New Orleans Observations (6)

Yesterday afternoon I took the time to stand in the warm sun and contemplate yet another Mardi Gras parade as it passed by.  Three things occurred to me.

Firstly, even though each parade consists of different krewe’s, each parade is exactly the same, without any significant variation.  The big assed police vehicle first, school and academy marching bands, majorettes, floats pulled by tractors – rinse & repeat.  So once you have seen 3 or 4 parades you have largely seen them all.

Secondly, as I observed in earlier posts, virtually every marching band consists almost exclusively of Afro-American children.  In the parades that I have seen, there has been may be one or two anglo saxon children within the marching band groups and I have now seen one school marching band/majorette combination that was white.  However overwhelmingly the kids walking the entire route, sweating, puffing, stuffed into hideous uniforms are Afro-American and almost without exception the people who are on the floats, including the prince, princesses, maids and general helpers are white.

Thirdly, when you walk through back streets and connecting alleys, you get a view inside of a number of restaurant kitchens.  After a few days of this, as well as eating in a few restaurants now, a very high percentage (80%+) of the kitchen staff and the serving staff are Afro-Americans and the vast majority of the people eating in the restaurants are white.

It struck me that inadvertently, this is probably a fairly representative view (in a very general sense) of America.  I want to think this through a bit more.

New Orleans observations (5)

After a very relaxing afternoon on the 29th floor overlooking the river and reading, I slowly got ready to go out to experience the second evening at Mardi Gras.  During my earlier wanderings I found a Japanese restaurant (Yokohama Japanese Restaurant) that looked as though it would be possible to get some decent food, so I headed back there for dinner.  What do I say?  Why is it close to impossible to find food that isn’t a fuck up in this country?  The irony is that NOLA is known for the food.  People travel from all of the USU to eat the food.  I do have to admit that it is more likely for the jambalaya & seafood, but if a city has a reputation for good food, then you should expect a certain consistency across the board.  Actually, as I write this I realised there actually is a very uniform consistency and that is – its fucking disgusting.  People from Italy would all be commiting mass suicide if they had to eat this.

So, Miso soup – it was as close to Miso soup as it was to tomato soup.  Salad (obligatory in the USU), I didn’t try because there was this very weird orange coloured dressing on it. Tempura prawns and vegetables (entree) – prawns with ZERO taste that fell apart in your mouth, the tempura vegetables were somewhat ok.  Main course was Usuyaki – what is supposed to be finely sliced beef, wrapped around a small bundle of spring onion.  The beef was overcooked to the point of being very close to burnt and the spring onion, I am not sure what they did to that.  The steamed rice was ok.  One thing is consistent when I eat in the USU, I rarely finish anything eat because part way through I also become almost suicidal.  I am beginning to understand why MacDonalds does so well here.  The food is consistent, you pay a fraction of cost of eating this other shit that is actually no better and in some cases worse.  I see some trips to MacDonalds on the horizon!

Firstly I found a place on Canal Street to watch the evening parade.  What I found to be really interesting was this.  All the marching bands and majorettes, almost without exception are made up of Afro-American children.  The uniforms are consistently gaudy almost to the point of ridiculousness.  The general theme is either tall fluffy hats, inspired by Marge Simpson or plastic Roman centurion helmets.  However on the floats the Princes, Princesses and Maids are all anglo saxon whites.  Interspersed into this mix were Police cars, Sheriffs cars, a single Kubota tractor (?), a pick up truck with a chemical toilet on the back, and a group of 8 purple & gold Harley Davidson cruisers, with red flashing lights, sirens (used of course), an obligatory American flag on the back, ridden by middle-aged, overweight men in some type of uniform.  From the floats they were throwing various plastic shite items, mostly strings of plastic beads, which were enthusiastically received.  One girl near to me caught a small rubber penis.

So off to Bourbon St, which was absolutely jammed with people who were all determined to get rat-arsed drunk.  With a singular focus, most people were well on their way to achieving this.  Personally I think they were doing it to either forget or lose the food of that evening, but anyway lets not digress.  I have to say, that given the sheer number of mostly drunk people the atmosphere was really relaxed and hassle free.  I know for sure that if this was NZ or Queensland (Australia), you would want to be very careful being in amongst that many pissed people.  Happening on the ‘Bucking Bronco Bar on Bourbon’ I stayed for quite a while.  There was a back courtyard with a mechanical bull and was (relatively) uncrowded.  Good music and great entertainment watching mostly younger women all on stage shaking their butts with varying degrees of skill.  On the way out, walking down the street I took the time to stand under some of the overhead balconies that had a lot of people on them to watch the whole ritual of people trying to get strings of plastic beads thrown to you.  The most succesful (unsurprisingly) were the girls who enthusiastically showed their tits and that was actually the majority. 

