From Music City to the Big Easy
I was surprised by how easily all the Japanese people in our group breezed through airport security. Also, we got very good service on Southwest--when they saw we were all checking in together, they opened another station just for us. We were met in Nawlins by a driver from Tulane University, who was very friendly and ended up lending me his wife's cell phone. Along the way, he pointed out rings on the pillars supporting an overhead highway--water marks left by hurricane Katrina. Other than that, there was really no sign of that great disaster.
We couldn't find any reasonably priced places where we could all stay--thus a cell phone was quite handy, since we had three different locations. The Japanese consul was very helpful in that regard--I stayed in a condo owned by a Japanese expat. It was a great location, on St. Charles, just across the street from the Garden District. I enjoyed riding the St. Charles streetcar line downtown.
As soon as we got to town, we heard that the New Orleans Museum of Art had arranged a TV gig as a promotion for the Japan Festival at the museum. We were supposed to play on an early-morning show, with our bit starting at 5:30 AM!! Well, I was so worried about not waking up that I didn't get much sleep. However, I put on my kimono and waited in front of my building for the communications director of the museum to pick me up at 4:45--she arrived in a Miata convertible. First time I ever rode in a convertible wearing my kimono. The gig went surprisingly well--I played the shamisen, managing to get it tuned up in very short order. The TV show--Good Morning New Orleans--put our segment on line, but I have since lost track of it.
Our first live gig was at Tulane University, in the Rogers Memorial Chapel, not a very big space, but it turned out to be a good size for the crowd, and the space is more square than rectangular, so it had a nice intimate feeling. The high humidity of NOLA was great for my tsuzumi, and the crowd was pleased.
Part of our group was staying on the other side of the French Quarter, so we made the famous Cafe du Monde our meeting place--even if you get lost, everyone knows how to get there. I went by taxi the first time, but then I took the streetcar the next time, which involved a bit of walking to get to Jackson Square. But the atmosphere was great. We had a nice dinner of local food somewhere in the FQ. But I never had a chance to actually order one of the Cafe du Monde's famous beignets. The day we returned to Japan, somebody had brought a leftover one to the airport, so I got to taste one, although not exactly at the peak of freshness.
Our other gig was the Japan Festival at the museum. I took a taxi over there, and was greeted by a taiko group playing in front of the classically-styled museum building (it is in the middle of a nice big park). We were shown to the board of directors room to use as our dressing room. Nice view of the park, and nice works of art for our exclusive enjoyment. The Festival had lots of things to do--a bonsai corner, tea ceremony corner, flower arranging, origami. I talked to some guys from the NO Zen temple--perfect name!
They were conducting meditation sessions in a room at the museum. The temple was related to the lineage of Harada and I told them I had seen the famous statue of Sawaki Kodo (same lineage) at the temple Sengakuji in Tokyo. Anyway, the museum gig was in a small auditorium, with no backstage space--but it was okay, since we were using the directors' room! This was one of our best and also best-received performances. Just getting it down pat as we came to the end of the tour.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere of NOLA--when we finished our dinner in the French Quarter, we stepped outside to find an impromptu music group. I saw similar groups throughout the area, all without any electricity! YAY! We also went to a really touristy restaurant and walked around Bourbon Street a bit--I was concerned about the group of five Japanese women, one in kimono, in a boisterous crowd of people carrying drinks around. But it was okay. We made our way to Preservation Hall. There was not too much time left in the set, but we went in anyway, and it was great.
The day before we left was a free day. Part of our group decided to do a boat cruise with lunch. I heard about an ethnic festival in Gretna, across the river, accessible by a free ferry. That sounded worth it, and it turned out the people on the lunch cruise were kinda disappointed by the banal scenery. The free ferry was nice, but right after getting off the boat, you had to pay $15 to enter the festival. Well, it was still cheaper than the lunch cruise. They had oysters--but I am not a fan. I went for a brat on a stick with a microbrew, followed by the famous fried green tomatoes and a crawdad fritter. There was a static display of the last locomotive manufactured in Louisiana, right behind the Gretna city hall. There was also a big sign for a bail bondsman, so I figure the city hall must also be the jail and courthouse.
The next day, our flight back to Japan turned out to be the flight from hell! Thank you Continental Airlines--you failed on both trans-Pacific flights! The return flight was even more egregious--flew for two hours, decided to turn back because of non-functional toilets. Fuel tanks had to be dumped in order to land. The next plane took a couple more hours of waiting, and it was still not completely ready. They gave us very 'generous' compensation--a ticket for a free adult beverage OR 10% off on a duty free purchase of more than $75. Guess what--no alcohol on the plane! Somehow I was not in the mood for a duty free purchase that day. Well, at least we made it back, maybe about six hours late.
The restaurant pic shows my preference for candid shots instead of the 'Hai! Poozu!' type favored by the Japanese. So, my apologies to Wada-san for catching her in the middle of taking a bite!