Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’

Top SOTMs From The World Tour

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

934631_894563031536_987718179_nThe messages I heard from my SOTM subjects during my trip around the world fell into various categories.

Some were of hope, of ambition, of a wish for a better world. Others of advice, wisdom passed between generations. Sometimes they were a desire for loved ones not to follow the same path as the person who spoke to them.

Some were just plain sad. Others, hilarious. But they showed how much fun it is, how difficult it can be and how fragile a thing it is to be alive and around others.

I’m pleased that I got the breadth I was looking for in my subjects. I visited townships in South Africa, wealthy apartments in Dubai, a Korean school for girls, Japanese guest houses and the Australian outback, among so many other places. I found people willing to share their stories in all of them.

As difficult a task as it’s been to make such choices, here are some of my favourite SOTMs from the trip that circled the globe which I undertook from June 2013 to May 2014, across 20 countries, capturing hundreds of people’s stories along the way.

There are many more that are similarly great, and my original plan of choosing a top 10 was soon abandoned. So this isn’t a definitive list, and there are many gems from the tour not seen here but visible on the SOTM site. Just browse the map, or for World Tour in the site’s search engine, to see them all.

Click on any of the images here to see their page on the Someone Once Told Me website and, where appropriate, their translation pictures.

09022014I spotted Boy in Manila’s North Cemetery in the Philippine capital. I was taken with how he looked, just as he was, with the tomb where he lived in the background. So that’s exactly where I took his photograph.

His friend, who was ill himself, once told him: “Stop Smoking And Drinking

01052014I met Timmy in Club Charles, a hipstery bar in Baltimore, USA. Film director John Waters was also in there, as apparently it’s one of his favourite bars.

After his photo, Timmy told me a story of how he wanted to be prom king, and how his girlfriend provided a twist to his quite gripping tale.

The whole time I was wondering how come he was talking about a girlfriend, because he was clearly a gay man.

Afterwards he explained how he now had a wonderful boyfriend, and it all made sense again.

01012014I’m a big fan of proverbs. They’re very much in the same vein as Someone Once Told Me quotes, and this one is a sort of proverb, excitingly in Khmer.

Malin told me in Phnom Penh how her Cambodian father once told her: “Don’t Live Like A Snake, Don’t Die Like A Frog” What excellent advice.

01032014Lisa chose to share a fable that she heard from a Kenyan conservationist. Again, fables are just up the SOTM street, being passed on through the generations and lodging in memories along the way.

We met at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Lisa plans to do her bit for conservation, and got inspiration from this phrase which is a wonderful lesson about doing what you can, no matter how little influence it will have.

I later learned that Mandela never visited the university, even though it had been named after him – but then, many things are named after him and he probably didn’t have time to see them all.

04092013Mel’s story is one of love, coming from the mouth of her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Mel clearly didn’t like being in front of the camera, but I’m really glad she agreed to pose by the sea in Sliema, Malta.

Her grandmother once told her: “You Are Beautiful”

05092013Miu’s story, captured in Kyoto, Japan, is one of a passion for education, a parent’s desire for their children to be educated. Her mother, tight for money, would tell her: “I’ll Buy You Any Books You Want”

06042014Israel’s story is a lesson worth remembering. A financial expert, he explained to me in New Orleans, USA that a client of his taught him how whatever you save for, whatever you plan for, something will always crop up and need money to be spent on it.

So get used to it, because that’s just life.

07062014Matt once talked to a homeless guy in the States, who told him this.

I told him I agreed, how it was a great and upbeat phrase, not one you’d think someone who’s homeless would come up with.

“Thanks,” Matt said. “Can I interest you in a ‘Best Day Of My Life, No Big Deal‘ wristband?’

That was in January 2014, in Manila, Philippines. I’m still wearing it now.

08072013Aldo is a brave soul, because he’s the goalkeeper for San Marino, an international football team which doesn’t have many players to choose from, on account of the nation having some 30,000 inhabitants. He once let in eight goals against England and, famously, 13 against Germany.

However, he also once stood between the sticks against the might of the Italian national side, who peppered his goal with shots. He let in four but it should have been much more, if it weren’t for his cat-like performance that day.

After the game, a fan tweeted him a message that literally translated as: “You Played Incredible”

08102013This is a cute story, told by the adventurous and not a little handsome Cameron. But it also features a wriggling baby crocodile in Darwin, Australia, so simply had to make this list.

10022014Aruna has a beautiful tale of how her father cheered her up, by sending her this message on a postcard when she was a lonely teenager. She posed on the Thai island of Koh Lanta with a little help from her son Shaan, who’s holding the postcard in question.

The phrase means: “The Good That One Does Has No Immediate Recompense: It Will Come By & Of Itself”

11092013I met two women in South Africa’s Port Elizabeth called Mama Gladys. Both looked after children, one in an orphanage, the other a creche. The latter is the Mama Gladys that you see above.

She runs a creche in Walmer township, a rather tough place. She said she was concerned about the welfare of some of the local children, so she began a place where their parents could leave them when they went to work, or were just unable to look after them.

Her quote, written in Xhosa, means: “The Creche Is The Good Idea” which one of her friends told her, when encouraging her to start the venture up.

But something remarkable happened when I was perched on a rickety chair, taking two photographs of Mama Gladys – one in Xhosa, the other in English – and her wriggling charges.

She dug a mobile out of her considerable bosom, took a call, then tucked the device away again, revealing softly that her sister in law had died.

You can see the difference in her expression in the two photos on the SOTM site.

14072013Fabio Lamborghini is the definition of charisma, as you might expect from the nephew of Ferrucio, the inventor of the supercar which still bears his surname today.

Fabio said his Italian uncle once told him: “Fabio, The First Secret For Getting Money Is To Economise. Don’t Spend Too Much. Remember!”

Fabio didn’t seem to see much irony in his millionaire uncle, who made cars that only the super-rich can afford, telling his family to watch their spending.

He also said he took one of the Lamborghinis out each weekend.

Me: “Do you drive fast?”

Fabio: “Yeeeees.”

Me: “What do the local police think about that?”

Fabio: “Nooooo, they are very happy. Sometimes I give them the keys to one of the cars and tell them to borrow it for the weekend. So they are happy.”

Everyone’s a winner here, clearly.

16082013This one gets on the list because Michele, a bar owner in the tiny town of Bagno di Romagna in Emilia Romagna, Italy, once heard soldiers from the French Foreign Legion singing it in Albania. And I love that.

It means: “Doubt Maybe… Give Up Never”

16122013Not only do I totally agree with this, it also contains Benedicta’s dazzling smile and a view of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The line at the top of the pad, above the ‘n’ in ‘things’ is a hair pin, because the page ripped. It wasn’t one of mine.

17022014I wrote about Pete soon after I’d met him in Hong Kong. He went from compering at a comedy club and rolling out the laughs for the entire audience, to weeping in my arms an hour or so later, after recounting the story of his dead mother. One of my most remarkable SOTM experiences.

20082013First time in Austra, and Vienna. There I met a rocket scientist, Ryan – another first. Turns out he was once told this, as well. Brilliant.

21082013Not only a great quote, this sums up the Google generation and yet,  according to Julika, it came from a Latin teacher who looked like Julius Caesar. I was pleased to get a slightly different view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. Her SOTM reads: “You Don’t Have To Know Everything – You Just Have To Know Where To Find The Answers!”

26112013Duncan is dsylexic and wanted his SOTM, taken at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to be written in his own way. So that’s what we did. An admirable chap. His SOTM says: “You Can’t Use Your Disability As An Excus”

28082013I took this picture of Doris at the Missionvale Care Centre, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Life there is tough, with high rates of unemployment, extreme poverty and widespread HIV infection.

So it was heartbreaking to hear Doris’ story, which clearly made a hard life even tougher. Her SOTM says: “Your Husband Went To Transkei” He left without a word and Doris doesn’t know why.

29082013Atakan was told: “Don’t Even Trust Your Father!” by his father as he was leaving home to travel to Istanbul for university.

What I like about it is that afterwards, Atakan told me fathers and sons have a close relationship in Turkey. His story demonstrated this.

10092013Another one from Missionvale Care Centre, a place I can’t get out of my head.

Linda, who helps run the place, said a handymen called Bishop was working hard one day, and when she asked him why he told her this. These pots are in the centre’s garden and commemorate people who have helped the place with their work, but who have now passed away.

Some months after this photo, Bishop, who showed me around the township on foot so I could photograph it, caught pneumonia and died. So his name will be on a pot now, I think. A really sad end to a powerful story, but I will cherish my afternoon wandering around Missionvale township, with Bishop, for the rest of my life.

31102013Sally was a shy girl, as were all her classmates. But I got a number of them to think of SOTM stories. This one was my favourite.

My love of proverbs means that I was always going to be charmed by this phrase, which is apparently such an old expression in Korea that Sally actually wrote it in Chinese characters.

It means: “After A Typhoon There Are Pears To Gather Up”

I like it so much I even use that quote myself, which is perfectly in the spirit of SOTM, of course.

It has been a blessing to have learned so much from so many fine people around the world.

SOTM – New Orleans

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

New Orleans is like Manchester United. Wherever you go in the world, someone’s heard of it and people are talking about it.

Difference is, everyone seems to love New Orleans, but you can’t have everything.

So it was with much excitement that Kate and I arrived in the Big Easy, just ahead of Mardi Gras.

I’d forgotten this rumbustious, anything-goes city had been given this nickname, but at one point a big SUV stopped to let us walk across the street.

As we scuttled on our way, the SUV drove past and through the open side window a sizeable, smiling African American chap yelled out: “This is the Big Easy. Y’all take your time.”

New Orleans’s French Quarter is undoubtedly the best part of the city. It’s iconic and instantly recognisable from so much screen time.

Other parts, it must be said, are poorer, rougher, like they haven’t recovered from Hurricane Katrina and maybe weren’t in mid-season form even before the winds and floods came.

These areas, neighbourhoods like Crescent City and Treme, have wild chickens and feral cats roaming around. The pretty but down-at-heel houses have a lot of their residents sat out front who are hugely friendly. Almost makes you forget that this is one of the most murderous cities in the United States.

“Y’all come from LONDON?!” an incredulous elderly chap yelled out as we got out a taxi. And as we walked through the streets, people lounging about on their porches wished us a happy carnival.

1488021_10153944585785241_667523191_nThe architecture all over New Orleans is remarkable, one way or another, and no more so than in the French Quarter.

And if you ever want to buy a place in this part of town, always check to see if it’s occupied by someone else first. Especially if they might be dead.

Speaking of the supernatural, that was the theme for plenty of people during the annual Mardi Gras festivities.

This city’s heartbeat is its population, both the locals and those it adopts with a warm embrace and cocktails that’ll make you forget your mother’s name.

The costumes on display were pretty cool. At the top of the page you’ll see me with a couple of guys in full on Breaking Bad meth lab gear. And I came across giant green soldiers, just like the ones I had when I was a boy, which I really enjoyed seeing. If only I’d met these chaps when I was eight…

I told this young lady I liked her sling, and she told me she liked my accent in return. At that point her boyfriend, seen here in the top left, interjected  and hurried her along.

Just in case you didn’t realise these are a New Orleans voodoo couple, they carry a sign.

Now here’s a collector’s item – the Naked Cowboy, usually seen in New York’s Time Square, but clearly on his holidays along with his wife, seen below.

I spotted her having her picture taken with a number of guys who were fondling her bottom while their friend photographed the moment. She seemed to be quite enjoying it and stuck her bottom out even further. Clearly a good sport.

This city was built not only on a swamp (it’s the only American city below sea level) but also on music. And when it comes to Mardi Gras, there’s music in most places, even the middle of the street.

1381400_10153944587185241_106387052_n

This bass player was big on orgasmic facial expressions. He could play, too.

And this guy could be the human version of Animal from the Muppets.

1795494_10153944655225241_902536361_nBut it’s not just the musicians who claim the streets. This is Cubs the Poet who sits on Royal Street, across from the Court of Two Sisters, and bashes out bespoke poems on a 1912 typewriter.

He did one for Kate and me called Two Nikons after he spotted the cameras around our necks.

Food is as much a fingerprint of New Orleans as its architecture, music and copious vampire stories. That would warrant an entire, meaty blog post of its own, so I’ll just choose one – beignets.

I’d never heard of them before but soon Adventurous Kate was sternly forbidding me from having two sessions a day at Cafe Du Monde, a staple of this magnificent part of the city since 1862 and which sells the best beignets and coffee in town.

They taste like a little bit of heaven, being a sort of fried dough, and the coffee served with is lovely, a mild, smooth blend, very pleasing to my pipes.

Beignets are also served covered in a liberal explosion of icing sugar, which amusingly gets everywhere – across the floor, all over the tables, over the staff and you too, no matter what precautions you take. Be aware that you may emerge from the premises looking like a drug lord who’s sneezed into a bag of his latest shipment.

Now then. Let’s talk beads. At this time of year, they’re the lifeblood of the city. Money, sex, food and drink take a back seat. When it’s Mardi Gras, it’s all about the beads.

This is how it works. People stand on balconies and throw beads to the crowds below.

The aforementioned crowds then go nuts when the beads are thrown down to them, as this lady is doing above. This moment you see below actually captures a feather boa being chucked down, just for a change.

Once safely in their clutches, the party people then proudly display all the beads they’ve collected. They get pretty heavy, let me tell you, but these lads didn’t seem to mind.

1185125_10153944649505241_1082909453_nBut there just aren’t enough necks to hang all those thousands of beads around. So they also get draped around the front of houses…

…or end up on the floor.

Go home, Mardi Gras bear. You’re drunk.

There’s so much mess, child labour has to be employed to keep on top with the cleaning effort.

282985_10153944647435241_1680710128_nWhile in town I managed to rattle off a few SOTMs. This one was a highlight – the excellent Israel told me a fascinating story about an elderly, long-standing customer at his bank who gave him this advice one time. Israel told the story brilliantly too, and you can hear it via his audio clip – click on his photo to go to his page on the SOTM site.

And I also attended a burlesque night in New Orleans, something every man should do at least once in life. I got the lovely Tallulah to share a story about her beloved grandmother.

16042014Finally, here’s a bit of trivia from a city teeming with remarkable facts. This is the house that Richard Simmons grew up in.

If you’re not American and don’t know who he is, go ahead and click that link. He’s like a camper Leo Sayer, only a fitness instructor for those who aren’t good at exercise. Simmons, incidentally, went to the same New Orleans school as Lenny Kravitz and Lee Harvey Oswald. Not all at the same time.

Next time, I take off on a Deep South road trip. Oysters and grits ahoy!