My 2008 trip to New Orleans was very interesting. I came back to Los Angeles feeling very refreshed physically, and with many wonderful memories of my trip. Please forgive me if the details of my trip are fuzzy as it is five years after the fact!
I flew to New Orleans to meet up with my friend Ravi. I had known him for years and we both enjoy travel and a glass of good wine! We arranged it so we would land at the New Orleans airport at about the same time. We arrived without incident and took a cab to our hotel downtown. We were both excited about this trip and ready for our first night’s activities.
A haunted tour
We took a haunted tour of New Orleans’ French Quarter — “Le Vieux Carre.” I had read a lot about the haunted buildings in New Orleans and was “dying” to see them first hand. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go into any of the buildings, but the stories were compelling.
Lesson #1 — don’t try to punch a ghost
There was one story about a man who went up the stairs, was confronted by another man. The first man swung a punch at the other man, but the punch went right through him and into the wall where he broke his hand. In another building, a man had cut his fiancee into pieces and put her in a box. I forget what he did about the stench. In another house, they did experiments on their slaves and cut off and reattached body parts. It was too gruesome. I like haunted attractions, but don’t like the gory stuff!
Dinner at a pub
We ate at Flanagan’s Irish Pub before our ghost tour since it was close. The food was excellent. Later we learned that the food is more authentic at local pubs and restaurants that “the locals” frequent. Tourists in New Orleans are mostly from the American South where they like bland cuisine!
We visited the St. Louis Cathedral and Pirate’s Alley which is a block or so away from it. It is supposed to be haunted at night, but I didn’t see any ghosts!
There is a very dull building with a very interesting heritage. The Quadroon Ballroom is a block or two from the Cathedral. It was a place where French men could have a Placage (an arrangement to have a permanent mistress) with racially mixed women. As these marriages continued throughout the generations, children of women with African matrilineage became whiter and whiter and whiter, but still, legally were never recognized as white people. The children of women who had these placage arrangements went on to be mistresses of the next generation of wealthy French businessmen. Africans had chidren who were mulattos, who then in turn had children who were quadroons (one quarter black and three quarters white), and then octaroons, so on and so on. What a strange history! This practice was common in parts of France and the French Caribbean! In any case, the Quadroon Ballroom was a place where men could get to know these women and dance with them before figuring out if they wanted to have an arrangement with them! Not much happens in 2013 at the ballroom. I went inside and it was empty and quiet. Not even any ghosts!
Cafe du Monde
We had our first authentic New Orleans breakfast at Cafe du Monde. They have a very small menu that consists of coffee, beignets, juice, and a few other items. A beignet is one of the most famous New Orleans culinary item. It is sort of a square donut made using evaporated milk as one of the ingredients (very sweet) and powdered sugar on top. Not a good choice of food for someone on a diet! We had heard stories about how New Orleans was supposed to be enjoyed by having mocha with beignets while listening to jazz. Unfortunately, jazz is an outdated part of the local history and mocha was not available. But, we loved the beignets so much, that my buddy insisted on taking a cab to this place every day that we were in town!
The swamp tour
Unfortunately, I didn’t read the reviews. Since Katrina, the swamps have been decimated. The tour we took was along very straight channels carved into the infinite swamps by oil companies. We saw a few gators, and it was fun, but not what I had wanted. I wanted to see a dingy swamp with overhanging branches, and little cabins with people playing the banjo. After reading more, that type of scenery has been obliterated — banjos and all, but a Mississippi swamp tour approximates what I want to see a bit more than where we went in Cajun country. Despite my lament over choosing the wrong tour (because I didn’t read the reviews), I did learn that the local gators all are fluent in French, and will love you if you offer them some bread. You live and you learn!
We enjoyed some fine dining at a variety of local restaurants and ordered all types of dishes. I remember that the gumbo was very mild and herbal where we ate. Did they tone it down for the white tourists, or is gumbo really a mild dish? I was told that after the hurricane, the really good chefs packed up and went to Baton Rouge. That will be the scene of my next trip. I enjoyed pecan crusted oysters and local bourbon flavored bread pudding — the highlight of my trip!
We saw a Mardi-Gras type parade. We learned that the locals can’t live without having a parade at least once a week. This was a small one. I’m not the parade type, but it is interesting to see an entire city so devoted to partying other than Vegas!
The local museum
We went to a museum of local history near Jackson Square. I don’t remember the name but it might have been The Cabildo. It was interesting to see the entire history of this fascinating city. It went from Native American rule to Spanish, French, and then American rule. The culture, cuisine and language has gone through a lot of evolution!
Although we Yankees tend to be very anti-slavery, seeing an actual plantation was fascinating and the tour was excellent. We saw the fields, and had a detailed view of the house. They brought slaves directly from Africa who were master carpenters. The building technology they used was straight from Ghana on the house we visited. Other plantations chose to get master rice planters straight from West Africa. In school we learn that random Africans were brought over, but the skill level of some of these slaves was top notch! I also learned that in local culture, the closer you know someone, the closer to your bedroom you bring them in a business transaction. The house we visited was a wine merchant’s home and many business deals were made in the bedroom! Later on, the lady of the house wanted to save money buying slaves, so she bought a handful of females and bred them over and over and over until she had an army of slaves that she didn’t have to pay a penny for. The irony is that the population of that town consists mainly of the descendants of those slaves who chose to stay. The sad part of the visit was due to my ability to senses spirits. There was a very sad West African spirit who just lingered there year after year, for presumably more than 150 years. Slavery was devastating for the slaves as we all know, but I sensed his misery face to face (although I couldn’t actually see it, I sensed it clearly).
The WW2 Museum
New Orleans is filled with museums. If I ever go back, I could visit two dozen more, but one of the best museums I have seen anywhere was the WW2 museum. We went there because my friend read the reviews — something I neglected to do. It took me hours, but I saw the entire unraveling of WW2 from beginning to end. There were so many audio exhibits, that you feel like you are back in time and actually in that war — perhaps in Normandie, Germany, or some other location! “Yavol…”
That was the end of our trip. We had a great time, and maybe we will go back to New Orleans, or maybe to another fascinating location!