Monday, November 29, 2010

Chili Cook-Offs, Charlie Chaplin, and I am Moving to Louisiana

All of the best cities have a huge park as one of their central features. San Francisco has Golden Gate Park, New York has Central Park, Mexico City has Chapultepec. This rule applies in New Orleans as well, at City Park, which has been converted from its original use as a plantation to a municipal gathering place with attractions as varied as golf courses, tennis courts, equestrian centers, amusement parks, various lakes of different sizes, and the New Orleans Museum of Art. The park was founded in 1854, and is famous for its large population of ancient oak trees, some of which have been alive for over 600 years.

I explored the impressive sculpture garden and much of the grounds in search of a miniature railroad that I had read about. I started to feel a bit crazy though, roaming amongst the old oaks snapping photos of tiny tracks and four-foot-tall railroad crossing signs, with no trains in sight. I finally asked a ticket taker in Storyland* where the elusive locomotives could be found, and she explained that the park was closed and they were in some sort of lock down before they would appear for some sort of exclusive holiday fairytale party later that evening. I tried to reason with her, explained that I was a famous blogger who had travelled thousands of miles in search of these famed masterpieces of miniature engineering, but she would not budge on the topic. That did not stop me from creeping around the perimeter trying to peer through the fences to get a peek, but the best I could manage was this picture of the Old Lady that lived in a Shoe before being apprehended.

Later, from the town jail...**

That evening was my last night in New Orleans and I went to a chili cook-off fundraiser for an amazing thespian called Veronica Russell, who adapted a 1925 Texan woman's autobiography into a one woman play and will travel through Canadian Fringe festivals this summer performing it. I was amazed at how unique*** chili can be! We voted on twelve varieties, listened to a honky-tonk band called The Wasted Lives, and watched Charlie Chaplin's hilarious silent film, The Gold Rush, with live piano accompaniment.

Sitting alone, I seemed to attract the attention of a lot of other solo chili eaters. First, I was accosted by a man that looked exactly like Elvis Costello who asked if the music was "heavy metal." I took this to be sarcasm but apparently I was incorrect, and he accused me of misleading him into believing I was smart by wearing glasses, when in fact I knew nothing. I then met a San Francisco expat who explained that the magic of New Orleans lies in the constant activity and entertainment coupled with low low prices and unemployment so rampant that nobody worries about it anymore. Accordingly, they are "poor, happy, and don't mind!" It made perfect sense to me.

I went home early that evening for a good night's sleep, as I planned to take the Southern Chief to nearby Lafayette the next morning for some serious Cajun culture.


*The children's fairytale and folk story park, who's name seemed inappropriately similar to Storyville, New Orleans' historic red light district.
**Just kidding!
***And difficult to digest in large quantities

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