The Big Easy in New Orleans - Sikamikanico in America, Part III

I first visited New Orleans back in 1996 when I was too young to legally drink, even by Australian standards, and I vowed to go again one day when I was old enough, when I'd party on Bourbon St. But it took me 26 years to make it back and by then I was too old to party on Bourbon St, or for any sort of party that doesn’t involve a wasted afternoon, a play centre, and dragging home an over excited, sugar hyped school age child. 

That's the thing about travelling when you're older. You may not be physically able to party much, certainly not if you're spending your days seeing and doing things. When you're 22 you can rage all night and get up (even later) the next morning and climb a small mountain, if in discomfort. By your first age spots it's like "do a thing? Tonight? I already did things  today. Can't do any other things without a good night sleep" and if you're travelling cheap that good night sleep may be elusive. Cheap hard mattresses are very unforgiving on old backs. Which is just one of the reasons why the song "Good (Blue)" annoys me so much: the singer is 33, old enough to know vowing to have the best night ever when your plans consist of "going along for the ride" is a always recipe for disaster. Maybe she's planning to make a pot of tea and wanting to read a magazine but if she gets the urge to read a book instead, she's down for it.

New Orleans is gritty, New Orleans is real, and after Las Vegas it was like going to heaven, except there’s a great big casino there now too, down near the river, because of course there is. But apart from the casino the only thing I don’t love about New Orleans is the weather. It was hot here, too. It was mid October. What was going on? I know I’ve complained about the heat a lot, but in the past few years I’ve developed a weird and annoying insensitivity to heat, which leaves me headachy, sweaty and nauseated even in the high twenties. I imagined that travel by October would be alright, but New Orleans, whilst slightly cooler than Vegas, also offered the swampy humidity for which it was famous.



I spent my first morning in New Orleans wandering around a bit to get the lay of the place and see what I recalled, and was soon soaked in sweat. I took a breather on a shady bench in Jackson Square when a pair of slightly older ladies struck up a conversation with me. Back home I’d probably be peeved by this sort of irritation, but this was the first time I’d properly talked to people in over a week, and it was nice. Most travel writers pepper the accounts of their journeys with all the characters they meet along the way. Mine lack this, because I can’t bring myself to strike up conversations with strangers, and my resting homicidal face leaves people strangely disinclined to talk to me. The ladies in the park called out casual greetings, and as my reply immediately marked me as not from around here, they asked me about my travels and told me of a trip they’d taken to London to watch the Saints play NFL (I’ve tried to get into NFL, but it seems like rugby league except instead of a set of six tackles, play is stopped every time the two teams on the field interact at all). They warned me about safety. I was enjoying this all greatly when they pulled pamphlets out of their bag. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses, trying to recruit me. I was crushed - I thought they liked me for me. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses were everywhere I went on my trip, making up for lost time during lockdowns. They were in all the cities I visited and up at the top of the Grand Canyon as well. It wasn’t just an American thing, they’ve been giving it a red hot go in Sydney too. I was able to dissuade my American friends by showing them a cross I wear around my neck and telling them about the church I go to, even though I’m a semi agnostic at best, haven’t been to the church in many months, and wear the cross in some superstitious notion of protection which doesn’t even align with the tenets of mainstream Christianity. Never mind though. They’d been too nice for me to give an honest opinion of what I think of their faith, even though the niceness was only to win me over to it. 

Leaving the park I reflected that this was where I’d saved my father’s life 26 years ago, pushing him out of the way when a carriage horse suddenly reared and moved backward. And I wasn’t even rewarded with a car. I actually had no memory of the incident until I saw the horses, which 1. Shows what an inconsequential event it was at the time, and 2. Makes me fear for whatever else is hidden in my memory. Can you believe that in this year forsaken by our Lord 2022, they still have blinged up horses forced to pull beignet laden tourists around? 

By now, I did want to talk to people who weren’t trying to convert me to forgoing birthdays and blood transfusions. I was staying at a backpackers’ hostel – not a corporate owned chain, but a hippy sort of place where the owner lived on the premises. I’m normally allergic to hippies, but this place was nice and advertised a pool and the opportunity to make new friends. Unfortunately the pool was being repaired during my stay (first buffets, then pools) but the outdoor area was equipped with chairs, tables and a drinks fridge, so I sat out one evening with my kindle hoping I could make some new friends. Unfortunately none of the gorgeous young European backpackers seemed interested in striking up a conversation with a portly middle aged woman, and I had no idea what I could say to any of them (“Hey baby, wanna see my c section scar?”).

The Goth scene in Sydney has been over for years. There are still a few Goths around, but most of them came through the last revival of the Goth scene in the early 2000s. Anyone starting a club these days would have to contend with punters who limited themselves to no more than two drinks and had to leave by 11pm to get home and pay the babysitter. But in New Orleans, Goth was alive and well (or perhaps wan and morbid would be a better descriptor). New Orleans had more Goth shops than I'd ever seen, and ads for several clubs which all took place after I flew out (yet again, I cursed myself for not planning the trip details). I wondered how they managed in the weather. I know being a Goth in Sydney is not for the faint hearted (how do people wear boots when it’s 32 degrees, I may be in satin and lace but I’m wearing sandals), and Nola weather is even worse. After a week in the desert like conditions of the western U.S., the rush of humidity when I walked out of Louis Armstrong airport was almost comforting, a taste of home. But that was at 5am, and the developing sluggish, treacly heat was getting on my tits by midday. What it must be like wearing a tight corset, latex skirt, enormous boots, and face full of make up doesn’t bear thinking about. I wasn’t carting around any clothes suitable for clubs besides. One day I’ll actually party in New Orleans. Maybe.



