I’d been flirting with the idea of going to New Orleans for a trip for a while. Savannah, New Orleans, San Diego, Portland and Maine are the only places in the U.S. left that I’ve never been to but would like to visit. (I know Maine isn’t a city. Hush) I pictured an orgy of reading a writing and eating good food, bracketed with a train ride on either end, just to make sure I actually relaxed and indulged in the reading and writing parts of the trip. I was reaching the point of giving up on the trip (the recall was coming and no way am I taking a vacation during that) when John mentioned that he had vacation time he needed to burn ASAP. Cue the most last-minute vacation planning ever.
On Monday morning we took the bus down to Chicago and I gave John a relatively thorough five hour tour of downtown Chicago, starting with walking from the Union Station to Millenium Park, then all the up to Oak. We stopped for fabulous Indian food for dinner. Then we caught the 8pm City of New Orleans train.
This is where my vision of the trip started to fall apart. I’d indulged in some rather extreme nocturnal behavior over the weekend, did not not adequately make up for it by sleeping in, then got up early on Monday. I was too incoherent to write and too tired to follow written text. So I watched Netflix on my phone until bed time. Here enters the second flaw in my plan: When taking an overnight train, bring a blanket, get two seats for yourself, and do not share a car with anybody answering the description of emphysema man. The last point is especially pertinent. It’s possible I spent most of the night talking myself out of smothering a fellow passenger.
But I got a nice nap once emphysema man got off the train, the train arrived on time, and not getting searched, radiated and interrogated still ranks as a win for my travel standards.
We didn’t really plan the trip until the Thursday prior, so we had some trouble finding a hotel with availability. I was thoroughly charmed by the hotel we did get, though. “They decorate with bookshelves. And they have books on those shelves!” I said when we got there. John humored me. John humoring me was a major theme of the trip.
We took our stuff up to our room. The hallways were full of cleaning ladies and their carts. We dropped our stuff, freshened up a bit, and less than ten minutes after arriving, left to go exploring. The cleaning ladies were gone. Their carts were gone. Instead there was a gentleman touching up the paint on the trim, and wet paint signs. “They turned the cleaning ladies into wet paint,” I said. “I don’t think so,” John said. “How else do you explain this?” John did not have an adequate alternative explanation. Satisfied that our hotel knew classy decor and carried a touch of morbid creepiness, we set out to explore the French Quarter.
“Is that the third Hustler club?” John asked.
“That one’s the ‘barely legal annex,'” I replied.
“There are an awful lot of strip clubs.”
“I think we’re on Bourbon street. Let’s, uhm, pick a different street.”
I really like Royal street, by the way. It’s full of shops selling gorgeous art, fabulous jewelry, and stunning French antiques. It’s possible I spent a lot of time demanding explanations for why I’m not absurdly wealthy. “You work 15 hours a week,” John said. “I work more than that. I just only get paid for about fifteen of them.” Speaking of work, I worked 1.5 times my normal number of paid hours that week. And my boss didn’t notice I was on vacation. I call that success, of a sort. It’s possible I fail at vacation.
Our first destination was Jackson Square. By the time we got there, I was very fond of New Orleans. It wasn’t just the Anaea-crack getting sold up and down Royal. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and there were people out and about on the streets. There were street musicians, and they were pretty good. Artists were setting up stands and hanging their work on fences to sell. To top it off, the weather was gorgeous. It felt like what I want from summer. Given that it was well into November, I truly fear was a New Orleans summer is like. As it was, I immediately started fantasizing about hunkering down in a sidewalk cafe with my laptop and spending hours committing acts of fiction while people watching and listening to street musicians. Or maybe hanging out on one of the wrought iron balconies.
For dinner we went to Muriel’s which was on the corner of Jackson square. The decor was nice, the wait staff seemed bored, and the food was quite tasty. I’m a bad blogger and forgot to to take pictures, so you’ll have to trust me on it. John got their BBQ shrimp with grits. I am sad he did this, because it was his introduction to grits and I could tell from across the table they were no good. Grits are touchy; if you don’t do them right they’re really bad. Muriel’s did not do them right. But their shrimp and chevre crepes were phenomenal, and so was their pork chop. We both did the 3 course prix fixe menu, and we both walked away clutching our stomachs in pain.
We got back to the hotel and I discovered the one flaw with it; no balconies. We were at the Prince Conti, and this was my only complaint. Sadly, it wound up grating me enough that I wouldn’t stay there again. I was tired, didn’t want to go out, but I wasn’t ready hole up in my hotel room for the night. If I’d had a balcony to sit on, perfect. Not having it left me feeling stifled. I wound up working until I couldn’t see straight anymore and going to bed.
So, two days in to the trip, we’ve had two meals worth bragging about (the Indian food in Chicago was really good too) but planned literary orgy has been notably absent. Woops.
To be continued…