It’s a real Hillbilly place and was actually where ‘Deliverance’ was set! “Squeal Damocles, Squeal!” This, in addition to the fact that the Lonely Planet only has three pages on the whole state of Arkansas! It basically says there’s NOTHING there! I checked my email this morning whilst chatting with the kid who was looking after the shop.
A cool teenager who’s Louisiana drawl and southern vibe made him infinitely more relaxed and measured than his years. He told me a story about how that morning he’d been woken up by the National Guard kicking in the front door of his neighbor’s house researching a “domestic disturbance”! Guns and overkill. It just shows the different attitudes between hear and London, Forest Hill in particular! No-one gives a shit here about police heavy-handedness. The American Media, as far as I can see, are 100% on the side of the police,who incidentally expect to be addressed as “Sir” in all conversations.
I’m sitting at the moment in Jackson Square, which is a lush green area making up the center of the French Quarter. A live Rhythm & Blues band are playing to the right of me. The midday church bell chimes the hour from the brilliant white steeple on my left, whilst the burning hot sun scorches the damp humid grass and beams of sunlight dapple their way through the antebellum trees and onto this laptop, as I sit on a Parisian style bench. Very cool. Very Peaceful. I get the feeling from talking to locals and reading local newspapers that the French Quarter is an anomaly of safety, surrounded on all sides by things far more dangerous than Alligator swamps. Unbelievably, laid-back and country as a chicken-coup, I reckon this is just a knowingly maintained image.
Scratch the surface and the golden scab will crack to expose black pus underneath. Central City which envelopes French Quarter in a vampiric cloak sounds like something from Robo-Cop and is filled with dangerous and desperate people, battling the National Guard who try to keep them out in the waste-lands and away from the pearly tourist gates. Under advice, this is the main reason I’ve decided to fly out of Nawlins rather than dodge bullets on the bus. I’m too slow with my big bag! I stepped out into the edge of Central City last night and this old dude on a push bike almost ran me over. I jumped back onto the curb and as he went past he said “No, no son, don’t stop…better to be a moving target round here!” Reassuring.
It really hits me how down here Hurricane Katrina is real life not just a news report. I know that sounds like a kind of obvious thing to say, but news can sometimes feel like a film when watched from the comfort of an armchair: a feeling of “Oh, dear, that’s a shame. Poor people” rather than “ F**k me! Something MUST be done about this situation NOW!”
I’m sitting here in a market café with the most exquisite live jazz being played in front of me by a Creole four-piece outfit, having the first beer of the day and dwelling on what I’ve just been told by a Tarot reader called Mike. He was a “good ole boy” from Canada, working here illegally on the sly. He was so good that I gave him $40! Both he and the palm reader the night before said that I am a writer and need to progress this feat. With Jonathan just now, another Tarot Reader, I kept on my impenetrable sunglasses and minimized all body language so as not to give him too many signs to feed off. I also kept conversation to a minimum for the same reason. Here’s the bullet points of what he told me:
I am in the right path but need to focus on one thing now. That thing is Writing. I should travel around the States working as a domestic help, cleaning people’s shit and writing about it. Although he did say I’d need to work on my American accent to avoid suspicion, y’all! He told me about the natural racism of the American Immigration system and Administration, who are currently building a massive wall along the US / Mexican border with the same gusto as the Israelis, using the catch-all excuse of the war-on terror. Tarot Jonathan said this was obvious bullshit, as all the 9/11 terrorists came across the Canadian border, but the chances of the US building a wall against Canada... It’s just more immigration, color of skin, racism.
He said I should travel more and write about the bad things, the things that make me uncomfortable, like an alcoholic travelling up the Amazon!
He said I need to treat writing like a job now, with discipline, and to start finding out HOW to be a writer – go to conventions, send stuff to editors, etc.
He said if I took the job I’ve been offered with XXXX I would do it for approximately three months. He said that far better for me would be to stay in the US and write about it.
To fund this, he recommended a bizarre cocktail of jobs which I agreed would certainly give me something to write about, Female Stripper (!), Palm Reader, Domestic Help.
