Nude, Neon, New Orleans

Ahoy! Here’s a wee snippet of the latest chapter… the second last one. The end is nigh! Let me know what youse think of it.

When Maggie and I eventually reach downtown New Orleans, we stroll to Canal Street, the eastern hem of the French Quarter. The street is grand, wide and punctuated by a scatter of palm trees, white tableclothed sidewalk cafes and the occasional neon alligator. Aged maroon-sided streetcars roll by, rumbling through the humid evening, windows open to breathe in the promise of imminent rain.

By the time we cross Canal, we realise that this is a city seriously committed to intoxication. What an impressive number of very drunk people there are on the streets on a Monday evening! We watch, fascinated, as one would-be smoker makes seven separate fumbling attempts to light his cigarette, burning his nose and staring at the match with surprise after each failed attempt.

We consult our crumpled map. Earlier, when we asked Candace our hotel concierge for directions to the French Quarter, she appeared to think we had, in fact, asked about the success of her recent nude calendar shoot. An easy mistake to make. She anchored the hotel’s map stack with an ample bosom as she talked us through her portfolio.

“I only do tasteful nudey work,” the 50-something calendar girl informed us, flicking from August to September, a month that revealed her every asset in stark detail.

“See, tasteful,” beamed Candace.

“Such an interesting, ehm, arrangement,” I stuttered, acknowledging the tangle of limbs.

“Wonderful lighting,” said Maggie, grabbing a map while Candace rearranged her cleavage.

Our liberated map leads us along Royal to Bienville to the famed Bourbon Street, which displays levels of drunkenness higher than any I have seen since the terrifying night I coincided with Irish high school exam results night in Galway.

Blues, Cajun and Zydeco blares out of bars and into a melee of sound mid-street. A group of bleary-eyed teens stagger along the street, stopping occasionally to vomit into green neon-lit doorways. In the binge-drinking Olympics, Ireland and Scotland might take the gold and silver, but New Orleans gets the bilious green.

Red neon blazes “Oysters” and “Hand Grenades”, yellow proclaims “Hurricanes” and “Zydeco” and blue announces “Daiquiris” and “Gumbo Ya Ya”. It’s a brilliant shock of colour, noise and character. We admire a red neon-lit sign states, “Big Daddy’s World Famous Love Acts”.

“Wonderful lighting,” says Maggie.

Leaving Bourbon Street behind, we pass a dreadheaded woman rocking out on reggae flute, a straggly duo playing folky guitar and a sliver of a man concentrating intently on interpreting country classics on the xylophone.

Night has fallen on the Crescent City and it has a delicious sense of possibility. There is a mischief and an irrepressible energy on these streets. We stroll the streets until we’re sure that Candace has finished her shift.

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