Trump is only a symptom

About ten years ago, I was managing a seminar for one of the best trainers in the world. There’s an exercise called Secrets. The room is darkened and then everybody in the room, including most of the staff, has to put their hands over their eyes, or put their heads down on their desk.

Then the trainer goes through a list of questions.

“If you have ever … raise your hand.”

Because I was the course manager, I had to keep my eyes open to make sure the room stayed safe. So I was able to see how many hands went up for each question.

Most of the questions were gentle, even harmless, but all of the questions were designed to be cathartic. But a number of the questions cut right down to the bone.

There are things people carry around inside, a lot of hurt and guilt and shame and fear, but there’s no safe place to unload those feelings, so the exercise allows some relief. The participants get to keep their secrets safe, but they get to acknowledge that they are holding these things that keep gnawing at them — they get to own that part of their identity.

This particular time, however, when the trainer asked questions about abuse, about rape, about violence — nearly every woman in the room raised her hand.

Now this was not a unique group of women. These were adult women of all ages, from early twenties to late sixties. Some were students, others were working women. Some were married, others were single or divorced. Some were highly skilled professionals. Some were strong family women.

“Have you ever been raped?” “Have you ever been molested?” “Have you ever been the target of physical or emotional abuse?” “Have you ever been made to feel ashamed of your identity?” “Have you ever held yourself back…?”

And worse.

Observing this for the first time, I felt tears running down my cheeks because of the level of pain in the room. All those pale hands, silent in the dark. A testimony of unspoken hurt. I felt my chest tightening and my heart pounding — I felt myself getting angry, as angry as I felt when my son finally confessed to me how he had suffered at the hands of an abusive foster-parent. I wanted to find the perp and hurt back.

But no — all I could do was remain a silent witness. Stunned and horrified.

Later … much later, when the trainer and I went out to dinner, I had to ask. “Is this normal? All these women?” He said, “Sometimes it’s worse.”

Ever since that moment, I have had to look at women differently — with the knowledge that I am living among a population that is very much carrying a burden of oppression — not unlike the Jews in Nazi Germany, not unlike the slaves in the pre-civil war south. Not unlike so many populations here in this country and around the world.

White male privilege allows white males to exist in a bubble of ignorance and illusion. I have to generalize here, but I’m pretty sure that most men have no idea and even less understanding of just how steeply the landscape has been tilted — just how much (through our unconsciousness) we are deliberately punishing half the human race.

This week, what has been most appalling to me about Donald Trump’s despicable confession of being a sexual predator … is not the various defenses of those who are trapped in his sinking lifeboat with him. No — what’s appalling to me is how few men are able to understand that what Trump spoke about was the “normal” that women experience every day. What is appalling to me is how few men are enraged.

I have been simmering, smoldering, and finally boiling with anger the more I consider his words. I can’t get them out of my head. I can’t escape them. Despite my pacifist leanings, I still want to punch that vile bastard in the face with a jackhammer. Words are insufficient.

And if I’m feeling that way, I cannot imagine how the women who have heard those words are feeling. This isn’t a once-in-a-while occurrence. This is … just another Tuesday.

Sidebar: There’s a story about the filming of Django Unchained — that Leonardo DiCaprio was having trouble with all the racist language he had to speak. He wanted to apologize for it. But Samuel L. Jackson (allegedly) said, “Hey, Motherfucker. This is just another Tuesday for us.”

Well, I’m tired of Tuesday — and the rest of the week as well.

I grew up in a time when anti-semitism was freely expressed. I grew up in a time and lived in an environment where anti-gay sentiments were freely expressed. And eventually, that sensitized me to a lot of other prejudices — anti-black and anti-Muslim and anti-Native American, and so on.

But it wasn’t until that moment in that training room that I realized what a pernicious vile crime against women we have allowed in our culture.

Women alone will not be the solution here. It is up to men, good men, strong men, compassionate men, to draw a line in the sand and redefine what it means to be a man — and that can no longer include the reduction of women from their rightful place as leaders and partners in our society.

Trump is only a symptom. The real disease still festers in the rest of us.

trump-100-smug-republican-hate

(via David Gerrold on FB)

Every woman.

