Wednesday, January 11, 2012

deep south warmth and friendliness

since arriving on new years eve in New Orleans, we've been overwhelmed by the friendly faces, generous people, tasty food, inspiring music and welcoming arms of Louisiana and Texas. This is the deep south... and for us so far - it's been wonderful!

First it was a foggy morning of exploration of city park (bigger than New York's central park) around our couchsurfing host's house - Louis, in midcity, then concocting up a really tasty "bayou orzo" - a jambalaya inspired boudin (spicy cajun sausage) and shrimp (prawn) risotto like pasta, and then off to the friendliest pub so far in the states - Finn McCools to celebrate Irish New Year at 6pm. FInn's was like coming home to family - a place that makes me want to go hang out there 4 times a week, watch games and play trivia and just chat and relax with friends. We also got to see a Saints (local football team) game against the Panthers on New Years Day, as well as... Philipe winning the pot luck with his goulash with a beautiful golden wooden spoon for the occasion.. as well as I got to be the furthest visitor for Monday night trivia.
Louis' shotgun house and early morning fog
An art piece - the braclets that are thrown for mardi gras - they are all over fences, trees, statues around the city
Finn McCools and Louis and Philipe for NYE
NYE local fireworks
New Orleans is still recovering after Katrina... the people are so passionate about their city, and proud of their recovery. One of the pertinent reminders were the military house markings that designated the date they checked to see it had been evacuated, and whether there were any survivors found there. The houses and architecture in general is also incredibly unique - beautiful timber detailing of porches, a sort of combination of big imitation greek/italianite finishes, crossed with quaint french/european/romantic shutters and doors, all raised for responding to the floodline.
Beautiful houses on St Charles Avenue
Reminds me of a similar frontage in Valpariso near the capital of Chile, Santiago
The cross marking is from Katrina - the top with the date and time, the right hand box with whether there was an answer, and then the bottom with no of people there
And then... the food. Don't worry... although we're coming back at the end of the month with my cousin and Philipe's mother, we also got some good food in! Shrimp po-boys, black eyed peas, friend green tomatoes, crab cakes, gumbo, beignets (like a mini doughnut) ... as well as local micro brews and great coffee. We didn't hit the music scene as hard as we could have... but still got treated to local jazz on NYE and will head to some local haunts when we return.
Tucking into boiled cajun crayfish
Shrimp po-boy at Park Tavern
so what's surprised us about being the states? well... huge portion sizes, drinkable tap water served, doggybagging everything!, MASSIVE cars and driving lanes, people who smile back at you when you smile at them, great service, HUGE supermarkets, toilets you can flush toilet paper down, a multistorey maze of freeways, traffic, having to calculate tax and tips, well equipped tourist info centres, outdoor shops (heaven!) and a great spread of multicultural-ness. odd what you notice hey!
Obviously needed for city driving

couchsurfing is always an amazing way to be introduced to a different side of a city - and this held true for new orleans with Louis, and also Lafayette with John and Becky Williams (and of course their gorgeous Wheaten terrier, Boone!) On our first night in Lafayette at John and Becky's house we met Harold, a 70 something year old wonderfully inspirational man! He treated us to wonderful alligator catching stories, showed us his geothermal heating/cooling system utilising his pool (advanced for the 1970s), treated us to a pile of fresh caught boiled crabs, and introduced us to an Arcadian historian (the people around New Orleans came from Arcadia in Canada, a French community. In fact, some families still speak a very strong French Arcadian dialect only found in Arcadia and Lafayette) who had... 1940s sidecars! Totally awesome to see... and for Philipe - to don riding goggles and take a spin in the sidecar.

Boiling fresh crabs at Harold's house in Lafayette
Time to eat!
Olivier's 1940s BMW copy sidecar
Another one he was restoring

In Lafayette we also met Skip - one of the employees in John and Becky's store - the Pack and Paddle. I've never met someone more passionate about Australian culture - and to top it off - he plays the didgeridoo! If anyone should visit Australia and Arnhem Land... it's Skip. Yet another person we met that made our visit so special. There was also the Great Western Bakery and Cafe Cohen... if I lived in Lafayette, I'd live in that bakery and cafe. (by the way the best choc chip cookie since 5 years ago at the sourdough bakery on darlinghurst road in Sydney)
Oh yes. The best cookie since sourdough bakery
From Lafayette we left Louisiana to hit Texas! Oh yes, we've eaten tex-mex and bbq, visited the Alamo (the place which resulted in Texas being a republic and in fact Texas the only US state that can choose to leave the USA and for this they are fiercely proud) and arrived yesterday in Austin. Here there are granolas (health concious sort of yuppies), fixies (people who ride old school road bikes), dames (the older higher society ladies) and all sorts.... Everyone we met prior to arriving here raved about Austin, and it definitely has a great vibe about it... somewhere you can be many things yet still enjoy living outside (they have uber hot weather in summer), great food carts, live music and places to enjoy life.

Brisket in Austin at Ruby BBQ
Tomorrow we leave all the material decadence behind and head to a pure sort of decadence, no talking, no contact with the outside world, just pure introspective reflection through meditation. I have no idea how I will react - after all I thrive on being physically active, think mainly when in dialogue with others, and find it hard to be contemplative on my own. How will I fare? I guess... we will see. How will it feel? How will I deal with the feelings I'll encounter? How might I change? How will I come out on the other end?

You'll just have to wait until after the 22nd to find out... as will I !

So.. signing off from a night of motel decadence in Austin before segregation and silence starting tomorrow....
big hugs to all!

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