This week, the wife and I have been spending time in the Big Easy. That’s right, getting real with the locals of New Orleans. It’s been a wonderful trip filled with walking, walking, and lots more walking. We’ve seen about everything there is to see and are ready to head home. But before we go, N’awlin’s needs to get itself Jack’d!
From an outsider perspective, New Orleans is all about what you eat and where you die. In fact, you could stuff your face so full of local cuisine your heart could give out. All that fried dough, gumbo, and MEAT, MEAT, MEAT. And that brings me to my first point. Vegetarians need not apply. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. I did manage to find something to eat at every corner (especially the beignets — delish!); but those who don’t eat meat won’t be sampling the local fare like those that do.
No matter your taste, you will find something. In fact, we wound up supping at one particular cafe quite often. The Avenue Cafe is what my wife would call Nirvana. Each and every morsel of food you place in your mouth was not only made with care and concern for the environment, but with those that consume it. The owners went out of their way to make us feel at home. The ambiance was charming, warm, and “whole”. What I found refreshing about the place (besides the fact they had a never-ending supply of Mexican Coke and their divine strawberry/banana muffins) was their compost bin. That’s right — you don’t just throw your uneaten food and napkins away, you dump them into the composting bin. They recycle, they use local produce and artists, and they care. Find something like that on Bourbon Street. Natch!
One of the most fascinating stops we made was the St. Louis Cemetary #1. I filmed, I shot pictures, I sweat (it was 106 degrees). Here was the first cemetery in New Orleans — and it shows. All graves in the city are above ground, so these places are packed! Upon first blush you wonder how in the world do they stuff all those body inside the brick and mortar death boxes. Simple — each body is interred in a wooden box and placed in the “Ovens”. During the summers the inside temp of those monuments reaches 300 degrees. After a year, all that remains is wood bits, and ash. The grave is opened and the remains are swept to the back to make room for the next family member to pass on.
But it’s not the back story or how they make room for the constant supply of “fresh meat” that demands you come walk through the “bone orchards” — it’s the incredible beauty of the places. You’ll see nothing like this anywhere else. Walking through a burial ground that houses those that died circa 1800 above ground is not only unique, it offers a creep factor like no other graveyard I’ve walked through. Besides, it’s serious history. We stood at the foot of Marie Laveau’s crypt. Laveau (September 10, 1794 – June 16, 1881) was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo renowned in New Orleans. We got to witness a woman making an offering of two apples split in half and filled with honey. It was truly fascinating. The tomb was covered in triple X markings. It is said that if you mark Laveau’s grave with the XXX she might grant you your wish.
Of all the tombs in St. Louis Cemetary #1, it was the future home of Nicholas Cages remains that stood out the most … literally. The actor purchased the last two remaining plots (for an undisclosed amount of scratch) and had a pyramid tomb erected. Why a pyramid? Who knows, maybe it was the National Treasure movies? No matter. It’s his tomb, he could have had it built in the shape of an Oscar, for all I care (since that’ll be the closest he ever comes to getting one).
Now, let me offer up my opinion of Bourbon Street. This strip of unquiet debauchery is the first street I have walked that puts the stink of New York city to shame. It’s this combination of urine, rot, and sour body odor that slaps you upside the face and says “Wake up ya’ll, you’re on Bourbon Street!” and never gives quarter. It’s not constant, it has the stealth (and punch) of a ninja. Bourbon Street is all about the porn, the drink, and the jazz. If you don’t drink or aren’t into skin, don’t worry … you’ll still find something. Cafe Beignet is where it’s at! Of course you must like those delicious French doughnuts and you must like jazz. The musicians are always outstanding and the staff always friendly.
There are also plenty of touristy voodoo shops. I have a feeling the real voodoo happens well outside the city; but it’s worth stopping in just to say you’ve been in Madam Laveau’s Voodoo Shop or Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop. And if you skip out on the French Market — you’re missing out. This open air market offers plenty of interesting delights to consume. And the SMELLS — no more sour pain to punch you in the gut. Here you get fresh air and Cafe du Monde! Three beignets for like $2.14. Do not pass go…period.
And I’ll say this — if you could only go to one place in New Orleans, make it the Garden District. Forget the French Quarter, the Garden District has everything you need. Not only can you dine on crawfish and gator, you get to see some of the most amazing, palatial homes that have been in existence since the early 1800s. I could walk through the streets of the Garden District for days and never grow bored.
There really is too much to say about New Orleans to put it into one post. It’s charming, it’s overwhelming (at times), it’s hot, it’s filled with color and history, and it really wants your money. And — as a nice topper to this already decadent cake — if you’re into horror, there’s plenty of ghost/vampire/voodoo tours as well as the one-time home of Anne Rice. The atmosphere alone will have your imagination doing back flips with possibilities (as a writer, that alone is worth the price of admission).
Would I come back? The jury is still out on that one. I feel like in four days I managed to get my fill of New Orleans. For those that haven’t visited — do. You won’t regret the trip. It won’t cost you and arm and a leg (or a pint of blood) and the experience you take away will be priceless.
Just don’t step in any puddles on Bourbon Street. If you do, throw away your shoes and disinfect your feet.