Sunday, 27 September 2009

High tide mark (day forty five and forty six)

We came to hear the jazz. It's not here in the Maison Bourbon, on old Bourbon Street, in the old French Quarter, in old N'Orlans. The signs tell you not to videotape, not to smoke cigars, that every person needs one drink per set. The quintet sits separate and listless, staring into the middle distance. Only Jamal Sharif talks, nattering to the manager. Their performance hasn't raised a sweat- it never could- they're too cold- they don't care. Blank staring ahead- it's all so rudimentary. They've done this show a hundred times. They hate the songs and they hate the way the tourists snap them and they don't clap at the end of the solos. My $6.75 soda tastes pretty sour.

The drum rattle and the brass snap and rasping slur is burbling down the muggy street. Strolling faster, we pace towards the cacophony. Black youths with borrowed delaquered trombones, duetting with goldenglitz trumpets and drum strapped chests pounding. This is jazz. The real stuff. Hobos are dancing, raising a sweat and mopping the brow with a handkerchief under the fishnet hat. A brother in a wheelchair is rocking back and forth, boosting himself out of the seat, swinging his legs. He is lost in the moment. We're all lost in the moment. The soul of New Orleans is found. We are floating.

People wander around here, shellshocked. A man blending his skin with his clothes, all a burnt red tan; monotone. The musical statues change spots, their silver skin running in this sweaty weather. I can still see your moustache. And your boobs are made of sponge. Some of the buildings still bear the damage, graffitied government marks emblazoned on the side. Others are recovering, or the same as they ever were- Fritzl's full of memories and paintings of old musicians. The street outside is filling up with tourists; strippers and hustlers trying to motion you into their bars; standing their in lingerie, ogled by passing eyes. They look tragic and desperate and their eyes sparkle with sadness. Or is this patronising... are thye happy to make their money this way? Are they proud? A buck is a buck is a buck.

In Treme the kids look out from the stoop across the street. School buses drop children- invariably black- the whites fled long ago to leafy Garden District, tree lined streets shielding the pillared and balconied mansions from everything. This is Nicolas Cage's hideaway. The Voodoo Musuem celebrates the post modern religion- reconstituting Catholicism and African beliefs into something new, creating zombies. No central organisation, or text. An orginator. Wooden carvings and skulls and offerings, and an altar covered in possessions given up to enact some good, somehow; hotel keys and food wrappers and hundreds of one cent pieces. It has as mich truth as anything does. Music and voodoo fuel this dark swampland- where the tallest buildings are empty hotels, and they still cry for Katrina and rub weak balm into its scars.

Or maybe the scars are healing up.... Maybe. The lower 9th is filled with cicatrices, keloid scars covered in scrub, the lots cleared. Concrete steps still stand, but they no longer lead to a porch. Abandoned boarded up hovels still bear the government marks. The neighbourhood really opened up when the waves came in. It's so airy... So many lives gone. The stories moved away; the family photo albums, the kitchen table, the threadbare sofa; they went to another state, or they never went away, or they didn't... The spray can diagonal slashes would be so much more poignant if we could understand what them, we simple tourists ogling the catastrophe, snapping the heartbreak, feasting the recovery. Hammer blows are echoing around, exposed frames becoming slowly clad, pipes and wires and a roof and windows- a house and a rebirth.... and a home one day. It's a 10 year pregnancy barely in its second trimester.

The causeway bisects Lake Pontchartrain, the longest bridge over water, 9,500 pillars. N'Orlans recedes and fades back into haze before Mandeville emerges ahead on the north shore. The scenery is like one of those cheap repeatinf backgrounds cartoons use to save production time. Grass leads to green leafed trees. All the settlements look the same, the same Walmart blueprint, the same petrol forecourts, the same motels. Are we caught in a time loop? Only the mileage going up and the petrol meter going down suggest otherwise.

Oh, so this is why Britney is the way she is? Kentwood is a railroad town where the trains don't stop anymore. Bungalows are largely falling down, paint peeling lost hope homes. Britney gives hope of escape, maybe.... Stores are closed down, or soul sucking corporates that take the money elsewhere, away and gone, and Kentwood dies a little more. No one knows why Britney left. Some say it was ambition, shopping mall singsong competitions precocious brat show off celebrations where only the parents clap with any gusto. They're probably wrong. It was desperation.

