4:30. In the morning. My eyes spring open and I'm instantly wide awake. Of course I don't know that it's 4:30 am immediately, I have to first grope for the clock and peer at it in the gloom. Yep, my instincts were right- it's the middle of the bloody night.
I don't have to be awake yet, but it's the excitement that has my body impatient to be up and away. Because today I'm off to New Orleans to meet up with some of the people who have become my best mates and confidantes over the past several months- it's finally here- The Tarts do the Big Easy. Of course, I now have a few hours to kill.
Laura's husband takes us to the airport (I am currently residing in their basement, long story) and her plane leaves a couple of hours before mine so I have yet more time to kill. Getting more nervous by the minute because I hate flying. And the way my life goes sometimes it would be just typical for me to crash to a fiery death on the way, spoiling everyone's weekend. Well, at least tonight's dinner. I'm sure they would force themselves to go out and toast to my untimely demise with a few hurricanes.
But the plane arrives safely and I have managed to not throw up or run down the isle screaming "We're all going to die" when we landed, and now it's on to baggage claim to meet my taxi buddy, Donna, who has arrived ahead of me from New Mexico. I'm lucky in that I have actually seen a fairly recent photo of her, so I probably won't embarrass myself by having to walk up to complete strangers asking "Are you Donna?" Sure enough, there she is waiting for me right where she said she'd be, and soon we're off to the Villa Convento (immortalized in song as The House of the Rising Sun, and no the irony of us all staying in what used to be a whorehouse does not escape us) to meet the other Tarts. New Orleans looks wonderful- the minute you hit the Quarter you can feel your body and mind relaxing, no doubt absorbing the alcohol fumes right in through your skin. We can't get any information out of our taxi driver, when we ask her what the weather's been like she answers "I don't know." Donna and I exchange looks and give up. However, after spending four days in New Orleans, I believed she might have been telling the truth.
The hotel is gorgeous, just sleazy and run-down looking enough to have character, but clean enough so that you aren't afraid to sit on the toilet seats. We walk through the corridor and into the little courtyard that sits like an oasis of greenery and cool shade with two of our rooms just at the back. We have a mini-squealing session since only Laura and Tracie (she landed from California just a while after Laura) are here at the moment. Paula and Sarah, who have flown in from British Columbia and Upstate New York respectively, have been off foraging for beer, arrive a few minutes later and we squeal and hug some more. It's funny, everyone is just the way I thought they would be, and yet completely different. Sheila staggers in a bit later from her marathon trip all the way from Oregon, and for tonight we are complete. Dana and her husband will drag in late tonight from Georgia and Debbie will arrive in the morning from Florida.
After we toast to Tart friends and drunken debauchery and chat for a while, we head off in search of dinner. We wander around the Quarter, looking like yokel tourists, and get stung mightily for our first meal in New Orleans. Who cares- point us towards the liquor and the young men. While walking down Bourbon Street, before she's had even one whiff of a hurricane, Tracie proves to us that she has not been exaggerating about her accident prone tendencies and twats herself on a hitching post. We all laugh uproariously, sensitive bitches that we are. She manages to find the most hideous pair of Mardi Gras beads available, with huge grinning rubber frogs on them, and the tone for the weekend is set.
We wander around for a while and then fate leads us to "our" place- Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street, the oldest bar in New Orleans, or the country, or perhaps the world, I'm not sure. It's wonderfully dark and smelly and has a terrible piano player who thinks he's Louis Armstrong and makes us collapse with drunken laughter by doing the worst scat this side of Iowa. But it's also full of cute young men, and Tracie finds herself one, plonks herself on his lap and proceeds to entertain him with her rubber frogs. Our waiter is cute and charming and naughty, and also very gay. We've found Nirvana. I am so tired that I can't even get drunk. We finally stumble back to the hotel and all fall into bed sometime after 1am. My roomates and I, Sarah and Paula, natter away until considerably later though, and I would guess the others are doing the same.
Morning dawns bright and beautiful- we drag ourselves out to the courtyard one by one to inhale the wonderful coffee and fat croissants the hotel has provided. We sit around and chat some more, until Dana and Gary make their entrance, followed by Debbie a while later. More squealing and hugging. We sit in the glorious misty sun and gabble away for ages, then hunger finally gets the better of laziness and we go in search of lunch. We do much better this time, finding a wonderful little place off Bourbon Street with yet another courtyard where we can all sit and make spectacles of ourselves. Poor Gary looks not only outnumbered, but I think by the time they left on Sunday he had been exposed to so much estrogen that he started to fancy Ioan a bit himself. And of course Ioan is really the second man in this group, he and his various body parts forms a large part of our conversation, since he really is what brought us all together in the first place. As Debbie so astutely points out during lunch- "There's only one person at this table who doesn't want to boink Ioan." I really do think Gary got away from us just in time though. The lunchtime entertainment (for us that is, for the rest of the diners WE'RE the entertainment) comes in the form of a pair of copulating pigeons, and we applaud and cheer for them. At least somebody's getting some. I try alligator sausage and live to tell the tale
After lunch we mosey down to have a peek at the Mississippi River, and talk some kids into taking photos of us all with the legendary muddy waters in the background. Nobody runs off with anyone's camera so we call it a success. We have to explain to the kids (who are here to perform some musical program) how we know each other, by now we have our spiel down pat though. We do a little shopping (Dana gets to tell off a nasty shopwoman who gets snippy with us in the International Shop while we're rooting for Welsh flags) then head to the famous Café Du Monde for some coffee and beignets to strengthen us up for the walk back to the hotel. A very odd balloon man comes over and chats us up, he's mildly amusing for a few minutes, then we get tired of him and give him bored looks until he skulks off again. After the coffee some of us head back to the hotel for a nap, some of us go for a gawk at the French Market. I go with Tracie while she hunts for frogs, we get a really good look at a fire truck full of cuties, and have to resist the urge to chase them back to the station.We reconnoiter back in the courtyard for some beers and more laughs (one of the other hotel guests remarks that we all have "healthy lungs") and Tracie manages to kill the toilets in two of our rooms. Then eventually we go in search of dinner again, hoping to find another lively place where we can torment fellow diners. On the way to Bourbon Street we encounter several dogs who have escaped their yard owing to the fact that some doofus has left the electronic gate open. Paula, being a good Samaritan, tries to alert the homeowner to this and, attempting to ring the doorbell, almost manages to shut herself in the yard instead. We run off down the street before the police are called. After dinner we meander down Bourbon Street, where we narrowly escape a street brawl when some woman knocks over Laura's beer as she's petting a mounted policeman's horse. I'm sure that only his presence stops her from giving that rude cow a good thumping, what a pity- mug shots would have made such a great souvenir. We then watch the fun in a Karaoke bar for a while (a perky woman named Dorothy sings "These Boots Were Made for Walking" to celebrate her 69th birthday, and we all decide we want to be Dorothy when we grow up), then we find our way to some pit of a club that a local recommended for dancing. The local must have a cruel sense of humor, because when we arrive we're the only ones there and even we can't liven the place up. When they start the music (Songs From the 80's You Never Wanted to Hear Again, apparently) we give it a game old go but eventually give up and scarper, despite the presence of some little cutie there with his big sister to celebrate his birthday. We find a limo full of high school boys and have to stop Tracie from climbing in and going for a spin with them. We head back to Lafitte's to hear more bad scat and torment our cute little waiter- this time we hit the jackpot in the form of a Loyolla student named Jason who falls into our clutches due to being quite drunk. We decide that he looks like Matthew Rhys and re-christen him "Mattie", ply him with Long Island iced teas and maul him for a while, causing him to cry out in humiliation "Mattie is NOT a piece of meat!" A couple more Iced Teas and he doesn't care if we call him Ella Fitzgerald and treat him like a chicken gizzard. Cute little waiter guy is jealous, we think he would love to sit on Mattie's lap too. After poor little Mattie/Jason stumbles off in pursuit of his lost friends a very odd skanky little man, emboldened by our exploits with the boyo, sidles up and asks us if the feather boa he is sporting makes him look gay. Debbie answers "Yes, you look like a f**king faggot." He is oddly insulted by this. Well, he asked. And it's only Friday night.
Saturday starts out slow and lazy, thank God. More coffee and croissants. Tracie isn't feeling well- she says she feels dizzy and queasy and her head hurts, poor thing. It takes her most of the day to realize she's hungover, not being a drinking woman. Some of us recognize the symptoms all too readily. The highlight of the day for some of us is the Cemetery and Voodoo Walking Tour, which turns out to be even more exciting because our tour guide (a great hippie chick type girl who really knows her New Orleans history) nearly has a bust-up with a very rude man at Marie LeVeau's grave. He wants to take a photo, she wants to do her spiel, neither wants to give in. He talks loudly over her like a spoiled three year old while we all look on with wide eyes, secretly hoping there will be punches thrown because she could take the little weasel easy. A compromise is finally reached without bloodshed and we continue. We visit the Voodoo temple, which we find fascinating, and which also gives us a great idea. When we all get back to the Villa Convento (on our way in a carriage tour stops in front of the hotel to tell some wide eyed tourists that this is the famous bordello from the song, and we mug shamelessly for them, offering the men favors for a price and shocking the women) we find a message from Dara, our Louisiana Tart, who has apparently given the desk this cryptic message- "In or around Pat O'Brien's- big hair, big mouth." Okay… and the crow flies at midnight. We rush to Pat O'Brien's and scope around for anyone even remotely fitting this description who looks a bit lost, but we're the only ones in the place who looks like they're looking for someone. After a bit we give up and decide to see if she's gone to the hotel but Paula, Sarah and I stay behind just in case she happens along eventually. Soon we also give up staring down every woman who passes us and go buy more beer. Once we have all finally ended up back at the hotel and had a few beers to recover from the Dara Hunt, we head out on what becomes the Dinner Death March. Sheila has been recommended a restaurant close to the hotel, but some of the paupers in the group balk at the prices, so we trot off in search of cheaper fare. Unfortunately it is Saturday night in New Orleans so everywhere is packed, we stumble from place to place, covering God knows how many square miles, and finally end up at a very cute place that can seat us before dawn breaks- right across the street from the first place. We are grateful that Sheila does not call us all names for the rest of the night or throw salt shakers at our heads. We have a great meal and then it's back to LaFitte's, our place, which is still fun but somehow not the same without little Mattie/Jason. The late nights and alcohol consumption are starting to tell on us, and we finally make our way back to the Villa like zombies.
Sunday morning we lose Donna, who has to catch her plane before any of us are even awake, and Dana and Gary, who have to start the long drive back to Georgia. Much hugging and photo taking, but no whinging, we are Tarts, after all. Gary looks a bit like he's been run over by a street sweeper. We will also lose Debbie later in the day- the trip is winding down. It takes us all even longer to get moving today, several cups of coffee before most of us even bother to get dressed. We're starting to get really attached to this courtyard, not to mention the croissants.
Sarah, Paula, Sheila and I want to see the Garden District, so we take a taxi down to where we can catch the trolley and muscle some wimpy foreign tourists out of our way to make the next one. We get off somewhere in the middle of a tree-lined street because someone has assured us this is the Garden District. We wander down a side street for a few minutes before a kindly little woman tells us we don't want to continue any further in this direction lest we get ourselves mugged- we must have "Stupid Tourists" tattooed on our foreheads. Sheila wisely gives up at this point and decides to catch the trolley back to civilization, but the other three of us hump ourselves on down the street, where we eventually come across a McDonald's, go in for some fries and a coke, and then head back ourselves. So much for the Garden District.
Meanwhile, Debbie, Tracie and Laura are having quite a little adventure themselves. Eagle-eye Debbie spots a small bag on the ground which contains a semi-expensive piece of jewelry from a near-by shop, a quick conference is held between the girls and they decide that if returned to the shop it will probably only be resold. So the consensus is to take it instead to the nearby police station, where for some bizarre reason Tracie, who has been elected to do the talking, is given the third degree and made to wait for ages while they do a background check on her. You would NOT want to do anything criminal in New Orleans apparently, if this is how they treat the honest people. The story has a happy ending though, upon returning home Tracie receives an e-mail from the purchaser- he had bought the jewelry for his daughter's 18th birthday and can't believe that there is anyone honest enough left in the world to have returned it. So now everyone has a great story to tell. And the guy is bloody lucky Tracie found it and not me.
It's Oscar night, and Ioan's film Solomon and Gaenor is up for Best Foreign Film. To give its (rather slim) chances a little boost, we decide to hold a Voodoo-Wicca ceremony in the courtyard, using my knowledge of Wiccan rites and our newfound bit of Vodun. We fashion an altar on one of the tables, with a photo of Ioan and Nia in the center, and offer up our little tidbits- beads, chocolate, a beer, cigarettes, teddy bears- all of our favorite things. We light candles, hold hands and I invoke the Goddess to bring Ioan good fortune, or at least a really good piss-up tonight if it doesn't win. He's at home watching the show on the telly as well, because those Bastards at Disney wouldn't give him one lousy stinking weekend off to go to LA. We vow to boycott them, right after 102 Dalmations. The Christians in the group offer up prayers as well, and we all go in to drink beer, eat burgers and make fun of the show. We leave the altar intact, and I think it scares the hell out of the other guests.
The show is great fun, the highlights being The South Park guys dressed as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez, "Blame Canada", and we all nearly rupture our spleens at King Gimp, non PC bitches that we are. Then it's the BIG MOMENT (and we remark on how odd it is that we're together for this, the New Orleans trip having been planned well before we knew the date of the Oscar telecast) and we all stand up and cheer when we see our boyo in the film clip. He looks gorgeous as earnest Solomon, and sounds like a cat hacking up a hairball speaking Welsh. He still manages to sound sexy though. And the winner is……Pedro fecking Alovar. Well poop. After that we lose interest and escape to Lafitte's.
We're rather subdued, realizing it's our last night together in this magical place, but we have a bit of fun with the waiter and another fella who looks like a slightly more clean cut Jimmy Buffet. We scare some women in the ladies' room when we all huddle around the Elle shot of Ioio and Mattie in women's coats to take our photo with it, but one woman even more drunk than us gamely offers to do the honors. We finally drag ourselves back to the House of the Rising Sun and fall into bed, saying some good-byes at the doors since Sheila and I will leave in the morning.
I'm up bright and early to shower and do my last minute packing. One last cup of coffee and a chat in the beloved courtyard and I'm out to catch the minibus. Only due to some kind of maintenance problem, it isn't a minibus but a black stretch limo- hey, if I have to leave at least I can leave in style. To really cap off the weekend at the next stop we pick up what has to be the cutest high school principal on earth who is returning home after a conference and we have a lovely chat. We finally reach the airport, where I am luckily far too exhausted and hungover to be nervous about the plane, and in no time I'm strapping myself into the seat and it's back to real life, or what passes for it in my universe. It was one of the most enjoyable holidays I have ever had, and the ladies were everything I had hoped they would be but didn't dare to expect. I can't wait until New Orleans 2001, and I hope we can all make it to that one, although the thought does rather boggle the mind.
On a footnote, we never did hook up with Dara, who apparently didn't stumble into Pat O'Brien's until around ten o'clock that night. Of course we don't find this out for ages, owing to a freak e-mail problem we don't hear from her for over a week, and we're certain that she is either still sitting in Pat O'Brien's guzzling hurricanes or has become the prize possession in some Sheik's harem, having been kidnapped and sold into slavery. It just would have been far too easy to have actually planned a meeting in advance. We are Tarts- we may be bi-polar, OCD, have tenuous grips on reality or the ability to invoke natural disasters - but we are not organized. If we were, we could take over the world, but you see- there's that whole effort thing again….
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