The food: a quarter of a muffuletta
The food: beignets!!!
The food: fried chicken and gumbo
The food: fried shrimp po-boy (the roast beef was pretty good, too)
The food: combo platter with brisket, pulled pork & ribs
The food: surf & turf po-boy
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Corner Washington Ave & Prytania St, New Orleans
After yesterday’s New Orleans read, I thought I’d stick with this favourite city of mine for another day, with another cemetery photo tour…
In stark comparison to the clean lines of the mostly shiny white marble of the St Louis Cemetery No. 3 and a little closer to the beautifully dilapidated St Louis Cemetery No. 1, Lafayette No. 1 was surrounded by the most beautiful trees (as one might expect for a cemetery located in the middle of the Garden District), most of which had shed their leaves in the winter month we visited onto the tombs below, which gave me the feeling that the elements of nature were somehow protecting their residents…
This cemetery is not only the oldest of the seven city-operated cemeteries in the city, but it’s also a non-denominational and non-segregated resting place for not only natives, but also immigrants from 25-odd other countries – over 7, 000 souls in total entombed in the cemetery.
When we moved into our current house, we decided to take my childhood piano with us; for various reasons, I didn’t feel like I could keep it here anymore, and so my sister took it with her this weekend as she and her boyfriend moved into their new home. It was a little strange to see it roll out of my life once again; I knew it couldn’t stay, but it still hurt a little to see it leave…
Music has always been a big part of my life. I remember my mum and grand mothers singing to me as a child. I cant tell you why I remember this, but I vividly remember mum singing “Under The Boardwalk” to me as a teeny tiny kidling (probably one of my earliest memories of life, actually), and her mum singing in Italian to me, “farfallina, bella bianca, vola vola, mai si stanca…” (Butterfly, beautifully white, flying flying, never tiring…).
Music was in dad’s blood, too – he played guitar, exceptionally well, and I grew up listening to his records- Queen, The Beatles, Neil Diamond (and yes, we had an actual record player in our house). And his father loves music almost as much as he loves pasta (anyone who knows my Nonno and knows that he eats pasta pretty much daily, will know what a big deal that is). Despite being well into his 80s, he’s the first one on the dance floor, dragging my giggling Nonna along with him, at any family wedding, party, what have you. The look on his face, eyes closed and smiling serenely when he listens to his favourite music, will be forever ingrained in my mind, for which I am so grateful.
I grew up playing the piano and singing a little, but rarely for an audience; I was a painfully shy child who did her best to go through life appearing as mediocre as possible, so as not to ever risk standing out in a crowd. I was talented, learning mostly by ear and memory, and usually only using the expensive sheet music my parents bought me on the first play or two while learning a new piece, and then discarding it and playing by ear (much to mum’s chagrin), but I was so damn shy; the day the school choir director finally plucked up enough courage to tell me she wanted me to sing the solo at the next big school assembly, I promptly burst into tears and ran out of the school chapel where we practiced, effectively quitting on the spot. But music is still in my blood, I’ve always loved it. It’s always been there. To this day, the three things I can’t leave the house without are a book to read, a notebook to write in, and my iPod; I need to have music. I can’t work in silence at my desk for 8 hours each day – when everyone else is working away like pantomimes, I have one ear bud in, listening to something, anything, to keep me sane. I can feel music in a way I can’t actually explain or describe… Without realising, as I listen, my fingers often start playing away on my thighs, as if playing along on a piano keyboard.
That was another reason why New Orleans felt like home to me; music is everywhere. It’s on the streets and in the bars, it lives within the concrete footpaths and the bones of the locals. It is everywhere. And it is GOOD. I don’t actually know why I have any other music on my iPod at the moment – I have a play list that consists of a few Rebirth Brass Band records, a few Trombone Shorty records, and the first and second Treme soundtracks; I’ve been listening to that same playlist for around 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, for the 3 or 4 months last year leading up to our trip to America, and ever since we got back in January. Almost the only time anything else is played is when I’m at the gym running on the treadmill (entitled “Move, Bitch!” plays then. 5 points to anyone who knows gets the song reference there).
In a city where everyone has more talent in one finger than most of us have in our entire bodies, you see musicians everywhere, and every single one of them, from the kids to the grown ups, manage to create magic…
It’s hard to believe it was 10 years ago to the day that Hurricane Katrina tore apart New Orleans; 10 years ago I was half way through my university degree, still living at home, in a relatively new relationship with the guy that would become my husband. When we first started dating, we spent a lot of time talking about all the places we wanted to travel to (and it was a bloody long list), the places we wanted to see and, more importantly, experience. New Orleans was a city pretty high up on both our lists, and we were both equally surprised at the others’ desire to visit. New Orleans, pre-Katrina, wasn’t exactly a big ticket city; at least not for 2 Aussie uni students. It wasn’t a Paris or a London or a New York. But we both wanted to go. He wanted to go for the music, the night life, the care-free atmosphere in a city that seemed to be built on fun. I couldn’t actually put into words why I wanted to go; it was one of those bizarre, inexplicable, “I don’t know why, but I know I belong in that city” things. Something about the music, the art, the voodoo, the cemeteries, the literature, the food – I just knew that any place there was a coalescence of all those things was a place I needed to be.