In Grenada they question whether there are black people in England. I have no idea why they're working in Burger King. They are truly wasting their potential. Mississippi is a fearful state for the foreign born. A sludgy accent and a distrustful temperament. We speed out of the gas station; beer buying pick up drivers, ragtag black hobo talking about court dates and mumbling. I can't deal with all these stereotypes.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Voodooswampland (day forty three and forty four)

Texas is a strip mall. Shops lining the interstate, warehouse sized with fast food chains sprinkled along salt and pepper. It's dead in the gaps, empty fields with nodding oil pumps slurping out the earth. Old river/ghost river crossed by road bridge, a watery highway back up north. Beaumont is one aisle in the shopping centre in this flat grassland. The Subway staff haven't heard a foreign accent in a while and they love it. Behind in the queue the man asks what we make of Tony Blair. We dodge the political intent (which now seems like mere curiousity) and centre our attentions on the sandwich. Too long searching for Blimpie we starve and wolf down anything.

Way back when we were in Austin, American Apparel gave us snickers like it always does- i wish i could dress like them- i wish i could wear gold lame. Snide comments attack- don't bitch about the employees as an employee walks past. Crane your neck in, son, you don't want to raise your dukes against this welterweight whelp. He'll duck and weave, a merry dance he'll lead you on within the ropes. The tacos will only show you up, echoes of eggy cheese and guacamole and lettuce bloating ye up.

The kidney pool is cold in the Texan sun, Germans smoking feet deep as i paddle lengths. Austin is a chic beautiful city and i'll be sad to see it go into wing mirrors and fade out. Facts that help you understand a place in one sentence- the Texans built their state capitol a foot higher than Washington's. Fact #2- it is the Lone Star state. This Texas attitude craws in my maw and throat. Meh. Off to Louisiana, to the sea, to the Gulf of Mexico, and we reach the south east corner, to turn north, to the snowbound Arctic we won't reach- flood damaged jazztown in the hurricane's path, forgotten by federals. Toot toot.

Louisiana sleeps away its muggy days, insects tracing lazy circles. Bridges cross the swamps below on concrete spokes, miles long highways passing herons and hidden alligators toothyglum under the grimy mire, nostrils snorkeling. Drowned trees green and creeper ridden or spiky stumps slow rotting. This is a swampland. Factories are plumped into the towns, skeletal towers and turrets thronged with ladders and stairways and pipes, the insides outside and chemicals inside- industry driven to an area by an area's need (bribery). Lessons learned from the Dutch in land reclamation and living below sea level. It's so much safer in the mountains, anywhere up high, in a tower, or up a tree, climbing. We are lost. We are sinking.

Down, further down, and a little bit further down and we strafe the Superdome, ominous and imposing in white and brown. Is there an elephant in this paragraph? Shhh... you'll wake Katrina.... Unavoidable catastrophe. It is everywhere, and it is now, and then. The roads lose their names in Treme, narrow and uneven, bumpy. Jazz developed its loose swing and brass cacophony badoopbop down these timber housed streets. Now it's lost. Now it's sinking. Half abandoned, lonely bums wondering the pavements pushing black bag filled carts. Stores closed, pastel shaded homes tumbledown abandoned or ramshackle and fading. Is there culture here, or just neglect? Is neglect a culture. This feels... vibrant. We'd be lying if we said we didn't lock our doors.

"Exposure to the Son may prevent burning." Religion using jokes on its billboards is a winner. Sign me up. This is the South- mouth mangling accents and they won't understand ours- godly billboards and crayfish billboards and BBQ billboards. The home of voodoo and the home of the godfearing, they bury their corpses above ground to stop them floating to the surface with each flooding from Old Muddy, the Mississippi that we cross and that we'll recross a few more times, carrying sediment to build the land further out towards Cuba, towards the storms. American daring, an epic game of bravado, that's all this city is. Now it's lost, now it's sinking.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Hipster, scenester, loser, spy (day forty one and forty two)

These transsexuals are getting me all flustered. Am I supposed to be attracted to them? Silicon breasts jiggling in stripper dresses, glittered. They mime and dance and it is funny, glamourous and somehow sexy. The club is full of lasers dancing with the spotlights dancing with the rainbow couples and their $1 spirit mixers. I am drinking vodka orange like I'm on a student bar crawl trying to forget my long distance relationships. Sophie meets a Mexican beauty and likes it- making out as the lights spark the bass throbbing air.

