Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Deep South

My first mistake on traveling to the southern states of North America, happened before I even got there. When I announced I was going to a wedding in New Orleans, pronouncing the much loved city as 'Nyoo Or-lee-ans', two American friends recoiled in horror. According to them, annunciating every syllable is akin to an American in London saying 'Ly-ses-ter' Square instead of 'Lester'. Ugh! So for anyone visiting our american cousins, New Orleans should be pronounced 'Noo Orlans' or 'Norlans'. I thank you.

My arrival for the 'Norlans' wedding was preceded by a visit to my friend Alex and her family in Houston, Texas. It was a horrendous trip with 3 flights, two layovers and a delay, resulting in an 18 journey and my friend collecting a bedraggled, bleary eyed, crumpled body from the airport. I managed to take in very few surroundings on the way back to her house and woke up from a delightfully long sleep, in a beautiful guest room, in a stunning house, in a quiet street... just like Wysteria Lane, ahh. 

Here are some of the things we did during my stay...

Singing and dancing with the kids.
Being asked to participate in the kids’ music class sounded like my worst nightmare (children + noise + jet lag = pain !!), but once I was handed the Sound of Music song sheet I perked up dramatically and sang "Whiskers on kittens…" as loudly and enthusiastically as I possibly could. I hadn't realised that we were also supposed to be supervising the children as well as singing, until Alex shouted at me, waking me from my musical reverie, and asked if I wouldn't mind stopping her young son from throwing himself out of the window. In the second half of the class I was asked to help Alex's daughter make a drum. Once again, I became a little too involved with the wax crayons and sticky tape and didn't notice Alex's daughter walk off out of sheer boredom. I carried on oblivious, until I was the proud owner of a rainbow and heart designed plastic drum… yes, of course I gave it to her daughter (a little reluctantly I admit). It was not quite what the teacher had in mind.

Houston Zoo.
I have never been a huge fan of zoos but, being half term, it seemed a perfect distraction for the kids. On reflection, it was a terrible idea because every other Houston parent had decided to take their children there as well. It was overcrowded, hot and loud and although we got a buggy for the kids to be pushed around in, tempers were still a little bit frayed. Alex definitely saw 'Auntie Doodie's' disciplinary skills kick in, which my friends in England know only too well. The Mary Poppins accent definitely didn't help much and only seemed to amuse other people, as they overheard things like, "If you insist on getting out of the buggy while it's still moving, you're going to get your legs trapped under the wheels… then I will probably run you over, break all your bones and you'll be in a buggy for a lot longer than you originally wanted! Now sit down please!" The only saving grace, in the form of bribery, was ice cream… and a horny male monkey, in Monkey World, bonking his mate. Both seem lighten the mood, I find.

Dinner, Texas style.
One thing you are guaranteed in Texas, is meat. Great huge slabs of beef and pork appear on every restaurant table, so as my 'thank you for having me' dinner, we decided to go 'down and dirty' at their local BBQ Rib shack. Enormous plates of gooey tender pork ribs, spicy re-fried beans and creamy coleslaw, washed down with icy cold beers. Yum! This sort of protein and carb-laden meal continued for most of my trip and I've just realised, I'm not entirely sure anything green passed my lips for the whole 10 days. Unless mayo-heavy 'slaw' or a single iceberg lettuce leaf garnish, count as one of your 5-a-day! The Southern States certainly don't seem to be very vegetable or vegetarian friendly!

The friendly neighbour.
We had been out for a lovely evening stroll around the neighbourhood, with the kids in pushchair and scooter, respectively, when Alex's neighbour appeared. Now, I haven't been set up by friends or family in years but whenever I am on holiday or traveling, someone always seems to know someone that would be 'perfect' for me romantically. On this particular occasion, the neighbour, on hearing of my single status, decided that an English Vicar whom her sister had briefly met in Greenwich (East London) at a Christening earlier that year, would be ideal. It's a long shot, but if anyone happens to be walking past the painted Chapel by the Royal Naval College, go in and have a look at the man in the dog collar for me... you just never know!

The road trip. (To describe a day-long drive as a road trip is a little far fetched but it sounds better, so go with it). 
Two days later, Alex and I set off on our road trip from Texas to Louisiana, planning only a couple of detours along the way. The journey should have only taken 5 hours but due to slightly shoddy planning, it actually took 8½. We decided it would be fun to see our first swamp and so turned off the highway trying to find a place called Lost Lake which, apparently, was a large nature reserve filled with alligators, egrets and all sorts of swampy things. Cool. But it remained aptly named... lost. It was on the map and the sat nav but we couldn't find the damn thing. We drove around and around for an hour and even asked in the gas station but no one had heard of it!! Somewhat puzzled, we decided to continue our journey into the Louisiana countryside and find somewhere else to stop. After a bit of googling we decided to stop in Breaux Bridge, a quaint little town close to Lafayette and famous for its bridges, antique shops and Po' Boys.

I always thought Po' Boys (shortened slang for 'Poor boys') were a Southern delicacy of sorts… a sandwich with a twist, possibly deep fried, as many normal food stuffs seem to be. I asked a lady in town, where we might find the best Po' Boys and she pointed up the road. We found ourselves in front of large wooden shed. 

On entering the shed, we found two tables and a formica counter. The black lady behind the counter looked at us warily - or not - it was hard to tell to be honest, because one of her eyes was looking at the door and the other at us. We aimed our order in her direction and I asked for the Chicken Deluxe and Alex ordered the Fried Shrimp. I remembered reading that the original Po' Boy was made with fried oysters but, to be honest, that didn't sit well with me on a hot day, even before eating it. We waited outside in the sun, with baited breath, until our sandwiches appeared. Oooh, the anticipation. Ohh, the reality. So basically a Po' Boy is a soft white baguette with a filling. Nothing "wow" at all. In fact, describing my sandwich as 'Deluxe' is almost criminal, as it consisted of a chicken breast, some grated cheese, a dollop of mayo, and my 'five-a-day' iceberg lettuce leaf. Disappointing is not the word I expressed at the time, but it will suffice here. Other than stopping for the loo and some dubious snacks, the rest of the journey was spent sightseeing from the car.

Our arrival in New Orleans.

We arrived in New Orleans later than anticipated but earlier than we had told our friend Stuart, so we were in time, thank goodness, for dinner with her and some of her old friends. The old friends, Jack and Katie, own one of the French Quarters' most popular hangouts, a pub called Fahy's, and our introduction to the French Quarter was a night, I can only describe as, um, slightly debauched… incredibly fun, incredibly liquid, and with the constant accompaniment of chatter, laughter and jazz.

To be continued…

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