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The Crescent City Diaries #15

As the airboat approached the docks at Jean Lafitte, our tour guide gave us some parting advice. “Listen up y’all: Bourbon Street sucks. Where y’all wanna go is Frenchman Street. It’s much better. Go to a place called Dat Dog, and get the alligator sausage po’boy topped with crawfish étouffée.”

I had already been recommended Frenchman as a happening kind of place the day before, and with my stomach grumbling as the minibus crossed back over the Mississippi, I knew that my course was set. When I arrived, I found that the street was exceedingly quiet. Sleepy– that’s the word I’m looking for. There were no buskers, no beggars, and no orators narrating tall tales of vampire-BDSM to throngs of drunken tourists. And I realized, as I searched in desperation through increasingly-aggressive slants of UV-radiation, that there were benefits to such noise. Opportunities are made abundantly clear to the solo-traveler via the whims of crowds. I didn’t see much on offer on this famous street, but perhaps I didn’t know quite where to look. I ended up going way past my intended destination and finding myself in a deserted residential neighborhood. I walked back the way I had come and found that Dat Dog was in fact near to where I had started on Frenchman.

Dat Dog was exactly the kind of place I sought after, but which I had struggled to find during my stay in the Big Easy. It was quirky, inexpensive, and it served good food. It was the kind of place perfect for a solo traveler on a budget. And I realized that the best way to find local favorites was to talk to locals. Shocking revelation, I know. Too often I had ended up at restaurants way above my price range (and scruffy demeanor), because that’s what happens when you rely on guide books and Google reviews. As I annihilated the alligator hot dog before me, I made a note to inform my future solo travels: ask locals for their recommendations more often.

With just an afternoon left with which to enjoy the city, I decided to make another attempt to get to the zoo. I tried the same streetcar stop I had waited at to no avail the day before. A trolley came along and I asked the operator if he were bound for Audubon Park. No, was the answer. I had to get the St Charles Streetcar, which was green. This, I should also note, seems to be the most historic of the city’s trolleys. To get it was a bucket list item in and of itself. So I set off at a brisk pace and saw that a green streetcar was escaping west. I attempted to chase it, but it always seemed one block ahead of me. I was reliant on the unrealistic expectation of it stopping for a long while, perhaps as some granny made her way down the aisle and tripped on the last step. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

It was hot, and after walking several blocks I had to admit the madness of my plan. At this rate I was going to end up walking the whole way, which could be a good hour or two. Remembering that fancy hotels often had taxis waiting outside, I sought out one of those big-ass skyscraper hotels. The driver was absorbed in his phone (no doubt he had just found out you can farm Bastila Shan shards and was using up his bonus energy), so I tapped on the window to get his attention.

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Within 15 minutes I was at the zoo. I love animals, but seeing them in enclosures just doesn’t capture the wonder of doing so in the wild. And just that morning I had seen a dozen wild alligators up close. I’ve never been crazy for zoos to be honest. I figured it was more of a family environment, and I’d enjoy it more if I was a kid- or if I had kids. It wasn’t overly busy; it was late afternoon by this point. I liked the Sun Bear, because I got a good view of him, and he was majestic. I waited for the orangutan, but he never showed. A guy told me that earlier the ape had been running around with a cardboard box on his head. I moved on, making a concerted effort to stop at every enclosure and read the plaques. I had to get as much out of it as I could, and justify coming all the way out here.

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When I reached the giant anteater, I was joined by a little girl and her grandma coming the opposite way. The grandma glanced at the animal, but carried on walking. I studied it for a while longer. I couldn’t tell if the little kid realized her grandma had gone off when she asked over her shoulder: “What animal is that one?”

It would be rude to ignore her right? So I answered.

“It’s an anteater,” I said, speaking in a slow, clear voice, and masking my British accent. I wanted to say it right- the burden of education had been thrust upon my shoulders- so I put emphasis on each syllable, as if anteater were two words and not one. The girl stared up at me, and I detected a tremble of fear or awkwardness in her face. Maybe she didn’t know what to say, I don’t know. Maybe I look dangerous? I offered her an encouraging smile. The girl stared at me with wide eyes as if debating whether it was right to talk back or not. Then she abruptly ran away.

At that point I hurried in the other direction, as though I had committed a crime of sorts. I felt awkward, as though looking scary was enough to convict me of something. I imagined the grandma chasing after me through the bamboo forest, pepper-spray in hand.

