Thirteen Days

I have been in America thirteen days.  In that time, I have (with a large amount of assistance from  my mother – i.e., she did it all) purchased a house, rented temporary housing, bought a car (more on this later), met some awesome people, drunk all the wine, lost one of my favorite necklaces, written drunken poetry in a bar where they were playing True Blood on a projector screen, almost crashed into an Entergy truck, gone to a night club dressed as a slutty Hogwarts student, played with a ouija board, gotten a flat tire, petted some kitties, made a complaint to the attorney general’s office and been bitten by roughly 7000 mosquitos.

I left it too long to blog due to the extreme amount of STUFF I’ve been packing into my days.  All I can tell you right now is that I am drinking some wine with a cork floating in it.  The wine is called ‘California Collection’ and was probably $6.99 at the gas station.  Yes, you can buy wine at the gas station.  Actually you can buy wine everywhere, at any time of the day or night.  Welcome to New Orleans.

A pictorial representation of my first week in New Orleans (well, the good parts anyway).

How to begin?  The first few days I was here, it just didn’t quite seem real.  I was hideously jet lagged, I had little to organise (until my mother arrived to help me out) and I was basically just in a weird transitory period where everything felt surreal and dreamy (the humidity does not help this).  I was (and still am) blown away by how wonderful, genuine, helpful and friendly just about everyone in this city seems to be.  Everywhere I went people were saying hello, seemed genuinely interested to know how I was and what I was doing, what had made me decide to move here, and so on.  People were also genuine with their warnings.  The bank manager at Chase looked at me very seriously and said “Don’t let this city suck you in.  Seriously.  Next time you’re back here, I don’t want to see you with a green mohawk.”  Little does he know.

In truth, most things about the move have gone relatively smoothly, aside from our dealings with our Australian bank accounts (I’m looking at you, ANZ).  It turns out the banks in Australia REALLY don’t want to let you transfer or withdraw more than $1000 a day.  This makes life a little bit tricky when you’re trying to set up a whole new household – a whole new life – overseas.  Numerous calls to the bank in Australia resulted in being put on hold for 50 minutes, speaking to 8 different operators and being told 8 different things, only to eventually be told, by the branch where we originally opened the account “Sorry, nothing we can do.  Bye.”

I find it really hard to believe that we’re the only people in the history of Australian banking who have wanted to move a sum exceeding $1000 between international bank accounts, but there it is.  We’re now moving it in very tiny increments at a fee of $25 per transaction.  I do believe that when my mother returns to Australia she plans to shut all her ANZ accounts and hide her money under her mattress.

Apartment hunting did turn out to be somewhat easier when I arrived in the actual country.  New Orleanians (probably Americans in general, come to think of it) are extremely scam-conscious.  As such, emails from a girl saying she’s moving from Australia and needs a place to live probably came off as a bit, oh, I don’t know – insane.  I had no problems at all viewing properties once I got here.  Finding a decent one was another matter.

Being used to the Perth rental market (read: absolute insanity, don’t even try) I kind of assumed that finding a place in New Orleans would be easy.  That may be so if you’re a native – not so much if you’re from another country.  I lack a social security number.  I lack a US credit rating.  I lack a large sum of money in my bank account (see: fuck you, ANZ).  All I really had to back up the fact that I wasn’t a total bum was a cash deposit, my mother’s word, and the help of a realtor from Gardner Realtors, who specialised in relocation.  As a heads up to anyone moving from a foreign country who is looking to buy or rent property in New Orleans – using a realtor will legit make your experience roughly several thousand times easier.  J from Gardner picked us up, dropped us off, drove us around, offered us up front, honest feedback on neighborhoods, safety, pricing, etc etc and was an all round wonderful chap.  Just another example of people going above and beyond in this city to make you feel welcome.

One thing people will often tell you about New Orleans is that it is not safe.  This can certainly be the case.  Neighborhoods – streets, even – change block to block, and it’s pretty easy to find yourself in a nice looking house with gun toting crack heads for neighbors.  That said, I lived next door to some gun toting crack heads for a number of years and I turned out okay.  Still – best not to play with your safety.  My good friend Jamie suggested Crime Mapping as a method of finding out how safe the neighborhood I was moving to was, which was pretty helpful.  There was at least one place we went to look at where, upon arriving, J ushered us into his car and said “Uh, no.  I just saw money change hands.  Let’s get out of here”.

I wound up finding the house I’m in on Craigslist.  It had been listed (re-listed, really) only half an hour before I put in the call, after the original tenant (who had been meant to move in the next day) pulled out.  This seems to be how it is with good places in New Orleans.  You have to get in there at just the right time.  I called at 6pm, the realtor showed me the property at 7.30 and I moved in the next day.  During the time she was showing me the house, five more people called her.

Housing is funny in New Orleans.  In addition to worrying about neighborhood, you also need to be concerned about how likely it is to flood, whether it has termites, whether it has central air (don’t talk to me about window units in this heat), how run down it is (a lot of rentals are), whether there are shared laundry facilities (common even in houses, since many houses out here are doubles that have been separated into two separate places), what, if any, utilities the landlord pays and whether or not there is parking.  The other concern is whether or not the house is a shotgun.

For reference, a shotgun house is a historic style of architecture where each room leads directly off from the next, so that if you opened all the doors you could literally ‘fire a shotgun’ through the house.  As you can imagine, this allows for very little privacy.  The layout of our house is as follows: living room; bedroom one; bedroom two; bathroom (directly off bedroom two); kitchen.  So if my housemate wants to pee in the middle of the night?  You’d best believe she’s walking through my bedroom to do it.

Fortunately my housemate and I are both heavy sleepers, and both relatively chilled out, so we foresee few problems with this arrangement.  But I have to admit, it might be kind of awkward (particularly if one of us has, he hem, a sleepover – or a nasty stomach virus – or a penchant for ramen at 4 in the morning).  We shall see.  Suffice to say the place we ended up renting is  nice, reasonably priced, with central air, on a quiet street, a block away from the street car, with plenty of parking.  We’ve got hardwood floors and mantlepieces and a walk in closet and a newish bathroom and kitchen, and right now I’m just so happy to have somewhere to sleep that isn’t a hotel.  Our landlady seems delightful, too – a really laid back Irish lady who moved to the city herself about 15 years ago, so seems to understand what it’s like as a struggling immigrant (or something).  She rented me the place on the spot with no credit check, anyway – AND provided advice on local nightspots, where was good to hang out, eat at, and so on.  Like I said; people in this city are just NICE.

I’ll close for now with a nice little anecdote from last night.  Jamie and I were shopping on Decatur, trying on dresses and being girly.  The shop guy asked us where we were from, and Jamie automatically said “Here”.  “Me too,” I said, then “well, I just moved here.  From Australia.”

“Oh.” he said, and smiled “Well.  Welcome home.”

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