22 May 2017

On the River Road

After a somewhat disappointing time in New Iberia we headed north up the Mississippi to the old river port of Natchez.
New Iberia to Natchez can be straightforward-just take the Interstates. I did not come to see Lousiana from an interstate I wanted to take the river road cross country.
It was not straightforward. Firstly I missed the exit off the interstate and then ignored the GPS's pleas "to turn around when possible". Soon I was completely lost in open country with no visiblity of buildings,people or any other traffic and a GPS which was having a silent sulk. I had to resort to Google maps on my phone and was really surprised to get a strong signal so far off a main highway.
Soon I had found my bearings and enjoyed a long run through glorious open country and beside the levees of the Mississippi. The scale of the dams, locks and sluice gates and earthworks along this lower stretch of the river is extraordinary. Most were constructed in the 1930's after the great flood of 1927. The cost must have been enormous. Not much chance of getting that sort of expenditure approved by the Senate in today's America.
The country is very flat farmland given over to growing cotton and cereals. One hundred years ago the area would have been full of people - former slaves or descendants of slaves who worked the cotton fields. Now they have all but gone. The great flood of 1927 displaced many and they went north to the booming factories for work. Then in the second world war many more moved north to work in the munitions factories and at the same time mechanisation changed the cotton industry.
Today the landscape is littered with abandoned homes and churches. The few very smart homes you can see are those of the farm managers who run the farms for the corporate owners.
There was very little traffic on the excellent roads although I did come across some seriously big farm machinery moving between paddocks.

Jesus did not save. An abandoned baptist church.

A family once lived here-cotton pickers.
Blowing in the wind-windswept road . The delta is flat and featureless.

We arrived in Natchez at around midday and soon found that despite the enthusiasm of the guidebook this is another town where its best days are way behind it. The main streets have a melancholy air and many shops are shut-for good. However we found a great cafe for lunch and I had a plate of gumbo and an excellent local pale ale.
During its halcyon days Natchez was a major river port and the commercial centre of the south where boats discharged goods bought from up north and loaded cotton for shipment back up the river. Now river cruise boats are the main source of tourists.
The faded romance and history of the old river towns cannot match the lure of cheap airfares and cruises to the Caribbean.

Even the town's plaque has seen better days
Gumbo-fine if you like okra.

19 May 2017

Sad New Iberia

After 5 days in New Orleans we ventured north/west into cajun country upto New Iberia. Now the guidebooks and the local tourist websites present a rather rose tinted and romantic view of the region. The reality is very different. The road from New Orleans to New Iberia and Lafayette is an Interstate-no issues there-but for kilometre after kilometre it is fringed by really unattractive strip development by the offshore oil industry operating in the Gulf of Mexico. Pipeline storage facilities, safety training acadamies, core analysis laboratories, heavy equipment storage facilities, specialist service after service and to top it all hundreds of very large hoardings advertising the services of compensation attorneys. " Injured in an offshore accident?-Call Ambulance Chaser and Associates on 1800 HELP".
A vivid reminder that amongst many other ills the US has a major problem with the rapacious legal profession.
Sadly I took no photographs of this extensive rural blight but anyway it would have been impossible to convey it in photographs 
We stayed at a very new Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of New Iberia. The friendly receptionist gave us a map of the town which looked like a map of a country village in England. We drove into the town late in the afternoon expecting to find at least a couple of restaurants as well as interesting buildings to look at. The approach up a highway lined by car yards,fast food outlets, gas stations and sundry other businesses was not promising and it did not get any better as sadly the map and the tourist websites were a severe case of overpromising and underdelivering. Historic New Iberia is an illusion. It is shuttered and very rundown. It has suffered the fate of so many rural towns across the world. The population has declined and businesses have migrated to the outskirts and the downturn in the oil price has really hit local employment and the local economy generally.
I took three photos in New Iberia itself. Here is the first.

It's not difficult to visualise the Evangeline theatre in its full glory but sadly those days are long gone. We did find somewhere to eat but that's another story and at least the local beer was excellent and the bar/ restaurant had this line up vintage bar stools.

