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
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
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.
Email Monte at:
Back To Articles List
Back To Homepage