Now here is the thing.  I wonder what would happen if you came to NOLA at some other time of year, with a selection of plastic beads and then asked most girls to show you their tits in exchange for a string of beads.  Do you think it would be successful?

New Orleans observations (4)

My forays into the city yesterday (Saturday) were divide into 2 parts – a long walk in the middle of the day and then back out to see NOLA on a Saturday evening.

 left the hotel late morning and headed off to cover a fair bit of ground on foot.  What struck me as I walked through the city streets adjacent to Canal St and Bourbon St, there is a lot of empty office & business space, all with signs of their last failed occupants.  There are a lot of signs which does give an insight into how much trouble the economy is in.  Yesterday I was speaking to Janet, giving my cynical impressions of NOLA and she said “True, but you have a job”.  Over the day I thought about this and realised that is a very relevant point of view here, do you have a job?  If you don’t I think you are in deep shit.  NOLA has a number of challenges – recovering from Katrina, recovering from the BP inspired oil spill, being in the US south and of course the continued fallout from the geniuses on Wall St.  It is hard to get a good feel of the place because of Mardi Gras which clearly brings in huge amounts of revenue. 

In the middle of my travels I stopped in at the Ritz-Carlton to discover that they had a nice central outdoor courtyard  in the sun.  The other big plus was that they also served Oolong tea.  So I spent an hour sitting quietly, reading, drinking Oolong which was so nice.  On my way back to the hotel I came across ‘Mothers Kitchen’ that has been in business since 1938 and at 2pm still has a small queue waiting at the entrance, usually a good sign.  So, in I went.  It was great in so much as once through the door, you join a queue, place your order for everything once you reach the cash register and then find a place to sit.  The waitress takes your ticket and returns with your food.  I decided that being in NOLA I was obliged to try a Po’ Boy, so I opted for (the small version) Mothers Ferdi Special, for which the place is famous.  It was also my first opportunity in life to order a menu item that is served with the ‘debris’ – quote, unquote.  Asking others around me in the line I found out that the debris is exactly that – everything that is generated in the production of your Po’ Boy.  So for the uninitiated – a Ferdi’s Special Po’ Boy is long bread roll with butter, coleslaw, baked ham, shaved beef, some sort of other meat in a small bath of very watery gravy and yes – it tasted how this sounds!!  After the first bite I scrapped of the coleslaw, the unidentifiable meat, the grossly over cooked beef and ended up with the dry layer of bread and some ham, so in essence an open ham sandwich.  It would be fair to say that it was my first and last Po’ Boy.

New Orleans observations (3)

I always struggle whenever I come to the US to find what I consider to be healthy, tasty food.  I say this because of course this provides an immediate bias to my experiences here.

So last night as I was wandering around I was also looking for somewhere to eat, hoping to get a normal portion of food that was reasonably light and healthy.  Your first and most immediate offerings are all the well-known chains such as MacDonald’s, Subway, Arby’s etc, but then there is also the chain sit down restaurants.  The menu’s are largely consistent between them all, the variation being the naming of the dish.  New Orleans is of course famous for its seafood, but not being a big seafood eater that line of fare is somewhat irrelevant.

In the end I went into the Harah Casino opposite the hotel to see what was there.  My first foray was to the buffet restaurant where (wisely) I asked to have a look at the selection prior to deciding.  There is only really one descriptive “appalling”.  You also have to understand the context.  it was a large restaurant, full of a lot of very obese people, each working their way through a mountain of food.  The food buffet itself was large (as you would expect), but the food was atrocious.  Without exception it was overcooked, the colour had been steamed out of the vegetables, a lot of deep-fried things, and cholesterol loaded desserts.  Eating here was out of the question.  I then found out that there was an Asian themed restaurant which I ended up going to as I prefer Asian food to western food any time.  Well, what do I say.  You could loosely describe it as ‘Asian themed’ because of the name “Bambu” and 90% of the menu was actually stock standard western food with an Asian name i.e. ‘Saigon Chicken’.  There was a small handful of Asian ‘inspired’ dishes and I settled on a Vietnamese Pork & Rice platter.  Initially I was quite excited because as the plate was delivered I saw a bowl of steamed rice and then lettuce, tomato, cucumber and grated carrot on the plate along with my Vietnamese pork.

