Updated: Jul 25, 2020
10th June 2020
Awakening to my new life in New Orleans, I pried my collective conscious away from the sandy grasp of sleep, looked about my new cosy little bedroom and, taking particular note of how sweet Foxy looked sprawled out on his new vintage (Prince Foxworth Throne) chair, I also allowed my slumberous vision to fall upon the sleeping face of my bandmate, Twiggman.
With a few grey hairs spiralling out from a frizzy crown that shone in the soft light of morning, and with his deep brown eyes still not quite yet acclimatised to a morning without spectacles, I decided then and there that Twiggman was officially old… and I prepared myself to tell him all about it. Because it was, after all, officially his day of birth.
When previously asked what he would like for his birthday, Twiggmans only request was this:
“I just wanna’ get far away from Florida, girl.” He had stated.
And with grand plans to fly us both to the moon and back within this artistic journey of ours, I had promised to make his request a reality.
So, there we were; freshly arrived to the city and ready to explore our new home in NOLA, Twiggman’s day of birth upon us and about 700 glorious miles between Florida and ourselves. Mission officially accomplished.
With the croak of a morning voice still clinging to me like a frog to a lily pad, I began to ceremoniously sing to Twiggman of the Happy Birthday Song. And when I arrived at the “to you,” part of the song, Twiggman croaked over my melodies, chiming in in the same swampy fashion as the frog and swiftly redirecting the birthday song on towards me.
“It’s your birthday too, girl,” he continued. “Remember we said we was gonna’ celebrate them both togetha?” His question, rhetorical.
I gave Twiggman an unimpressed look then very quickly decided each and every day to be a day worthy of being celebrated, and smiled a cheeky, childlike smile.
“Happy birthday to meeeeeeee.” I continued, surrendering to the moment whilst stretching and wiggling my morning toes awake.
“Happy birthday girl.” Jason confirmed, wiggling and waking his too.
After getting dressed and ready for the day, Twiggman and I put our end-of-the-world- face stompin’ boots on and, in order to properly familiarize ourselves with the area, decided to venture into the French Quarter upon booted foot in order to fully soak in the essence of the city. We only lived a ten minute drive from the quarter, through a singularly straight and easily navigable road, of which, promised to lead us directly to the quarter. Walking it wouldn’t take too long. So, with a few dollar bills stapled to Twiggman’s t-shirt (in keeping with the New Orleans birthday tradition), we began to mosey on down into town.
Through the Lower 9th Ward we began; curiously gazing through the distressed shacks whilst little beads of sweat began to populate our backs. Beneath a seriously dodgy bridge, we walked and casually, I held firmly onto my leather shoulder straps. Over a claustrophobic bridge we passed, where the brown murkiness of the Louisiana River, unlike most of us, ran on without consciousness of its colouring: An unused bridge to the right, swallowed up by the water like a forgotten damn. No one missed it. Train tracks, emerging from browned bodies of water, afloat with rubbish, as if it were just natural… until eventually, we found ourselves on Royal Street.
Rue de Royal would lead us directly to the French Quarter of NOLA, therefore, we
went full steam ahead… quite casually of course. There, I embraced the stillness of the residential neighbourhoods and, strolling through the streets beneath the bushel of many a luscious tree whilst straying off-road without need for a sidewalk, Twiggman and I jaywalked our ways across those concrete streets and absorbed absolutely everything.
The residential houses, once again, were made up of all different kinds of colours, shapes
and sizes. Bicyclists cycled around everywhere, scenting my interest with their sense of personal community. Jazz music floated out of one window. Funk and then Punk out of another. And, as they met in mid-air somewhere above us, they pirouetted through the tall trees, head banged across the hot breeze and smashed their sounds together coolly as if they were playing patty cake.
Like a rainbows end, the colourful smudge of graffiti met upon a once-featureless wall, splashing, mashing and composing, in a Beethoven fashion, great masterpieces upon them that depicted black African queens and the importance of educational as well as spiritual means.
And entangled in almost every single fence that stood guarding its residence was the seductive vine of the Jasmine.
Being my favourite aroma above all other aromas, I inhaled that divine perfumery with a great and sensual breath. Jasmine; with its sweet pockets of potent nectar perfuming the air all around. Jasmine; with its long green vines winding provocatively to no end, wrapping themselves against a metallically fenced embrace before, like a grown ass woman, venturing out onto the streets aimlessly-yet full of intention… with nobody to tell her a damn thing otherwise.
As I passed by the multitude of pungent rubbish bins that sat so fatly upon the streets that I
almost said ‘excuse me’ on my way by, the unique aroma of sweet jasmine petals mixed in, somewhat harmoniously, with the distinct scent of warm rubbish baking beneath the Louisiana sun. And that unique Frankenstein of a fragrance, like a beautiful ghoul in the deep of the night, followed us for many blocks.
“So… this is what New Orleans smells like,” I began, inhaling deeply with a romantic twinkle in my eyes, “warm rubbish and sweet, succulent jasmine.”
