What is so great about New Orleans?
It’s stories, many of which are built on pain and a little bit of magic. From hurricane Katrina, the sounds of drums played by slaves, the secret violence of the Mardi Gras Indians and Voodoo. The stories this city possesses are enchanting and mysterious.
Me, Sarah and Emma stayed in a pirate themed Airbnb in the Ninth Ward of NOLA (which we later found out was not the safest area to stay in, but we had absolutely no trouble apart from the heavy showers).
I was not very lucky with the weather, my flight had to circle around New Orleans as the airport was shut due to the passing storm. It was a BUMPY landing, I got the true experience of Louisiana. When the rain eventually cleared up we took a stroll around Ninth Ward to venture over to the district of Treme. Now when I buy my first house, I want it to look like it came straight out of New Orleans, turquoise painted wooden boards with pink doors.. The grey clouds and lack of sunshine no longer mattered as the warmth of the bright houses stole the spotlight.
The ninth ward is also the area that was most affected by hurricane Katrina due to the low lying grounds. Every local we spoke to was somehow affected by Katrina. Whether it was a broken home or having to move out of the city, Katrina had left her mark on New Orleans forever. Many shops, bars and restaurants also apparently changed their names after Katrina too.
2. Cemeteries – the dead cities
We walked to Treme to reach the burial grounds of the voodoo queen, Marie Laveau in the St.Louis cemetery #1. However, it turns out you cant enter the cemetery without a registered tour guide (just incase you got lost in a tomb). So make sure you go with a tour, you can even sign up for free walking tours here.
Instead, we walked 3 blocks down to the St. Louis cemetery #2. Just as pretty but with less famous corpses. The cemeteries look slightly different to what most are use to with over the ground tombs. The main reason for this is the shallow burial plots due to the high water level. When coffins were buried underground they would float after a heavy storm, despite the attempt of using stones to weigh them down, so they used the Spanish style of vaults.
The tomb started from the bottom, now its here.. (sorry I couldn´t resist).
It was common for families to have stacked vaults of 6 to 9. But what happens if you have 9 dead people and then more family members die? As long as one of the corpses has been laid to rest for more than 2 years their crushed bones can be pushed to the back of the vault to make space for the recently deceased family member.
The cemeteries soon caught the name ” city of dead” since the vaults look like fenced houses on the side of streets.
3. Nightlife & Mardi Gras
Despite the dead cities in New Orleans, the city is as alive as can be and particular when the suns down. The French Quarter has many bars and not to mention the open container law that allows you to drink openly on the streets.
Then of course there is the infamous Bourbon street, which reminds me of the strip on Ibiza or any other party destination. Drunk people crawling the street, promoters trying to get you into their bar and loud, cheesy music.
The bar above, Carousel is quite a sight with a (very slow) rotating carousel bar and live music.
The whole culture of partying runs through the veins of this city, also famous for Mardi Gras. To most people the Mardi Gras is a large celebration with colourful beads, loud music and a lot of bare skin but the truth is that its history is a lot darker than what most people know.
In New Orleans I learnt about the Mardi Gras Indians, African Americans dressed as native Americans as they were not accepted in the earlier Mardi Gras parades. It was also seen as a sign of respect to the Indians who use to shelter runaway slaves.
“Coming out of slavery, being African American wasn’t socially acceptable. By masking like Native Americans, it created an identity of strength. Native Americans under all the pressure and duress, would not concede. These people were almost driven into extinction, and the same kind of feeling came out of slavery, “You’re not going to give us a place here in society, we’ll create our own.” In masking, they paid respect and homage to the Native American by using their identity and making a social statement that despite the odds, they’re not going to stop.”
-Ronald Lewis, former Council Chief of the Choctaw Hunters, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe he helped to start.
During Mardi Gras, there would be the main parade and then the unannounced Mardi Gras Indian parade, taking a different route each year decided by the big chief. While Mardi Gras was considered a time of celebration, for the Mardi Gras Indians it was a time for the different tribes to settle their grudges, bringing a lot of violence to the streets.
However, Allison Montana “the chief of chiefs” fought to stop this violence in the 60s and now the only fighting that happens is the tribes competing for the best dressed chief.
“I was going to make them stop fighting with the gun and the knife and start fighting with the needle and thread”
4. All that Jazz
New Orleans is home to Jazz and you can see it on the streets and any bar you walk into. Live music blesses the soul and I will write a separate post about my special encounter with Jazz- another beautiful story waiting to be told.
What are your NOLA stories?