Thanks to the US presidential election, there has been a lot of discussion lately about sexual assault, attitudes towards women and how men conduct themselves when they are in the private company of other men.  It’s really quite hard to ignore at the moment as the media is in the grips of what must be the very exemplar of a true media frenzy. For most women, the topic of sexual assault and sexual harassment hits us somewhere deep and personal that we’d rather not think about.  It brings ugly memories to the surface and dredges up life experiences that we’d prefer to leave quietly filed away in The Past™.  Many of us have these long suppressed and often ignored, but never forgotten, unpleasant memories of how we have subjected to the abysmally inequitable status quo that continues to exist in our society.  To varying degrees, most women I know have had a lifetime of unsolicited sexual attention.  All women live with the awareness of possible sexual harassment and assault every day – it is the background noise of our lives.  It hurts us, it scars us, it sure as hell scares us, and it follows us around our entire lives. And more often than not, it starts really young. So goddamn young.

I was 5 or 6 years old and at primary school, when a man we called ‘Window Willy’, lived in a house adjacent to our playground. He gained this nickname from his habit of flashing his penis at us little girls during our lunch breaks. Despite repeatedly reporting it to teachers the message always came back to just stay away from that area of the playground.

I was about 8 years old when one day, I was up at the Carina Terminus shops waiting for my mother in the haberdasher.  A man who was seated outside the shop had been staring at me through the window, and I thought nothing of it.  While my mum was busy with her purchase, he shifted the leg of his c.1970s very short shorts, and displayed his penis and scrotum to me – a little girl.  I told my mum and the lady in the shop… they just told me not to look at him.

I was an athletic, short, blonde, tanned and already busty 12 or 13 year old, when I came out of the surf at Stradbroke Island one holiday with my hair slicked back wet to my head, and a ‘friend’ of the family said I looked like Bo Derek.  My Dad gave me a towel and told me to cover up.

I was 13 when I had recently joined the Army Cadets and a Cadet Under Officer came over to me while we were at attention on the parade ground and fiddled with the lanyard attached to my breast pocket, saying it wasn’t sitting right.  Seemed innocent enough but then I caught the satisfied and smug look on his face as he walked away because he had touched up my boobs in front of everyone.

I was a little over 14 when I went to the movies in the city with a large group of (mostly male) friends one Anzac Day. The boy I was sitting with thought it was appropriate to pull out his dick and put my hand on it in the dark. I screamed, everyone laughed, I switched seats.

I was barely 15 when a 21 year old man, an officer of the same Cadet Unit decided to single me out. I was flattered at the attentions of this older guy, so it never occurred to me to object when he woke me up in my tent at 1am, and encouraged me to go for a walk with him.  He took me to his panel van and convinced me to ‘come talk with me’.  After a while he kissed me and that was okay, but when he started to grope under my shirt and and tried to pull down my pants, I had to fight tooth and nail to get out of there without pissing him off and causing more aggression… or god help me, violence.

I was nearly 16 when another CO – this time a 23 year old man – took me and two other 16 year old friends to the Gold Coast for a ‘night off’, while we were supposed to be on bivouac.  He bought two bottles of vodka and got us all drunk. I vaguely remember doing cartwheels and round-offs over a campfire that night.  I absolutely, 100%, clearly remember waking up in the early hours of the morning in his car with his hands inside in my pants and him saying, ‘Let’s finish what we started.’ Those words have simultaneously haunted and comforted me.  If things needed ‘finishing’, then maybe my fuzzy drunken memory lapse wasn’t covering up something even worse…

I was 17 when I was waitressing at the local Leagues Club, helping out some friends with their catering business, when a drunk footballer stood up and waved his dick at me to the amusement of his friends.  I ran and hid in the kitchen, shaking my head in disbelief and discouraging my black belt boyfriend from going out there and smashing his face in. One of the older women who was also waiting tables with me offered to take over that table.  He didn’t flash at her.

I was maybe all of 19 when a colleague who I had been reasonably friendly with, cornered me in the copy room late one Friday at work. He pushed me up against a photocopier and pressed his erection into my thigh saying that he thought I was really sexy and he couldn’t help himself.  Knowing that more than 80% of the office had left for the weekend already, I talked fast,telling him I had a boyfriend and asking him what his wife would think. I never scrambled so fast to get the fuck out of a place in my life.

When I was about 20 we used to hang out down at Fisherman’s Wharf for lazy afternoons of live music and cheap drinks.  After one of these nights, we ended back at my boyfriend’s best mate’s place.  My boyfriend passed out drunk in a spare room, leaving me in a strange house with a guy I had met only once before.  This guy. This ‘best friend’, decided this was a good opportunity to pin me down on the carpet, stick his tongue down my throat and have sex with me.  I was too drunk to say no… I was too drunk to say yes.

Thus began my life of never drinking to the point where I might lose control. Of my wits. Of the situation. Of myself.