The zoo goes in a loop, and as I reached the halfway point, I could really feel the humidity getting to me. I was ready to go. I can’t remember ever feeling that overwhelmed by humidity. It was certainly the hottest day of my trip. I passed by a little waterpark for kids within the zoo and lamented that there weren’t such facilities for adults. Perhaps the zoo was a bad idea, I thought to myself. I don’t make much sense here, sensitive, introspective solo-traveler that I am. I should have stuck to the solemnity of museums and art galleries. I’ll come back when I’m in company and enjoy the zoo as it’s meant to be enjoyed; via the energy of social intercourse.

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As I exited the zoo I thought about how best to get back to the French Quarter. I could walk, but I’d probably succumb to the elements before I made it halfway through the Garden District. I was already feeling massively dehydrated and my feet hurt. Walking also ran the risk of getting picked off by serial killers and gangbangers. I couldn’t call a taxi because I don’t have a U.S sim card. My phone was also out of battery, so I got my map out and realized the nearest streetcar stop was on the other side of Audubon Park, which is huge. So I started walking, wondering what time I’d make it back.

The park seemed to go on forever. It was mostly deserted, but I did pass the odd shirtless maniac braving the heat to go for a run. When I reached the end of the park I saw this shelter, designed it seemed, for those like me struggling in the humidity. An intense relief washed over me at the sight of a bubbler. I was going to make it after all. After drinking my body weight in fresh water and pissing it out like a racehorse watching looping footage of Victoria Falls, I found the stop and hopped aboard the famous green streetcar. I recovered very quickly. The Garden District passed me by as a series of historic mansions and ever-so-sylvan family neighborhoods. I read the fiction of Sylvia Brownrigg, enjoying the slow ride. With my last day in New Orleans all but complete, my thoughts turned to Texas, and the long train ride that awaited me the following morning.

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The Crescent City Diaries #4

After rambling down Royal Street and absorbing its stylish art galleries and museums, I veered east and made for Jackson Square. This, to me, was the touristic heart of the city. Bourbon Street might be the most famous location, and the number one draw for out-of-town visitors, but Jackson Square is easily the most iconic image of New Orleans as a place to be discovered. The white façade and lofty spires of the St Louis Cathedral overlooking the equestrian sculpting of Andrew Jackson- the Hero of New Orleans- is a picture many folks will be familiar with prior to arrival. Much in the same way no one walks down the Champ de Mars and remarks “Holy shit, I didn’t see that coming!” when faced with the Eiffel Tower. Jackson Square is a distinctly Parisian space, the park cushioned on two sides by the symmetrical 19th century Pontalba Buildings- known for their iconic wrought iron balconies and red bricks.

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I knew straight away that I wanted to take my time here. I had five days in this city and I wanted to give each place the necessary time to soak into my heart and reveal itself to me. I wanted to savor every moment. That’s why I spent my first morning walking leisurely down Royal, chatting as much as possible with the museum curators and entering as many art galleries as I could. I didn’t want the city’s eclectic features to become a checklist.

I walked down one side and then back up again. I gazed in the windows of the square’s boutiques and bakeries. I watched the street performers, palm-readers, impromptu jazz bands, buskers, and caricaturists ply their respective trades. The square has a longstanding tradition for being an open air artist colony, the local painters hanging their works on the iron fence that surrounds the park itself. I approached the cathedral and watched the people who crossed its shadow as much as the building itself. I entered the park and walked around, enjoying the relative quietness its wide paths offered. Andrew Jackson looked very impressive atop his horse. I decided it was time to cross something off of my world-travel bucket list and exited the park on Decatur Street, heading for the Café Du Monde. I knew that getting a beignet and a café au lait at this historic coffeehouse was a rite of passage for anyone hoping to gain access to the culture of the Big Easy. It’s actually something I blogged about wanting to do in a dreamy bucket list post at the beginning of the year, having no idea that I would get the chance to do so in just a few months. The café has actually been in continuous operation since 1862- the heart of the Civil War. It’s something that every tourist does upon reaching the French Quarter; as such it’s as busy as the midnight release of a new Harry Potter book.

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I took one look at the line that wrapped around the exterior of the café and down the sidewalk and left. Perhaps I could return at a later date. That later date turned out to be about an hour or two hence. After returning from the riverfront and its famous aquarium I found that the line had only gotten larger. This time however, I asked an employee if the line was for orders to go or eating-in. He informed me that there was a different line on the other side of the building for takeout options, so I went there. The wait wasn’t too bad and when I arrived at the window I asked for a bag of beignets and an iced café au lait. I pronounced the pastries “bay-nets” because my French sucks ass, and became aware of my folly as I walked away and the sassy mom behind me hollered for some “bean-yay”. What a div I must have seemed.

