourri of ethnic influences and you are preparing a spicy gumbo indeed. It is architecturally represented in doorways with ancient Spanish arches and the patina on the lace balconies of the French Quarter - the Vieux Carre - with it's secret courtyards and patios. It is palpable in the Caribbean breezes blowing across the Gulf of Mexico adding a humid jungle-like feeling to the air in Jackson Square. Even in winter the atmosphere is heavy. New Orleans is below sea level. Its cemeteries are above ground. Culturally it is on a different level altogether.

Irish, German and Mediterranean nationalities are strongly represented. The African, Oriental and Indian races are obvious in their contributions. You see the blurring and blending of ancestries and with this Creole mixture comes the music, food and heritage of all the components. A veritable celebration of life in this, the Crescent City.

They say "One night in Bangkok can make a hard man humble". I say "One night in New Orleans will make a man's soul hungry" - for more - for life in the soul of that night. Mange de la vie.

Walking through the quarter sampling jazz, blues and voodoo in bucket of blood taverns; hurricane cups and plastic Mardi Gras trinkets in the gutters. Sliding carefully down the side streets, keeping 6' over your shoulder for bandits and grifters intent on your tourist dollar. Heading over to stylishly renovated bars in Storyville such as Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" (where I scrawled the lyrics to "Grain of Salt" on a bar napkin while watching the five ladies known as "Evangeline" perform their sweet magic).

Absorbing reams of history and vice. Both Shamanism and Catholicism hang redolent on these ancient mossy limbs. All this, rife with the emotions of incredible centuries in a pirate, privateer, freebooting city hooked into a world of its own.

I had an appointment for cafe au lait and beignets at the Cafe du Monde early the next day. This was one reason why I had considered extending my Southern visit to include New Orleans. It seems a number of years ago, I received a long distance >wrong number< call from an interesting, mature sounding woman with a lilting drawl. In passing I asked how the weather was "down there" and she responded in great length. In fact she called back half an hour later claiming she had misdialed again, quickly adding, "Do y'all mind if we jes tawlk awhal?"(sp). We did - talk, introduce ourselves and correspond - many more times; my wife and daughter also. "Audrey" described my wife and I, in detail, claiming to be clairvoyant, having been born in the house of a famous Nawlins voodoo priestess. Anyways, prior to coming south, I phoned her at her home in Waveland, Mississippi and asked if she could come in to the city to meet me. She suggested we meet at the Cafe du Monde, one of the cities oldest dining establishments.

We met and had a great visit. She brought her "boy"- her son George, (45 and 325 lb.) who drove us all over the city on a mind warping stereo tour. They both talked to me at the same time (the way people who have lived together for lifetimes can do). Between trying to follow two conversations and also figure out the thick syrupy dialect I managed to see most of the city's sights, shops and a couple more fabulous eateries. I knew I was deep in Dixie when my Creole hostess turned to me, indicating a statue of General Robert E. Lee. She drawled, "They-ah's that stupid, stupid man who went and lost the war (pronounced whoawah)."

After a few hours, it was time to catch my train to Memphis. They brought me to the station, having loaded me down with gifts and good wishes. Before I boarded, Audrey read my palm and I didn't doubt a word she said.

New Orleans - Nawlins - with your magnolia trees and Mississippi paddle wheelers. All too soon I leave you, to one day return, perchance to stay... "Nothin' mo' better than you."

Best bets: Offbeat Magazine, the Times-Picayune, the Rue Royale Inn ($55 U.S. per night), Record Ron's on Decateur ("Vinyl Lives"), Tipitina's - if it's open, The Jazz & Heritage Festival - if you can, Mardi Gras - if you have to, Bourbon St.- you have to, St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, The Riverwalk, Cafe Au Lait and Beignets - (pronounced bin-yeas) at the Cafe Du Monde at dawn, Rice and Red Beans on Monday, gumbo any day.

Required listening: Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Irma Thomas, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Clifton Chenier... "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez"!

Required reading : "Feast of All Saints", "The Vampire Trilogy" and "The Witching Hour" by Anne Rice and "Coming Through Slaughter" by Michael Ondaatje.

Next: Riding the Train from New Orleans to Memphis, "Cradle of the Blues."

Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 8 albums to date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
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