I was 23 the FIRST time I felt the penis of a complete stranger digging into me when riding a packed train in London.  I’ve lost count of occasions when I have been on trains, buses, or in a tight packed crowd at a concert, and someone has pushed their erection into me, or an anonymous hand opportunistically groped at my breasts, or grabbed on my arse. What do you do?  What do you do?  Sometimes you don’t even know who did it.

I was 35 when a man in Pakistan at a tailor’s shop, slid his hand up my thigh.  I stepped away, only for him to sidle over to me and do it again. Culturally this was seriously creepy – I know how little men value women in countries like this. I was over 40 when a skeezy little Chinese guy in Shanghai pretended to sneeze – face first right into my chest. Fucker.

Thankfully, it happens less and less these days… perhaps because I’m getting older and I am no longer as desirable as the younger version of me was. Perhaps because I no longer frequent pubs and taverns without the protection of a group of trusted friends.  Perhaps, because like many older women, I have carefully cultivated a general ‘fuck off’ vibe, that I arm myself with whenever I leave the house.

I am not in any way tormented or traumatised by my experiences. Have my behaviours evolved to ensure my personal safety and to avoid situations like this?  God, yes.  I don’t go out by myself at night, I am careful about my alcohol consumption (even among friends), I dress fairly modestly most of the time – primarily because I prefer people to talk to my face and not my tits, but also because I don’t want to offer encouragement. Mostly I don’t think about these things because is just the background noise of my life – this constantly and habitually minimising risk.  I don’t dwell on these experiences or in anyway, nor do I feel myself to be any sort of victim.  I’ve never sought justice or expected sympathy over any of this.  These are just things that happened to me.  Sometimes I think the fact that I am not traumatised from these incidents is an indicator of how normalised sexual harassment and sexual assault is in our lives and in our thinking. Other times my thought patterns are more: ‘Yeah, that happened. I can’t change it. I wasn’t seriously hurt. I’m still here. Could have been worse. Who cares?’

Mostly I just don’t think about it at all… but at the moment, with the current media climate, I don’t know how NOT to think critically about my past experiences and how/if they have effected me. What I do know is that sexual assault of varying degrees is so completely pervasive in all our societies. It doesn’t matter what your background is –  it leaves no girl or woman untouched.  I may not have suffered the torment and horror of a complete stranger raping me behind a dumpster – but every single woman I know has stories of unwanted sexual attention.  Every. Single. Woman.

And now, whenever that simply horrid, overblown buffoon of a billionaire, wannabe President, opens his mouth – all I hear and see are these men from my past.  These men who took liberties with my person because I am female. Fuck them and fuck him. If this self professed pig of a man wins the White House and sets a shining example for people all over the world – how do we even begin to try and fix this if it?  I can’t believe he is even being considered as remotely suitable.

consent-sexual-assault

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Finally, America starts to be waking up to itself, but is it too later?  Have they allowed this hate peddling, fear-monger the microphone for too long?

An Open Letter to Donald Trump:

Mr. Trump,

I try my hardest not to be political. I’ve refused to interview several of your fellow candidates. I didn’t want to risk any personal goodwill by appearing to take sides in a contentious election. I thought: ‘Maybe the timing is not right.’ But I realize now that there is no correct time to oppose violence and prejudice. The time is always now. Because along with millions of Americans, I’ve come to realize that opposing you is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one.

I’ve watched you retweet racist images. I’ve watched you retweet racist lies. I’ve watched you take 48 hours to disavow white supremacy. I’ve watched you joyfully encourage violence, and promise to ‘pay the legal fees’ of those who commit violence on your behalf. I’ve watched you advocate the use of torture and the murder of terrorists’ families. I’ve watched you gleefully tell stories of executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig blood. I’ve watched you compare refugees to ‘snakes,’ and claim that ‘Islam hates us.’

I am a journalist, Mr. Trump. And over the last two years I have conducted extensive interviews with hundreds of Muslims, chosen at random, on the streets of Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan. I’ve also interviewed hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees across seven different countries. And I can confirm— the hateful one is you.

Those of us who have been paying attention will not allow you to rebrand yourself. You are not a ‘unifier.’ You are not ‘presidential.’ You are not a ‘victim’ of the very anger that you’ve joyfully enflamed for months. You are a man who has encouraged prejudice and violence in the pursuit of personal power. And though your words will no doubt change over the next few months, you will always remain who you are.

Sincerely,
Brandon Stanton

(Via Humans of New York on FB…)

Back in Nawlins.

Today I went off on a New Orleans Food Walking Tour. Apparently they do these things in cities all over the world, so I thought I’d give it a go. I was hoping for lots of local info and culture to explain where the various origins of the food came from that has given New Orleans its distinctive cuisine… and of course all the local history. 