But I did get in touch with the dark side in New Orleans. I took a trolley car ride up Canal Street to the Metairie Cemetery, final resting place of Ann Rice and her husband Stan, Jim Garrison, and journalist Elizabeth Meriweather, who leant her pen name of Dorothy Dix to the Australian political practice of the Dorothy Dixer, a tactic where a backbench member of parliament lobs a planted question to a minister of their own party that allows the minister to answer in a way favourable to themselves (“Prime Minister Abbott, can you confirm to the parliament that the onion you bit into was in fact sweet and tender?”), harking to Ms Dix’s practice as an advice columnist of composing the questions herself so she could write interesting answers. Who says the Australian Parliament is hostile to women?

But I wasn’t here to see any of these luminaries. The cemetery itself has an interesting history. It was originally the site of a racetrack and jockey club. In the 1850s, the club refused membership to a Charles T. Howard, who made his fortune starting the Louisiana State Lottery, which was presumably too crass a form of fortune raising for the creoles of New Orleans to bear (as if the people who kicked out the locals from the land they'd traded on for 1300 years to build a city on flood and hurricane prone land deserved kissing up to, even if they weren't French). Stung, Howard then cursed the racetrack, vowing it should become a cemetery; and he lived to see his curse come true, with the cemetery established when the racetrack went bankrupt following the Civil War. Howard is buried there now himself, following his death in 1885…when he fell off a horse. 

 On account of the high water table (the cemetery itself is located on the banks of a filled in bayou) underground burial is not possible, so with apologies to Spike Lee, internments are conducted in above ground vaults. Despite the objections of the Catholic Church, which has traditionally dominated spiritual life in this part of the country, I couldn’t understand why cremation hasn’t been more popular here. Whilst some of the larger vaults are exquisite, the effect of rows of the more modest structures evoked pity for those consigned to spend their eternal rest in what looks like a row of concrete portaloos. 



Next to Metairie is the Charity Hospital Cemetery, site of the Hurricane Katrina memorial. Unclaimed and unidentified victims of the hurricane are interned in an elegant marble mausoleum laid out in a wave-shaped pattern, afforded a respect neither they nor tens of thousands of other people were given when the storm hit in 2005. To get an idea of just how catastrophically all levels of government failed before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, I recommend reading The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley. Doing so myself, I was repeatedly struck by a sense of horror, feeling that it can’t get any worse, but it did…over and over again. 



On my last day in the Big Easy, I explored the French Quarter, admiring the local houses. Several of the adorable cottages for sale were priced under $USD300,000 and, forever priced out of the Sydney property market, I briefly envisioned a life where I moved to New Orleans, bought a house I decorated in red with swathes of draped black lace, and attended clubs a lot, before the heat rapidly brought me back to reality. 



Darkness lurks around every corner in Nola, and I came across the location of one of the most gruesome crimes in New Orleans history; the murder of Addie Hall by Zack Bowen. Artist Addie Hall and Iraq and Kosovo war vet Zack Bowen met and fell in love whilst both bartending in the French Quarter. They achieved a brief fame of sorts immediately following Hurricane Katrina, refusing to evacuate, serving drinks and food on the street, creating a community of "others" who'd remained behind, the whole thing seeming like one big party. This - plus Addie's habit of flashing her breasts at passing rescuers - gained considerable attention, and they were interviewed and photographed for the national media.

But when the realities of post-storm life hit, things went south. (You may want to skip this paragraph; descriptions of violence). A year after Katrina, Zack murdered Addie by strangulation, keeping her body in the apartment for 12 days before taking his own life. His suicide note led investigators to the apartment Hall and Bowen shared, when where a horrifying scene was revealed - I'll spare you the grim details, which are a Google search away if you're so inclined. The Katrina connection brought a second wave of media interest in the deaths, and much of the subsequent commentary sought to explain the murder through post storm trauma, as well as Bowen's PTSD from his military experiences, Hall's supposed hot temper, and other acts of victim blaming. Whatever haunted Zack and Addie, however, was hard to imagine on this sunny afternoon, no disturbed spirits to indicate the horrors that happened in the apartment above - even though it is above a shop named Haunted.



The only thing left to buy was tacky souvenirs. I bought some Mardi Gras beads, intending to hang them from the rear view mirror of my car. I’d hung stuff off of the mirror before and found it too distracting, but now that I’m a more experienced driver, back home I was keen to see how far I could get before they annoyed me. The answer is 100 metres. I was barely out of the driveway before I had to pull over, put on the handbrake and yank the things free from my field of vision. Still, I was confident that my upcoming plan to hire and drive a car out of New York City would all work out. 

Sikamikanico in America


Part I - Los Angeles

Part II - Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon