Sukanya takes us through a getaway to New Orleans with her children. They drove to their vacation destination, crossing the 18.2 miles long Atchafalaya Bridge, the second largest bridge in the USA. The author gives us a wonderful tour of the city, its sights and sounds, its distinct personality. Bourbon Street was not good for kids late in the night time. But this did not unnerve her. There was nothing that seemed out of place. There were people dressed strangely. Seeing a man dressed as woman did not appear strange to us. It is a place where you will see trans-genders, crossdressers, transsexual – some had funny clothes, and all smiled. They loved the city more. Here’s a candid account, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Summer holidays are long in this country, and the first day is always overwhelming. You look at the endless days in your calendar and you wonder how you will survive this long vacation. Especially if you are not going to India or Holland to visit family. Or have any other plans. Then summer starts, with it starts waking up late, messed up routine and still doing things that makes one happy. Then a few days into it we started getting bored and that is when I thought of going someplace.
Now, wherever you want to go you have to drive or fly. Public means of traveling is very poor in this country. Train system is not advanced and even though we have the greyhound buses, they are a long and winded journey. So just giving it a thought in my mind I decided New Orleans will be a nice place. I had been there many years back, but the kids had never seen the fun city. And the best part was it was just a five-and- a-half- hour doable drive. And going in a car meant not worrying about packing, no luggage constraints. So on a Sunday I went through Groupon and found some nice offers there. Groupon is a site where you are offered lower rates for hotels, restaurants, hair salons, shopping, cruises, etc. All you have to do is buy the given offers and within a certain time frame you use it. I did see some options I liked. Then instead of immediately purchasing it, I went to AirBnB site to see if any houses were there we could rent for those two nights. And I compared the price and settled for the Groupon. We were going to stay in Wyndham Gardens, not in the French Quarter but just a block away. It meant 5 minutes walking, and it also had free parking. After planning everything, packing, even made arrangements for someone to come and look after Ripple, the cat, we left on a Tuesday morning. And we headed south. Texas roads are flat and sparse vegetation. As the radio blared, listening to the Classic channel I drove past, making sure I stay within the speed limits. At times in my haste to reach I was tending to speed. Finally, we reached the Atchafalaya Bridge, it is a long bridge – 18.2 miles. The second longest bridge in the USA. And from the bridge the drive to NOLA was not too far.
As we approached New Orleans I remembered a friend telling me that we might get a fair amount of rain. My bad, I had not checked the weather report – how much can a person do! The sky was already grey and I had to take off my dark glasses. The looming dark clouds came closer and closer and then it poured. By that time I had reached the city and it came pelting down. While my GPS navigated me, I reached the hotel. Asking the kids to stay in, I ran out to get out rooms ready and do the needful. Then it was time to park, what I was not expecting was a steep and narrow drive down the basement. As I clutched on to the steering wheels I slowly rolled down and prayed as hard as an atheist can pray. I managed to reach unscathed and then park the car. Phew!! Then we took all our bags and baggage and headed up to our room. It was a small room with a large enough bed, and cleanliness being the most important factor.
After we settled we realised we had not eaten anything. I hadn’t, they had snacks in the car. So after finding out what was a good place to eat, we headed out. It was a typical Cajun place called Deanie’s. We ordered some calamari and a fried platter as the entree. It had squids, oysters, shrimps, lobster cake, and instead of the usual bread they gave us potatoes cooked in some spicy broth. It was a lot of food. And Royina and I being small eaters, we couldn’t even finish the plate, so we packed the fries for later. The ground was wet and it was drizzling a bit, but we headed out towards the French Quarter. Vibrant and animated place is this New Orleans. Performing artist were doing their tricks, musicians played on their music and homeless just hung around with their dogs. That is one things that made me love the city more. Each homeless person seemed to have a dog, mainly those gorgeous Pitbull. We even made a friend – I forget his name, but his Pittie was called Zeus. They allow you to take pics in lieu of money, fair enough. The house down Bourbon Street reminded me of North Calcutta. Stuccoed houses with balconies. Each was an architectural delight. And unlike the cookie cutter mould kind of house we live in suburban America, each house had its own personality. And the entire Bourbon Street was lined with bars and restaurants and sex stores, interspersed with souvenir stores. How I wanted a drink, but with kids with me I couldn’t.
After walking the mile we returned home, I mean the hotel and promptly fell asleep. I slept, the kids played their electronics. And then late in the night we ventured out again. How lovely it was to see a city that was alive in the night. Back home by 8, there is silence all around. Here people came out in droves. I was told that Bourbon Street is not good for kids in the night time. But I am from Calcutta, India, nothing unnerves me. Neither did NOLA. There was nothing that seemed out of place. Yes there were people dressed strangely, but strange is how you perceive it. Seeing a man dressed as woman did not appear strange to us. People make choices and they are free to do so. It is a place where you will see transgenders, crossdressers, transsexual – some had funny clothes, and all smiled. We loved the city more.
The next morning we woke up and headed towards Cafe du Monde. That is where you get the famous beignets. On our way, we were still deciding of we wanted to do the swamp tour or not, and the common consensus was we didn’t want to. I left it to Royina and Rohak to decide, after all it was their holiday. And they said no to it. They just wanted to walk around, shop a little and eat. So that is what we did. No swamp tour, no cemetery tour, no voodoo tour. We can always come back for those later. So we went had beignets and coffee. A plate has three beignets generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. And they are filling. It’s a covered cafe with three sides open, and no air conditioning, just ceiling fans, and very crowded. It’s open 24/7. And is always busy.
After a meal we walked to the French market. There were stores with artifacts from Africa, from India and Cajun / Creole art decor. Royina and Rohak each chose a wood carved piece. One bought an alligator, the other a Komodo dragon. Maybe we were fleeced, maybe they charged the correct price. Since I did not have any beignets, too sweet and too fried for me, I was getting hungry and I ate a plate of cheesy grits with shrimp. The best grits I have ever had. Then I bought a necklace with a pendant that resembled an alligator tooth. Shopping done, we walked some more. We entered quaint stores, we went to Jackson square and we entered the St. Louis cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the USA. Facing the Mississippi river on Chartres Street this cathedral is believed to be haunted by the Pere Antoine, a priest whose body is buried there. All that walking and food had made us tired so we slowly headed back to the hotel again. This was the best part of our trip, we could relax, and we didn’t hurry. There was no rush.
As night fell the boy said he wanted some alligator meat and frog legs. Well, then that would be his dinner and Royina and I would eat something else. So after walking a bit we found a place that served frog legs, alligator many places did. We went in and ordered, and we waited. And waited and waited. Then the manager came and apologized that they are having problems with the kitchen and that there are no frog legs. We did get our plate of alligator meat and we got gumbo, etouffee with rice. And then some more walking down Bourbon Street and bit of pralines and back to sleep again.
Next morning, we loaded our car, and I got someone to help me get the car out of that steep basement and headed out. First, we went for more beignets and some more walking. We walked past the Mississippi. We had some ice creams and as the sky got darker we decided to head out. It was almost six hours drive, across swamps lands, flat landscape, driving past huge trucks, crazy drivers. And across state lines. Finally, as it grew dark we reached home.
Our mini vacation was over, we felt energized and good. It was great to be back. Not so great to find that the kitchen light was out, the cat litter needed cleaning and laundry to be loaded. Then again c’est la vie.
And no, I didn’t see the house called The Rising Sun!
©Sukanya Juno Biswas
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