Twiggman nodded, smiling in acknowledgement.
After meandering down Royal Street for about half an hour, the homely mama-style kitchens that were randomly peppered throughout the neighbourhoods began to multiply in their
numbers… until we eventually found ourselves in the quarter of New Orleans.
Still in the midst of a global pandemic, the city had only very recently gone into phase one of reopening after the shutdown, which meant that many venues were still not yet open and those that were, had strictly enforced rules regarding customer capacity and the use of face masks. The streets were still quite empty and there was an unusual quietude about the place. It was a perfect time to get to know the city.
The first shop that caught my eye was a mysterious little place of voodoo that sat perched upon a quiet intersection. My interest was piqued. New Orleans is known, in particular, for its voodoo; a type of religion originating from African slaves that is very deeply connected to nature, spirits and ancestors; all of which speak deeply to the spirit within me. Thus, the spirit of New Orleans had even begun speaking to me in many different ways. So, moving forward in curiosity, I entered the voodoo shops dark doors of mystery and wonder… only to be met with a young man that simply said, “No mask, no enter.”
Immediately, the spell of magic was broken and the reality of our present circumstance reared its ugly, infectious head. The time for magic was not yet upon me. One must truly earn such things of a place anyway.
Back in Florida, I had rarely found that I left the Garden of Eden (why would one?). And when I did, I steered clear of people but didn’t wear a mask. Every state had different expectations and for us, it wasn’t enforced. However, things were a little different in NOLA. They had apparently been hit pretty hard by Covid 19 and weren’t taking any chances. The people that were on
the streets were all masked up and every venue entrance had signs instructing of the masks necessity. So, Twiggman and I swiftly dropped into the next tourist shop and picked out a couple of New Orleans style face masks. My mask depicted a jazz cat playing the saxophone and Twiggman’s; a Fleur-de-lis: The symbol of The Crescent City. We each ceremoniously attached our masks to the wagging of our chins, tried to breathe normally, laughed at Twiggman’s steamed up spectacles and unceremoniously joined the masses in the wearing of trendy face masks.
Many of the buildings in the quarter had balconies. In all their various shapes and sizes, the verandas, some proudly-some loosely, wrapped their arms around the crown of each establishment, unafraid of PDA; many, with the residue of last year’s carnival still clinging to the black iron bars from whence their counterparts were once thrown, in round, metallic balls of yesterdays fun. Carnival in New Orleans, I imagined, would certainly be an extra-terrestrial experience.
The buildings in the quarter were old and beautiful. And their presence nurtured a place deep inside of myself. As a little girl, I had the distinct pleasure of growing up beside a backdrop of some truly ancient British history, such as the ruins of King Arthur’s castle, yet when I moved to America, even as a little girl the fake, plastic Floridian style houses had always unsettled me. However, as I stood there looking around at the crumbling aged red brick, the cracked beige paint that wordlessly peeled away from the open French doors, and that poles that fist bumped the firm hands of history, I felt a strange sense of home return to me.
It wasn’t long before Twiggman and I were stopping into different venues in order to sample their wares and treat ourselves to some serious birthday delights. Rolling into a place called Mambos upon the soft of the afternoon breeze, we sat there drinking awhile, watching pedestrians pass us by through the open window and there, washed down by a local amber beer, is where I tried my first order of Cajun Creole French Fries.
After having previously been in a serious slump that seemed to have held captive my appetite, there in New Orleans, my once subdued appetite sat up from its shallow grave, shoved way the dirt and instead shoved a few of those crispy crawfish cream-drenched French Fries into itself and, enlivened by a whole new style of food and flavours, my appetite proceeded to somersault right out of its own self-imposed coffin.
I wasn’t a stranger to the tasty tales of NOLA; the best Gumbo on Earth, the myth of the most delectable gator tail Po’boys this side of the sun and the stories of a culinary saucery, so bewitching, that one couldn’t help but succumb to its spell. I knew then and there, as I reached the bottom of that bountiful bowl, that New Orleans would undoubtedly take me upon an incredible food journey. As I looked down at my bandmate and mine’s skinny little ragamuffin frames, the timing couldn’t have been better.
After my taste buds had been sufficiently revived with mouth to sauce resuscitation, Twiggman and I made our way up to the bar balcony in order to digest and see the city from a new and elevated perspective. At the top of the three story building, the sun shone down upon us with a gentle kind of affection and, as the warm breeze caressed my sun kissed skin, I looked over the city of New Orleans.
In the same diverse fashion that I had come to love, below us lay small brick enclosures, Creole style cottages, beaten down Spanish slate roofs and tall high rise buildings that ascended out of the city like a mountain rising up through the force of shifting tectonic plates. New Orleans was truly a unique and beautiful city and up there on that balcony, as the sweet aroma of jasmine and rubbish floated through the melodically saturated air and my appetite purred like a contented cat, I got the distinct feeling that I may end up staying in NOLA a bit longer than expected.
