Ginger and The Skipper in the Crescent City, Part 3: 17 August 2013

We had an early evening flight and the last day blues. Stanley Restaurant (on Jackson Square) was highly recommended for breakfast, especially the gumbo, but the wait was twenty minutes. After some casting about, we went back to La Divina Gelateria for some excellent coffee, an egg panini, and a one-egg omelet with goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes, followed by chocolate gelato for dessert. Eating outside in a quiet alley, away from the bustle, we revived enough to talk about lunch.

After hustling to check out and check bags, we ambled back along the river and made for the Cabildo to see where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. We were quickly defeated by the air-conditioning but would definitely return. Instead of lunch, we went to Tujauges for Pimm’s and a Turbodog plus tequila. While I got in line for a muffuletta at Central Grocery (plane snacks), The Skipper located a bar. I found him happily ensconced in a window seat at Molly’s with a drink and The New York Times, and we settled in for a pleasant afternoon. Too pleasant, in fact. A friend found us, and we all stayed out longer than we should have. With no taxis in sight and Decatur Street a parking lot, we opted for a street car to our hotel – an exercise in frustration if you’re actually in a hurry. But it all worked out.

It was a rich experience to break out the muffuletta at 30,000 feet and waft the smell of olive spread around the airplane cabin. It was also somewhat like birthing a calf. When I reached into the bag, my arm came back covered in oil. We finished the muffuletta for breakfast the next day while listening to our new Coco Robicheaux and Champion Jack Dupree CD’s. There wasn’t room for boudin in my suitcase, which means Ginger and The Skipper will be coming back to New Orleans. Soon.

Ginger and The Skipper in the Crescent City, Part 2: 15-16 August 2013

Sometimes I’m a sucker for tourist-y attractions. We scratched that itch with breakfast at Cafe du Monde, sharing beignets and the Times-Picayune, which had a cover story about an ASPCA raid that confiscated hundreds of fighting roosters. Hello Flannery O’Connor. Our next destination was Algiers, via ferry, across the Mississippi. Hello Samuel Clemens.

Unsure of the ferry terminal’s exact location, we stopped at an Information Booth by the river. Using small words and many hand signals, we explained our intended destination to the former Delta Zeta behind the counter. Her face puckered with concern. She’d taken hundreds of steamboat rides and familiarized herself with all there is to do in the French Quarter but never in her life (violent pony tail shake) had she been to Algiers. Seriously? She couldn’t guess that the big building ten yards away from her booth with access to the water might be the ferry dock? No. She had no idea. Information Booth #2 confirmed that the ferry terminal was indeed located ten yards away from us and that Algiers was a viable destination; however, our desire to visit was judged with a shrug. Maybe I’d have the same reaction if someone wanted to take a ferry from Manhattan to Paulus Hook, NJ.

It took eight minutes to cross the Great River, time enough to pass Indians in their pirogues and trappers and Spaniards and slaves and barges. The people going back and forth today are service workers in the Quarter. The neighborhoods of shotgun and Greek Revival houses around the Algiers ferry terminal are quiet at midday, but the Richardsonian Romanesque style Algiers Courthouse is open for business. It was so pretty we almost got remarried right then. Still, we couldn’t quite forget that the levee was higher than the rooftops.

Ginger and The Skipper in the Crescent City, Part 1: 13-14 August 2013

I woke up early tasting like undergrad: sour beer, stale cigarettes, mildew. Not quite sure where I was. No matter. It was time for breakfast. Ginger and The Skipper had five days in New Orleans, and as many opportunities to eat as our stomachs would allow. I brought my eatin’ pants and my walkin’ shoes. Time to shake a tail feather to Elizabeth’s. I could sort out last night on the way.

I picked our hotel, the Creole Inn, because of its proximity to the Lost Love Lounge. The red paint and pool tables reminded me of my favorite bar in graduate school, but the Lounge also hosts a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant. Working backwards, the evening ended with adamant finger pointing at the kimchee dumpling picture on the menu. There were only six of these handmade, gyoza-shaped hangover helpers, and I had to share with The Skipper. I could have eaten twelve, fried, with more kimchee on the side. I’m not sure if these guys are Vietnamese or Korean or Japanese, but I’m looking forward to a sober meal there some time soon. As it was, we slurred a block back to the Creole Inn, Tecates in hand, and I don’t know who took off my boots.

Before that, there were 3-4 Buds in a bottle from Big Daddy’s bar. More local than Lost Love, with corrugated aluminum on the inside, a very clean bathroom, and the kind of bar stools with cushioned backs that cradle you through the night. Lost Love had them, too. Do these bar stools migrate from bowling alleys in Buffalo to retire in New Orleans? We watched the ebb of the older crowd from the hood as the younger crowd with tats and mohawks flowed to the dj’s techno dance beats. We could have been in Brooklyn, except for the absinthe shots in plastic Dixie cups. And everybody was freakin’ friendly. Rod-at-the-bar suggested The Joint for BBQ instead of Irene’s for Italian. Done.

Ginger and The Skipper in the Crescent City: Final Thoughts

– Bourbon Street: Turns out I am annoyed by drunk, entitled Southerners such as what wanders up and down Bourbon Street. Being from the South, I figure I can say this. I know I could skip Bourbon Street, but what struck me, especially in the evening, is the edges and the shadows. There are people there, working there, and all the lights and sound just make the edges more desperate. One of our cab drivers said, “There’s lots of shadows in this city at night, you can’t see through them.”

– Trash cans: In Fauborg-Marigny and Bywater, trash cans are huge and decorated, and they seem to be an extension of people’s real estate onto the sidewalk. They move, they hang out and reserve a parking spot, they are an active part of the street scene. But the garbage trucks do seem to come through regularly.

– Streets: The streets are not in good shape, and there is only one street sign per corner if at all. This keeps traffic slow and maybe explains why everyone rides fat tire cruiser bikes.

– The scene: In Fauborg-Marigny and Bywater and Algiers, it is quiet, houses shuttered against who knows what. Perfectly refurbished ones stand next to properties abandoned since Katrina or before.

– Food: we didn’t eat at Galatoire’s or Irene’s or Commanders Palace or other classic places, so I can’t fully compare/contrast our New Orleans dining experience. But, we didn’t have a bad meal. And if Maurpeas and The Joint and Crescent City Pie are any indication, we can look forward to plenty more good meals when we return. Our other observation about dining out was that the portion sizes, especially for entrees, varied widely within one restaurant. Entrees involving hunks of meat were huge while shrimp and grits or etoufees were moderately sized.

– Katrina: It seemed like the elephant in the room, to me. Nobody really talked about it, but everybody still seemed to be living with the aftermath. Just because there is a before and an after doesn’t mean that there is an end. It is not something to “get over.” When the man renting us a car found out we were from New York, he sincerely asked if we were ok after our storm (Sandy) and offered his sympathy to everyone affected.

Gone Limin’

On most maps, the British Virgin Islands are as big as the white tip of your thumbnail and about the same half-moon shape, angled southwest to northeast with the fattest end to the south. “De ilons” usually appear in the atlas section for “The Caribbean” with more blue on the page than colored blotches for land. There are no weather forecasts by zip code here, only for geographic coordinates in the U.S. National Weather Service sectors AMZ025, AMZ710, and AMZ722. However, the BVIs are the center of the world on Imray Lolaire chart “A232 Tortola to Anegada,” which shows all the reefs and rocks that look like clouds on Google’s satellite view zoomed in all the way. A taxi-direct flight-taxi-ferry transit from New York to Tortola takes eight hours. It takes longer to get to the middle of the United States, but when you step off the Charlotte Amalie-Road Town ferry, you’re at the end of the dirt road in the middle of blue nowhere.

There are parking lot chickens but no dogs. Reggaeton blasts from cars and the locals dress like they’re going to church – all day, every day – heels, some hats, no t-shirts. School kids wear pressed uniforms of plaid, knee-length skirts and Bermuda shorts and white button down shirts with short ties. Days start early, and it is impolite not to wish “good morning” on the street, even to strangers. Cab drivers play tapes of hymns, and every town has at least two churches. Graveyards are tucked around houses and in the bend of roads. The above-ground concrete mausoleums, painted white, flourish in sand and sparse grass. Everything is made of concrete blocks. Or corrugated tin. Windows have louvered glass panels that catch breeze and shed rain. The grocery store is full of canned food – meat, veggies, sauce. Turpentine trees are native. Okra was brought by slaves. Bacalao is a Sunday dish. The parking lot chickens reappear in roti and bar-b-que with beans and rice and mac and cheese.

Geologically, the BVI’s miniscule island chain is close to the junction of several tectonic plates under the Caribbean Sea. This ancient ring of fire is less isolated than the atlas page suggests. Small earthquakes happen weekly, but hurricanes are cataclysmic events, shared seasonally. The islands sit at the edge of a shelf that falls away thousands of feet, and the Atlantic Ocean begins. On top of the shelf, inside the island chain, the full force of constant northern swells and northeast trade winds is interrupted and a weary mariner can find safe harbor. Sometimes the land rises as a surprise out of hundreds of feet of water in strata of red or cream-colored rock topped with scrubby trees. Other times, you can see it coming. Water blue shifts to white sand to green wall, and a mountain top rises a thousand feet more. From far away, grey with mist, the line of mountains is the shadow of an undulating sea monster captured in silver gelatin print. Up close on a sunny day, the hills are stippled velvet green tied with swaths of turquoise ribbon.

The British are just the latest caretakers of this bit of land that seems prone to cycles of subjugation and decimation with a lot of small-town life in between. Global events trickle down and are visited upon whoever is “local” at the time – Arawaks, Caribees, Danish traders, African slaves, British adventurers, global ultra-rich, cruise ship tourists. Regular visitors and the current crop of locals make a big deal about limin’. Limin’ is island time, whenever what’s going to happen occurs in its own time and not before then. Limin’ is a sublime state worthy of achievement, they say. I say, maybe it’s a passive aggressive response to pushy tourists. Maybe it’s a way to sell more rum. Or maybe it’s a way to recalibrate your worries, a way to exert a little control over an existence governed by whatever the weather brings.

For the past 20-30 years, the weather has brought tourists intent on vacationing on a boat. A complementary supporting infrastructure on land has evolved, from “shopping villages” that open only for cruise ships to beach bars on otherwise uninhabited islands. Tourists mill around, half naked and sunburned, dosed on the requisite Bob Marley and painkillers – a rum and juice mixture over ice with nutmeg grated on top. Tropical eggnog. At its worst, tourists and locals perpetuate a myth about de ilons that I’m not sure ever existed. And for tourists not even interested in the myth, there are gated resorts with white beaches, bagels and lox, and the New York Times every day. (Full disclosure: I subscribe to the Times and my home is within a 10 minute walk of at least 4 places to get excellent bagels and lox. I just don’t need that on my vacation, too.)

But it is possible to have a less mediated vacation. Objects on Imray Lolaire chart A232 are much closer than they appear, and there are a wealth of anchorages to explore on a boat. We have always chartered sailboats, though there are plenty of catamarans about. They’re more expensive, hold more people, and are much more stable in the swells. They seem like the RVs of the sea. Our sailboats are usually the smallest on the water and feel like pup tents off the back of a jeep. albeit pup tents with teak and leather. It’s like camping in a posh hotel room with a two-burner gas camp stove and a toilet that you pump to flush. Toilet paper goes in a separate bag.

On a typical day, we’re up early and have tea. We’ll sail somewhere, then stop for a while or for the day. We don’t usually eat until we’ve stopped. Beer is the fifth food group, supplemented with peanut butter filled pretzels. We tie up to a mooring ball, surrounded by other boats doing the same, but we could also anchor or tie up to a dock. We jump off the boat to cool off and stop showering after the second day. Sometimes we snorkel around coral reefs. If there’s a bar, we’ll go ashore for a drink, and then come back to the boat for sunset. I’ll make dinner, and we’ll have more drinks and watch our neighbors grilling over their dingy fuel tanks; watch a fully loaded dingy of large people (aka Pakistani ferry boats) come back from the bar; watch the stars. Then we wake up and do it all over again. Usually something breaks, the weather is dicey, and we get bruised or cut or both. Occasionally tempers are short. But I wouldn’t trade this time on the boat, with one another, for anything. To look at the horizon for hours on end – your eyes refocus, time stands still, and you become content with your place in the universe. Maybe this is limin’.

8 May 2011, St. Thomas, USVI to New York

Marine Forecast: not applicable, sigh.

Where to find breakfast, or a taxi, on a Sunday morning after Carnivale? Breakfast at Gladys’ on Great Dane St.: fried fish and grits for The Skipper; salt fish and chop chop for Ginger.

A quick shower and re-pack and an early taxi to the airport just in case. We hang out with painkillers and books and get one last round of chicken, beans and rice, and macaroni and cheese to go. I think we’ve eaten a barnyard’s worth of animals on this trip. At least we ate veggies and fish on the boat.

Bonus on the return flight is that the only mileage point seats available were in Business. We’re plied with food and drink and blankets, and I have tea and a bloody mary with my cheesecake. When we land at JFK, it’s suddenly spring again (at least it’s not snowing), and everyone is too fast and efficient. Our apartment seems huge, and the sky is small and empty without stars. That night we’re up several times to check the mooring lines. I think we’re about to hit land until I see the street out front.

As I sit at the computer to write this trip report, the screen and words seem narrow in every sense, flat and lifeless. There is no horizon. Better to be on a boat looking at the line where sky meets sea and to know there’s more beyond it.

7 May 2011, Norman Island, BVI to St. Thomas, USVI

Marine Forecast: excellent!
Actual: winds 9-16

Up early with last-day jitters, we have tea and are off at 7:30. It’s a beautiful day for a sail, and we make it to Road Town by 9:30 and are docked by 10. We’ve done really well at eating all our food and disposing of trash along the way, so cleanup and packing are done quickly.

We avail ourselves of the BVI YC showers, which are the second most-welcome sight since the showers at Leverick’s, and make it in time for the noon-ish ferry. Bomba Charger!!! The Skipper racks out to the jet engine drone. I eat the last of the boat snack pretzels washed down with a Carib and watch our progress through the Drake, a greatest hits of the last 9 days. I’m sad to leave the boat, roll-y nights notwithstanding. We’ve had a great time with one another, and we would do this again tomorrow. But, I’m also happy to have a respite from sun and heat to sort out this mystery rash. However, our adventures are not over….

Today is the last day of Carnivale in Charlotte Amalie, and there are no taxi drivers willing to drive to our hotel, The Green Iguana, which lies on the other side of the parade route. To get there by car would involve going around the backside of St. Thomas, which no one will do. We spend more time hanging out with the parking lot chicken at the ferry dock, contemplating options, and finally decide to walk. Even with only three medium-sized duffle bags and two backpacks, this will be a slog in the heat. We make it to the Green Bar where a taxi driver assures us he can make it to the hotel. After 20 minutes of driving around, he admits defeat, puts us out right at the parade route, and wishes us luck.

While snaking our way through families and food carts, The Skipper slips off a curb and skins his knee, winning a pretty bloody surface wound. Luckily, all the medical supplies are at hand. Bandaged, we climb a big hill behind Government House, climb the 99 Steps, and run into Suzy and Bill of the Green Iguana – with a car! Our bags ride up the final hill, and Suzy gets us to our room asap. More showers, more neosporine and bandages, and we’re back down the hill for dinner before it gets too late.

The parade is amazing, a total family affair. The West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn, New York, is huge with a lot of sound trucks, but no dancing women in feathers! Here, it seems they put the best dancers at the front and everyone else follows along, even the littlest kids. Carnivale was almost over, so our choices of street food were limited. Finally, we found a truck on Main Street that was billowing smoke out of a grill attached to the back: BBQ chicken, beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, and Heinekins. Back up the hill for more showers and a fantastic view of the fireworks. The bed was so clean and soft, but still, I dreamed that St. Thomas wasn’t properly moored to St. John, and The Skipper kept mumbling about tightening the sheets.

6 May 2011, Jost Van Dyke to Norman Island, BVI

Marine Forecast: pretty good!
Actual: wind 5-10, 12-15 in the Drake Channel

We were up early anticipating a breakfast ashore at a place that offered fried fish and johnny cakes. At 8:10 we were parked at the dinghy dock, and at 8:15 our hopes were crushed. TV and radio on, but nothing doing on the food. Maybe not enough people around to make it worthwhile. Maybe we were too early.

From the main street, the harbor full of boats looked like an invading army about to overrun the kids on their way to school in this peaceful town. I was creeped out; it felt like bad karma. So, back to the boat and after a consolation breakfast of tea and banana, we were away to Norman Island (10-12) with the idea of a snorkel at The Indians first.

On our last trip, The Indians was our nemesis (boat hook lost, retrieved and broken in 10 minutes), and The Skipper was determined to win this time. Arrived: busy. Made a few turns: still busy. Picked up a ball at the edge of Norman, ate lunch, saw an opening and zinged back. Busy. So we circled, and circled, and circled. For 2 hours. While fat people who didn’t snorkel AT ALL lolled on their catamarans and played cards.  Still, The Skipper was determined. Ginger was pissed off and had to read the paper below until there was an opening. At which point another circling, Canadian, boat tried to make a play for the ball. Denied.

Mindful that others might soon be waiting, we suited up quickly, and The Skipper, first in the water, says, “careful, there’s a current.” At which point Ginger jumps in, thinks of all the rivers in the South (where she grew up) that have currents that suck people under, completely freaks out, and sets a record swimming from boat to dinghy mooring line. After some deep breathing, The Skipper convinces Ginger to let go of the line and put her face in the water. All is well until Ginger sees a wall of small fish floating in the swell off the reef and thinks, “Lots of small fish are tasty snack for big fish. Where are the predator fish?” At this point, Ginger has had it and swims backwards to the boat so as not to see how dark and deep the water gets. The Skipper enjoys a leisurely snorkel.

Thankful to be on the boat, Ginger is only somewhat concerned at the small clear blisters covering her face and neck and the small dots covering her stomach and legs. The Skipper is very concerned. Away to Norman where we have our pick of spots. Drinks, snacks, showers, and a trip to Pirate’s Bight for a final round of painkillers with the sunset. And some web searching for info on Ginger’s rash: nothing conclusive, but hints at avoiding heat, sunlight, saltwater….

Ginger lurks in the shadows as we watch a brilliant sunset, then back to the boat for a dinner of huevos rancheros, finishing off the rum under the stars.

5 May 2011, Mahoe Bay, USVI to Jost Van Dyke, BVI

Marine Forecast: perfect!!

While Ginger is plucking her eyebrows during a moment of personal hygiene in the pre-dawn hours, she notices that there are small clear blisters under her eyebrows, on her cheeks and forehead and throat. After shaving, she finds small itchy red dots on her legs and stomach. Hmmm. More thorough face-washing, less sunscreen.

Over breakfast, a lone dolphin cruises in and out of the bay, and we decide to walk to the Annaberg Sugar Mill. Then it’s either Jost Van Dyke or Leinster Bay, but we can’t decide. One thing at a time. Having perfected our 2-person dinghy beaching drill in big surf at Cinnamon Bay, Mahoe Beach is a cakewalk (9:30). The Cruising Guide says it’s a brisk 30 minute walk to the Mill. I’m not sure who walks briskly up a steep grade in the tropical heat. And I forgot to bring a seltzer.

We took a brief side trip to see the ruins of the Annaberg school (very cool) and finally made it to the top of the ruins at the Mill just as a wonderful park service employee put out a cooler of water and cups. Hooray US tax dollars! The ruins were well-preserved with lots of signs to read and great views of Leinster Bay. I could have stayed for hours, but somewhere during our walk, we decided Jost was the next destination, so we beat a quick-ish retreat to the boat (11:30). Motoring out, we saw a turtle in the water, and I was sad to leave this little bit of paradise.

After a *very* leisurely sail (12-2:45; winds from 12 to 4 knots), we made it to Great Harbour and were pleasantly surprised to find a mooring ball. After the lowest-stress C&I process I’ve ever experienced, we had a drink at Foxy’s, enjoyed the happy hour musician, strolled the main drag to consider dinner options, and went back to the boat for drinks and snacks until the sun slipped behind the hill.

Then back to Foxy’s for jerk chicken wings (tasty!) and BBQ baby back ribs. These were like Uncle Joe’s ribs, with a sweet, tomato-based basting sauce and then more to cover. The different cut of ribs meant more blackened crunchy parts! The bugs were out, so we didn’t stick around for the DJ. For bathrooms al fresco, Foxy’s is only a close second to Pirate’s Bight, and both were clean and large. More rum and tonic on the boat ensured a sound sleep despite the swell that worked inside the harbor.

4 May 2011, Caneel Bay to Mahoe Bay, USVI

Marine Forecast: beautiful!

Even after a sleepless night, Ginger couldn’t help but be a little smug while writing postcards and watching the sun rise over Caneel Bay. And the day only got better. Over breakfast, we decided to check out the Caneel Bay resort. Since it was built in the 1930’s, I’d thought it would be art deco but it was more of a Frank Lloyd Wright aesthetic with long low buildings open towards the water.

The red-striped taxis in Cruz Bay were eerily like the golf carts in The Prisoner, and the manicured grass at the resort just added to the genteel incarceration effect. We were welcomed cordially, though, and instructed *not* to sit on the beach chairs. But the gift shop was good: postcards, more sunscreen, but no sunglasses even though the backs and insides of Ginger’s ears were a raging itch. The bathrooms were good: AC, tile, nice hand towels. It really is amazing how welcoming of boaters the resorts are, especially in the low-ish season. Definitely not a privilege to abuse, but an interesting way to see places we normally wouldn’t go (Caneel Bay 9-10).

We motored up to Mahoe Bay (11-11:30), had our pick of mooring balls, and geared up for a dinghy trip to Trunk Bay (1pm). Unfortunately, we turned in one bay too soon, so we practiced our 2-person dinghy beaching drill in Cinnamon Bay. We shared a sandwich, then ran it out into the surf where Ginger practiced her shallow-water-dinghy-start magic and zipped over to Trunk Bay. Tied up at the dinghy line (thanks US National Parks!) and swam in to look at the underwater snorkel trail. Very cool but not as many fish as The Caves. Lots o’ sea urchins, though.

And then we thought, why not eat lunch on shore? So The Skipper swims out, dinghies in the food to Ginger waiting in the surf, parks and swims back. Honeymoon! We share a sandwich and some very warm Caribs under the trees, look at the white beach and light blue water and the afternoon rainstorm blowing through behind Jost Van Dyke, and keep poking one another to make sure this isn’t a dream.

The Skipper retrieves Ginger and the food from the surf zone and we make it to the boat just as the rain starts (4pm). Nap, drinks, sunset, dinner: one of those Indian foil pouches of chick peas over boiled potatoes. The rum and tonic and lime come out as does a huge sky of stars and we watch the Big Dipper wheel around the mast.