I think I’m in love. :)
I have never been in a city like New Orleans before, or seen a neighborhood like the French Quarter. I ended up wandering the French Quarter for most of the day that I was in New Orleans, in fact. By the time I left the city, I’d gotten:
- sore feet and blisters from walking in my sandals, since my sneakers were soaked (more on that later),
- a lovely French Quarter tour in a mule-drawn, four-wheeled, open-sided, covered carriole — at least I think that’s the right word for the type of… people-wagon used. I was delighted to see that though our conveyance was not a surrey, it did have a fringe on top! The mule’s name was Miranda, and apparently mules are strongly preferred to horses in the city, due to their having more strength and endurance, and calmer natures. Apparently the rules for their use on tours are quite stringent — they must by law have 3 months off each year. The ones I saw were all in good condition, neatly shod, and relaxedly friendly.
The tour itself wound mostly through the French Quarter, and the guide was a cheerfully chatty woman whose name I’ve forgotten. She clearly enjoyed what she was doing, though, and handled Miranda well, talking soothingly to the mule on the few times she needed calming. I wish she could have halted more for us to take photos, but the streets frequently were so narrow that it wasn’t until she turned down a side street that the cars behind her could slip on by. On the other hand, everyone seemed sort of relaxed about it; clearly there wasn’t a huge rush to get anywhere.
- to wander through Cemetery #1 and see the tombs of Marie Leveau, her daughter, and those of many other folks. The cemetery is a weirdly N’Awlins mix of crumbling and decrepit tombs, chockablock with spotlessly gleaming new marble plots. Apparently originally the families themselves cared for their family tombs, keeping them clean and in good order — but over the years what often happened is that the family fell on hard times, or even died out. The sole exception was any tomb with a small, neat placard that said (if I’m remembering right) “Eternal Care,” which means the Catholic church has been paid to do the maintenance for the tomb. There was at least one tomb which was reduced to nothing much more than a pile of crumbling bricks. It initially seemed rather sad to me, but as I wandered the cemetery, I eventually realized it was a sort of graceful mineral metaphor for the eternally changing nature of existence.
The tallest monument there was the one on the tomb maintained by the Catholic church for those devout Catholics who cannot afford burial. That was fascinating, but even more fascinating to me was learning of the beneficial role the Catholic church had in the treatment of slaves in New Orleans during the centuries in which slavery was allowed. I’ve heard of so much that the church bollocks up that it’s startling and pleasing to hear of a social situation which they helped improve. Admittedly, this does not change or mitigate the injustices practiced, but it was nice to hear the church had helpful rules for the slaves of New Orleans, and I suspect that was a significant part of why there was such a large population of former slaves.
For example, slaves had to be raised Catholic, which meant they got Sundays and saints’ days off. Slave families brought into New Orleans could not be separated — they all had to go to the same owner, or be freed — and to be treated justly, which meant there were slaves who successfully brought suit against their owners for excessive cruelty. The church also mandated that if a slave had free time, she or he could work for pay for someone else — and that money was theirs to do with as they pleased, including purchasing their own freedom! Further, apparently there was a form of “pseudo-marriage” called la plaçage in which a poor woman of color could benefit from the support and wealth of a white land-owning man. It was much more complex than that, of course, but it was a fascinating opportunity for these women to have free children, and from what the guide said, it was a significant part of the creation of the Creole population.
One of the community-oriented women who helped young women find suitable partners in such a fashion was Marie Leveau. Fascinatingly, both she and her daughter are considered somewhat like Catholic saints by modern voodoo practitioners, in that when a practitioner desires something, they bring a conceptually-related gift to lay at the tomb, make their prayer or request, then “seal the deal” by marking three Xs on the tomb. This results in the oddest mix of bric-a-brac lying about the tomb: bottles of liquor, tiny plastic or hand-made dolls, coins and dollar bills, burned-out candle stubs, strings of Mardi Gras beads, and other less identifiable things which are falling apart due to the weather. The tour guide warned us that unpleasant wishes would require unpleasant gifts being left, but I didn’t see anything too awful. On the other hand, the stone of the tomb was utterly covered with Xs! They were layered repeatedly, all over everywhere that was flat enough to take a marking — it was astonishing to consider how many prayers they represented!
- drenched by a short torrential storm that started while we were still on the tour, followed by the shivers when I foolishly went into a bar & grill to get out of the rain! I can see how easy it would be for really severe weather to mess the city up now, though — just during the 10 to 20 minutes of the storm, I watched the sidewalk I was standing on become awash in water as I backed up and away from it.
You can’t stay dry in NOLA, as far as I can tell — either you’re drenched in the quick summer storms, or you’re sweating. At some point, though, oddly enough… it just doesn’t matter. It’s part of being in the city, you know? Plus, with all the greenery and vivacity, the city’s too pretty to stay trapped inside for the AC all the time. It’s much more fun to pick your times carefully so it’s a bit cooler while you’re out and about.
- a delicious hot poboy to warm up a bit, followed by some fresh, hot beignets! The poboy was much like a Subway sandwich in that it was about twice as long as I could eat, so I saved the rest for later. The bread is supposed to be unique to NOLA; I found it tasty but with a sort of… papery texture? I don’t quite know how to describe it. Oh, also: if they ask you if you want your poboy dressed, it means do you want the sandwich with the usual toppings: lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayonnaise, and so on. Interestingly, I found the beignets a bit dry if eaten with just powdered sugar. I prefer them with a bit of honey, myself.
- a black, brilliantly colored “I [heart] New Orleans” hoody, since my clothing was utterly soaked and I was freezing and it was a lovely warm hoody! The lady in the crowded little store was really sweet, helping me quickly find something nice that fit, to cut down on my shivers. I ended up also purchasing, as I wandered that day, a beautiful purple shirt with a brilliantly masked lady on it and the words “New Orleans: Birthplace of Jazz”; as well as a CD of zydeco music; a Solstice gift for a friend (which I will not describe here so I don’t spoil the surprise); and a lovely, delicate- looking filigree mask. It was New Orleans, after all — how could I leave without a mask?! ;)
More soon! Must get back on the road now. Enjoy! :)