29 May 2010

New Orleans: kickoff

Pausing my old Europe recap for a minute, as I am on the road NOW.

I have just finished my first of three days in New Orleans - this is my first-ever visit, and so far I am very pleased, despite the heat and humidity. I especially love le Vieux Carre (French Quarter), and especially Bourbon Street, where just about anything goes!

Here is my recap of today.

This is actually yesterday afternoon, as I leave Los Angeles on United Airlines.

I am only a Premier, the lowest-level elite (though that's still more than what I'm used to), so I don't qualify to use the lounge for free. But I took the photo anyway, because of the name. United Airlines' lounge is named the Red Carpet Club, and since I've been working on a novel involving a redhead lesbian United flight attendant for forever, the lounge name is a perfect double-entendre for me.

United logistics were dreadful yesterday. Mechanical delays galore, including an Australia-bound flight running 23 1/2 hours late. My New Orleans run was itself 2 hours late - and actually had to use a plane from Orlando, rather than the originally scheduled plane from San Francisco. On the other hand, the Orlando plane had a larger first class section, and I got an automatic upgrade to an empty first class seat as part of my elite benefits.

Despite the late arrival, I was up and running before too long, once the sun was up. This is the view from my hotel room. My hotel is in the Warehouse District at the foot of the Mississippi River Bridge (US-90 Business), and I have a view of the Superdome (a mess during Katrina evacuations, but now a symbol of triumph with the Saints' win of Super Bowl) and the skyscrapers of the business district. A block behind me is the Convention Center, which hosted the 1988 Republican National Convention that nominated Vice President Poppy Bush as the presidential candidate, and Dan Quayle as his running mate.

I took in the hotel's breakfast buffet, before coming back to my room to do the research for my initial sightseeing.

My initial plans were to take the streetcar to the French Quarter, but given that the nearest streetcar stop was already halfway to the French Quarter, and that service frequency was a joke, I decided to walk along the waterfront toward the foot of Canal Street, and tour the Audubon Aquarium.

Here is one of the exhibits.

Louisiana's wetlands south of New Orleans, stretching into the sea as the Mississippi empties, are known for their alligators. Here is an albino alligator.

I was thinking of a local friend here in New Orleans, Morwen Madrigal (yes, the one who told me she had licked all the Grand Tetons back in the day), who likes to joke about feeding the "Conservamooks" to the bayou alligators. I am in touch with her and plan on getting together with her and her partner later on during the stay.

The aquarium also hosts an IMAX theater, and I took in a movie about Hurricane Katrina's impact on the Louisiana coastline, and the effect of human developments (levees in particular) in stopping the flow of sediment into the wetlands, the resulting erosion of existing wetlands, and the shrunken wetlands being less able to protect New Orleans from hurricane surges.

The Audubon Institute runs, in addition to the aquarium, an insectarium and a zoo. I bought a combination ticket that allows me to visit all three AND watch an IMAX movie for barely more than just two of the sights - for $34.95. The insectarium is located on the ground floor of the old US Customs House.

While the insectarium has many interesting displays - including a cockroach-infested kitchen and various termite labs - this one, a butterfly house in the form of a Japanese garden. And sure enough, these butterflies are having a Japanese lunch.

I walked further up Canal Street, which is the main wide thoroughfare in New Orleans with plenty of shopping. To its north-northeast is the French Quarter. To its south-southwest is the newer part of New Orleans for Anglo Americans. I walked up to Bourbon, then turned right to enter the heart of the French Quarter.

Here is a souvenir shop with T-shirts for sale. Loving them all - especially the one with the built-in boobs.

Bourbon is the street of debauchery. It is full of bars, clubs, strip clubs, and yes, even a club where I can watch live sex acts. Based on the photos, it looks like I can watch hetero acts and lesbian acts.

While I am loving all the debauchery, I would rather come back in the future with a pervert friend or two. I just don't feel like going into that live sex club alone, as a lone female.

Royal is the street immediately to the south of Bourbon. It is a more sedate street primarily lined with art galleries.

But this particular antiques store still manages to get sexy. Here are some East Asian sculptures depicting sexy scenes - including the group sex arch on the top.

It was only mid-afternoon, but I was already worn out thanks to the short sleep in the morning as well as the humidity, so I made a long walk back to the hotel for a quick shower and rest. But upon finding that the Riverwalk, the shopping mall next to the Convention Center and the closest eateries to me, was closing at 7 in the evening, I had to hurry and get back out, intending only to eat dinner and come right back.

But I thought it would be very stupid to go back in, without experiencing the debauchery of Bourbon Street at night. I headed back to the French Quarter, this time walking on Chartres Street.

And I love this bumper sticker, found on a Toyota pickup truck. Louisiana may be a teabagger state best known for Senator David Vitter and Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, and even New Orleans' own Congressman is Vietnamese refugee and Republican Joseph Cao, but New Orleans is more of a carpetmuncher city overall, and I certainly appreciate the anything-goes atmosphere of the French Quarter.

Continuing to follow Chartres Street toward Jackson Square, the most iconic spot in New Orleans due to it bordering a cathedral.

These buildings really show off the trademark architecture of the French Quarter. I especially love the balconies and their ornate railings.

Between the architecture and the narrow streets, it almost feels like France. The fleur-de-lis, the symbol of French heritage, is everywhere as well (and is used by the city government and the Saints football team). Despite the fact that no place in France is actually this muggy, and despite the fact that the French Quarter street grid is typical North American rectangular rather than the irregular pattern I would find back in France, I really feel that French vibe. Of course, New Orleans adds its own Cajun and creole culture to really make things far more interesting.

It's not quite dark, but it's about sunset. And there is a shower. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Bourbon is really starting to come alive - a lounge singer was doing a great rendition of Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window" at one of the bars, and several other bars were really starting to come alive.

I think Bourbon Street alone justifies all the trouble one goes through in order to visit New Orleans, though the city definitely has more to offer, and I have two more days to find out.

I walked Bourbon back to Canal, and found and checked out a Hustler store near Canal. Loved some of the sex toys there (especially vaginas that claim to be molded after those of famous porn actresses), and also went through tons of porn DVDs, though I wasn't too impressed with girl-on-girl porn that was clearly intended for male consumption rather than any realistic depiction of lesbianism, and I was certainly NOT happy with all the "Asian tranny" porn that I consider to be exploitation of disowned young Asian gay boys (give them shelter, but feed them estrogen and make them do porn against their will...).

Glad to have finally gotten to know New Orleans, which I had recently been seeing as the "last American destination worth visiting that I haven't visited." I expect to spend the remaining two days using the streetcars to venture out to outlying parks - Audubon Park and its zoo, and City Park and the Conservatory. Audubon Park is connected to central New Orleans by Magazine Street, which has its own bus line and is also the greatest shopping street supposedly. Those two parks plus any extra sightseeing around the French Quarter should wrap things up nicely.