Bagpipes, sheds and shacks

“I’m just practising really,” says Tim. “Security don’t seem to minds me being here so I just stand up and play.”

Tim is typical of them many street musicians I’ve seen performing in New Orleans over the years, with a sense of confidence and determination that people will stop and listen, and – if they like what they hear – stick a couple of dollars in the collection bucket. What’s not so typical, though, is that Tim is playing the bagpipes.

Standing on a memorial, I’d assumed that Tim was connected with some form of historical society, perhaps paying tribute to the Scots-Irish immigrants who moved to the southern states and blended in their music to the rich cultural mix here. But no, he just likes playing the bagpipes. And he’s never been to Scotland. Nothing is ever as it first appears in New Orleans.

I’d read enough about Willie Mae’s Scotch House in the past to know not to expect anything Scottish there either. But Willie’s fried chicken has gained a reputation so good that even President Obama paid a visit. The restaurant is tucked away in a residential neighbourhood that involves a bus rise and a fifteen minute walk. Nothing too taxing, though as a tourist you always get some funny looks that generally say “nobody walks around here”. And today, nobody was – because as I approached the corner shack I saw two ladders leading up to the roof, and a handwritten sign saying “closed today”. Typical – you come 4,500 miles for Obama’s favourite fried chicken and they have the builders in.

The bus takes me back past City Park – one of the many huge green spaces enjoyed by visitors and residents alike. And in the New Orleans Museum of Art, a collection of strange sculptures, including a log cabin painted gold.

It’s not to everyone’s taste, but the gallery has a range of collections both historical and modern. But who needs art to look at when you can collect some yourself from the French Market?

I’m never really quite sure who buys large souvenirs from these places. But if you need an elephant, giraffe or an alligator, you can grab them here. There’s also a sizeable farrmer’s market serving up local delicacies, though I’m in search of the famous New Orleans doughnut/sugar rush the beignet.  Sadly, my usual dealer has shut up shop (and they’re addictive, so that’s an accurate description). I refuse to mix with the vast majority of the tourists who queue for hours at the Cafe du Monde. 

It turns out that my favoured Cafe Beignet has moved just up the street to larger premises. But this isn’t a good move. They’ve expanded into selling a wide range of sandwiches and brunch items – and raised their prices to boot. Bloody tourists. Still, the horses sure do make Jackson Square look pretty.

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