I have always wanted to visit New Orleans. The city has inspired so many books, movies, and TV shows. Interview with the Vampire. America Horror Story: Coven. And one of my favorite films, Undercover Blues.
I went with my friend L. We hadn’t seen each other since college, but had kept in touch on social media. Since this was our first trip, our itinerary, as loose as it was, consisted of the city’s greatest hits. First was the French Quarter, which was a streetcar (alas, we did not get one named Desire) away from our hotel.
The French Quarter was founded in 1718 and is the oldest section of New Orleans. Many of its buildings date back to the late 1700s to early 1800s. The area is as quaint and atmospheric as the stories it inspires, the area charged with an energy that is both brooding and celebratory. Small streets lined with ornately decorated buildings, some of them in the midst of being decorated for Mardi Gras, which was a week away.
Our first stop was Cafe du Monde, for a breakfast of beignets and cafe au lait.
Cafe du Monde was originally a coffee stand in the French market that served hot coffee and milk and beignets, French-style square-shaped donuts liberally dusted with powdered sugar. Though opened in 1862, they only started serving iced coffee and soft drinks in 1988.
Their coffee, which New Orleans is known for, is a mix of coffee and chickory. They only serve it two ways: black, or au lait. It arrived just shy of hot, the milky smokiness going very well with the beignet, whose mounds of powdered sugar sweetens the coffee quite nicely.
Bellies full, we made our way to Jackson Square, located in front of St. Louis Cathedral, America’s oldest cathedral, next to the Mississipi River. It was beautiful! It was picturesque! It was also under repair.
The area is very significant. It was the site of the Louisiana Purchase, where the US acquired ‘Louisiana Territory,’ which ran from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. It’s been the site of battles and executions, though now, it’s mostly a site for art. Artists, musicians, and even students of the occult gather there to showcase their wares.
The apartments in the buildings that surround it are some of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the city. I’d want to live there, except that given NOLA’s history, I might have to share it, so never mind.
A friend had asked me to buy him a voodoo doll, so we headed to Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.
Marie Laveau is New Orleans’ most famous Voodoo practitioner. She made Voodoo fashionable in New Orleans society, though it was really her daughter, Marie Laveau II, who infused it with the mystery and flair it it is associated with today. The younger Laveau was said to live in the house that the store with her and her mother’s name is located in, though it isn’t corroborated.
The store is filled with, as you guessed, all things Voodoo. Photography is not allowed. If you’re the sensitive type, you’ll feel woozy inside from all the energy. But I wasn’t (yep, past tense. More on that to follow), so I was fine. I found a voodoo doll that was supposed to attract happiness and bliss, so that’s what I got for my friend. We all want happiness and bliss.
Ghost Tour and Bourbon Street
We went on a ghost tour of the French Quarter. We met our guide at a souvenir shop whose name escapes me now and we roamed the streets as the night deepened. What I like about ghost tours are that they are also history lessons; not the grand sweeps that we’re used to reading in history books, but the minutiae–how individual lives impact the whole tapestry of a city, and how their decisions may have led to them being earthbound after death. A well-done ghost tour is as informative and poignant as it is creepy.
We ended the night on Bourbon Street by accident. We had been crossing it all day–it extends up to 13 blocks after all. It’s known for two things–history and drinking. We got to see both, the historical part in the afternoon, when all the stores were open and you kind of got the idea of how maybe things were long ago, and the drinking part, when the sun went down and the lights went up and you had people in different states of inebriation spilling into the streets. We were too tired to join in the revelry. But as tired as we were, we were happy as well to have gotten a whiff, a taste of The French Quarter, which, until that day had only existed on TV, in books and movies, and in our imagination.