For Palm-Reader, he told me, all I’d need is a book on how to do it, a chair and the ability to sit still in a town square somewhere for hours waiting for passing trade, making a couple of dollars here and there. His sound bite to me, which I think is fantastic and will tell anyone who’s ever interested is:
DO WHAT YOU LOVE UNTIL SOMEONE PAYS YOU FOR IT!
What a fantastic piece of advice! How f**king amazing! Not just the advice, but the fact that for him it was logical, easy, and the right thing for me to do. I’m juxtaposing myself sitting with my old boss Frank in some ‘hi-powered’ business meeting with HSBC on a rainy day in a grey Deathstar building in Haywards Heath, thinking about fishfingers and Eastenders; whilst imagining myself as a palm reader by day and female stripper by night in a small town in Nebraska and writing articles for some small magazine about the experience! For me to actually do this will take amazing strength and letting go of so much conditioning; but for him it was just a sentence, as achievable and practical as going to the corner shop to buy a beer.
The Spotted Cat. A sublime bar in Maringny. I’m two beers down and it’s four pm Saturday. I’ve wondered off down the Frenchman street area as recommended by Jonathan and others. I’m now sojourning in the coolest bar imaginable. I mean TRULY cool. Not try-hard, wannabe, or post-modern knowingly cool. This ain’t Hoxton, baby! This is what cool truly is. This is the real deal. It’s just me, the stoned barman and three blokes in the corner playing the sweetest afternoon slow jazz. Cello, Sax and Guitar. The joint has a real Cajun feel to it – sparse knackered out furniture, dirty stained floors, bare wooden walls with flakey yellow paint stripping off in the condensed heat and an overhead fan which turns languidly with a clicking sound that almost makes it the fourth member of the band.
I thought New Yorkers were effortlessly cool, but Louisianians have got ‘em licked! This is where the real action be at. It’s a shame I can’t get really messy tonight, because I booked the flight to Okie for tomorrow and got to be at the airport for 11:10 latest.
Looking at the Lonely Planet guide, I think I’d be better off renting the car from Okie Airport. The city looks really big and if there’s a convention in town it could cost me a lot in taxis trying to work out where to stay. It’s coming up to peak season everywhere now and I guess what I’m planning to do could be a bit risky, the LP warns against not booking ahead in summer. F**k it, though, I feel luck is with me.
So, update then. Fly to Okie tomorrow, rent car for nine days. Follow the mother road, Route 66 and get my kicks all the way to Albuquerque, then Santa Fe, Flagstaff and then it would appear, rather unexpectedly, ladies and gentleman…LA! Then a long lazy drive up to Frisco where I’ll hang out for a week. It could be incredible if the car breaks down in the deserts of New Mexico – even Ray Mears would shit himself at that one!
I think I’ll get me some Cajun cigars in a minute, the smell is wafting over the bar like spiced wood. What that palm reader said today has really struck a chord, more about the fact I’m drifting and need to focus and fix on one thing now. I like the fact, in his words, that my writing could help people learn and travel without moving. That I had a lot of wisdom in me, but wisdom itself is a journey and not a destination. Imagine my Aunt’s flat sold before my flight back and I decided to stay in the US and become a stripper!
On a more personal note I’m also reflecting on what he said about me turning up the “Black Prince” card. Could he be right that I seek out sexual relationships with ‘wounded bird’ type men – not because I want to help them but because I feel I don’t deserve love unless I’ve earned it or struggled to win it. I fear there may be some truth in that if I look back with that in mind.
I’ve bought a picture in New York and just now another one from the stunning covered flea market on the edge of town. I think it’d be cool to buy a picture in every significant town I pass through and then maybe organize this journal and stick that picture as a heading for each town, of course, with additional photos as a travel journal for anybody interested. Would anyone other than my friends BE interested? Would my friends be interested!!!
I took in the best blues of my life tonight in Frenchman’s Street. Incredibly sexy barman pouring me drinks. I was loving watching the way he handled the drunks, excluding me, with powerful southern putdowns. Unflappable, slow body movements and graceful poise. I could have watched him all night if the music hadn’t been so exquisite as to draw my attention away.
