For the Love of History
After the overwhelming success of my tours in Mexico, I had high hopes for the French Quarter and Cemetery Tour I had booked for Tuesday morning in New Orleans. Part of me hates walking the idea of walking around in a tour group, but it is undoubtedly also the easiest way to learn about the city in a short space of time. In addition, it is prohibited to enter the high-walled St. Louis Cemetery without a tour guide, which made me want to go in there all the more.
When I arrived at Legendary Walking Tours, I was given a sticker to wear (in case I wandered off alone?), and introduced to my guide, Stephen, and the two very-agreeable Canadians who made up my group. We were off to an excellent start!
Now, the more I learn about the cities I visit, the more I wonder why I wasn’t more interested in history when I was young (although, given the…ahem…chaos that has been the hallmark of my life, neglecting history is probably the least of it). I say this, because once Stephen launched into his very rapid, very knowledgable spiel about the history of New Orleans, with the French and the fires and the Spanish and the Louisiana Purchase, I couldn’t help but think how damned fascinating it all was. And I really wanted to know more.
The more relevant conclusion? New Orleans is very picturesque, and it doesn’t feel like anywhere else I have been.
The “shotgun” house, which is typical in New Orleans, is a series of rooms, which are all lined up, one behind the other. In a shotgun house, you need to walk through every room in the house, in order to get from the front room to the back, and vice versa. They come in single, double and camelback styles, and are simply gorgeous. Here is an example of the single and double, alongside one other, and a particularly beautiful version of a camelback shotgun (which includes a second floor at the rear of the house), right in the heart of the French Quarter.
From the French Quarter, we made our way over to the first of the three Roman Catholic cemeteries that make up New Orlean’s St. Louis Cemetery.
There are a lot of tours moving throughout the cemetery, including those of the ghost and voodoo kinds. I would go so far as to say that the workings of the cemetery give you enough to go on, without needing the extra stories.
The way the vaults worked before the health department stepped in was as follows: the body was placed inside on a shelf for at least a year (or, for at least one Louisiana summer…hot, hot, hot), before being pushed into an area at the rear, in order to make way for the next one. If another vault resident died within that year, they needed to be interred in a rental vault. The cemetery is still in use today, although now the remains are disposed of in such a way as to meet regulations, and to allow for accurate exhumation.
Now for the hint of celebrity!
Stephen made a point of suggestively referring to the cemetery scenes in American Horror Story and the movie Double Jeopardy, before revealing that both were actually filmed in Lafayette Cemetery, in the Garden District. Although, I can see why St. Louis No. 1 might be jealous…filming was banned in there after Peter Fonda broke the hand off this beautiful lady, while filming the acid-trip scene from Easy Rider.
Then, for the truly bizarre. This is the pre-purchased vault of Nicholas Cage, who has presumably decided to be laid to rest in a pyramid in New Orleans, which reads “Omnia Ab Uno” (or “Everything From One”). It is beautifully tended, because old Nick paid for the “perpetual care” package, which obligates the Roman Catholic church to keep it in good shape until…well…judgement day, I guess. I actually prefer the old ones.
Last, and most likely least, there is the grave of Marie Laveau, the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans”. The most surprising thing about Marie is not her purported voodoo powers, but how a humble hairdresser (according to Stephen) managed to become the second most-visited grave site in the United States, behind only Elvis and JFK. There was literally a queue to photograph it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted a photo, but I felt obligated, so here it is.
And that was that! Tuesday was proving to be a steamy New Orleans day, so I picked up Eva and we headed to our buffet lunch at the Court of the Two Sisters. I was intent on using the buffet as an opportunity to taste the turtle soup, for which they are famed (and a whole slew of other things).
It was a beautiful courtyard…as was the turtle soup, catfish roulade, gumbo, ribs, corn grits (amazing!), pecan pie, bananas foster and french vanilla ice-cream. Eva, on the other hand, has taken a real shine to red beans and rice, and would have been their best-value buffet patron of the day, if not for my valiant efforts to even the score.
After we arrived home, it started to pour. And, let me tell you, it sure knows how to rain in Louisiana!