Tag Archives: Somewheresville

Cajun country

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Anywhere that gets the party going at 8.30am on a Saturday morning gets my vote. Breaux Bridges, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun country, and everyone’s doing the two-step shuffle, drinking bloody mary’s, and eating crawfish and cornbread at – what by any reasonable person’s standards – would be the crack of dawn. This is good. Donna Angelle at the Zydeco Posse are doing their thing at Cafe des Amis. Shufflers and stompers are aged from eight to ninety. Along the main street everyone’s selling antiques. One shop’s run by a Beatle fan who plays in a rock band, and that’s going against the tide. I’ve checked into a cabin down on the Bayou – at the Bayou Cabins – run by the crowned King of Cracklin’. Newspapers covering the bathroom wall date back to 1955Fiddle and accordion music from Radio Mustang! thumps across the car park. The owners make crackling, boudin and hogshead cheese which I hoped was cheese but isn’t. There’ll be plenty more on the Cajun guide to life, and a short film, but not quite yet. I’ll be posting features and everything other than rough cuts from filming at the end of the American leg. Currently chasing my tail a little further down the road.

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New Orleans Sound

Rough footage (shot by Dave) taken from a lot of filming in Louisiana which I’ll eventually have time to edit. Yes, this goes with New Orleans Vision (see previous post) because the French Quarter is all sound and vision and (and beer and whisky) and sensory overload. Louis Armstrong was born here, learnt the cornet here at the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs where he was sent for misbehaving (many times), and I wish I could come here again with George who used to dance with me to We’ve Got All the Time in the World when he was about six, and when we thought we had. Jazz is part of the air fizz, along with funk, country, zydeco and whatever. There’s a band every few paces on Royal Street during the day and, at night, live music booming from competing venues on every side, but it was Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers that stopped me in my tracks outside the Krazy Korner bar. Not literally, because he was onstage. He is the crowned King of Accordion, and fantastic. I also enjoyed the frottoir – rub-board – player. Is it ever quiet here? Is there ever a time when people aren’t dancing down the streets? Doubt it.

Dwayne Dopsie

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New Orleans vision

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New Orleans’ French Quarter is a heady, exotic sort of place that feels steamy, even in November on a day when it’s nippy. Best plan is to submit, get lost, drink beer, join in. Try to be at a certain point at a certain time and you’ll miss the best of what this unique neighbourhood has to offer which is spontaneity – someone in a bar breaking into song, a dancing bouncer, the light on a building, a passing oddball, a monstrous loping spiked stilt-walker bending down to pat a whining dog, a zydeco set.

It took me the first night to work that out. Arriving at 9pm to find you are the only sober people in 10 blocks, your hotel booking has been screwed up (by Orbitz) and the restaurant you’ve eventually chosen has just stopped serving didn’t help me feel the love. Bourbon Street is the loudest, the tackiest; live music BLASTS out of every door and, for all the multiple layers of culture, it’s got the feel of a stag or hen night destination – just missing the traffic cones. I couldn’t hear anything, found it overwhelming and confusing. However, I got up early and, aside from the late night-early morning revellers and locals walking dogs, had the place to myself – a chance to admire the backdrop – the architecture, the colours of the houses, their steps, shutters and their leafy and ornate balconies. You can imagine how life might have been here in the past, I thought to myself as a man in a leather skirt and bra walked past. I don’t think it’s changed much. The buildings are old, but so its tradition for eccentricity, energy, passions, noise.

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To the sea, the Mississippi sea

Who knew there even was a Mississippi seaside? Not me. The large river of the same name, and the fact I was holding a map might have spoilt the surprise, but no. Late tonight we got to the end of a long stripmall-flanked, neon-flashing boulevard and could only turn left or right owing to the fact there was a massive black expanse of water straight ahead. This was exciting, exotic and significant. On November 5, I’d emerged from under the Detroit River in a Greyhound bus to find myself in the very north of the US of A, and at this point I could go no further south. It’s not as big as you think, America. Or at least, it takes more out of you travelling from London to Fort Worth. Anyway, I didn’t insist on kicking off my shoes and running across the sand to dip my toes in the water which is a good thing. This is of course the very coast that the BP Gulf of Mexico spillage messed up and it was the very day that BP had fessed up to multiple felony charges including manslaughter and been subjected to the largest corporate financial penalty in all time ($4.5bn), and probably not the time or place to be having the ‘you all from England’ conversation. More pertinently, looking up some stuff on this new discovery, the Mississippi coast, I spotted a Huffington Post  story about the tens of thousands of rats that washed up there after Hurricane Isaac back in September. Sure they’ve all been cleaned up too, but still.

This was the end of a big driving day – for Dave, that is. In the new dull but reliable Chevy we’d gone to Montgomery, Alabama. This was where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger in 1955, sparking a boycott against the segregated bus system led by a certain young baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr. all of which sent the American civil rights movement into fast forward and ending up where we are today – with a black president  in the White House, disproportionately high African American homelessness, unemployment, crime, illiteracy etc, and everyone able to chose where they sit on the bus.  I’m not sure you’d get all the history looking out of the window on a drive through Montgomery; it’s not exactly flagged up. Most of the city is colleges, corporate-sponsored sports grounds, and if not monuments to the rioters, stuff pertaining to law and order – a jail and plenty of bail bonds offices. It’s fairly joyless which I imagine it would have been in 1955, so that at least is an authentic experience. But the Montgomery Curb Market close to the Booker T. Washington school on Madison Avenue (yeah) is a treat.