Here it goes; the cucumber, tomato and lettuce had zero, and I mean zero flavour.  I have no idea how that was achieved, but achieve it they did.  The grated carrot had a vaguely chemical taste and the steamed rice was actually a fairly solid ball, which resisted all initial attempts to separate it into individual grains.  The pork was grossly overcooked.  It was without a doubt one of these meals that would have benefited by throwing it directly into the toilet, cutting out the middle man.

Beside me at the next table were 2 afro american ladies who were both GROSSLY overweight.  Their first course arrived which was a large plate of deep-fried something.  What got my attention was that they joined hands over the table, closed their eyes, bowed their heads and proceeded to thank God for delivering them an early coronary.

I asked at the hotel if there is a China Town in NOLA, but apparently not.  I can see that I am going to be seriously ‘food challenged’ this week. 

The one bright note is even though I really need to lose 5 kgs myself, I am positively anorexic compared to most of the people here.

New Orleans Observations (2)

Living in Europe, on average I see young males in a wheelchair perhaps once every 4 months.

Over the 4 hours I was out last night, I was initially amazed to see at least 8 young guys with missing legs (either one or both), in wheelchairs.  Of course this is because of Americas need to meddle and influence in both Iraq and Afganistan.  The impact on the youth of this country is clearly considerable.

New Orleans Observations (1) – My first Mardi Gras Parade

I learnt only very recently (thank you Janet), that New Orleans is often referred to as NOLA = New Orleans, Louisiana (LA).  So as I am here for the week, I will begin to post my observations.

So, I arrived last night and after unpacking and a shower I wandered off to have a look at the famous ‘French Quarter’ as the hotel is located at the edge of the district.  It is also the beginning of the Mardi Gras parade season so there are a lot of tourists as well as locals all in the area for the parades put on by the local “Krewes”.  Somehow over time reading stories and articles about New Orleans you have the idea that somehow it is special, with a unique culture and atmosphere. 

First impressions – just another over hyped, over branded ‘dump’.  One thing is clear though, if you get excited by getting totally pissed, wearing cheap coloured beads (Mardi Gras ornamentation), and falling over on the broken pavement, legs spread wide and showing your ‘muff’, then this is a great place to be.

I learnt that part of the Mardi Gras tradition is for people on the balconies to throw ‘doubloons’ to the revellers below.  I understand that there are some sort of plastic coins or of the like that represent doubloons, but last night it seemed that the only thing being thrown was just cheap plastic ‘shite’.  However what was interesting was the length people went to to attract such gifts “from above”.  I watched a group of girls on the street who were clearly excited and determined to get some of this ‘mana from heaven’ and it was clear from the males on the balcony that if they wanted some of this largess they would have to show their tits, which of course they did.  This is great, if those mammaries have an attractive form, but alas the experience (like the French Quarter) was greatly over rated.

As I began to wander back towards the hotel, I decided to stand and watch one of the parades and it was an interesting experience.  First comes the obligatory police vehicle.  in America, every parade needs to be led by a big assed police vehicle.  Then came the teenage marching bands made up of a mixture of brass bands and cheer leaders.  So I was treated to the spectacle of a significant bunch of extremely obese children squeezed into unattractive uniforms, playing brass band music with the same level of enthusiasm as most people have for dying.  This is then followed by floats aligned to a particular ‘Krewe’, who have people dressed in all sorts of customes throwing handfuls of cheap plastic ‘shite’ to the cheering crowds.  The high point of the evening was to watch “The Princesses of Peace” throwing very cheap plastic cups to the excited throngs, who to my utter amazement actually scrambled to get these.  I wouldn’t have expended the muscle energy to bend over and pick one up if it fell at my feet, but hey ‘each to their own’!   So that was my first (and probably last) New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade.

I have now arrived in “The United States of Unconsciousness”

I had to smile yesterday on the Delta flight coming to the US when this song came up on the ipod.  How very, very true.

The group is – ‘The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’ and the track is Called “Television Drug of the Nation”

Unfortunately I cannot embed the video into this post.  Watch it, because it is bloody good.