Today we got on the "Hop-on Hop-off" tour bus, courtesy of the RV manager; someone leaving the park gave him tickets with an extra day left, and he passed them to us. We parked at the Basin parking lot and got on the bus. Up on the top level, in the lovely weather and protected from the sun by a canvas top, we toured the town. Our guide was enjoying himself, and gave us some interesting info. According to him, the French who settled here were cultured and Catholic. After the Louisiana Purchase, the Americans moved here who were redneck and Protestant. They did not get along with each other.
He said there are local terms for directions. North is "Lakeside", referring to Lake Pontchartrain. South is "Riverside", referring to the Mississippi. So West is "Upriver" is West and East is "Downriver". I haven't had a chance to test this yet. He also said the four seasons here are Carnival, Crawfish, Crab and Shrimp. Carnival season isn't over - they make a big deal out of St. Patrick's Day.
We passed the Eiffel Society restaurant, created in part from pieces of a restaurant originally on the top of the Eiffel Tower.The St. Louis Cathedral looked especially good from the 2nd story of the bus.
We passed a lovely statue of Joan of Arc. According to our guide, the locals respectfully call her "Joanie on a pony".
They have done a nice job of cleaning up after Mardi Gras. There are still beads on some trees, but most have been removed. They have to remove them because there are so many that the weight of the beads could kill the tree. One tree we passed had recently been cleaned, but the beads hadn't been disposed of yet - what a pile!
The Garden District is where you find the big mansions; these were built by Americans, not Cajuns. You know they were built by Americans because they are big, set back from the road, and painted white. White walls with white trim and white columns.
Cajun houses are small, built next to the sidewalk, and any color besides white. The little "shotgun" houses are typical, about 12 ' wide by 40' long. Tiny.
The size may be due to the fact that, at some point, taxes were assessed based on how wide the house front was. The color may have helped a non-literate population; "look for the purple house with green trim". And a big front lawn looks mighty impressive, but Cajuns didn't worry about impressing anyone. Inside these tiny houses you may find crystal chandeliers and mahogany furniture, but you won't know it from the outside. This is still true; in the French Quarter there are some gorgeous, formal gardens behind squalid building fronts.
In the center of the Garden District is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Our guide recommended this as one of the few cemeteries that is free to walk through. He explained the "year and a day" policy, which is how long the body stays in the coffin before being removed and pushed back, to make room for the next body. The coffin isn't reused, it's thrown away, so they don't use fancy ones. And family tombs are used for generations. There is one large one, with several vaults, that is said to hold the remains of around 2,400 people.
We finished the tour to make sure we saw everything, then went to lunch. One of our "must" stops is Johnny's Po'Boys so we went there. But we don't get po-boy sandwiches - we get half a muffuletta. This is plenty for us to share, and it's awesome.
Then we joined a second tour, to get back to the Garden District. From there we walked to Lafayette Cemetery No 1.
There are two tombs here that are so old that nobody knows anything about them. They may even be older than the actual cemetery.Most, though, have some record of their people, although the names may have faded. These tombs, all in a row, make it look like a little town.
It odd how much I love these cities of the dead. I have always had a fondness for little houses, but not this little! But I wouldn't mind having a house with a Medieval touch like this.
And I like old things that have a relationship with specific people. There are several "Society" tombs for organizations like Firefighters and Police. People in these organization might pay for a spot in the shared tomb, which was practical because individual tombs were so expensive.
At the "Society for the relief of Destitute Orphans" tomb, people have left beads, trinkets and pennies, representing, I'm sure, kind thoughts towards the orphans who ended up here.All along the front wall are the Wall Vaults, the lowest priced vaults. They were rented, occasionally for a long time but more often for a year and a day, after which the remains would be relocated to an underground cavern or a generic cemetery vault.
When we were finished at the cemetery, we caught a bus back downtown and went on a short walking tour through part of the French Quarter. Our guide pointed out the Ursuline Convent, one of the very few buildings in this area to survive the 1788 fire.
He explained the difference between "gallery" and "balcony". If the 2nd story porch requires additional support, it's a gallery. If not, it's a balcony. And he pointed out the spiky metal pieces at the top of many gallery supports. These were supposed to prevent amorous young men from climbing up to the bedrooms their young ladies. They may have worked, too.
Of course not everyone laid out the money for fancy spikes. Other options, still used today to discourage gate-jumpers, are broken glass, somehow situated so it points up.
He pointed out a house that used to be owned by Nicolas Cage. This house probably had the worst reputation of any place in this city - it was the home of Delphine LaLaurie. She moved there in 1831 and she always had a reputation for being mean to her slaves, but during a fire in 1834 when firefighters and police searched the house, it became clear that she was a sadistic monster. To their credit, local citizens immediately trashed the place, and Ms. LaLaurie escaped only by fleeing the city.
The building has undergone a lot of renovations. In 2007 Nicholas Cage bought and renovated it again, but it has been auctioned off as a foreclosure.A little further along the street is another house with a much happier story. This one is supposed to be owned by Brad and Angelina. It's large, but more modest that Nick's, with a much more European look to it.
Which brings up a point that every tour guide mentioned: the French Quarter building are almost completely Spanish. After the 1788 fire, most buildings had to be rebuilt. By then the Spanish were the power of the city, so all those arched doorways, iron gates and railings, the galleries and balconies, are all Spanish influences. The single remaining French-style house, rebuilt quickly after the fire before anyone could make new rules, is a plain building. Green and close to the road, like a true Cajun house, but plain.
To finish the day, we went to Cafe Du Monde again. And yes, the beignets are a little smaller than they were when we were here in 2012 but they are still wonderful!
It was around 6pm when we walked back to the car. On the way we passed some TV paraphernalia. Someone said they were filming an episode of NCIS but everyone was on break. I was prepared to wait until I realized it was probably "NSCI: New Orleans". I don't watch that, so I didn't feel like waiting an hour.