Monday, January 13, 2014

Sensory Overload in NOLA

Rolling through NOLA on my cruiser

In the long bleak days and nights of winter, sometimes it’s necessary to shake things up a bit.  Throw one self into what one can only described as a sensory overload.  Most winters, I get my fix by going to Obrich botanical gardens every few weeks.  I sit in there, in the fake yet lush ecosystem, and let the scents, colors and humidity wash over me. 

This winter, I knew those short lived and meager trips wouldn’t provide the sustenance I needed to survive several months of bone chilling cold.  Instead of picking someplace truly tropical to visit, like Hawaii or the Caribbean, I decided to go Cajun and head down to New Orleans. 

The birth of this idea began with an old friend getting a job down in Lafayette, Louisiana.  I had always wanted to spend time in NOLA, and explore the city in a non-touristy way.  I saw this as the perfect chance and I bit.  I couldn’t help it.  The lure of fresh raw oysters, jazz, vibrant colors, diverse architecture and relative warmth was too much for me to turn down.  I wanted everything that Wisconsin wasn't.

After doing some research on neighborhoods and places to stay, we settled on a mother-in-law cottage in the Bywater district—just across the canal from the famed lower ninth district.  From what we could tell, this place offered everything we could possibly need:  privacy, a kitchenette, a great jazz bar just down the street and two cruiser bikes to use as we wished.  I was sold on the bikes; my friend was sold on the “hot rocker chic” who owned the cottage.    Perfect for all!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know my other two-wheeled love is the motorcycle.  The very same friend, whom I was meeting down in NOLA, had also treated me to motorcycle rides in Madison when he came through this past summer.  The offer stood to have him pick me up at the airport, via motorcycle, as long as I could find a helmet that fit.  In a matter of seconds, I had multiple offers—all from cycling friends I have to add—and it was set.  My journey South would go from four wheels, to two wings, to motorized two wheels and finally to human powered two wheels.  Planes, trains and automobiles in the most obscure way.

Thanks to a cycling friend, I had my helmet!

There is no way I could write about all the amazing things that blew my mind in New Orleans.  You'll just have to go down there and experience for yourself.  I will, however, give you snippets of why I am now in love with this place.

-Stepping off the plane and into 45 degrees from -12 in Wisconsin.  I could have worn shorts, and yet all the locals had down parkas, hats and mittens on.

-Color everywhere!  Public art is the norm here, not the exception.  Crayola painted houses, murals, sidewalk art, sculpture, brightly painted beach cruisers--this ain't Wisconsin.

So often I would see bikes matched with houses.

One of the Bywater/Marigny cottages

Riding through Bywater

I fell in love with the murals!
-Music poring out of every window.  No need to visit Bourbon Street...each neighborhood has it's own smattering of performance spaces.  I got treated to jazz, ragtime, drum line, afro-caribbean, r&b, and blues.  My favorite, however, had to be a band called Tuba Skinny.

-People are nice here.  I mean really nice.  I always knew if I was walking or biking past a local or a tourist.  The locals would always say something like "Hey y'all, how ya doing?"  It took me two days to realize this was just what they do, and I love it!

-You can strike up an amazing conversation with just about anyone.  Each person I talked to had a life story I could probably write a book about.  James and I met a guy who just moved back to NOLA, after leaving Hawaii.  He left NOLA after being stuck in the floods from Katrina and then chose to make a lava field on the Hilo side of the Big Island his home.  When the lava took over his home, he moved back.

-"If you find a vegetable or piece of fruit, eat it!  You don't know when you'll find one again"  These were the wise words from an old neighbor of mine, who grew up in NOLA.  I thought he was joking until...

Oysters are sea vegetables right?
-Roads are for walking on, sidewalks are meant for placing trash.  Even if the sidewalks were clear of old x-mas trees and trash bins, they are impossible to walk on in most neighborhoods.  Very narrow, heaved in every which way and sometimes non-existent.

If we weren't forced to walk in the street, I never would have seen this.

-Cats rule all.  I'm guessing it's the rat problem that made everyone get a cat, but they are everywhere!

Bywater cats
-Don't even try to figure out the pronunciations of street names--just ask a local.  I thought my French would help me there.  Ha!  Each name has been skewed in some odd fashion.  It bugged the shit out of me in the beginning, but I went with it and won't go back. "Burgundy" will always be "burrGUNDee" from this point forward.

-I really like Abita Jockamo beer!  As well as fresh and charred oysters from Felix's.

-Biking on miles at a snail's pace on a beach cruiser can be fun.  Besides, the pot holes are the size of houses on some streets so 40mm tires are a godsend.  I saw one roadie the entire time and thought he was crazy.

Food and bikes...yep, this sums up most of my life

A really cool kid's CSA building made from containers

A fantastic bike shop in the Marigny neighborhood--they sell fatbikes to hunters!

Can't say NOLA has a lot of safe biking, but they are coming along

Lower 9th "make it right" homes

CBD/Warehouse riding

-Nitro cold brew coffee is really the true ambrosia.  Get it at District 9 along with crazy doughnuts like Chinese Five Spice or Vietnamese Coffee.

-The Besthoff Sculpture Gardens is one of the best sculpture gardens I've been to.  There were three pieces there which actually changed my life.  GO!

My new favorite sculpture

-The Lower 9th Ward isn't sketchy at all.  I saw 110 out of the proposed 150 green homes being built by Brad Pitt's Make it Right Foundation.  It is worth a visit.

Make it Right green homes

So here I sit, back in Madison, already dreaming about my next visit to Cajun country.

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