Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Road Trip to Florida: Day 5

Breakfast at the B&B before heading for our tour!

We hopped on the bus again, this time with a feel for when to ring the bell and not miss our stop. The ride on the bus on a Monday morning was vastly different from a Sunday afternoon, packed, and not with tourists.

We got to the corner of Royal and St. Peters insanely early, even with all the extra stops and it was sweltering. We went inside the grocery on the corner for a bit, but felt too much like loiterers to stay in the AC. We hung on the corner, first just the two of us, then another group began congregating, but they were meeting up for a different tour company at 9:45, so eventually it cleared out and the built back up around us with our group. 


In the meantime, other than taking photos, we were entertained by plenty of street life. 
An older grey-bearded gentleman was on the corner when we first arrived, sitting next to a bass drum, waiting for something. About the time his younger companion rode up on a bike carrying a snare, here comes a gray sedan, which parks on the side of the street nearest us, and two ladies emerge, clipboard in hand and cross over to him. He seems to know them and not be particularly excited about their arrival. Eventually, after a long discussion, he gets into their car. He seems resigned and a bit bemused. The woman working at the grocery check out emerges and waves at him. He gets the driver to roll down his side window to say, "I'll be back!" with a smile, and she just waves and nods and makes eye contact with the ladies in the car. She appears to have been the one to make the call that got him hauled away  . . .  somewhere. 

His compatriot, who stayed out of the conversation was still there and played a bit on the snare and guarded the bass and cymbal. Two more men came from another street, whiskey in hand, set it down next to him, and started to dance and "direct" traffic coming through the quarter. Hats were down for tips. 

When our guide appeared promptly at 10, they all spoke to her as she passed. She checked everyone's tickets and handed out stickers to mark us as hers and we set off, south down St. Peter's to Jackson Square, leaving our entertainment behind. 

Upper Pontalba building on the left

St. Louis Cathedral you see here is the third iteration, built on the same spot (expanding, rebuilding from fire, etc) since 1718. Thousands have been interred under its floors before the building of the St. Louis Cemetery (ies). Archbishops are still interred beneath the floors. 

At left, the oldest community theater in the U.S. 
At right, the Upper Pontalba plaque on the oldest apartment building in the U.S.

Back down St. Peters near Bourbon St. and then on towards Rampart.




These shotgun homes, converted into duplexes go for millions.

We crossed over Rampart and made our way to Congo Square at Louis Armstrong Park


The influence of African and Caribbean culture on the area was vast. Only in LA was it the law that slaves must have Sundays off. On Sundays, Congo Square became their trade market, where they would cook, do hair, trade information, and work, amongst themselves, as well as search for loved ones sold away to other masters. They influence on the food, the music, and the art of the mingling cultures on the Gulf created the gumbo that is NOLA.

Chief Tootie Montana's statue in Armstrong Park
(Thanks to Nick's class at Southwestern and the HBO series Treme, I was up on my Marti Gras Indian knowledge.)

After a 5 minute AC/bathroom break at Basin St. Visitor Center, we lined up to make our way into St. Louis Cemetery #1. It opened in 1789.

It was 11:00 and felt like 107°. Entering the cement jungle of the tombs just amplified the baking. The walls that enclosed the cemetery are also tombs, designed to cook down remains to ashes slowly and naturally (no fire -- Catholicism forbids cremation, but this is okay) just from the infernal heat of the city. Once remains are interred, the door is shut for a year and a day, at which time it is reopened and the ashed pushed to the back, which is hollow, so that all the remains from all the stacked doors mingle together in the bottom.

As you can see, the bottom row of "doors" into these natural ovens (they sit at around 300° inside all summer due to their construction) have sunk halfway into the ground and will eventually disappear altogether. Only a sizable donation gets your names inscribed on your door here. Family tombs (in the center) work similarly, but if you haven't paid for perpetual care, they can fall into rubble, where grave robbers search for remaining bone fragments. For this reason, people are only allowed in with tour guides (who pay $4500 and up annually for their license, which can be revoked for any bad behavior on the part of a tour guest) under guard and camera surveillance. 

Our guard on duty at the entrance, and a portion of the walls in which thousands of ashes comingle with their neighbors.

The tomb of Marie Laveau and family is second only to Elvis Presley's tomb at Graceland in terms of annual visitors.

The most famous tomb without a body interred.
Nicolas Cage purchased the dual plot area and had an enormous pyramid erected for his eventual passing. He also paid for the crumbling tombs of his neighbors to be spiffied up and for perpetual care of the plots, to the tune of $2.5 mill.


That Plessy, of the infamous Plessy V. Ferguson Supreme Court case that instituted "separate but equal" laws around the nation from the late 19th century. He was just ahead of his time in insisting that, despite his ability to pass for white as an octoroon (1/8th African heritage), he informed the train conductor that he was, indeed, not. The resulting case from his refusal to move to the back of the train was indeed set up, in the hopes the laws could be changed. Instead, segregation was further codified until Rosa Parks got on that bus and started the wheels of change yet again. 


The Protestant "Section" is actually is separate cemetery and sparsely populated, without an interment for a century or more. (Catholics aren't too keen)


The whole "section"

While the family tomb of Laveau is generally believed to house Marie's remains, this is a second (of three) where she is believed by some to actually be buried. The culture of Voodoo is alive and vibrant, as is the belief that parts of a Voodoo priestess would be highly valuable for potions and power, thus many of the upper ranks of the religion must attempt to hide their final resting places from enemies and those who would try to co-opt their powers. Unlike the first tomb, this one has not been whitewashed clean, so that the visitors, who seek her blessings, leaving the 3x marks still adorn the stucco. 

THIS is what can happen when you don't pay the church a huge sum for perpetual care.

The Barbarin Family Tomb of New Orleans is also the indigent NOLA musicians' tomb as well. 

Children's tombs bear the weeping angel

The Doley family monument to Louisiana African Americans is also found in the cemetery, including Madam Walker, the first (of any gender) African American self-made millionaire.

As always, I was the last of the group as we made our way out, backwards at the gate, with 3 kisses thrown to the right to ward off any spirits that might be lurking for a free ride. 

We finished up at the Old Mortuary Chapel before walking back to Canal to catch the bus back to our room for a much MUCH needed shower. 

The streets are a mess with the installation of the additional streetcar line, but the Saenger still shines.

See the window at the very top? That's us! When the wind blows, the whole rooms rocks. When you're in bed, it feels like being in a cradle.

After showers, we were too pooped to do more than get our cooler out of the fridge and snacks on the meats and cheeses we had left.

I worked and we both napped before emerging again to grab dinner across the street at Juan's Flying Burrito, which is a local fave.

On the way out, we met Larry, who owns the place. He was nice enough to take a couple of photos of us loving on Jackson and Porter.

at our bus corner of Canal and Carollton

inside Juan's

After dinner, we holed up again in the room and watched Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays, which I highly recommend. Not quite comedy, not quite autobiography, but very nice. 

Tomorrow: back on the road, for the long, long, long drive to Tampa.


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