But we were still kids. We were both full time uni students. We had big dreams, but no money to fund them. When Katrina hit the city, we were both devastated; for some still unknown reason, we felt a strange connection to this mysterious city on the other side of the world. We debated over and over again whether it’d still be a city we’d want to visit post-Katrina. Would it be somehow tainted? Would the recovery effort have taken away all of the magic and the charm we wanted to visit for? Would they, a people so fiercely proud and protective of their city, still accept visitors as openly? We weren’t sure, but we were both determined to visit anyway and find out for ourselves.
Ten and a half years after we started dating, and nine and a half long years after Katrina hit, we finally made it. We finally visited this city we were both so strangely drawn to. And while the spirit of the people was so strong, the physical effects of Katrina were still so punishingly visible.
This storm caused damage on a scale that can’t be accurately understood through words. We’ve all read the numbers, the statistics, but even they seem completely unreal.
80% of the city under water.
Almost 2000 lives lost.
Close to $110 billion in damage.
There have been hundreds of articles written about it all, and nothing I write will be as meaningful as some of the first-hand accounts written by the residents and survivors (I’d especially recommend watching HBO’s Treme and reading Nine Lives by Dan Baum). What I can say, as a complete foreigner and outsider, is that New Orleans changed the trajectory of my life. Even post-Katrina, it was still magic. All of the imperfections made it so perfect. My soul was different for having visited. And all of our reservations were completely unfounded; the charm was still there, the recovery effort was incredible, and the people couldn’t have been more kind and welcoming. Instead of writing about the recovery ten years on, because (let’s be honest) I really don’t have the insight into it like the locals will, let me show you New Orleans through my eyes almost 10 years on. And I’m not talking the pretty touristy sights. Let me show you some of the more real, less brochure-worthy, genuine places and things I saw.
NOMA Sculpture Garden
One Collins Diboll Circle, City Park, New Orleans
It’s been a long week. I’ve been craving burgers and donuts. But I can’t have any right now. So to take my mind of them tonight (well, it’ll be last night by the time you read this on Thursday morning), I flicked through my travel journal from the trip to America earlier this year, reading back over the pages from New Orleans, my favourite stop. That, in turn, got me looking back at some photos, and then I wanted to draw a little – New Orleans is an artist’s town, after all.
Full disclosure before I go on: I’m not an “artsy” person. I don’t really ‘get’ art. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much a creative sort; I grew up constantly writing, drawing, painting, singing, sewing, photographing, all that jazz. I love nothing more than crawling into bed at the end of a long day and scribbling a little in my sketchbook to help me wind down. But “art,” I don’t get, so I apologise in advance if my photographs of some of these works don’t really do them justice, or if I don’t realise just how important some of them actually are; I didn’t visit the Sculpture Garden in the New Orleans City Park to admire the art, I visited because the park is just so beautiful, and after spending a few weeks in the snow, I was looking forward to being around gorgeous greenery and being able to actually sit in the park without literally and figuratively freezing my ass off!
Anyway, the gardens are absolutely gorgeous and deserving of a visit when you find yourself in New Orleans. As for the art, though I was skeptical on arrival, I actually found that the pieces were pretty cool for the most part! Here were some of the ones that caught my eye…
And, this guy. I couldn’t find any information on him on the NOMA website, but he was my favourite.
Is it possible to be homesick for a place that isn’t actually your home? For your soul to ache to go back to a little corner of the world you spent only a small amount of time in, but you feel an indescribable affinity for? Is it really possible to feel so connected to a place you’ve only visited once? Not long ago, I’d probably have scoffed at the idea; then, I visited New Orleans. You guys know how much I love Melbourne, but I left part of my heart in New Orleans – you may have noticed from how much I’ve written about it 🙂
When one thinks of New Orleans, one naturally also thinks of good food. Unique food. Honestly, it’s some of the best food in the world. And when people who know a little about the city first think of their food, one of the first things that pops into mind are the po-boys, like the Parkway one I wrote about last week.
The history of this special sandwich dates back to the Depression era when people were out of work, money was scarce, and a good meal was hard to come by. These sandwiches were created to feed the “poor boys” (hence, po-boys), and were originally something like potatoes and roast beef gravy on an amazing piece of French bread.
