Monthly Archives: February 2013

And the award goes to …..

It’s awards season. There seem to have been flippin’ hundreds of these shows on recently, on both sides of the Pond. I managed to miss the BAFTAs (although I imagine it mainly involved Stephen Fry being charmingly adorable) however I have seen the Brits and the Grammys and I’m now sitting through the Oscars. I suppose I should be drawing some insightful comparisons between the ceremonies. My current observation is that Russell Crowe can’t sing live, and Anne Hathaway is no Susan Boyle but is still sporting my haircut. So you can tell what sort of incisive comment you will get from me then.

What is it with Americans and late Sunday night events, by the way? Superbowl, Grammys, Oscars – do these people not have jobs to get to on a Monday morning?

I feel in Britain that we have always been taught that America does everything bigger and better and that American things are in some way more important. Like, the Oscars are the pinnacle of the film world but a BAFTA is nice. Now I’ve been in the USA for a while, I’ve realised that this is not the case (no disrespect, USA, I still love ya). The Grammys and Oscars may be bigger but not necessarily better. In the UK we just do things differently. For example, Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift performed at both the Grammys and the Brits, and both ceremonies celebrated the best talent from the respective countries. The difference, I think, is in the style of the shows which is really a reflection of the style of the countries themselves. Britain never takes itself too seriously while America likes to look polished to perfection. Hence Lily Allen happily tweeting before the Brits that she’s forgotten her nipple pads and is going to be late because she’s gone to the wrong address. We love a bit of that in the UK, makes us all feel better about our own slight crapness. I can’t imagine any of the Hollywood actresses sharing any such similar stories, and neither would most American women I have met want them to, as they are busily aspiring to be the best they can be, and good luck to them too.

You wouldn’t see James Corden or his Grammy counterpart sitting on the laps of various boyband members in the audience of an American awards ceremony. However, where else but the Oscars would you get the magic of Harry Potter doing the soft shoe shuffle with the kid who used to be in 3rd Rock From the Sun? Fabulous.

Anyway, I digress. Two hours down, one to go. And the award goes to me, for managing to stay awake right to the end……..

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New Orleans Day 4 – Messing About on the River

Today pretty much continued in the same vein as yesterday, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in some fantastic music. We started with a saunter down a very sunny Royal Street (the somewhat more refined sister to Bourbon Street, full of antique shops, galleries and nice restaurants) and we saw three spectacular jazz combos in as many blocks. We spent a little more time lounging in Jackson Square with the throngs of tourists and street performers and then pottered across to Armstrong Park. This is technically just on the “wrong side” of the streets but we didn’t get mugged or anything so that was nice. In fact the most dangerous thing we saw was a group of people on a Segway tour. Armstrong Park is really lovely, full of nice lakes and fountains and also some fantastic statues of Louis Armstrong (no surprise there) and some other historical figures.

Crossing back to the “safe” area of town, we then embarked on the Steamboat Natchez for an afternoon’s cruise on a proper paddlewheel steamer. It started with a performance on the calliope, which is a steam-powered organ. If you’re not familiar with this, just imagine the sound of the fairgrounds of your youth, Tales of the Unexpected, the soundtrack of those strange Children’s Drama Workshop TV series of the seventies and all of your worst nightmares about clowns all rolled into one. Yes it really was that creepy. I think it was supposed to be entertaining. Luckily, for the rest of the trip we listened to a live non-scary jazz band. We also had a live commentary, from which we learned lots of interesting facts about the Mighty Mississippi. I’ve forgotten them all now. Except that the river is 200 feet deep on the hairpin bend in the heart of the city. After Day Two’s excursion into the land of the Hurricanes, we felt it only right to revisit and so we sipped a few more of the traditional cocktails as we sailed along the river. It’s always fun to have a drink while at sea. You can blame your gradual loss of balance on the waves lapping at the boat rather than on any alcohol consumed.

So, another day of relaxing and soaking up the sights and sounds of this fantastic city. The husband says he is saturated now. Time to go home then?