 So this post is a bit of a mish-mash of food, culture, history and local stories. Sorry about that. New Orleans was founded in 1718 by some French dude called Jean Baptise la Moyne Sieur de Bienville. It changed from French control to Spanish then French again before being sold to the United States in 1803.

 Our guide, Philippe, is a retired chef, who was originally from New York but left the Big Apple to join the navy as a teenager, and has basically spent his life working in and around the restaurants and kitchens of New Orleans since his 20s. The first place we stopped was Roux Royal, which is a great little kicthenware shop but is also a coffee shop that is famous for their coffee and King Cake. King Cake is a french white bun style pastry that has been traditionally served after 12th Night (6th January) right up until Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), for centuries. The food here often has a very Catholic influence to what is eaten when – particularly when it comes to Carnivale which is the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. A King Cake was frosted bun cake that people would get together to share and in it would be a tiny coin or token, and if your piece of cake held the coin, then you would be ‘King for the Day’, and have good luck and a blessed day. Nowadays, sharing a King Cake will have a tiny baby token in it, and if you’re at the office, the King for the Day will need to bring the next King Cake. Or if you’re at a party, the King will need to host the next party. 🙂 It’s a way of making the good times and good food last – ‘Laissez le bon temps rouler’ as they say…

Next we went for a wander down Pirates Alley, so named because famous privateers, Pierre Lefitte and Jean Lefitte, who had a mandate from the settlement to confiscate enemy ships during the 1800s and sell the goods they confiscated for profit. It sounds like the Lefitte brothers got a little overzealous and started raiding any old ship and they were selling all the confiscated goods, which often including slaves without passing on the due portion to the settlement authorities. Eventually the powers that be, switched on that they weren’t getting their fair share and they wanted to stop the Lefittes, so Pierre was jailed in the court house at the end of Pirates Alley. 

However, the authorities found themselves in the need of a few accomplished pirates, and they needed them to help defend the harbour and they were taken out of jail, put in ships to fight the Battle of Chalmette and the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, which was a serious of engagements fought between December 24th, 1814 and January 8th 1815 (which was all still part of the War of 1812… of overture fame), between the American combatants, commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson, and the invading British Army who he managed to keep out. (Or something like that, Philippe must have talked about six hours worth in the four hours he had us – but I’ll bet there’s a hundred books on this stuff.)  

Anyway, Pirates Alley leads onto Jackson Square and the St Louis Cathedral. Jackson Square – obviously named for the aforementioned Major General is a popular tourist spot now and a lovely garden in the middle of the French Quarter. The St Louis Cathedral that stands nearby is the fourth incarnation of this famous Catholic cathedral, the first two were apparently destroyed by fires, and the third was destroyed by a hurricane.  The area around Jackson Square, or the Plaza Armas, is really well known now for it’s thriving local artists colony. Legend has it (ie: according to Philippe), that confederate widows would bring their drawings to town, and hang them on the fence, to try and sell their works to make money to keep their families afloat after losing their husbands, and this was the start of the tradition of local art being made and sold around Jackson Square.

  

 In the 1800s, the New Orleans settlement – it was a settlement not a full-on colony, which basically means, that as far as Europe was concerned, its primary function was to send goods back to Europe. It was an outpost to strip local resources to send to European markets and the wellbeing, government and overall social structure here didn’t matter very much at all. Europe didn’t care whether the settlement thrived independently – all it was concerned about was getting the resources they required.

So in lieu of a ‘proper’ governement the authorities in New Orleans developed a sort of half arsed code of law called the Code Noir… The Black Code. The rules were pretty simple and some not a little bit bizzare:

– First and foremost, ‘No Jews Allowed’ – this remained right up until the late 1800s when Jews who were living in New Orleans as quietly as possible were acknowledged.

– Also, no ‘barbarian’ Protestants allowed. Apparently Protestants only thought about work and money, and not God and they worked their servants like slaves (this is confusing, didn’t they all had slaves?!)… and the authorities believed they should be ‘left up in Alabama where they belonged’.

– No one could purchase a person if they had a family. If they bought the woman or the man, they had to buy the whole family, including children… yeah, this was the fine upstanding Catholic way of selling humans as property, so long as we are family minded about it – it’s all good. 

– Everyone had Sunday’s off as per Church traditions, and religious instruction was provided for everyone. (However, most people would use the time to make things to try and sell to make their own money – selling coffees, feathered fans, etc because…) 

– A magistrate could put a price on you, so you could save up and try to buy your freedom. Marie Laveau, the famous Voodoo Queen, bought her freedom by hairdressing on her Sundays off. Ms Laveau was a smart cookie, and obviously a good listener – beacuse then, as now, women gossiped to their hair dressers, and Marie used the information to her advantage when selling her Voodoo services… she knew all the towns secrets but had people believing that she knew things magically. 

