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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

First published on Iranian.com August 29, 2007
Easy as in, Big Easy
It was around this time 2 years ago, actually in June, when my good friend Fardad and I, went on a short hop business trip to New Orleans to attend a tradeshow.

With all of the news surrounding the Big Easy since, and the somewhat uncertain road back to normal life and the living, I thought it might be a good time to make a travel recommendation to all of you. Suffice it to say, a visit to New Orleans is always in order, always a good idea. After you have been to this wonderful place, just once, you will understand a couple things.
 
First, nothing but nothing will dissuade the indomitable character of New Orleans, not a pissant bitch-named-Katrina storm, not flooding, not un-maintained failing levees, not an inept FEMA, not even God. There is simply too much pure sensual spirit in New Orleans for that.

Second, there are some places on Earth that just simply feel good. You can't explain it. Except that when we went to New Orleans we just somehow felt very at home, confident, unafraid of any uncertainty, a very familiar feeling. Iran used to feel like this.

We arrived at the New Orleans airport, grabbed our bags, and walked towards the automatic sliding doors that separate the conditioned inside air, with the unconditioned outside air. The humidity welcomed us to the Big Easy with an instant slap to the face, like a hot pillow fight. Our clothes instantly stuck to our bodies, static-charged by the warm wet and sexy air.
 
Canal St. Cablecar
We grabbed a cab and within 15 minutes were at the same usual hotel, the same usual Marriott monster corporate hotel in the same usual convention part of the city, just like you'd expect. We checked into our consummately American room, just like you'd expect.

It was mid-afternoon, and I told Fardad I would go and buy some shorts, because all I had brought were long pants, and the ride to the hotel had quickly convinced me this was a bad idea. He said he was going to jump in the shower. I went out the lobby and carved my way through the humidity, it was like walking though a snowstorm in hell, but without snow. Actually snow sounded really good right about now.

I crossed Canal street to the middle just as a trolley rolled past, welcoming me with the clanging of it's familiar San Francisco ding-di-di-ding-ding, I waited for the rush of the wind to hit me as it screeched past, hoping it would cool me a bit, before crossing the rest of the way. I walked into a clothing store, those un-famous stores, the kind they have in Iran, "Starlite Fashions". The owner was an Arab, I know because he was talking on a cell phone and the Ahlan-wa-Sahlan speak was unmistakable. Plus I'm Iranian. We know what Arabic sounds like.

I thumbed through the racks and found a decent pair of khaki shorts, a golf shirt and went to pay. I took the shopping bag and went out to the sidewalk, it was getting darker, and it seemed to somehow be more alive. I went back to the hotel and changed into my more appropriate wear, Fardad had cooled off in the shower, and we decided to head out.

Our hotel was about 3 blocks from the infamous Bourbon Street, off of Canal, and as soon as we turned into it, we instantly got what all the hoopla was about. What looks like a pirate's town alley, is transformed into a very alive, semi-adult young at heart playground. Which is appropriate because it used to be a Pirate town.

It's not dirty, although there are strip clubs and sex-toy shops. It's not sleazy although you will catch the glimpse of male and female hookers out of the corner of your eye. It's not a cesspool of petty crime, although if you take the bait, you will be hustled out of at least $20. It's more that you don't seem to mind it one single bit, as it's happening and unfolding around you, as you stroll through it.

About half way down Bourbon (street), you will pass a rainbow of hurricane bars. A hurricane is a colorful drink made with rum and an icy slushy mix, like a pina colada would be a white one, you know, sweetly flavored girly drinks, that make girls sweet. Sweeter. (and yes that is precisely the reason there are many many hurricane bars in N.O.). As you stroll, you will come to see a corner bar with a big colorful neon sign that says, half tauntingly, "Hand Grenade: the Strongest Drink in New Orleans!"
You can't avoid it, as didn't we. Fardad looked at me. Fardad is the kind of Iranian who can instantly turn on the twinkle in his eye, like a light, when he gets "that way". 

So we ambled in and an equally sweaty bartender-ess asked us what she could get us, and because of past experience which offers at least this much {} wisdom, we wisely asked her what was in a Hand Grenade. Which is exactly the problem.

She smiled a southern sly smile, "It's a secret!" she said, "But trust me they're gewd.". Which apparently was enough of an endorsement for us to promptly reach into our pockets and pony up the cash to get one.

They come in a long luminescent neon green tube with a round enclosure in the shape of a hand grenade at the bottom. A handlegrenade actually. Filled with ice, which in N.O. you come to appreciate as a wonderful invention, and the secret recipe of the mixed drink. It was sweet and sour, you know, all the elements of a drink designed specifically to sneak up on you and go....Boo! Later I learned one of the ingredients was the infamous southern corn liquor known as moonshine, illegal to ship out of Louisiana.

We grabbed our handlegrenades and walked out fully intending to continue our stroll down Bourbon (street). Sipping as we walked, we noticed that people were now walking down the middle of the street, and it was when we got to a corner that we saw that this is done on purpose. After 7 pm the police put up barriers at the beginning and end of Bourbon street as well as all of the connecting cross streets, to allow for people to mill through on foot without fear of cars. We were about to find out how convenient this was shortly.

We walked and sipped and looked this way, and walked and sipped and looked that way, peeking into a strip club here, shyly refusing the invitations of the off duty strippers trying to get us into their clubs. Meanwhile the strains of jazz and rock and country music, voices of all shapes, singing off key and on, filled the air, as we walked past piano bars and live music "joints".

And the lights! Each shop, restaurant, bar, club, had a neon piƱata of lights advertising the lowest prices, the best food, the livest music, the prettiest dancers, and so on. And it was warm, it was sweaty, it was dark, and it was fun.

I pulled up to a rock bar with a young singer, guitar slung low, wearing bright orange suspenders that matched an equally bright orange mohawk, tattooed arms swinging. I listened to him wail a rock ballad as the backup singers bobbed side to side in unison.

I looked to my side to find Fardad and move on to the next joint, except, no Fardad!
I looked around and couldn't believe I had lost him. I moved up the sidewalk a few yards thinking maybe he had passed me when I stopped to watch the band, but didn't see him. So I doubled back down the sidewalk, past the band, and that was when I saw him, at the earlier corner, staring up at the neon lights, mesmerized.

I made my way back, and reached him on the corner, he looked at me and grinned, eyes sparkling. Then he looked back up at the lights, instantly becoming one of the evening's many handgrenade casualties. Or at least one of two!

I grinned back at him and nodded at him to come one and leave the pretty lights alone. We moved on. We reached the end of the busy part of Bourbon street, at some point it just turns into what looks like a normal street in the obviously gay part of any town, with possibly just a tad more or less rainbow flags hanging off the balconies, depending on where you come from.
 
And precisely or sometime right around this point in time, exactly somewhere, is where I forget what happened next.

Boo!

If you ever get the slightest chance to go to New Orleans, take it. You will love it.

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