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New Orleans Day 3 – All That Jazz

Today epitomised what a holiday to New Orleans should be about, just following your ears, sitting back in the sunshine and relaxing to the sound of a traditional jazz band. We started with a trip across the Mighty Mississippi on a ferry which is much bigger and better than the Gosport Ferry but also much cheaper. In fact it’s free. Once over the other side, in Algiers, we had a lovely view back across the water to the skyline of N’Awlins. We went for a short amble around Algiers and had a good gawp at the picturesque villagey streets and lovely little houses. I also saw the only front garden I am ever likely to see that contained a pet cat, dog and turkey.

Once back across in the big city we made our way into the French Quarter and into Jackson Square to see the cathedral and to generally soak up the atmosphere. It was a lovely sunny day, somewhat of a contrast to the dampness of yesterday. We sat back in the sunshine to listen to a jazz trio knock out a few numbers while we watched the world go by. We then heard that the Grammy-Award-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra were holding an open rehearsal so we headed on over to their theatre to see a free sneak peek of the show they would be charging people lots of money to see later that night. Not a bad way to spend Valentine’s Day afternoon.

Feeling very relaxed, we managed to do a little more people-watching around Jackson Square, including a few more of the street performers, with a couple of guys doing all sorts of impressive balancing acts on the steps and railings around the Square.

I also found my dream place to work; a bookshop with shelves lining the shop from floor to ceiling and with a resident cat snoozing gently on the counter. I wouldn’t even need paying to work there, as long as the cat was there for me to stroke all day while I read the books.

All in all, a busy day of doing nothing and taking it easy. Just how it should be in this city.

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New Orleans Day 2 – Wet, with Hurricanes later

One word sums up today. Hurricane.

I don’t remember much else. If you have ever been to Pat O’Brien’s, you will understand. Excellent cocktails, if rather strong. I think I may have also acquainted myself with the Mint Julep (distinctly inferior to the Mojito, I’m afraid), the Purple People Eater and the Cyclone.

Somewhere along the way there was a visit to a country bar (I know, right? City of Jazz, and all that). I ended up wearing and playing the washboard. So for the first time ever I truly had a washboard stomach.

These indoor activities were undertaken due to the fact it was a little rainy in the morning. We took a short walk along the riverfront (our first glimpse of the Mighty Mississippi) but realised the damp was not going to let up so we decided to ride the streetcar all the way down St Charles Avenue and back. The streetcars are lovely and quaint, a far cry from the modern trams of Manchester. They are wooden, and the most exciting part is that when you get to the end of the line the streetcar starts to go in the opposite direction so everyone stands up and slides the back of their seat across so that it now faces the other way. Okay, that just sounded sad. Really it’s more exciting when you’re actually there.

We’d been told that St Charles Avenue is one of the prettiest streets in N’Awlins and it did not disappoint. We saw a lot of lovely and unmistakeably Louisiana-style houses along the way. A pleasant way to spend a rainy day. Before the Hurricanes.

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New Orleans Day 1 – Mardi Gras!

Party time! When we originally booked this holiday we thought we had arranged it for a week or so after Mardi Gras. Then we discovered we would actually be arriving on the big day itself. Waaah!

First we had to get there though. For some random reason (hmmm… price I think) we had a one-hour northbound flight to Baltimore then a three-hour flight back south to New Orleans. Two things of note occurred in Baltimore:

1. The husband finally got his chance to sing “Good Morning Baltimore” in his best Tracy Turnblad styley, after having been cruelly denied the chance to do this last August when my heatstroke thwarted our daytrip to Baltimore from DC

2. I learned that the winners of the NATIONAL competition known as the Superbowl, the Baltimore Ravens, are now apparently “world” champions. On the basis that no other country plays American Football, I suppose they might be correct.

Both flights were excellent, Southwest Airlines are spectacular. Really helpful staff, no charge for baggage, complimentary drinks, and flights that actually leave when they are supposed to. You know, nothing too remarkable, just the basics that we should be able to expect. Certain budget airlines could learn a lot from them.

When we finally touched down in N’Awlins we weren’t sure what to expect or how easy it would be to get to our hotel as it was right in the middle of the world’s biggest party. Our driver dropped us a couple of streets away and we found ourselves hurled straight into the parade. It was awesome, like the town carnival of your youth magnified by a gazillion but with some scary masked men on horseback thrown into the mix. And a bagpipe band. And beads. Lots of them. All the float riders throw plastic beads into the crowd and it’s a big tradition to collect them. I hoped I’d be able to get one set if I was lucky. I got some purple ones straight away, which had to be a good sign.

Once the main parade had ended we checked into our hotel which was one of the tallest in the city. Normally we can pretty much guarantee that we will find ourselves in a room towards the very top of any hotel that we stay in. Perhaps it might be different this time? Well, it had 47 floors. We were on the 44th. Sigh. With floor to ceiling windows. Gulp. The views were spectacular as long as you hadn’t just had lunch or were feeling a bit wobbly. It was possible to pick out quite a few landmarks on our own real life 3D map, as well as watching all the teeny tiny people pootling about in the streets far below. When we were back on the ground again we could see that the very top of the hotel was actually in the fog. That’s quite high you know.

We set off out again to see Bourbon Street which was just one huge party. There were some brilliant costumes, from the funny to the downright bizarre. Where else would you see a chicken dancing with a lobster? After the first half hour you become immune to it though – oh, another voodoo/drag queen crossover – yawn. You also soon realise that you’ve spent a good couple of hours simply walking up and down the same street looking at lots of other people just walking up and down. With the occasional impromptu performance of Cha Cha Slide thrown in (I blame the frozen Margarita/Hurricane mix).

We eventually crawled back to the hotel through the debris carpeting the streets. My neck had been getting heavier by the minute and I finally realised why as I took off all my beads. I’d managed to collect 21 sets – result!

All in all it was a fabulous experience but I was looking forward to seeing a quieter side of the city on the next day ….

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Bowled Over

It was the Superbowl on Sunday.  You’ll probably know what that is, but if not then you really won’t care.  It’s pretty much the biggest sporting event in the American calendar.  The main things that you need to know about it, at least as far as I can tell, are:

–          It takes about 40 minutes to play each 15 minute quarter of play.  Not surprisingly, there are four quarters, so what should take an hour to do actually takes around two and a half hours, plus a few other interruptions, so you’re never quite sure exactly how long it will last.   If you’ve ever struggled to understand the Whovian concept of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff” then just watch a Superbowl game and you will know exactly what it means.

–          The game is secondary to the adverts (not just my opinion; I’ve heard a lot of Americans say this too).  As the Superbowl is one of the most watched TV programmes, advertisers pay millions for the commercial slots, and as a result you get some of the best adverts you will see all year.  It’s worth checking out the Budweiser Clydesdales one and also the Doritos Goat if you can.  The adverts are shown roughly every couple of minutes (and play stops for this every time) but strangely during the half hour power cut no adverts were shown and instead we were treated to the commentators droning on and on.

–          The half time entertainment is also one of the major highlights, this year being a show by Beyonce.  What I mainly learned from this is that, whilst a 15 minute medley of Single Ladies/Independent Women (I preferred the Elbow version)/Crazy In Love is fine, I could not sit through a whole Beyonce concert.  So, if you were thinking of getting me a ticket for the world tour, I wouldn’t bother.

I have to say, I did enjoy it as a kind of special event, I think largely because I knew I didn’t have to get up for work in the morning or watch it again for another year (although these points still didn’t stop me shouting “for the love of God, GET ON WITH IT!!!” as they took 15 minutes to play the last minute and a half of actual time).  If you go into it knowing that it bears absolutely no relation or comparison to rugby whatsoever then it’s not bad – rather like a cup of Mellow Birds can be a quite enjoyable hot drink if you don’t actually want coffee.  Otherwise you can spend the whole match grumbling.  Although that is strangely quite satisfying.  There were a couple of exciting moments, like when Jacoby Jones managed a 108 yard touchdown (he ran pretty much the entire length of the pitch without being tackled) but in no universe will that ever compare to a Shane Williams try at the Millennium Stadium.

Roll on next year’s Superbowl!!!

Categories: Sport | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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