– When slaves came to market, the women were sold first… no idea why, but I’m hoping it’s not just because the men wanted to get their hands on them.

– In 1723, no woman of African blood was allowed to wear a hat so they wore headscarves. The edict was designed to keep African women in their place because they were not bound by Christian or Catholic precepts, so the African women were able to flirt and interact with men, and were therefore considered loose and dangerous.

– then there was the ‘plaçage’ system which was a was a recognized extralegal system in French and Spanish slave colonies, like New Orleans, where ethnic European men entered into what was effectively a common law or ‘left handed’ (mariage de la main gauche) marriage with a woman of colour – African, Native American and mixed-race descent. Mulatto women were half white, half black, Quadroon women were 3/4 white and Octaroon women were only 1/8 black… all of these women could be sold/”placed with” men in these common law marriages. Octaroon women were highly prized as they were as closed to being white as you could get, while still being property. :/ These arrangements were instituted with contracts and negotiations – many Creole men preferred a mixed marriage, because if anything happened to the situation, he could throw away his common law wife and have nothing to lose. If he married a Creole woman and the marriage went sour, he would lose his house and his children and most of his money. This delightful system flourished throughout the French and Spanish colonial periods, reaching its peak around 1769 -1803. Nice huh. 

Anyway – back to the food. Originally the non-colony/settlement was populated primarily with soldiers, then as is usual, swiftly followed by camp followers, pickpockets, prostitutes and then the Church. 🙂 The men in the early settlement would eat pretty much anything – cornmeal mush every day until the day they
died, but the women they bought with them, were not happy eating cornmeal mush at all.   

  

  

  

  The women eventually got organised and rounded on the Governor, demanding better supplies and better food in what was known as the Iron Pot Revolution or the Culinary Insurrection because no one had started trying to figure out how to cook with the local ingredients that were available to them. Eventually a woman named Madame Langlois, who was the Governor’s own head cook, was sent to the local Indians to learn what and how they cooked. She learned how to make all sorts of things, like squirrel stuffed with pecans (not sure if this was a significant example?!)… and eventually she became known as the Mother of Creole Cooking when she opened the worlds first ever Cooking School, called the Langlois Cooking School and started teaching other women how to cook with local foods. 

New Orleans has ended up with a lot of influences – the French brought pastries, the Italian bought breads, salamis and antipasto, there were also lots of Southern influences, but primarily the introduction of rice altered Creole cooking forever. The rice came from Madagascar, and only rich people could afford to eat the polished rice – but eventually industrialisation increased availability of rice. Early on, New Orleans solved their having to import rice problem by kidnapping indigenous Africans who knew how to grow rice, and they bought them back to the settlement and made them grow rice here. They bought their thick rice stews with them – Gumbos. Gumbo refers to any rice stew that is thickened with fillet or jaja or roux (oil and flower) and it basically has anything in it you can think of.

 We tried some local gumbo while down in the French Markets – this one was a filé gumbo so thickened with okra powder rather than flour or cornstarch. It was loaded with sausage, shrimp, spices and all good things. A little on the spicy side, but very tasty and very filling. Given that gumbo can have pretty much anything in it – it is very much a personal taste thing, so anyone claiming to have the ‘Best Gumbo’, is full of shit. It became a staple early on in the settlement, in part because the sanitation was not great and no meat or fish was not allowed to be kept over night to be sold the following day. Two very clever women (who just happened to be married to local butchers and local fishmongers) would get all the left over fish or meat and make meals for their cafes to be sold the next day. Gumbo can be cooked for hours, so that was how they got around the sanitation law. The fishmonger’s wife would cook her gumbo overnight for her cafe the next day, and the butcher’s wife would spend her nights boiling brisket to be used in sandwiches in her cafe the following day.
Poboys are another New Orleans food institution and they came about by a pair of creative cafe owners called the Marten Brothers who were in the sandwich making business. They went to the local bakers who had primarily been making French style bread loaves (you know rounded loaves) and asked for them to make bread With flat end loaves, because they were throwing out too much bread in the tips of the loaf. The baker was only too happy to accommodate – less dough for the same cost, and the Brothers got their flat end loaves that maximised their sandwich system. Anyway, around this time, there was a mass of striking transit workers, and in the absence of any social welfare network back then (yeah, because the US has a great social welfare network now!), any one who went on strike basically failed to get paid, and that meant they were going hungry. The Marten Brothers, in solidarity with the transit workers, had agreed to make sandwiches for the striking transit workers, and apparently you could hear them calling out in their cafe ‘here comes another poor boy’ to rustle up the kitchen to make them a sandwich – which somehow resulted in the long sandwiches being called a ‘poboy’ sandwich forever more.  