I decided to return to Jackson Square and eat my lunch on one of the park benches. Adjacent to me on the next bench was a couple that looked like they had lived pretty rough. They were skinny with tattered clothes and whose red, craggy skin was covered in faded tattoos. They weren’t old at all, but I suspected they were drug addicts. They got into a loud argument and I noticed there wasn’t anyone else around me. They reminded me of that junkie couple from Breaking Bad, and I wondered if I should leave before someone got crushed by an ATM. I tried to block out the sounds of their increasingly violent tones and focus on these French pastries. I think I liked the coffee more than the beignets. I only managed to eat one, since they’re quite filling. As is the custom when eating one, I got powdered sugar everywhere. The powdered sugar mess is sorta like the Guinness foam moustache. That’s when you know you’ve passed the test.

“FUCK YOU!” the woman screamed at her partner, marching off in front of me and going to the other side of the park. The guy screamed something at her in redneck and she flipped him the bird without turning around. After just a few short minutes she came back and they resumed talking in a civilized manner. Feeling full, I got up and left. I felt a little bad for being on edge around them, because they had obviously had some bad luck in life. But when you travel solo you can’t take any chances.

My New Year’s Resolution

I have always been attracted to the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, because I love having a sense of direction in life. I love the idea of building something. It’s not enough just to earn money to stay alive. I love having a project. But I’m not entirely at ease with the concept of Resolutions. I don’t think people should be made to feel that they have to have one. If you’re happy, why change? A cynic might argue that having a Resolution is a sure way to make yourself disappointed in the future. When I listen to other people’s Resolutions, I find they’re most often based on eschewing perceived vices. Vowing to stop eating donuts, smoking cigarettes, or watching porn. But come Spring they have Type 2 Diabetes, a voice as rough as a cement mixer, and they’ve swiftly gone blind. And while I absolutely encourage efforts to live a more healthy lifestyle, it’s not quite the type of Resolution I’m drawn to. It’s what I think of as a Negative Resolution- aimed at resisting a temptation of some kind. It’s often seeing how many months you can go before you’re rushing out to the store for a box of Shipley’s, a packet of Camels, and presumably a fresh stack of tissues.

I’m more interested in what I call Positive Resolutions- an end goal that I work towards. However, I realize we live in an age that encourages dreams and the entitlement to individual achievement. And so it can sometimes be unhelpful to pressure others to feel like they need a dream or a target of their own. I certainly endorse the idea of striving to improve as a person, but you don’t need some grandiose, lofty Resolution to do that. I asked three people on New Year’s Eve what their Resolutions were. The first to answer was an old friend of mine, who declared he wanted a new job. A nice, solid goal to work towards. The next to respond was his cheerful girlfriend, who was less certain. After thinking about it for a bit, she then decided that if she were to have a target, it would be to compete again in a bodybuilding competition (she’s ripped). The last fellow to answer was the most caught off guard. We thought of Resolutions for him, but concluded that honestly he didn’t need one. Resolutions are like freckles. Sure, they look cute & pretty & distinctive, and you might want them- but you don’t need them. Similarly a Resolution is a fine thing to have, but you’re not missing anything by not having one.

I had the same conversation a day later with my family as we sat down for the first supper of 2018. My brother went first, and with wild-eyed excitement told us that he wanted to try a new hobby, something completely new, exotic, and challenging like Kendo, ballroom dancing, or amateur dramatics. My mom went second, and opted for the becoming less-reliant-on-chocolate-to-get-through-the-day route. When it was my dad’s turn, he answered with a stony face and a gruff voice “I don’t believe in Resolutions.”

Then it was my turn. As the eyes around the table fell on me, I thought about what I wanted from 2018. There were a bunch of areas in my life one might think ripe for a Resolution. This blog for example. What’s the next step for TumbleweedWrites? To reach 1000 subscribers? To blog full-time? The answer is I want this blog to steadily improve, to grow, but I don’t have a specific target in mind for it. I will most likely finish my Study Abroad series of personal essays pretty soon, and I have another big subject lined up for this Spring that will surely feature quite heavily in my writing for this site. More details on that will come very soon.

And what about other aspects of my life? Of course I intend to keep my job and perhaps even get a promotion, but it’s not my Resolution. The same can be said for fitness. I need to lose some of this chub and get my stamina back, but once again, that’s not my main ambition for the year. Those of you hoping for a Mrs Tumbleweed to emerge sometime soon will also be disappointed, because getting a girlfriend is not my focus either. If Mrs Right comes along then that’s swell, but I have decided that I’m not going to treat being single as some kind of problem. I need my energy for writing, and I’m not prepared to enter into a relationship that isn’t organic and natural. So I won’t be reinstalling Tinder or hitting the bars.