One of the claims of New Iberia is that it has the oldest operating rice mill in the US-photo below. Well it is still operating and it has an very good factory shop but it is difficult to understand how it is still operating as it is so dilapidated. A big storm and it will end up being the oldest once operating rice mill in the US.

The principal reason we travelled to New Iberia was to see a bayou close up and go on a swamp airboat tour into the Atfchafalaya Basin. We saw alligators, of course,but none of the much hyped colourful bird life. The basin is impressive although a very long elevated section of interstate highway through part of it rather spoils the wilderness effect.
The Landing near Henderson where we took the tour had a rather melancholic air and I cannot see any of these outboards ever spinning their props again.
The bottom photo shows a fishing hut out on the bayou. Personally I would go stir crazy if I had to spend more than a couple of hours out there but apparently these weekenders are highly sought after. And what about the alligators?  Fancy lying in bed and hearing noises in the night. No, not for me.

16 May 2017

New Orleans

My Gulf to Lake roadtrip started from New Orleans or NOLA-New Orleans Lousiana. I spent five days there and thought it was great. The city has had a chequered and often dark history but it has picked itself up after Hurricane Katrina.
Lots to see in NOLA and lots of great food to eat. It's a pity that much of the famed French Quarter has become a tacky tourist trap and even the locals seem to be embarrassed by seedy Bourbon Street.
NOLA was the logical starting point of the trip and it was one of the highlights.

Canned cajun 'gator. Like Australian farmed crocodile apparently it tastes like chicken which is not surprising as that is what they feed them in the farms. Expensive way to buy chicken.

Draft Daiquiris,Very French Quarter.

This lady was waiting for a car outside our hotel in the cold. Very sporting of her to let me take her photo.

A traditional lunch on the first day-Crawfish boil. This is about one third of the serve.  It looks like a really big meal but the meat is only in the tail so each crawfish yields about the equivalent of a small prawn after a lot of work extracting it. Crawfish are similar to Australian yabbies.
Happy barman drawing me a beer in the Seaworthy restaurant. The beer in the US is great. Twenty years ago it was uniformly rubbish but the craft brewing revolution has totally changed the beer landscape.

Taking it easy. First afternoon Ace Hotel, NOLA.

Waiter at Tujagues restaurant. "All the friendly people where do they all come from?"

Artists studio ,French Quarter. Me thinks time for a clean up boys.

St Louis Cathedral.The cathedral and the square are major tourist spots populated by musicians -good and bad - and artists -mostly bad

Straight out of the 50s. Cafe in the park

Stunning Longue Vue House and Gardens.

Not sure that I would want to engage these guys as my attorneys.

Bag repairer, Magazine St, New Orleans

What is hip? Vinyl is hip. A large shop dedicated to selling vinyl on Magazine St.

A few metres from hipville .

Larry Flynt's Hustler Club. Which century are these guys living in? Seedy Bourbon St.

Jazz on Bourbon St. The guy playing the trumpet told me very forcibly to "f... off" . Too late I had the photo but I don't feel comfortable taking photos where I am not wanted. This was the only incident like this on the whole trip

A trombone on a seat. No sign of the player. St Louis Cathedral square. At least the trombone could not tell me to "f off"

I have no idea what this couple are doing but they seem to be enjoying themselves doing it

Fresh pralines, French Quarter. There are shops making/selling paralines all over the Quarter. Way too sweet for me.
Bar, Seaworthy Restaurant,NOLA.

14 May 2017

From the Gulf to the Lakes-an American roadtrip.