  We tried a really nice boiled brisket poboy sandwich with horseradish and relish, a bit of lettuce and tomato at a place called Tujacques Restaurant and Bar. Washed down with a lovely Pims Cup cockatil too, it was really good. Their brisket was fantastic.

 We walked quite aways around the French Quarter looking at the lovely predominantly Spanish style buildings (mostly Spanish because the original French buildings had mostly been destroyed in various fires), some of which have been around since the 1700s and Philippe explained the basic precepts which influenced how houses were designed at the time. 

   Most of the houses are connected row houses, and are tall and deep into the block, this was largely because property taxes were calculated by how wide the amount of footpath (the banques) a building used up, so people kept their street frontage narrow and compact. But mostly these houses ran three stories high and went way back towards the streets behind. Most buildings had a mercantile level on the street level – for shops and merchants etc, and then upstairs would be those famous New Orleans stanchioned galleries or cantilevered balconies which were frontages for the entertainment salons for the ladies of the house. Towards the back of those rooms would be the dining rooms, and other living rooms, occasionally house slave housing. Up on the third floor was the master bedrooms in the back and bedrooms for any young ladies of the family would right in the front – usually only with access through the master bedrooms so there was no possibility of sneaking out and ruining one’s reputation! Young men, at about the age of 13-15 years old would be heaved out of the house to a ‘garconniere’ – a building for ‘boys to be boys’, by all accounts, and get the uncivilised roughians to take their teenage selves out of the house. So behind these frontages would be a courtyard of sorts, which sometimes would lead to a kitchen, sometimes a stable and usually the remaining slave quarters… many of these tall narrow house had a long corridor that they called a ‘whistling room’, and servants when they came from the kitchens to the main house, to serve dinners, would have to whistle while they carried in foods to prove that they weren’t eating their masters dinners on the way in from the kitchen!  

Nowadays, all buildlings in the area have to comply with strict heritage standards as the French Quarter is protected by the Department of the Interior . Even if you’re building a parking garage, it has to have the correct heritage look about it, including the exterior period gaslights which are still prevalent throughout the District. The gaslights are what gives a lot of the French Quarter it’s charm after dark (Bourbon Street excluded it’s somewhat full of neon), and they are kept both for historical accuracy and also because apparently they are a cheaper lighting alternative to using electricity to light the city. 

   

  We went through the Bevolo Gaslight workshops where they are making traditional gaslights that people can buy for their homes or gardens using traditional techniques and these things are made to last 300 years. We met some of the tradesmen making gaslights and in a bearded hipster kinda way, you could tell he was a very proficient and passionate metalworker who could have been doing any number of trades, but chose to make traditional gaslights because it’s cool. 🙂  

  The oldest building in the French Quarter is the Old Ursuline Convent, (not to be confused with the new Ursuline Convent?!), which was built in 1727 and had the unenviable task of protecting the virtue of all those who lived in the settlement – especially of course, the young white women. While there is still a lot of French influence in the architecture, there is also a considerable Spanish influence to the way homes were built during the settlement period. The Spanish bought with them santitation services, in the form of actual drains and sewerage – no small feat given that most of New Orleans’ older areas were built on reclaimed land on the soft alluvial soul from the constantly overflowing Mississippi River. At the time, cypress logs and cotton bales were used to stabilise the ground before building in the French Quarter. In some areas when bridge building was necessary, engineers would end up drilling down up to 70′ before they hit bedrock suitable for building bridges on. So the whole French Quarter is not so stable which is what leads to the uneven pavements and cobbles everywhere. I’m surprised they’ve kept the stone sidewalks, with Americans being as notoriously litigious as they are – every other person is looking up and around the place like gawking tourists, rather than watching where they are walking, so people tripping and falling is quite common. 

 Anyway, the Spanish also brought the first fire service and the first actual fire insurance to New Orleans… home owners could pay the fire service a premium and a black plaque would be hung over the door of your house – in the event of a fire, your home would get saved first! 
Fire was a huge concern with all these timber buildings and reliance on candles and gas light, so New Orleans has had more then their share of big fires, one in particular in 1788 was traced back to one, Vincente Nunias. Being a good Catholic, Nunias had lit his candles for Good Friday and placed them in his parlour, which is fine, but being a good Creole and loving his food, he promptly turned around and went out for lunch leaving his Good Friday candles burning. Apparently the wind came straight up the Rue de Chartres and his curtains were set alight, starting a fire that burned down some 158 buildings. And that wasn’t the only time something similar had happened. Other fires that took out up to 200 buildings had happened as well.

