Background Music: "When The Saints Go Marching In" Performed by the Dixieland All Stars

New Orleans is an international destination, and given that, we expected it to be one of those “cater to tourists, crowded everywhere you go” kind of places. It was, but not as bad as it could be. We purposely avoided going during Mardi Gras, or any of the other multiple celebration weekends that occur here, so that we could get around without too much chaos.

Bourbon Street was one of our first stops. A long street that is part bar, part t-shirt emporium, it caters to the younger crowd. Evidence of Mardi Gras was in the streets- or actually, hanging over the streets- beads and shoes hung from street signs, iron railings, street lights, and electric wires. The bars, one after another along the narrow road, are open air and blast loud rock and pop music into the streets. When we started out it was 1:00 PM and it was mostly deserted. Bored barkeeps leaned against their bars and chatted with the waitresses. The bar stools were empty.

We walked into one of the many daiquiri bars serving up exorbitantly priced slushy drinks and bought two. The bartender, a kid in his early twenties, talked to us as we sipped our drinks. He took several samples from the strawberry daiquiri machine and sipped them down himself. He had a glazed look by the time we were done there, and seemed to have trouble counting back change for one man who came in to buy a slice of pizza. Maybe not the best bartender around, but he knew the area and had some good tips for us on where to go- albeit in a round about way. “I can’t stand being here”, he told us. “Sixteen hour shifts- you make a lot of money, but I’m just so dang tired. There’s too many people, too many celebrations. I’m not working any more night shifts- I told them I just can’t do it anymore.” He said that in his off time he liked to walk down to Decatur Street- also in the French Quarter, just a few blocks away. “They have the best market there- the French Market- have you been there yet?” We hadn’t. “Well, it’s great. You can barter, and they have street performers- it’s like, really New Orleans, you know? And the beignets at Café Du Monde- you have to have those.” It’s funny how things change. At 21, we would have found Bourbon Street one of the greatest places on earth- but like this kid, that scene has lost its appeal, and somewhere along the line we evolved from being part of the late night drinking crowd to a couple of early morning coffee drinkers- which means our interests have moved from Bourbon to Decatur Street. We asked when Café Du Monde opened in the mornings. The kid thought about it. “Really early”, he said, “like 8:00 or something- the old folks are out there drinking coffee and reading the newspaper and stuff like that.” Old folks? We didn’t mention that we’re always up by 7:00, but instead thanked him and left. The next morning we drove to Café Du Monde for a breakfast of beignets and chicory coffee- promptly at 8:00.

We walked through the French Market. It’s like most other outdoor flea markets we’ve been too, with the addition of bulk bead necklaces and Mardi Gras masks. After the market we decided to try and catch one of the city tours, and had to half walk/half run nine blocks to the meeting area so that we’d make it in time. The tour we chose was a cemetery/voodoo walking tour. We and a group of about eight others were 15 minutes into the two hour tour when the rain started- lightly at first, and then so hard that we couldn’t hear the guide. It was on the verge of ridiculous- we stood in a graveyard laughing, pelted with rain, water streaming down our faces and plastering our hair to our foreheads. We were soaked to the skin. When the thunder started, the group moved to shelter inside a church. We did see some interesting things on the tour- one of the gravesites was featured in the film, “Easy Rider”, another was the much visited final resting place of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Continuing on the voodoo theme, we all ran in the downpour from the graveyard to the Voodoo Spiritual Temple. There we met Priestess Miriam Chamani- seer, healer and owner and operator of the temple. Priestess Miriam talked about the temple, how she came there, and finally about voodoo: how it is not the scary, twisted thing we know from Hollywood, but a religion meant to bring balance and love into the world. We stayed and talked to her for a few minutes after the rest of our tour group had left. She was very gracious, open minded and hearted, and we were grateful to have had a chance to meet her.

Once the tour was over, so was the rain- what a coincidence. We got back to the safety of our car soaked, but glad we’d taken the tour.

One other place we wanted to visit was the 9th ward, the area most devastated during Hurricane Katrina and the levee break. It was incredibly sad. Many of the houses are still empty- front doors left open to the elements. Most are not fit to live in, but some still have residents anyway. They have nowhere else to go. Every single house for blocks is painted with symbols left behind by volunteers who went from house to house looking for survivors, or otherwise. Some signs left behind are created by the residents. On the front door of one, a cardboard sign read, “Don’t bulldozer my house, I’m coming home.” Spray painted on another house, “Please Come Back Home!” Talking to a few of the residents here it’s very clear that the pain runs deep and there is still some anger, but these people are resilient, and amazingly they are able to talk about the event with some humor too. They joke about FEMA and the government, and you see people sporting t-shirts that say “I drove my Chevy to the levee and the levee was…gone.” As our cemetery tour guide told us- “Folks here have always been about ‘laissez les bons temps rouler- let the good times roll’, and that’s not going to change with this one event.” Another way to look it was provided by Priestess Miriam who said, “You have to keep your inner house in order. You can’t get bogged down in regret and despair. Maybe you feel that you’ve been done wrong, but you have to get over that too; otherwise, you won’t be ready when others need you most.” The good news is that we did see a lot of rebuilding going on in those devastated blocks. Builders were doing work at several houses, and Habitat for Humanity signs showed numerous houses were being rebuilt. New Orleans is healing slowly.

Our last day in New Orleans was a beautiful and sunny one, and we spent it visiting the Jean Lafitte National Preserve. The trails were really unique- boardwalks through miles of swamps, marshes and along bayous. We saw lots of reptiles- creepy crawly cool little things. It was different from our swamp tour in Lafayette. The alligators were smaller, but somehow it was a little scarier being out there on your own, hearing slithering sounds in the bushes, walking along paths surrounded by water. It was fun.

So, that wraps up Louisiana for us, for now. It’s a beautiful, unique place, and we will definitely come back someday- maybe for Mardi Gras.  We may even stay up really really late- like 11:00 PM or something.

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