So yes it’s 2008 now, but there’s still one tale left to tell from last year. And that’s my first trip to New Orleans. What I can remember of it anyway.
Last year, Michael Babin and I made a great trip to New Orleans. To place this, I squeezed it in between a Berlin job and going home for weddings/xmas/new year. After the wonderful stoicism of Berlin, New Orleans was like busting into the cookie jar. Except you dunk all the cookies in Bourbon.
New Orleans is just one of those places. The stuff of legend, a bit of voodoo, some Interview with a Vampireness, the French thing that permeates through the city as a lazy humid haze veils the streets, all with a post Katrina washout.
It’s my first time to the South, and yes, it is different down here, ya’ll. And also for the first time, I begin to really grasp what an enormous and varied country America is. A globetrotting Texan friend once said, “Yes America is a mess, yes it’s kind of fucked up, but it is hands down the greatest country on Earth.” And after New Orleans, I began to understand what he meant.
Michael is actually from New Orleans originally and nothing beats exploring a town with a native. There’s something that’s very interesting when you take a person and stick them in their hometown. Michael is a big gentle bear. He’s my height, grey haired, bearded, stocky and just a delightful man. In LA he’s an actor, he looks after a lady who just turned 100, he walks his friend’s dogs, he goes hiking, he’s that guy. But there is something kind of shy and a little reserved about him at times.
But not when he’s in New Orleans. It’s amazing to watch someone on their home turf. We have to stop every half hour or less when we walk around, because someone he knows comes up to say hi. And in the South this is not a short process. I watch him flip from English to French to a bit of Creole and back again, gregariously embracing all who chat. There should be a word for when you discover greater depths to friends and what makes them tick.
But enough of this sentimental dribble. There is a party coming and Michael and I have to be the Belles of the Ball.
People take parties in the South very seriously, and Halloween in NO is no exception. You have to go in a theme and we were racking our brains. But Michael is something of an Einstein when it comes to these things, give him 5 minutes to think and $5 and hey presto, an outfit! Usually a little on the risqué side, topical and always with a social commenting twist.
Previous years’ highlights have included, Buffy the Toiletries Terrorist where he went dressed in a black suit with a turban, spraying cheap cologne on passersby. One year when they recalled frozen spinach here in America, he went as a Spinach Farmer with bib and braces and a tray of free samples to try. But my favorite was the one where he went as a “Guest Worker”.
After Katrina hit, Mexicans moved to New Orleans in droves to work on all the rebuilding projects. And the people welcomed them. But once things were rebuilt, they waited for them all to leave. But the Mexicans decided to stay in the new city that they helped create, so something of a Mexican standoff has ensued.
This was aped perfectly by Michael one year as he wore a poncho made from the kind of blue tarpolin that covers the hole ridden roofs of houses, a massive touristy Tijuana sombrero, with a construction helmet teetering on the top.
So we had our work to do to further the path he’d blazed from the costume shop. At first we were going to go as representatives of Disneyworld Baghdad with the slogan “It’s a small war after all”, but the printing of the t-shirts in the timeframe proved to be an unwinnable battle. We needed an exit strategy.
Michael told me to go for a walk around the town and come back later, see the city while he did a shopping frenzy.
This is when I saw what Katrina had done to the city…