These days, they’ve evolved to something a bit more spectacular and creative, filling the perfect French loaves with everything from the more traditional roast beef, fried oysters and Andouille sausage, to the not so standard stuff like the cheeseburger po-boy…?!
We may not have had all that long in the city, but we certainly did our best to try as many po-boys as we possibly could! Here’s a what we tried and why you should be trying them when you visit the Crescent City.
NOLA Po-Boys (beef debris)
908 Bourbon St
This was the first one we tried, on a whim, because it was around the corner from our hotel and we were too hungry to go hunting for anything else.
– HUUUUUGE variety of po-boys available – if you can’t find something you like here, get your head examined. They literally do it all!
– Multiple sizes available, so you can match your sandwich to your hunger level.
– My beef debris came with a little cup of super tasty gravy for pouring and dipping.
– Great Bourbon St option
– The beef was tasty, but definitely needed the extra gravy to keep it moist.
– It’s not the best po-boy in the city, so if you have the time to get away from Bourbon St, you will be rewarded.
Johnny’s Po-Boys (surf & turf)
511 St Louis St
Number two was Johnny’s, and we’d heard about this place before the trip. We’d heard very good things.
– Ohh that gravy…. damn… The beef was fantastic, too, very soft and tender. The shrimp were very tasty too, nice coating.
Great bread, soft and fresh.
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen (sausage)
416 Chartres St
Next up, we visited K-Paul’s for a lunch sitting (less formal and way less expensive than dinner!) – we’d heard it was a city institution, and a must visit.
– Best Andouille sausage I had in New Orleans. hands down! Incredible flavour, not too spicy, just enough kick. Amazing!
– I quite liked the herbed tomato business they used.
Domilise’s (fried shrimp and roast beef)
5240 Annunciation St
The next few po boys took us out of the French Quarter to Domilise’s, another city holy grail. Well and truly worth the venture out of the French Quarter!
– Best shrimp I had in New Orleans! It was beautiful meat without the slightest taste of fishiness you can sometimes get when it’s not quality, and the coating was perfect.
– The shrimp also magically stayed crispy and crunchy the whole time!
– The roast beef was delicious.
– Perfect bread for it, well dressed.
– It’s not in the French Quarter.
– Best customer service!
Parkway Bakery (surf & turf)
538 Hagan Ave
Our final po boy stop was Parkway Bakery – the one we’d heard had been rated number 1 in the city over and over again. It was a long wait, almost an hour, but we figured it must be good if there are this many people waiting and no one complaining!
– The people were right, it was very good. Soft beef, big fresh shrimp, great tasting breading on them, too!
– Great bread, held up well against the heaviest po boy we’d tried.
– Well dressed, loved the pickles.
– Also not in the French Quarter.
St Louis Cemetery No. 1
425 Basin St. New Orleans
I wrapped my oversized cardigan around me a little tighter as my feet crunched over the leaves that peppered the footpath, and the early morning wind blew as if it were trying to pass right through me. I’d woken up that morning in New Orleans, the city I’d been inexplicably drawn to, and a long way from home back in Australia.
It was with some trepidation that I passed through the entrance of the St Louis Cemetery No. 1. It wasn’t the whole being in a cemetery thing that had me unnerved; I’m oddly at ease among the graves and stories of the past. What I wasn’t at ease with at that time was myself. I arrived in New Orleans with this feeling I couldn’t shake, like I didn’t fit in anywhere, like I didn’t belong. On that thought, the wind blew through me once more, as if urging me on through the front gate, as if pushing me toward answers.
I moved silently through the decaying tombs, many dating back to the 1700s. Generations were contained within single crumbling structures; how many were truly remembered? What were their stories? The tombs would have been beautiful originally, but the deterioration they faced over the centuries only made them even more striking. Intricate wrought iron crosses and arrows decorated gates encircling tombs, while large stone and marble placards listing the names of the souls resting within lay on the floor beside many of tombs, gently pieced back together, having fallen from the places they’d originally occupied.
Looking out over the praying angels perched on top of mausoleums, eyes turned to the heavens, I could see Treme Street and the housing projects beyond. Arriving just as the gates were unlocked for the day proved to be the perfect time to visit, with no one else around. I was a long way from the mayhem and commercialism of the tourist hub that is Bourbon Street; I was, proverbially, definitely not in Kansas anymore.
I guess travel is the ultimate opportunity to reflect and recharge; we all know the cliché of people “finding themselves” while travelling. New Orleans was so different to anywhere else I’d been. The people there seemed to live authentically, fearlessly. Free. As someone who’s spent the best part of her life held back by fear, I was hypnotised by that thought, ready to start my own new chapter. And, as if the spirits had me in their hands, the last thing I saw before I left the cemetery was an old book, the pages browned and torn, sitting on top of a tomb; as I walked past, the wind blew the open pages shut.