Just at the point the city seems to have run out of steam with its truck repair units, car lots, pawn shops, flea markets and gun show hoardings, there’s a functional, low brick building surrounded by trucks and cars, with metal doors that are pulled to open and clang shut, a hubbub inside. It’s packed full of ladies selling home-baked cakes made of cream cheese, cream, sugar and crackled cookies, as well as warm from the oven cheese and sausage biscuits, massive apples, pecan brittle, and boiled peanuts which I’m just not sure about. Oh, and fried peach turnovers. Delicious. I will end up massively fat, no doubt about it. The women behind the stalls were small and wiry from all the constant baking, stacking, selling, harvesting, jam, pickle and holiday gift craft making. And flummoxed about why we’d travel from England to Madison Avenue, Montgomery (“you all’ll probably near-vah come back”). Actually, I’d like to. I’m very curious about Alabama – another place that has beaches, as well as a tough past full of dust and sharecropping.

People are baffled when they find tourists in their home towns, as if it’s only the scenery or monuments, or wildlife, or the places or events constructed for visitors that are worth slowing the car for. More people are nosy about how people live, how much their house cost and what they do on Saturdays than anyone’s admitting. I like local. When I see foreigners with maps along the disgusting Strand in London, ticking off the sites, I wish I could tell them to go for a curry in Brick Lane, visit the Lido in Brockwell Park, or have Sunday lunch in the garden of the Engineer in Primrose Hill instead, and forget the whole buying a policeman’s helmet thing, without seeing weird

The rest of the day was spent driving with God on the radio, well not directly. Preachers on every radio station:

‘Maybe Jesus has been drawing you in and you want to say yes?’ says Love Worth Finding out of Memphis ‘Write to us for a study aid pack . . ‘

‘You need to actively follow God’s plans for you . . . write to Love God with a donation and we’ll send you the free Making Dreams Come True pamphlet . . ‘

‘The companion of fools shall be destroyed . . .’

‘The Lord told Job “Pull your pants up, Punk”.

A long day – and confusing to see the sea where you don’t expect it, and then to fly over a curving bridge in the dark, and a freeway over a modern sprawling city with hospitals and phone companies which isn’t what you expect New Orleans to be. And then, to come off a ramp, pass a cemetery and a jazz band (and probably a voodoo practitioner) and drive at a crawl through the narrow streets of the French Quarter which precisely as anyone with an imagination imagines them that in all the overload you think you might be dreaming.

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Toronto local

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Queen Street West and Ossington Avenue aren’t the prettiest of places, but there are few better for lurching from cafe to gallery to brick-walled restaurant via a few vintage shops and tiny, cosy bars. Gentrification is underway hence concrete mixers, cranes and the weird mix of shabby and chic. Which isn’t the same as shabby chic. Heading east from Dufferin to Trinity Bellwoods most of the original buildings on the south side have gone, to be replaced by loft condos, banks, and marts – hence the plaintive ‘You’ve changed’ plastered on an end wall. There are whole stretches that are just boring.

However, the revitalisation along Ossington Avenue, which intersects it at Starbucks, sort of makes up for it. Ossington now has the densest concentration of good, buzzy restaurants  in Toronto. Vancouver’s Salt seems they have spawned a branch here: Salt Wine Bar, serving the same mix of non-Spanish tapas (Alberta bison tartar, ginger soy & coriander) and flights of local wine. Next door, there’s the highly recommended Pizza Libretto, convivial, with great pizzas that manage to have succulent rather than snapping thin crusts (but be prepared to queue at the bar). This being Little Portugal, there’s Portuguese steam stew and bacalhau to take out from Alex Rei Dos Leitoes Churrasqueira next door to that. A couple of minutes back down towards Queen (no.92) there’s Cuban dinners (pork, rice, beans, plaintain) in the cosy environs of Delux, and at no.108, the fabulously aromatic Amaya Express (which also does take-outs – starters are huge).

Ossington is a 6 min walk from the 9flats apartment I’m currently basking in. If you can’t be bothered to go that far, a stone’s throw away on Queen, there’s the Drake Hotel for art, music, cheeky chic and cocktails and for more of a at-one-with-the-community, music, art and fantastic breakfasts, the Gladstone. And given that the first three floors of this condo block are reserved for people working in the arts, there’s a gallery space with frequent events and parties in the lobby.

Should point out, on a really local level is that there are two big blocks in development on the threshold. You don’t see the digging, trucking action from inside, you don’t hear it much, but you might trudge through mud to get home.

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A place, Toronto

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Yup, everything in this apartment is beautiful, from the massive heavy-framed mirror, art, cool classic and reclaimed furniture to plates with birds on, and  heavy knives and forks in the sleek, white drawers.  Industrial pipes, steel surfaces (an old fridge door for a desk) and concrete floors give the urban edge; cushions, lush textiles, rugs, clever lighting and good heating provide the warmth.

I haven’t done one of these stay-in-someone’s-home things before, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, and whether I was going to like it. I was also baffled as to why anyone in their right mind would relish the prospect of strangers loafing about on their sofas and handling their glassware, unsupervised. Now I get it.

Firstly, it works very simply; after registering and booking, I exchanged a couple of emails and texts about arrival times with the owner, and she met me at the door, helped lug my case, showed me the contents of the fridge and how the lights went on and off and, after a bit of banter, took a deposit, handed over the keys and went to Montreal. And I do like it. I don’t feel beholden; I feel independent. It has all the advantages of home but with better art and a different city through the window.

The fact you’re trusted with the run of someone’s home means that you’re careful, respectful and take a proprietary pleasure in keeping it all shipshape and Bristol fashion. I’m going to look for more, but this has set the bar very high. If you want to stay here visit the property page on 9flats.com.

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