Chicory coffee tastes like an ashtray. No wonder Scarlett O’Hara was dreaming of drinking real coffee “when the war is over.” But when you are in New Orleans you get chicory coffee and a beignet from Café du Monde and you enjoy it. Later I have even updated my Facebook status to “craving Café du Monde chicory coffee and beignets.” I bought a can of chicory coffee and brought it home, exposing others to it, forcing them to fake liking it, too. The can was yellow with a landscape of the French Quarter on it, featuring Café du Monde next to Jackson Square, where I would sit, drinking the atrocious coffee and eating the beignet. The thing about eating doughnuts is that you get powdered sugar everywhere and then the ants and bees will come. And the thing about drinking coffee in a park, or a square, is that you will eventually have to pee. This moment you have carefully planned to be one of those spontaneous travel memories is shadowed by the impending search for a restroom.
The whole week I spent in New Orleans, the French Quarter, I sat in Jackson Square every day, drinking my ashtray coffee and eating my beignet. In Jackson Square you can see the clock of St. Louis Cathedral, and I was always giving it side-glances, hoping for it to indicate dinnertime to put an end to the park-sitting. Dinner is another thing-to-do in New Orleans. Everyone and their maman is always raging about Louisiana cuisine. I ordered jambalaya on my first night and almost threw up after biting into a piece of gristle hiding inside the boudin. I would always go to dinner too early and end up being the only one at the restaurant, which is one reason I carried the copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with me. I had bought the book from the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil theme shop in Savannah the previous weekend; a Savannah-thing-to-do, I suppose. The other reason was for the days of ashtray chicory coffee in Jackson Square. Reading the book in Vieux Carré made me wish I was in Savannah still–which is how I would later feel about the French Quarter when I was sitting in a square in Oulu, Finland, reading Anne Rice. After dinner I would wander around the Quarter trying to stumble upon a smoky jazz club but because it was so early everything was closed, so I would just go to my hotel, The Dauphine, on the corner of Toulouse and Dauphine. My room was in a former carriage house and it was beautiful: high ceilings, the old sturdy wood structures visible, and haunted of course–and so I just stayed in bed telling myself I would go out to stumble upon smoky jazz clubs later but never did, staying in and watching Seinfeld reruns instead. My few photos of me from the Carré were taken by strangers, and I have a suspicious look on my face, probably because I was worried over them stealing my camera. In a soldier’s memoir I read on the American Airlines plane to Louis Armstrong Airport, the American troops in Iraq were taking touristy pictures in front of landmarks: at least they had someone to take photos of them. Someone they knew and were looking back at with smiles from the photos: Jack goes over the wall in Az Zafaraniyar, and there was someone to snap a photo right when Jack-the-Marine’s foot scaled the white wall that could be culled from a photograph of the wall surrounding St. Louis Cemetery #1. I took a guided tour of it and the caricature-like Creole guide said “if you get lost don’t cry ‘help’ because I will run like Katrina and get the cops because the cemetery is where criminals stalk their prey.” He said yell ‘Marco’ and I will yell ‘Polo’ until we find each other. Later in Jackson Square I whisper-shouted ‘Marco’ but there was no ‘Polo’. St. Louis Cemetery #1 is on the edge of Tremé, the neighborhood west of the French Quarter, and before I came to New Orleans I had watched the TV-series by the same name and really wanted to see the neighborhood, as well as all the vampires’ hunting grounds mentioned in Anne Rice’s novels. Somewhere in the shadows the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt was waiting for me.
The day I was going to leave the Quarter I walked purposefully along Rampart Street that lines the Quarter in the West, only they don’t say ‘East’ or ‘West’ in New Orleans; they say upriver or downriver. I never knew what way the river floated so I simply stopped asking for directions and stayed within the borders of Vieux Carré. When I stepped off the sidewalk to cross Rampart and enter Armstrong Park I felt dizzy in the sunlight suddenly hitting me on the wide street and retreated back to the shade of lace balconies. I kept to the thirteen by eight blocks lined by Rampart Street, Canal Street, Esplanade Avenue and the Mississippi, not being able to cross the invisible border but looking longingly to the other side. I left the Quarter only twice: once to go see the St. Louis Cemetery #1 and a second time to get tattooed on Frenchmen Street, in the Fauborg Marigny, the neighborhood north of the Quarter.
My tattoo appointment was on the last day of my visit and after I got back I went to have a beer at Rubyfruit Jungle, a bar I had read about in Lonely Planet: New Orleans. The bar had a ghost and a manager with a dog called Deogy, which I only later realized to be D.O.G., and at that moment there was only an ancient gay man patronizing the bar. He bought me an Abita, or “Habita, as I like to call it,” and said he used to live in Alaska in the 1960s when the state was filled with cowboys, and if I wanted to get in trouble that’s where I should be. I silently agreed with him. A girl with dark hair and Abita-colored skin came in and sat next to me and asked me where I was from. I said Finland but she heard England, and I never corrected her. She said she was from New Mexico, but I heard only Mexico. “Ah,” I said, “that explains your look.” She stared back at me blankly and I said “want to get something to eat?” We walked up or downriver on Decatur Street and she wanted to hold hands. I said ok but she was short and I was tall even back then so I kept having to skip awkwardly to keep pace. I held her hand anyway. We sat down to eat at a restaurant I had been to many times, although none of the staff remembered me. They should have: I was wearing the same rust-red hoodie. I had only packed one long-sleeved shirt, a Hard Rock Café London hooded jacket. It was the South and I thought it would be hot. We both ordered a muffuletta with pork and I only ate half of mine because the girl didn’t finish her sandwich. I was starving but I didn’t want to seem gluttonous. She was staying at the Monteleone in the corner of Royal and Iberville, sharing a room with her dad who she was in town with for a real-estate conference; he was at the Carousel Bar in the Monteleone downstairs lobby, would I like to have a drink with them? Sure I did and we spent two hours drinking Abita at the revolving carousel bar.
“Installed in 1949, the 25-seat bar turns on 2,000 large steel rollers, pulled by a chain powered by a one-quarter horsepower motor. Patrons circumnavigate at one revolution every 15 minutes, but the ride doesn’t end there. Since 1949, some of its riders’ most creative ideas, inspirations and business deals have been shaken and stirred to fruition here, not to mention some of the best spirits.”
I was telling funny anecdotes and they both laughed, the dad and the girl, and she told me she was adopted. From Mexico. Ha! We went upstairs to their room, without the dad, and had half-clad drunken sex and she cried “oh shit” when she came–a detail I had forgotten until I heard the moans in The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy monologue in Wilmington, North Carolina at a performance of The Vagina Monologues–and I said I had to go, had an early flight. I took the elevator down and the carousel spat me out the front door and I had to ask the doorman for directions to my hotel. He said just go two blocks upriver. When I got home to Finland I posted an album on FaceBook: New Orleans, LA, 11/2010 and only I then did realize I'd never taken a photo of the Mississippi. I googled one up and added it to the album, to my memories.
About the author:
Katja Huru is a native of Finland and graduating in May with a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Degree from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is also a copy editor and staff reader for Palaver, UNCW’s interdisciplinary journal housed in the Graduate Liberal Studies department. Katja’s main area of research interest is fantasy literature from a gender studies point of view, and she is in the process of writing her MALS final project: a collection of researched non-fiction essays linked together through a theme of young adult heroines in fantasy literature. She does not like chocolate, but loves coffee, cake, and vampires.