Thursday, March 31, 2011

Photo Friday: Adventures in New Orleans

As I mentioned earlier this week a trip to New Orleans was my reward for finishing The Bartending Book. My husband and I have friends who are living down there, but moving back to Chicago this year so we thought we better get a visit in and take advantage of having a free place to stay.

I haven't been to New Orleans since Halloween of 1999 when I went with an ex-boyfriend and stayed in a French Quarter hotel. I don't remember much except for some awesome Halloween decorations and stumbling into a Halloween parade. I was only 20, but that didn't stop me from drinking heavily. And my visit before that in March of 1998 when I was 18 was even more alcohol (and drug) fueled. That was spring break during my first (and only) year at Antioch College in Ohio. A very crazy time in my life. I drove down with one of my best friends. We were supposed to stay with people we knew from school who were on co-op (Antioch's version of an internship, but you got one every other semester). However those people had a crazy roommate (literally crazy. I'm guessing schizophrenic or severe bipolar), who kicked us out after the first day we spent there because she thought we were talking shit about her (I'm not sure when as we arrived at 6:30 am, did a couple shots of SoCo with our friend who was already wasted and passed out. Apparently we were sleep talking???) So suddenly we were two broke-as-shit college kids without a place to stay in New Orleans on our spring break. We tried calling a few hotels in the French Quarter, but they were either booked full or incredibly expensive. So we drove down St. Charles Avenue and right off the I-10 exit ramp in what was a very shady neighborhood at the time, we found a hotel above a 24-hour bar that cost 30$ a night. We went for it.

If that description sounds vaguely familiar, it's because I used that hotel (but renamed it) in I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. Louisa lives there for a while (it rented rooms by the week as well as by the night) and Emily has a fucked-up drug experience there (which ummm *cough* is also cribbed from my personal experience there).

Thirteen years later (almost exactly), my husband and I passed that hotel every day when we took the street car between our friends' place in Uptown (and these friends were super cool with no crazy roommates just a funny cat) and the French Quarter. The neighborhood has been completely gentrified (at least the part along St. Charles has, I'm willing to bet that if you walk a couple of blocks in it wouldn't be) and our crappy hotel is being torn down. But I snapped a picture of it, so here what I called The St. Charles Hotel in IWBYJR, sleazy place where both Emily and I combined sleeping pills with other substances and had some bad hallucinations:

You can't tell from the photo, but the inside of the hotel has been completely gutted. If they are turning it into condos or something, I kind of want one...

Anyway, the point of that ramble is that my previous two trips to New Orleans were alcohol and drug addled which ummm I guess maybe is to be expected when you are 18 or 20 and visiting New Orleans (though I do not advocate these things, while I have some fond blurry memories from those times, I also do a lot of cringing and thanking my lucky stars that I'm actually alive). I wanted to have a better rounded experience this time, now that I have learned how to drink in moderation (mostly. I was hungover the last day, but it is New Orleans....), so instead of drinking everything I could get my hands on and marveling over the fact that no one was even asking for my ID (and I didn't have a fake when I was 18, but did when I was 20), I chose my drinks wisely (for the most part) and marveled over the fact that you can drink while walking down the street as long as it is not in glass and you can even have open containers and drink in the car!!! (The driver is not allowed to drink. If they purchase a drink from a drive-through daiquiri, they must keep the paper on their straw.... though I was told this just leads people to keep spare straws in their car.)

We started our trip right and instead of just grabbing any old Hurricane I could find on Bourbon Street like I did in the past, our friends took us straight from the airport on Sunday night to Pat O'Briens, where the Hurricane was invented.

