My husband and I were in Italy –mainly Rome– for the month of April although we forayed into Umbria with a visit to Orvieto and went back to Tivoli, this time not to see the famous gardens but to amble through Villa Adriana, an amazing city-like complex close to two thousand years old and fairly well preserved. Read my posts on our travels there on my other blog, The Other Word.
From Guest Blogger Jim Luce
Two in the afternoon, I’m dodging bodies on Bourbon Street, ducking and juking from sidewalk to gutter to sidewalk to curb. Rolling with the shoulder bumps, sidestepping excuse me’s and sorry’s, pausing in doorways. The air is humid, close, redolent with the scents of this famously sleazy street–beer, whiskey and wine, come on in, have a good time, cooking grease, warm and enticing cajun/creole, cold grease odors in the alley, in a trash can down there somewhere…seafood, truck exhaust, rank sweat, faint piss smell. The soundtrack is an oddly synchronous symphony, a shout, a curse, female laughter, genuine, delighted, truck horns, car horns, impatient, c’mon, move your ass…. Open air bars, mazed by cases of alcohol waiting to move to the back room, dark narrow doorways, impenetrable to my eye, vaguely forbidding, wonder, stay out…. Cacophony of hip hop, reggae, classic rock, a little jazz on this street that was once all about great jazz and great jazz musicians. Neon signs, motionless in the limp air, Gumbo Ya Ya, T-Shirt Alley—“I Got Bourbon Faced On Shit Street”, Temptations, Little Darlin’s, Larry Flynn’s Hustler Club…. Mid-afternoon, wake up call for party animals, streets jammed already, tourists like me, deliverymen, shopkeepers, Bourbon Street residents, no-eye-contact types alert to potential prey, different drummer marchers…still room to fall down if you get stabbed, but barely.
Da wife (we’re from Wisconsin) is safely parked on a stool in one of the open air bars, Jester’s, happily out of the stream of stabbers and staggerers, sipping a 191 proof Jester’s margarita. She chats with the bartender, amiable young guy, full of stories of the street, decorative holes the size of quarters in his stretched earlobes. I take my camera and dive into the polluted gene pool swirling outside the bar. Across the street, between a cab and a tour bus, down a block.… Behind me, “Hey, brother, how ya doin’, like your hat. You at the game?” I’m wearing a Super Bowl cap, my Green Bay Packers having won Super Bowl XLV a couple weeks ago here in New Orleans. I turn back. “Good game,” I agree. “Coulda been a blow out. They dropped too many passes.”
“Was you at the game?” he asks again. His eyes hold mine, wet, rimmed bright pink, whites yellow. They don’t shift away, don’t look past my ear. Good sincerity technique. Overweight, shaved three, four days ago, from shirt collar to pants cuff a stained canvas of hard times. I hook thumbs in my back pockets to keep contact with my wallet and settle in to talk Packer football. He’s worn, wilted, well-spoken though, and he knows his football. It takes two, three minutes to get to it. Glances away for the first time, comes back, “I don’t mean ya no worry, friend. Been havin’ kind of a rough go lately. Haven’t eaten since yesterday morning. You think you could spare enough I could get a hamburger?” I have a twenty and three ones. “I can’t afford a burger on this street.” I smile. “I can give you enough for a beer to keep you goin’, though.” He grins broadly, busted. “That’ll work too.” I give him the three singles and we shake on it. As I move on he calls, “Hey, go Packers.” I flash him a thumbs up and move on downstream.
Bourbon Street. Once the home of New Orleans jazz greats. Now sleaze multiplied by sleaze–dark bars, strip joints, sex shops, subtle lurk of danger…gaudy, crowded, loud. The sleaze doesn’t bother me, it belongs here now, creates the atmosphere that lets the street live up to its billing of today. And it’s a good place to meet new friends and talk a little football.
From Guest Blogger Jim Luce
Wisconsin is an Indian word for “White Out.” We had snow up to the window sills in February, which we’d hand-fashioned from ice to a faux oak finish. The average daily temperature was fifteen-degrees-below-Antarctica. Celcius. My wife and I decided to make a break for it and drive to the Mississippi/Louisiana Gulf Coast. The problem with leaving White Out for the warmth of the South is that you have to drive the entire length of Illinois. Illinois is an Indian word for 2000 miles of corn and soybeans. You also have to drive the entire length of Mississippi. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is beautiful, the rest of the state is, well…Illinois. Mississippi is an Indian word for “pretty much just Illinois.” Since it’s a long straight shot from northern White Out to the Gulf Coast of Pretty Much Just Illinois it would be easy to find our way. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, I plugged in the GPS we’d named Tommy Boy—after the movie of the same name, one of the all time great road trip movies—and told him to take us to the coast.
“You want to go where?”
“Yawn. Proceed south for 2000 miles. Then you have reached your destination.”
“We want to go to New Orleans, too.”
“Proceed south for 2000 miles, then turn right. Then you have reached your destination. Wake me when we get there.”
We wouldn’t dream of taking a trip without the God-like Tommy Boy, his wonders to perform.
Tommy Boy guided us right into the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana, and straight to our hotel. Louisiana is an Indian word for Eat Stuff That Crawls. New Orleans is a French word for Show Us Your Breasts. The Big Easy is also one of America’s most dangerous cities—when I turned on the TV the lady said “…at this time last year there were 13 murders in New Orleans.” She stared into the camera, face serious, eyes sparkling. “Sources within the NOPD tells us that this year the total number of murders is up to 35.”
Whoa. People, slow down, pace yourselves, it’s a long year. This is only the middle of February. I went out on our balcony and heard loud hip-hop thudding on the street somewhere. It got my head bobbin’, got my rap goin’. “Yo, y’all, we so cool, all old and stuff and up in N’awlins, all up on the roof and stuff wit’ da people down below….” I went back inside in case someone might hear me. Somebody else can be number 36.
Thanks to a coupon we picked up at the Eat Stuff That Crawls Welcome Center, for $54 per night our first room came complete with a giant cockroach. Apologetic, the hotel immediately gave us another room with a toilet that wouldn’t flush. My wife and I talked that over and decided if we played our cards right we could bargain them down to a room with bed bugs and no air conditioning but decided we’d probably done the best we could for that low price.
We did all the touristy stuff required of us (it’s in the Rules section of the passport that allows you to drive through Illinois, right next to the section titled Mental Competence Declaration), and moved east to Ocean Springs, Mississippi. After ten days of beach basking and Cajun gluttony our finances laid claim to the fatal number 36. It was time to head back to White Out, but first I wanted to load up on boudin sausage since it was unobtainable anywhere but down here in Cajun country.
“Tommy Boy, take us to Specialty Stuffed Meats.” We’d been told by the desk clerk it was only two and a half miles but a little hard to find.
Indeed. Two towns and seventeen miles later: “You have reached your destination.”
“We have reached your *&^! butt you remedial piece of satellite misdirection. This is a low rent….”
“When possible, turn around, you have passed your destination.”
“Tommy, can you interpret WTF? I did not punch in ‘Dollar General’, ‘Payday Cash’, or ‘Shorty’s Bail Bonds’.” We programmed you for ‘Specialty Stuffed….”
“In 240 feet bear left, then turn right.”
I spent that last afternoon on the beach, watching the ocean…gathering about me peace, love and understanding. We were heading home tomorrow but I thought we might wing it without the GPS. Tommy Boy and I were experiencing trust issues.