Back on the city streets, Twiggman and I continued our perusing, drinking, celebrating and embracing a new life lived. Eventually, we slid into a dim hole in the wall called the Three Legged Dog: a name that not only reminded me of the strange animal-related pub names back home in England, but also a name that reminded Twiggman and I of my mum's dog back in Florida, Skippy; the three legged dog. Twiggman, affectionately, renamed the place after Skippy.
The Three Legged Dog Tavern (aka Skippy’s) welcomed us with saloon style doors that, at its entrance, read “Sorry, we’re open.” The inside of the bar was dimly lit with rays of afternoon sun attempting to pierce through the hot, unconditioned air. It was a simple kind of place with cold beer and hot food and, as I looked upon a flock of colourful regulars that sat gathered around the bar, the tavern felt full of character.
Dipping out to the back for a smoke, Twiggman and I found ourselves in a smoking area-come-crawfish-cookin’ haven. There, leaning over a huge metal cauldron that was powered by a ferocious propane burner, stood Tim. As the propane turned the outside air into a thick, meaty soup, Twiggman and I waded through, took seat in the corner, lit up and looked
upon our new surroundings as if we were watching a food network. Within the cauldron, a heap of authentic Louisiana style crawfish sat boiling. I tried not to think of their fate and dropped into the moment. Tim prepared, cooked and proceeded to box up each order, distributing the boxes to patron after patron as they swung through the revolving doors with red claws inhabiting their hungry eyes. Tim, with his olive skin, dark features, and the kind of smile that made you want to lean up against the moon and fish for stars, was, it appeared, the Craw Daddy King.
When he was done with the task at hand, Tim entertained Twiggman and I with interesting tales of New Orleans; the cuisine, the culture, and the people. Watching the crawfish boil, the potatoes steam, the cobbed corn sigh and the thick seasoning melt over it all in an almost tangible aroma, all whilst listening to the Tales of Tim, we certainly had ourselves a wonderfully interesting and cultural experience. Tim even let me taste my first crawfish boil; “voted #1 by some guy on twitter.” And although I had little to compare it to, I also voted in Skippy’s favour.
Leaving the Three Legged Dog that afternoon feeling culturally satiated, Twiggman and I made one final stop for the day in order to pick up a birthday present that Twiggman wanted to gift to himself.
A few months ago, Twiggman, dressing for one of our more classy gigs at an Art Institute, had decided to step it up a notch and step away from his usual attire of basketball shorts and wife beater. Tentatively, Twiggman had begun to step in a new sense of self and with the help of our fashionista friend, Cydney and her Viking husband, Rusty, the couple had taken
Twiggman beneath their beautifully bejewelled wooden wings and helped him to find his very own look. There was certainly powerful alchemy in that.
The new look for my bass player, Twiggman, consisted of dark fitted jeans, a long sleeved causal dress shirt, (of the rainbow fish variety) and the most important feature of all being: a fedora hat that sat proudly atop of his frizzly little head. Cydney and Rusty had sent me photographs of Twiggman in his new get-up with the wild pride of new parents. They had done well.
During our first official day in New Orleans, and also celebrating his 34th birthday, it was clear that Twiggman wanted to solidify his new look, therefore, we found ourselves leaving an official hat shop with a large, totally oversized official hat box in tow. The contents; a fedora; of the Carlos Santana variety.
With all of our deeds done for the day and the return to home just upon the horizon, Twiggman and I sat upon a grassy verge beneath an iron monument and took rest. There, as the afternoon sun gradually set behind us and as Twiggman fiddled with rolling himself a cigarette, I took a good look at my bandmate, my best American guy friend, my fellow Troubadour of Truth… Elliot Twiggman.
Thinking only to myself, I mused over the importance of relocation. I thought over every single time that I have ever had the chance in which to reinvent myself due to landing in a place where no one bore any preconceptions or expectations of my character, and I honoured the freedom and the necessity that I had felt in that simple act.
I thought over the characters that he and I were choosing to employ in our current collective lives, full time, there in New Orleans; the poet, the bassist, the wordsmith, the spiritualist, the singer, the mandolin player, the artists, the spiritual warriors. And, knowing a little about the power of attraction, I felt a great power swirling around inside of my gut, an incredible energy travelling up the railroad to my chest and throwing my heart beat right off its tracks.
For just as the sun doth try peer through the dark of the clouds, distorted, it will never properly shine. Yet with clarity, with a clear sense of self and a clear blue sky, our divine rays can reach out towards the very heavens themselves. We just have to blow away those dark clouds first. And there is certainly also a great alchemy in that.
Twiggman, looking up from his task at hand, smiled knowingly as if he knew a thing or two about blue skies, divinity and reading minds.
“Happy Birthday to us, girl.” He smiled.
“Happy Birthday, Twiggman.” I sighed, happily.
And with that, the sun set against a perfectly cloudless, jasmine and rubbish scented sky.
April Lee Fields
April Lee Fields