I would say that my main objective for the year is to find a literary agent for my novel, which (judging by my current rate) ought to be finished by February sometime. But I don’t think it’s helpful for a writer to worry about something beyond his or her control. Maybe it will get represented, maybe it will get published, maybe it will be on shelves at a bookstore near you- but none of those are things I can really control. At that point your manuscript is in the hands of other people. All a writer can do is write. I hope to write at least one other novel before the end of the year, so that’s a more interesting and worthwhile target I think. Finish the current novel and write a second one.

But truly, my New Year’s Resolution is much more personal than anything I have listed above. Mental health is my primary concern. I’ve spent the last 24 hours deep in thought. I’m reevaluating my progress as a person, and I’ve realized that I’m far from where I want to be. Anxiety is a part of me for better or for worse, and I know I want to manage that better. A panic attack is a wake-up call- a reminder that however much I might feel like I’m doing better, I can slip right back down to rock bottom at a moment’s notice. I think my Resolution will be trying to become more self-sufficient, more mentally strong and to be able to handle things on my own. I’m still too much of a people-pleaser, I still compromise too much, I’m passive, and lacking in confidence in the moments when I need to back myself the most. This year I hope to be as thoroughly myself as I can possibly be. And this post here is where it starts. My blog has always been a way to hold myself accountable, and TumbleweedWrites will serve as a record of my progress. When I look back on this post in December, what will I think?

One Hundred

I was thinking of doing something special for this post, and I’ve decided that the best way to celebrate TumbleweedWrites’ 100th word-baby is to go all Meta on you. Today we are doing a blog post about the blog itself, and I think it’s a great chance for me to speak more directly to you, the readers! This website is still in its infancy and its identity is very much incomplete. So for my 100th post I thought it might be good to share with you my reflections on the blog so far, and the direction it will take in the future.

 

  1. The first and most important order of business is to say THANK YOU. TumbleweedWrites never would have reached 100 posts if it weren’t for all of the readers who take the time out of their busy lives to read its content. It’s honestly the most humbling thing to see someone give their time to read the sentences I write; the idea that someone out there has considered or thought about my ideas and my expressions. So thank you so much to all of my subscribers, and to those who visit my website regularly.
  2. I also want to give special thanks to a few individuals whose support not only made TumbleweedWrites possible, but made a significant difference to my writing. You are the people that actively shaped this website. I am committed to personal privacy, so I’ll just vaguely describe you: thanks to my goofy brother for all your battle strategy, to my dear MMA-loving friend from Congesbury for your continued faith and kindness, and to my current co-worker for the most humbling, confidence-boosting message I have ever received. And of course I would like to give extra thanks to my American roommates, who not only supported the blog in its early days, but created the conditions for its very existence by nurturing me to full mental health during a particularly destructive period of depression.
  3. How did TumbleweedWrites begin? Well I’ve always wanted to do a blog, but until 2017 I wasn’t in the right mental state to make it work. This blog actually has its roots in Instagram. I got my first smart phone in October 2016 and a few months later I started Instagramming all the books I was reading. It was a way to hold myself accountable, and by Instagramming these books I was able to escape my massive reading slump and start reading much more effectively. I started to realize, however, that my captions on the Instagram posts were becoming literal essays, so I decided I might as well create a blog for my books.
  4. What do I want TumbleweedWrites to be? It started as a book blog, but once that got up and running I decided to take the plunge and start blogging about travel, video games and my life. That’s when the blog became less of a tool to motivate me to read and more of an online journal aimed at connecting with others. I’ll blog about anything that interests me, anything I think is worth writing about, but I will always keep a core of book, travel, personal, and writing-related posts!
  5. How do I feel about the journey so far? So far I’m happy with TumbleweedWrites. Some posts are better than others. There are a few posts that I’m really proud of; that I felt went particularly well. My favorite posts are Grandma Jane’s Pumpkin Bars40 Notes From Crete and Making Friends in the USA Part 1. These are the kind of pieces I look back on when the going gets tough, and the ones I try to emulate in my writing.
  6. What’s next for TumbleweedWrites? As 2017 draws to a close I have a few special blog posts planned, full of festivity and reflecting on 2017 as a whole. And I also have a surprise in store for Spring 2018, but you’ll have to wait to find out!
  7. How can I help TumbleweedWrites? If you enjoy my writing and want to see more of it, then you can help by Liking or Sharing my posts, or Subscribing to TumbleweedWrites. If you really really want to help, then please consider disabling Adblock for this site and giving my Ads a cheeky click!