Every night from about 7pm, a queue gathers on St Peter’s Street in New Orleans. There aren’t many venues in this town which attract quite so much attention, but the Preservation Hall is on the “must do” list of almost every guidebook. So it’s strange that on my three previous visits here, I’ve never got round to experiencing it.
It looks like the oldest building on the block, but the Preservation Hall was only established in 1961 to uphold the traditions of New Orleans Jazz. “Ain’t noooo Dixie here!” emphasises the drummer at the start of the show. The small room can probably hold about 50 people and there are three shows each night.
There are other places to go where you’ll get more than four or five songs, and won’t be promptly ushered out at the end. But there are few places where you really do feel part of history. Only a handful of the audience gets to sit down, there’s no bar and no bathroom. But not one person leaves disappointed. Best of all, there a strict ban on any form of photography, which sets this performance ahea of any other.
Breakfast is something of an option in New Orleans. Sometimes it’s consumed before you’ve been to bed, and sometimes it’s politely skipped. But eventually, everyone needs a hangover cure, and they don’t come better than these.
The Beignet is made from a deep fried Choux pastry and originates in France. You’ll need lots of water to go with these, some to wash down the delicious snack and more to wash your hands of the excessive icing sugar. Two tips : don’t wear dark clothing and, if sitting outside, ensure you’re downwind or it could get messy.
The best Beignets reputedly come from the Cafe Du Monde near the French Market. But there are other markets springing up across New Orleans, supporting the bustling artists trade. Back on Frenchman, as the sun goes down, you can buy paintings, jewellery…
Just about everything…
Since 1973, when it was featured in the James Bond film Live and Let Die, the city’s fascination with death has been well documented. It might seem morbid, yet each time I come to New Oreleans I secretly hope to stumble across a street funeral. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for the cemeteries.
Every stone tells a story, and in Lafitte Cemetery Number 1, there are thousands. These are some of the better kept ones; many of the monuments here are crumbling, although rich local families and benefactors continue to pay for restoration projects. Some guidebooks and hotel concierges will recommend you only come here on an organised tour. Don’t bother – you may not be lining the coffers of the coffins.
And finally, to the shoreline of one of the greatest rivers on earth.
The mighty Mississippi – not with the traditional steamboat Natchez but a craft which demonstrates how important this river still is for trade. Forget any romantic notions you might have had. This is still an industrial heartland.
And still an enormously special part of my heart.