I didn’t advertise it—I have learned my lesson from hearing about people who were burglarized when they announced their travel plans on Facebook—but last week at this time I was in London.
We were paying a visit to my stepdaughter, her partner and our two-month-old grandchild. It’s difficult to have family in a location that’s a nine-hour flight away, but since this was probably the only opportunity we’d have to see her, we schlepped overseas.
They live in Greenwich, which is sort of a Brooklyn to Manhattan suburb to London. Being a first-time visitor to London, it was important to me to spend family time, but also get a chance to visit at least a few of the things I thought I wanted to see, like the multiple museums, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the palaces, the shopping streets and neighborhoods, pubs, and “English food.”
After visiting family, our traveling budget only allowed us to stay in a more suburban hotel, located in Greenwich directly next to the train station there.
Yes, we did hit a few museums (the Victoria & Albert was my fave), but didn’t get the time to go to the Tate Modern. We took the train and the tube to Piccadilly Circus and walked down Regent Street to view the spectacular Christmas lights and look at the spectacular window displays. But hey, I’ve been to New York City, and it really wasn’t much different.
What I enjoyed about our brief visit were Londoners, who were unfailingly kind, polite, helpful and understanding of us Yanks. My favorite thing about the whole trip were the pubs, all cozy, reasonably priced and all just a little different. I had my pub first fish and chips (incredibly good and worlds better than the fried catfish I had from the Frenchmen Deli for lunch today); and my first Sunday Roast with roast beef, roasted potatoes, various beautiful veggie and Yorkshire pudding. Some great Indian “take-away,” and several great meals.
The closest we got to a music club was passing by the legendary Ronnie Scott’s, which was hosting the Manhattan Transfer, unfortunately on the night after we left to come back to the states, and a blues club in Soho. I liked the dude playing Beatles tunes on an accordion in the tube—like I said, big city, could’ve been in the subway.
These were the things that struck me most: the sense of history that seems to be present and respected by all; and the superb transportation system. We had to take a train into Central London every day. It was quick, efficient, clean, fast and almost always perfectly on time.
While I know that New Orleans isn’t large enough to have a train system, it continues to nag at me that our state had the opportunity to create a high-speed rail system between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that would have created an enormous number of jobs and opened up both cities to a lot of interesting possibilities and exchanges. Our governor negged the money that was available to create the railway, I’m presuming because it came through the Obama administration. Stupid politics if I ever saw it.
We weren’t the only ones on the road. On our way back into New Orleans, Dr. John was on our plane, so we shared a few words with him about life on the road (not so hot, especially when you get into your 70’s, as Mac now is).
While I was in Britain, the city cracked down on Frenchmen Street operators, removing barricades placed in the streets, closing doors and shutting down music if the club didn’t conform to the existing Cultural District Overlay, which I’ve written about many times in this blog.
I understand (through third parties, admittedly) that the new restaurant/club Bamboula’s has barkers outside the place, a la Bourbon Street, to lure people inside.
Don’t these guys get it? Frenchmen Street is not Bourbon. I think what annoys the existing businesses on Frenchmen Street so much is that they’ve all been on the street for years and have created something unique, both culturally and musically. The newcomers—while they are certainly welcome on the street—don’t seem to understand that yes, everyone wants to operate a profitable operation, but the long-time businesses want to maintain another type of ambience based more on music and culture, not on quick liquor, adult entertainment and easy money from people they’ll never see again. The existing Frenchmen Street businesses want locals to continue to patronize the street and not be displaced by tourists. They love visitors, but want the kinds of people who appreciate the city’s culture, and not necessarily party people who don’t give a damn about what Frenchmen Street actually means.
There’s a lot of construction on Frenchmen right now: a new two-story (!) Dat Dog on the corner of Chartres and Frenchmen; a three-story restaurant and residential building between the Blue Nile and Bamboula’s; the Boys Town building at the corner of Royal and Frenchmen is being converted into a small hotel; and the space underneath the OffBeat office (formerly the Junque Shop) is being renovated for a new tenant.
The businesses in the area have joined together to create a business association: Frenchmen Marigny Triangle Business Association (disclosure: I am president of the association) to monitor and to help maintain the integrity of the street. Biggest concerns are illegal food vendors, brass bands who play past the time they’re supposed to play on the street, traffic, parking, sanitation, crime and making sure that Frenchmen continues to remain a music attraction true to the culture of the city.