Our next stop was The Spice and Tea Exchange which smelled amazing before we even got anywhere near the place. Years ago when Columbus was sailing the ocean blue and exploring Central America, he travelled around and in his travels, he gave back to Europe – tomatoes, chilis, corn, avocados, bananas, turkeys, and what’s that other shit? Oh yeah, chocolate. But at the time, one of the most desired spices in Europe was nutmeg, and by the pound it was more expensive than gold. No idea why, I personally don’t find nutmeg all that appealing. Anyway, the British owned a little island colony in the Caribbean that provided nutmeg back to Europe and the Dutch had none, so the Dutch keep looking for islands in the region where they could grow more nutmeg. In the end, they offered the British a trade for their nutmeg island. They swapped their island further north, called New Amsterdam, for the little nutmeg island, which is how New York came to be a British owned colony instead of Ducth (apparently… take these historical gobbets with a grain of salt, as I can’t be bothered researching to corroborate it). The Spice and Tea Exchange was full of so many amazing spices, everything smelled amazing – I would have bought it all home if I could.

   

  

  

  

 Instead I was remarkably restrained and only bought home a few little ounces of spices, salts and sugar.
It turns out, New Orleaners have a strange sense of direction – it seems they’re not just left and right impaired at times, they are also a little direction impaired. There is no ‘north’, ‘south’, ‘east’ and ‘west’ they tend to talk of going ‘upriver’ or ‘downriver’ and things are ‘lakeside’ or ‘riverside’ which is possibly part of how come visitors find it hard to get themselves oriented quickly. You ask for directions to the French Market and you might get told to head ‘down river towards Joanie on the Cornie’… which means, head south east until you get to the statue of Joan of Arc that Charles de Gaulle gave New Orleans in the 1960s, even though she has little or nothing to do with New Orleans the city, other than the fact that she was called the Maid of Orleans in the 1400s. 🙂  

  The French markets are located in a space that was originally a designated market meeting place of the local Native American groups As time went on, Canal Street was considered a ‘neutral ground’ between the Creole on the French Quarter side of the city and those heathen American Protestants on the other side, and so it remains a place of commerce and produce today.  

    
We stopped in the French Markets to try some muffaletta sandwiches – which is basically an Italian style sandwich consisting of antipasta… salami, pastrami, cheese, bell peppers, and olive salsa all on a toasted pressed sandwich. Absolutely delicious! Followed by a traditional praline so sweet it took two days to eat it. 

   
 Many immigrants were encouraged to come to America in the with the promise that the streets were ‘paved with gold’, and that there was wealth and prosperity for all to be had in the new world. In the early 1800s over 12,000 to 15,000 German and Irish immigrants died building the canals – as it turns out they had no tolerance for yellow fever and would fall over dead while doing their work only to be buried where they fell. The recruiting drive moved further into the Mediterranean to find people more used to this sort of climate and the Sicilian people fared much better at surviving here and integrating into American communities. They bought with them all their olives, salamis, pastramis and antipastos, which were in turn saw the creation of the famous muffeletta sandwiches – which is effectively antipasto on bread. Absolutely delicious, and I’m not normally one for bell peppers or olives! Like most things you can get great muffeletta sandwiches, but Philippe also warned us that many are not so fresh and the ingredients will have been stored in oil making for an oily sandwich.  

  A bit further on and we found a mural of Rose Nicaud – another slave who worked her Sundays to buy her freedom, not hair dressing, but this time by selling coffee. In the early 1800s, Rose became the very first coffee vendor in New Orleans, providing a new service to the French Market vendors, other workers and shoppers. She had a portable cart which she pushed through the market on Sundays, selling “cafe noir” or “cafe au lait”, and was quickly a huge success. Rose probably had to give the bulk of her earnings to her owner, but she saved her small portions up until she had enough to buy her freedom. Rose eventually had a permanent cafe in the French Market not far from the Cafe du Monde. 