Later that week I also had a Pimm's Cup at Napoleon House, one of the oldest bars in New Orleans where the recipe for the traditional Pimm's Cup was tweaked by adding lemonade (and oh my god, it was delicious and I usually don't drink gin because of an incident [or gin-cident as my friend Chuck has started me calling it] when I was 19). It was a beautiful bar that has long been a haunt for artists and writers and I can see why:

Okay now it is starting to sound like my trip was totally booze focused, but it really wasn't and this picture is just cleverly posed (perhaps I am acting out my previous 2 trips to NOLA):

This time around I was really interested in doing tours (yes, I acted like a tourist which I very rarely do but since we didn't have a car, it seemed the easiest and safest way to go) so that I could see the city, the cemeteries, and the swamps outside of the city. And of course, Scott and I also just did a lot of wandering. More wandering and discovering that I normally would have on a vacation because I must admit that I'm usually the itinerary nazi and I plan out everywhere that I want to go to see things, eat or drink before I got. I was too busy with the book to do this though, so Scott booked the tours for us and made note of cool things to check out that we'd heard about and of course we had our gracious hosts, Kasia and John to recommend things to us. They really were wonderful hosts and their cat Wickett kept us entertained. He really loves stuffed animals. Like really loves them. Even though he's neutered. Here he is with my stuffed cat:

Wickett wasn't the only wildlife we saw though or even the only feline. There were feral kitties in Jackson square:

On Kasia's recommendation we went to Audubon Park one day and saw all kinds of cool stuff like two sets of adorable turtles paired up on a log:

And then there was bird island:

And we fed the ducks and turtles:

Except I got a little bit frightened because the ducks started really coming for me:

There were cool trees too:

And they were filming a movie apparently (and not spell-checking their signs):

Scott really wanted to go on a swamp tour and see alligators right up close.... I did not so much want to be up close to them, but I wanted to see the bayou so I agreed. I was probably tugging on his shirt, trying to pull him away from the rails at the edge of the boat as he took these photos:

The bayou really was beautiful:

But the landscape changed during Hurricane Katrina. The swamp was all surrounded by trees like this:

But the pressure from the storm surge clear cut a certain section and created a lake (our very funny tour guide said, "We're not very creative around here so we just call it Lake Katrina):

It also swept one of the houses in the fishing village on the bayou away, you can see it way way back there if you click on the picture to enlarge it:

This was my first time back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and it's heartbreaking to see that there are still so many damaged homes that were abandoned. It brought me right back to the time that it happened seeing things like holes in rooftops that you imagine were either made by people trying to escape onto their rooftops or by rescuers and seeing the symbols left by the search teams on buildings like this:

I had family living New Orleans at the time Katrina hit, elderly relatives who went to Houston and were unable to return. And after I went to New Orleans at 18, it became one of those cities of my heart like Seattle also is. I talked about moving there for a long time and often wish that I had taken that leap the way my friends Kasia and John have. So I was glad to see signs of recovery as well like the Musicians' Village that has been built in the Upper Ninth Ward, which was where many of New Orleans' musicians lived. They lost everything in the hurricane and this project allowed them to come back and bring the music that has helped make New Orleans what it is home:

And I'll just close with some other images of what has always made New Orleans such a fascinating place to me. Like the architecture from the Garden District Homes:

To the French Quarter and Jackson Square (where of course I had my tarot read and I also bought some great pieces made by local artists on salvaged wood and roof tiles):

To the muddy Mississippi (a body of water I have always felt kinship with because I lived near it for the first 7 years of my life) and the skyline which we saw from the ferry between New Orleans and Algiers:

To the Mardi Gras beads that still hang in the trees and are piled on the ground along the parade routes:

And of course as someone who has always loved cemeteries (and lives in a town with more dead people than living), I'm glad I finally got to go in one:

Though this is St. Louis #3 and next time I go back I want to visit St. Louis #1 and visit Marie Laveau's tomb, this time we only went to the Voodoo Museum:

We also went on a haunted history tour though I didn't take photos during that, except of this bar which is purportedly haunted:

Lastly I took a lot of cool statue photos, which I have a thing about. Oddly, these first two statues I took photographs of on my first two trips too. I guess I'm really drawn to them:

If you haven't been to New Orleans, you really should go. There is no place else in the country or I'd venture the world like it. I'm definitely not waiting another thirteen years to go back because there is still a lot I want to do and of course it is wonderful to bask in 80 degree weather when it is 30 at home and just enjoy the richness of the culture, sounds, and sights of the city!