The Alamo is "balls". An old facade hides an empty inside with tourists conga lining around, looking at the memorial to the dead who tried to hold off hordes of Mexican soldiers. Their futile deaths hold massive significance for Texans. My history degree can see why, but it's such a small, insignificant event. It's no turning point (that's right, Mr Jackson), or trigger. Just a monument celebrating death. This is no memorial. It is a shrine though, so take your hats off, gentlemen. I am shaking off the shackles of history.

Sci fi chic on the River Walk- concrete channels and blocks mix with arch bridges over the ferry paddled green river, strictly controlled by a phalanx of paraphernalia flaunting shops and a manmade course. The air is a mug and sweatstains my T shirt.

Cowboy boots are purchased- the look is complete. I've been Texaned, in this hodge podge city of lavaterias- all Spanglish dropping words in like puto- makes it more vibrant, like this family meal with all the in jokes and smiles and grandma and grandpa the bedrock so proud of what they did and so they should be- a happy happy family who I feel at one with. My stomach is bursting pregnant with a foodbaby. They've done me in with hospitality- like the True Blood drinking games that lead to the drag show, stoopit, which completes the circle which completes the day.

Sleep whittles away the morning into a lunchtime breakfast taco burpy mess. Oli the ginger cat joins me in bed, nurdling his way under the duvets and curling up underneath my knees. The static in my skull slowly recedes- this is the last night I drink. We must say bye to the grandparents and head on our way to Austin. The parents have been spoken to for the first time in 40 days. I have been a bad son, and I shall be punished in good time. The group liases at Vicky's house and it all feels quite like Kerouac- a gang travelling to see the world and drink and drugs (there were no drugs) and converse about it all. TJ, and Ian, Tom and Vicky travel in the Scion, gunning up I-35 to Austin, and we follow in Oscar, overtaking and sweeping and nearly crashing or nearly getting crushed under a yellow juggernaut, impatient, post its conveying messages across lanes. Honk if you love the Navajo.

The Snake Centre is depressing little sideshow sinkhole aside the freeway. Rattlesnakes and lizards lie in their small tanks, idle under the lights, digesting a kill or shedding pale skeletal skins. There is nothing for them to do. Diamondbacks and mambas are coiled up asleep. Are my human conceptions of living affecting my judgement? The turkey is folded up in the corner and looks ill, plucked out feathers and piled up shit surrounding. The monkeys peer out from wire mesh and concrete bases, faces asking for release. The alpaca is fed up of being petted, and the pigs are squealing and nipping each other. This is what Noah had in mind. The park is what zoos exist to eradicate. Sometime in the 1950s this was a good idea. Once.

The Austin Motel is all individual and different and therefore all Austin. Chestplate tattoos and cartoon inkwork is a citizenship requirement, along with flesh tunnels and American Apparel. Congress Avenue is full of the quirky shops that litter Brighton- costume/vintage/modern antiques (deploying oxymorons is totally Austin). Frans is a burger chain formed by a divorce and it hasn't changed since. Chequered tables and a low slung counter flanked by fryers and hot plates. We wander the dark streets, a flood of bars and venues. Austin is a puddle of booze. The bats flew out the bridge earlier, August making friends via a band T shirt, endless clouds of black blots swirling in the dusky gloom. Families come to watch the free shoe, sweaty pecced joggers moving on by, buttocks jiggling in short shorts. Monday night is never a busy day. Empty, tiled floors gleaming, underlit dancefloor barren. The Spider Cafe is for stoners. Erin has no idea who we are, and the saggy lobed emo scenester steals her away as soon as she forgets our names and faces. The city is friendly and hip, just quiet, so so quiet but that's no one's fault. Ian and co slip away to San Antonio and I sleep first. That never happens.