        
Cafe du Monde must be THE most famous cafe in New Orleans, potentially even the most famous in the entire country. Known primarily for their French beignets, the lines are often out the door as people come to try their famous donuts. The secret apparently is their yeast dough… when most people attempt to make beignet, they use baking powder not yeast. In fact the boxes of ‘Official Cafe du Monde Beignet Mix’ that you can buy in every cooking/souvenir shop in the French Quarter has baking powder in it, not yeast like they use in the shop – so it will sink in the oil when you cook it at home, rather than float on the oil like the ones in the shop do. Our guide Philippe didn’t bother to hide his distaste for Cafe du Monde though. He claims that it was once a GREAT cafe, with the best beignets in town… but now due to the sheer bulk of people they are serving every day they have resorted to putting cornstarch in with the powdered sugar that gets sprinkled on top of the hot fresh donuts. The reason for the cornstarch is that it stays white – pure powdered sugar when put on top of a fresh beignet will just melt and disappear which means this gives them a bit more time to get their beignets from the kitchen to the customer. 

  Philippe, our resident beignet snob recommends instead a place called, ‘Morning Call, (56 Dreyfous Drive, New Orleans) which apparently is one of the only cafes in town making their beignet in the traditional manner and, as a bonus, they have their powdered sugar in a shaker on the table so you can apply it yourself – naturally with no cornstarch! The things you learn. Personally, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the beignets at Cafe du Monde – unless you count being way too sweet for me, as a problem.

Our last stop was a place called Sucre, and I think you can imagine what they were selling here – gelato, truffles, and a myriad of multicoloured macaroons. The smell of the shop would probably be enough to send some into a diabetic coma – and I thought the spice shop was heavy in the air. It was all so very beautifully presented and pretty. We each tried a salted caramel macaroon and some unknown (but thankfully not too chocolately) gelato, before heading on our way again.

        
Over macaroons and gelato, Philippe told us how everyone in New Orleans has a hustle – their entire goal when dealing with the tourist is to ‘get ’em drunk early, and rip ’em off’. Quick easy access to strong cocktails is only where it starts, and the authorities totally turn a blind eye to people walking around stumbling drunk with huge Hurricane cocktails at 4pm. But getting drunk leaves you vulnerable. A guy will come up to you and say “I bet you $10 I can guess how many birthdays you’ve had”, to which a drunk tourist will go, “Yeah ok”. He’ll reply that you’ve had one birthday and the rest have been anniversaries… and the tricked tourist will suddenly find that the prankster has three friends standing nearby to make sure the bet is honoured. Or it’ll be “I bet I know where you got them shoes”, which comes with a banal follow up of: “They is on your feet, in New Orleans” and the same closing in of cohorts. There are so many variations of this sort of bullshit to help lighten tourists wallets. That is of course if they don’t just lift it while you’re distracted that it. It’s not worse, or even that different, to the ‘Buddhist’ in Times Square offering you a blessing on a piece of paper and then trying to charge you $20 for it once you take it and he’s blessed you. It’s one of those things, when you travel, there is always someone looking to take advantage of you. 

There are loads of beggars here, just like New York, only they’re laying around pretending to be drunk and asking for very specific amounts – “Do you have $1.60 so I can take a bus home?” But when you offer them a 1 Day Jazzy Card (bus ticket) they are like, “Ah, don’t worry about it”, and rapidly moving onto the next passer-by. You can feel it in the air, New Orleans doesn’t feel as ‘safe’ to walk around by yourself at night, like London or Tokyo does. Everywhere there’s a hustler and everywhere you go, you’re keeping a tight eye on your belongings and your personal safety… let’s just say it has that Las Vegas kinda feel about it. 🙂 
Anyway, we had a fascinating tour of the Quarter – it is impossible to capture all the anecdotes and cultural tidbits that we picked up. We went through Fencing Alley, where the fencing masters all lived and used their court yards to teach young men how to duel. 

 Duels would be held in the Alley upon matters of honour of course, until the drawing of first blood, as this was quite the acceptable way to resolve manly disputes. The duelling masters however started to run into trouble when people realised they could duel with pistols. Of course pistol duelling had a tendency to be far more deadly and couldn’t be conducted in the back alley between the Rue Royale and Rue Chartres, so they would take their pistol duels out of town to meet in the Oak Alleys… until duelling with guns become outlawed. Strange that… start killing one another with guns and we will make some laws against it (shame that never truly caught on). 

 We also went by the Pierre Mastero which is now a restaurant and bar but was originally one of the largest slave exchanges in New Orleans. We also stopped by Jamie Hayes Gallery – Jamie is a colour blind local New Orleans artist who used to sell his drawings and paintings on the fence around Jackson Square, but whose work is so in demand he now has his own gallery. I love his sense of fun, and the local flavour to his work. 

      

It was a great day out with lots of yummies to sample and lots of interesting history, and there’s no way I needed dinner after all this!