New Orleans

Monday 12
Paris-Charlotte: despite the noise, I enjoy the plane's multimedia system. The Adjustment Bureau, Cheaters, Flight of the Conchords...
Charlotte-New Orleans: I am sitting next to a strong, silent type dude watching 24.
I arrive at the Ursuline Guest House in the French Quarter around 6PM, which happens to be wine o'clock in this particular place. I enjoy a good glass of red wine with hosts Bill and Marlin; then a second one; then I ask for a drop and get a full refill, captain's orders; then my memory blurs and I am playing with a set of spoons on a tin washboard with Bill.
There is an "employees only" sign on the door of Room 6B (think: Floor 7½). I crawl into a cramped room full of character. It would look like a suite to submariner smurfs and is quite the atmospheric base of operation if you do not intend to sleep much anyway. Six-feet tall people cannot lay straight on the bed. I hunch my way to the shower then slither back into the bed, where I spend my jet-lag in wonderful half-sleep.

Tuesday 13
I grab a huge, all-encompassing, "All That Jazz" mushrooms shrimps and win sandwich at Verti Marte. I visit the French Market. I buy a superb multi-dyed velvet scarf in Dutch Alley from her very maker, who tells me she likes quiche lorraine. Friendly people all around. I rest a bit in Jackson Square and later take a peek at Greg's Antiques. The magnificent city bathes in infernal heat. I push into the Tremé neighborhood, but it is late.
I try to regain composure inside the scalding hot tub in the courtyard of the guest house.
I am an all-you-can-eat buffet for mosquitoes. By the end of my stay, the little bloodsuckers will have taken more than thirty blood points from me.
At night, I drink a local Abita beer with Jeremy H., a recently arrived French expatriate, at Lafitte's, the oldest bar in the Quarter and hence one of America's oldest.

Wednesday 14
I wander into Louis Armstrong Park. I spend quite some time in the New Orleans African American Museum, set in a beautiful Tremé villa. A French-speaking curator helps me and a couple from Martinique understand the madness that slavery was ("Drapetomania: A Disease Called Freedom") and appreciate the vibrancy of local art. I absorb the beauty of Marcus Akinlana's paintings into my skin and vow to use it as a sadness repellent.
I eat at Lil' Dizzy: salad and fried chicken, rice, red beans, sweet tea. Tasty.
Bill has invited me to a sailing race on his boat. First we stop at a supermarket to buy a few bags of ice. Then we board the Stray Bullet with smiling crew members Kenny, Tucker, Miranda, Thomas, Rachel and Lance. The ship launches into Lake Pontchartrain, where the sky blurs into the sea. We chat, drink cold beer and have good fun while the most dedicated and skilled crew members make sure the ship holds her own in the race. That is a fantastic and precious moment and I am grateful to Captain Bill and his friends for it.

Thursday 15
The weather has downgraded from hellish to very hot. With a dozen other geeks, I follow the man with the hat, cold-skinned Lord Chaz, to St. Louis Cemetery One. Lord Chaz has been a guide in New Orleans for two decades and the layer of stories he adds over churches and crypts makes them pulse with darkness under midday sun. I learn of St. Expedite, of entombed people saved by the bell and of coffins banging against the stone over them.
I devour a half-muffaletta at Central Grocery, treat myself with a Creole praline and head to the Monteleone Hotel to attend the Grand Masquerade convention.
The master of ceremony asks attendees not to wear weapons and not to brutalize each other. America.
I play a first pen-and-paper Vampire game with the Wrecking Crew, the group in charge of this kind of games at the Grand Masquerade. My character somehow survives, thanks to a fragile relationship with Baron Samedi.
I take part to the French Quarter Opening Night Reception, a classy party with beautiful people. I make friends. An acrobat dances in a piece of cloth, suspended under a chandelier, and pours wine into glasses.
After the party, I eat a good hamburger in Clover Grill, a dinner on Bourbon Street, far enough from the noise.

Friday 16
I attend two panels and end up in a gigantic line. Everybody and his fanged cousin wants his version of the Vampire 20th anniversary edition book signed by the authors and contributors. Endless lines are gifts by superior entities to make sure we pay attention to the people around and make new friends.
In the evening, I spend some time at the Bayou Club on Bourbon to find Bill and Lance. T'Canaille performs Cajun music. Frank (Cajun singer), Bill (only musician in the world, he explained to me, to use three-spoons-and-a-fork), Lance (accordion) and four other musicians give the crowd a good time. There is some dancing and a lot of spoon music by many people. "Allons danser!"
A permanent sound battle plays out in Bourbon Street by now. Each bar unleashes insane amounts of decibels onto the street. This is madness. No, this is NOLA!
I retreat with Joe a fellow geek to Clover Grill for another delicious hamburger.
Finding the Canadian-made International Party and exchanging rumors about it makes it all the more fun when it begins at 1AM. The theme is the Prohibition: bathtubs of cranberry-flavored gin are in order. Making friends, chatting.

Saturday 17
The morning begins at noon.
I head at Johnny's Po-Bo and regale myself with a bowl gumbo.
I see things you people wouldn't believe. Chicago Bears trucks worming their way through the French Quarter. I watch break dancers do their thing in the place in front of Jackson Square. All those moments will be lost in time, like an overused movie quote.
At the guest house, I make friends with the week-end guests.
At last, the Succubus Club party begins in the House of Blues on Decatur Street. The venue is a pleasure to navigate. Multiple dancefloors with multiple DJs. Good sound and not too much noise. Open bars all over the place. Performers to amaze us. The high point is a play where actors exemplify seven different kinds of vampires.
A friendly fellow named Doug gives me a cigar. I religiously smoke it all night long while gulping down Abitas and butterflying.

Sunday 18
I play another tabletop Vampire game with the Wrecking Crew. Mike's story of "Great Uncle Victor" is a real treat. The roleplaying experience and effort put into this game by everybody is appreciated. My character tries to kill the guy he was supposed to protect, ultimately fails and ends up in vampiric torpor.
After that, I buy a sandwich at Verti Marte, eat it on a bench in front of the Mississipi (Mississipi!) river. The city is in front of the TV to watch the Saints triumph over the Bears. Who Dat?
I say my farewells to the French Quarter, bathing in its beauty. Then I bathe in the hot tub at the guest house, I take a shower, I drink some water, I drink some wine, I eat some cheese. Time to relax for one last evening in this courtyard.

Monday 19
It rains. New Orleans-Charlotte, Charlotte-Paris. In the plane, strong and silent, I watch the first episode of a 24 season (the one where Jack Bauer kills a guy with his bare mouth, vampire-like on the neck). Arrival at 6:30AM on Tuesday.


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