The long,very straight,windblown road.
I'm back in Oz after a very long American roadtrip-New Orleans to Chicago. From the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Michigan-2400kms-following the Mississippi River for much of the journey. It wasn't your usual "look at the wonderful scenery" trip. No,in the words of the Simon and Garfunkel song I went to look for America. The southern underbelly-conservative America-Trump heartland. A million miles from the thrusting west coast locations I visited last year.
What did I find? Very friendly people. Everywhere I went I met the nicest people. Always eager to talk and to hear about Australia. To my surprise when the subject came up most of the people professed to despise Trump. I am talking waiting and bar staff, rental car workers and hotel porters etc. Everyday people. Maybe I had a skewed sample but it was not the overwhelming 'we all voted for Trump' picture I was expecting.
I did encounter in a hotel restaurant a group of six well dressed middle aged women on a 'girl's weekend' who were fanatical Trump supporters. In the course of a civil,casual conversation they asked me what I thought of Trump and when I gave them my restrained/edited opinion they bristled and then they told me that he was already the greatest American president ever and that in 12 months I would not recognise America. I told them that they may well be right on that. There's no reasoning with people like that so I left hurriedly before they pulled their Glocks from their purses/handbags.
I saw a lot of very dull scenery and a lot of very rundown towns and cities. The tourist websites describe the historic rivertowns of the Mississippi as little gems. That's nonsense. They are very sad places. Shuttered shops, abandoned businesses, depleted populations and abandoned industries. No wonder they sing the blues.
I'll put up my commentary and photos from the trip over the coming weeks.
You've come to the right place ladies

13 May 2017

Camper van

Home sweet home. A camper van or maybe it's a camper truck seen at sunrise in the Terrigal Beach car park recently. Basic redefined. You would want to be sure that you did not get locked in-there does not seem to be any mechanism for opening the doors from the inside. Pull in to a quiet parking spot. Bed down for the night and some drunken hoons come along and lock the doors. Disaster.

10 May 2017

Black Beauty

Seen at the Terrigal Beach car park a few weeks ago. A Mustang fan. There are quite a few new Mustangs appearing on the roads. They are good value and now that the local Ford Falcon and Holden( GM) Commodore have finished production they are the natural purchase for local American Iron enthusiasts.
Ford dealers will be enjoying their change in fortunes with the Ranger pickup selling like hot cakes and the Mustang adding some cream. They will be thinking that giving up local manufacturing was the best thing Ford Australia have done for years.
The Mustang is rumoured to be replacing the Ford Falcon in some teams in the local Virgin Supercars racing series in 2018. Pretty academic really as underneath the skin it will still be the same chassis/running gear.

7 May 2017

The way we were-2

I came across this old print a few weeks ago. It shows me driving a Van Diemen Formula Ford in the wet at Oran Park circuit near Narellan in western Sydney in the early 90s.
Oran Park fell to the developers in 2010. Now it is huge housing development.The equally challenging Amaroo Park circuit on the northern outskirts of Sydney closed in 1998. It also is a housing development.
We now have a thoroughly modern motorsport facility at Sydney MotorSport Park in the western suburbs of Sydney. It's a very long way from the old circuits with their spectator stands with flapping corrugated iron roofs, rusting Tannoy speakers on leaning poles and the broken down ticket offices and the leaking roofs of the paddock "facilities" and the cinder roads. I know that if I was going to have a serious "off" I'd take the SMSP medical facilities over the primitive facilities at Oran Park and Amaroo. And to think that I was tanking around there in the wet in a single seater...

3 May 2017

The Fruit Bowl

This wonderful piece of Australian kitsch-The Big Fruit Bowl- stands outside the Fruit Bowl apple/fruit shop in Bilpin in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. It needs a good clean and in the rain it looked rather sad. I hope that they don't let it die through neglect
There are quite a few of these wonderful roadside objects around in Australia. There is a big banana, a big merino,a big prawn, a big axe and many more see BIG ICONS for a complete list.
 Locally on the road to Swansea there is a big prawn on a pole. It was once on a fish shop and service station. The fish shop and the service station have been totally demolished. Only the prawn remains. It looks really odd. It's on a fast stretch of road but I must make the effort to stop and photograph it before it goes.
I hope that the urge to build kitschy big things is still out there -they are so much more entertaining than billboards advising the distance to the next golden arches.