People would pay $50 to hear this music at the Royal Festival Hall drinking their $100 bottles of wine. Yet here am I in a ramshackle bar in a rundown, post-Katrina, part of town hearing it for free with an ice cold local beer for two bucks! Phil Pasera would LOVE it here. For once he wouldn’t need to leave in search of somewhere better!
I’ve just found a note I wrote to myself at the bar on Thursday night, a “memo to self” to write down Graffiti found in toilets around the world. You can measure how cool a bar is by the quality of its graffiti! A good website for this would be www.bogs.com, as opposed to blogs.com. See? Clever that, eh?!
I walked down to the Mississippi River before dinner this evening and saw the paddle steamers. Archetypal symbols of the gambling early 20th century, real Huckleberry Finn vibe. To get there I had to walk along the edge of the French Quarter and into the Robo-Cop depths of Century City.
I caught a brief glimpse of the KFC bargain bucket of poverty that exists outside the lugubrious tourist trap. Slim pickens! On the corner of a Foot Locker store, the most energized street group I’ve ever heard. About six young black guys with trumpet, sax, trombone and bongos, slamming out the most powerful urgent music. Impossible energy in this heat. Best of all, they weren’t doing it for change or tourists (neither on offer) but totally for their own enjoyment. If I could have recorded it, it would’ve been legend.
I’m back in the Chateau Hotel in my air-conditioned bat-cave. The bat suit is hung-up in the bathroom and I’ve got a pot of coffee on the brew. This is a fantastic room in a fantastic hotel. A shame I didn’t get the chance to use the pool, but hey-ho, much better things to be a-seeing. I get the feeling that Oklahoma City will be Convention-al, but I must try not to pre-judge. I feel a bit foolish for not hanging round Nawlins a bit longer and taking a swamp tour or seeing some of the plantation houses and bayous, but I really can’t be f**ked. The human alligators on Bourbon Street have snapped enough money off me!
Right then. That WAS New Orleans. See y’all in Okie!
“Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever known!” (Yanni, Peter’s Fish Bar, Harrow).
I’m sitting in Louis Armstrong airport waiting to board my United Airlines flight to Ok City. There was trouble afoot at Check-in due to bad weather in Washington DC. They’d cancelled all flights into DC and all those people who’d flown down to Nawlins for a cheeky weekend are now stranded with some heavy explaining to do to their bosses tomorrow morning, Monday.
England are currently playing Ecuador and the United airlines rep told me that the score stands at 0-0. If I were still in NY or at a loose end I might’ve watched it, but I’ve got a continent to explore! I’m writing this at the gate, sitting pressed up against the window and I can see the plane’s just turned up taxing out of the corner of my eye. SHE BE SMALL! Looks like a jazzy Learjet.
I hope there’s no tornadoes over the great plains. Flight time is 1hr 48mins. Voodoo Hoodoo. No upgrades on this flight. I’ve taken a Xanax which the doc gave me last year for the fear of flying, they’re out of date, so I’m going to mix it immediately with some Southern Comfort and see if I can storm the cockpit!
There’s a beautiful looking girl right in front of me who has just chosen to sit down right in front me, despite there being free chairs all around. She’s yapping into her phone ; I’m listening to my I-pod, but I can tell she’s very conscious of me and keeps squirming around to catch my eye. She is barefoot and has very pretty petite feet. But, looking now, I reckon she can only be about 17.
Her big bad-ass bruiser of a mum has just squelched down next to her – the Midwest mutha of Biffa Bacon! She seems interested in what I’m doing with this paper and sharp pointy stick in my hand. “In England, we call this W-r-it-in-g” Gur. Hold up. I need the “Restroom”.
We have a passenger of size here! Bring the special seat belt! THIS PLANE IS SMALL. REALLY SMALL. Just 34 seats, 1 and 2 either side 17 rows. I’ve just sat down and immediately want to get off. This could be tough. Best not to think about it.
A fitting good-bye to the Big Easy: