visitor with a soul develops a soft spot for New Orleans. The
charm, history, music, food and mischief that define The Big Easy
make it impossible not to be captivated.
we always do, we began the day at Cafe Du Monde. Megadoses
of sugar, grease and caffeine -- what more could we need
to fuel the day's explorations? Beignets devoured and coffee
proceeded to take on the town.
Admittedly, some of the French
Quarter's appeal isn't as charming
in the cold hard light of day as it is by the soft neon glow of
night. We figured a daylight tour might look better from the splendor
of a mule-drawn carriage.
Jackson Square hosts more mules than you could shack a
stick at -- lined up and ready to haul ass around the
Quarter. Wait, a mule is only a half-ass, but our feet
were saved for some later carousing nevertheless.
teamster / guide, Jan, proved to be a veritable
treasure trove of artful narratives about the history and architecture
of The Quarter. The accuracy of these yarns ran the gamut from
factual to fanciful, but that's
part of the fun. Jan pointed out
many of the best known landmarks, offered up historical information
and threw in a sprinkling of ghost stories for good measure. Whether
they be legend or genuine is left to the beholder to ascertain.
Orleans is well-known for its cemeteries, with crypts built
above ground instead of the usual subterranean graves. The
reason for this was commonly thought to have been that the
city sits below sea level, making grave digging impractical.
The caskets might even float up to the surface. But it is
likely that there is a less disgusting explanation. Traditions
of the French and Spanish that settled this area, and the
ability to show off wealth and station in
life by building ornate tombs may have had more influence on the
development of these glorious graveyards than the water table.
built fabulous mausoleums that have been used for generations.
For those without the means to afford an elaborate entombment,
societies were formed, usually exclusive to people in a certain
occupation or ethnic group, to pool resources for building a
of these burial grounds are just outside The French Quarter,
the closest, oldest and perhaps best known being St. Louis Cemetery
#1. After our carriage ride, we took a stroll through it. Dating
back to 1789, the cemetery holds several of New Orleans' earliest
dignitaries, both famous and infamous.
most storied resident, Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, attracts
hundreds of pilgrims to her tomb everyday. The believers
draw three Xs on the tomb or leave offerings, always in
threes, of candles, flowers, dolls, coins, even cigarettes
and cigars, in hopes of having the famous priestess grant
their petitions. On occasion, the sacrifices
chickens. The more urban of the worshipers have been known
to offer up a bucket of KFC, perhaps
believing chicken comes like that in its natural form, to fulfill
the ritual's requirements.
had enough of the spooky side of The Crescent City, it was
time to see some of the splendor of the old South in The
Garden District. The best way to do this, from our point
of view, is to jump on the St. Charles street car on Canal
Street at the edge of The French Quarter. The clattering
old trolleys run right down the middle of St. Charles Avenue
through the heart of the district. Stately manors line the
boulevard on either side, and the gardens are, well, it
is called The
Garden District for a reason.
trees along St. Charles were draped with thousands of Mardi
Gras beads from the parades of the Carnival. No, we were
not crazy enough to venture into New Orleans during Mardi
Gras, these baubles were the remnants from several weeks
prior to our visit.
good place to get off the trolley and turn around to head
back into The Quarter is the Audubon Zoo and Gardens,
named in honor of
the famed naturalist and painter John Audubon who lived in New
Orleans in the early 1800s.
a bit of time before the nightlife kicked in, we took a
little stroll through the gardens, then thought what
the hey, and gave the zoo
a quick once over too. It's not huge, but is well appointed and
gives an interesting nod to the
local flora and fauna, including
a couple white alligators that should not be missed.
darkness approaching, we headed back to The French Quarter.
Wandering about The Quarter is a study in street theater,
one of our favorite diversions. The show consists of all
types of performers practicing their acts for the audience
of passersby with varying degrees of proficiency. The performances
ranged from unique and fantastic diversions to talentless,
don't-look-just-keep-walking tragedies. Mostly the better
variety fortunately, and mostly musicians drawn to the birthplace
been a long time since the labor pains, blue notes still fill
the air of The Big Easy, both on the streets and the stages.
Drifting out of the dens and dives along Bourbon Street, jazz
one of the many musical styles one might hear. Rock,
rhythm & blues, soul and zydeco are just as likely to tickle
the eardrums of The Quarter's revelers.
famous of these music venues is Preservation Hall. Just off
Bourbon Street, folks from all over the world line up and wait
for hours just to have a chance to hear some of the old masters
rip a riff or two. Although the building dates all the way back
to 1750, it wasn't used for musical performances until 1961
when Allan and Sandra Jaffe opened it as a place for aging musicians
to play and preserve the art form. Hence, the name. The hall
is a sanctuary to honor and protect New Orleans jazz.
return of music fans and revelers are a good sign for the
city. They can be seen roaming the streets after dark, complete
with giant goofy glasses of
vile, brightly colored potent potables. There's something about
New Orleans that makes otherwise reasonably sane people want to
drink mass quantities of concoctions that they would never touch
back home. What follows degenerates into displays of flesh, or
more often, requests for any passing female to display some. Once
Veronica had been so propositioned, we decided it might be time
to mosey on.
we thought we should make it to bed before the ghosts came out