Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Who'd Have Thought It?

This is the next post of our trip post Japan.  It took place in September but I only managed to write these notes a couple of months later.  For contemporaneous reports, take a look at Track My Tour -- a brilliant app that I used to ... well, track our tour.  Here is the link.

The real reason for coming to Louisiana was for our friends' wedding in New Orleans.  Mark and Kerri had met here so they wanted to tie the knot here too.  Nice.

I hadn't been to NO for 20+ years and hadn't really been that impressed last time I came.  I thought it dirty and pretty sleazy and for the most part if you stay on Bourbon Street, that is exactly what it is like still.  However there is plenty to like about the place too and this time we found it.

What is it about guys with guns?
By chance our Kiwi friends Bruce and Linda were also here!  Small world, eh?  We'd been emailing about something random and Bruce had mentioned he'd be in NO some time in September between a golf trip, holiday and some meetings.  What date, Bruce?  Well this date.  Whoa, same as us.  Where are you staying?  At the Ritz.  Whoa, same as us!  

First thing was to avoid the water!  Brings it home to you how low lying NO really is.  On the way down the highway from White Castle, we drove over a seemingly endless causeway over a lake or swamp, I think a bit of both.  The road itself wasn't that much above the surface of the water so anything like a storm (don't mention the 'K' word around here) would simply wash everything away and of course that is actually what did happen…

This was where the canal walls broke and let the water in during Katrina.  Pretty low lying!
OK then
So don't drink the water then.  Fine.  The Ritz provided bottled water for everyone.  It must have cost them a fortune as we went through 20 a day… they were little bottles though.

So the architecture.  Yup, very French or rather vieux carre as they say here in NO!  If you keep on Bourbon Street, about the middle of the grid layout going the length of the old town, you'd find endless bars, restaurants and really weird gift shop type stuff.  OK Halloween was a month away here but I think it would be a place to avoid at that time as some of the people emerging at night time were really off the wall.

Typical vieux carre architecture

With Linda and Bruce we did a self guided tour, a bus tour and visit to the really good National WWII museum in the newer part of town.

Everybody had their opinions which way to walk.  You should have heard the yapping...
OK so I have to mention the 'K' word… Katrina. There I said it.  It swamped the city with some parts, the poorer ones of course, one in particular called District 9 still under renovation 10 years later.  It is happening but slowly.  At its height, population was 490,000 but after the storm it fell to 390,000 with many people never coming back.  It has crept back up to 430,000 now as people move in to pick up bargains.

An abandoned home in District 9.  They put red crosses on the doors to signify when a home is unoccupied
There's a district called Treme, just outside District 9 and just outside the downtown core even in the old days.  It was a residential district … for mistresses and Haitians who fled to NO after the sale of Louisiana to the USA in 1804.  Apparently if you were white and wealthy and fancied a mistress, you went to a certain hotel on several special occasions during the year where single black and mulatto girls went to congregate with their mothers.  If you fancied a particular girl, you made a deal with Mum for a specified period of time during which you had to take care of the girl in her own place (in Treme of course) and pay for everything including any children of the liaison.  Should this happen, the deal became permanent.  

An ex-brothel
So Treme is a curious mixture of nice houses and brothels for the girls once their contract terminated banded together to stay in the business, as it were, rather than move back in with Mum.

The guide books don't talk about this!  Isn't history fascinating?

It always pays to do a tour with a local guide.  They know their stuff and the interesting little stories and snippets that make it all worthwhile. Take the famed above ground cemeteries.  The land here is so low lying you simply cannot dig a hole in the ground so it has to be above ground.  Many are truly works of art, even the multi-unit dwellings which operated much as a condo would today.

A condo in the cemetery
The really interesting bit though is in the understanding how and why they don't run out of space as with cemeteries, well there's only much space and coffins take up a huge amount of space so there's only so many you can cram into one mausoleum, right?  Well, actually wrong.  You've forgotten about the temperature down here.  

I am assuming here that the knowledge we have now wasn't always the case so there was a certain amount of trial and error in the past.  Bodies are not buried or rather entombed in coffins, they are placed in shrouds for the entombment and the mausoleum sealed up.  The combination of hot and humid combined with the sealed mausoleum equates to a slow roast in an oven and it has been found that over the course of a year, the body decomposes completely down to ash.  This can then be brushed to the back of the mausoleum down a purposely built chute that fertilizes the ground below and readies the mausoleum for the next one.

A local law is therefore in place whereby once sealed you cannot unseal a mausoleum more than once in any one year … and that is only for a new entrant.  Very practical indeed.  This doesn't work where temperature conditions and humidity levels are different so don't try this at home!

The WWII museum was brilliant though although we did lose Bruce and Linda who didn't want to stop and read every caption, view every exhibit…

Who doesn't remember scribbling this on school walls with chalk?  Oh yes, young people.  Right.
My dad flew one of these P-51 Mustangs and said it was even better than his beloved Spitfire
The wedding was very nice though with the happy couple's triplets looking very cute.  Afterwards they had organized a walk around town (very local apparently, used in festivals and funerals too) which Mark later told me thought would be just down Canal Street which was outside the hotel, then turn left at the street beyond Bourbon and back.  Something like 20 minutes in all with a marching band and police outriders clearing the way.  However it lasted nearly an hour which was due to road works so the cops took us the long way around!  It was great though.

Stu, Mark, Shane and some old geezer
N'Awlins was a lot of fun!

The happy couple!

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