There are many reasons that I shouldn’t like New Orleans, starting with: 1. I’m allergic to shellfish; 2. I don’t really like jazz (Tim knows this about me, and he sticks around, surprisingly); and 3. I really hate the heat and there is probably nothing that I hate more than humidity. New Orleans has all of these things, in spades. It was hot as hell the whole time we were there. And the last time we were there it was so hot that I swelled up like a puffer fish. But I love, love, love it. New Orleans is probably my favourite city in the States. It is nothing I would ever think of loving, or would ever think to put on my list of things I look for in a city, but it just is what it is, and unlike LA where there’s no there there (at least according to Gertrude Stein), in New Orleans there is a here, here. Everywhere.
Lucy expressing her displeasure at leaving 5 degree weather and arriving in 26 degrees and full humidity. Lucy did not like New Orleans, at all.
Random New Orleans puppy who does like the heat.
Here is Tim, eating beignets. Isn’t that funny?
But so sad when they’re all gone.
New Orleans is packed with museums, ranging from the authoritative/official to the really bizarre. We actually started at Race and Religious a hotel/venue (at Race St and Religious St) where I made up a story about a potential 75th gigantic birthday celebration in the family in order to get a tour. I thought it was going to be more of a collection than it was. It was kind of a random assortment of the owner’s daughter’s paintings paired with objects that vaguely referenced religion (a statue of Mary rescued from Hurricane Katrina; a painting of Mickey Mouse done with a mixture of wine and blood etc. etc.). There were several random events taking place when we got our tour (a fashion shoot and wedding, for starters), so these are from the Design Tripper site. She actually stayed there (only $800 a night!).
It was nice, but maybe not as cool as the price tag ($10,000 for the weekend!!).
From there we went to the Voodoo Museum, which, at $5 a person, was more in keeping with our budget. Also, it was a good collection, and a fully functional living museum – the altars in the back room are in constant use. I learned a lot, and it was nicely crowded and dimly lit.
Painting of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 1830s, at the entrance to the museum. She was a noted oracle and political figure in New Orleans (Andrew Jackson even visited her). According to the museum, her grave has more visitors than that of Elvis Presley.
Marie Laveau’s daughter (also a Voodoo Queen), with penny offerings along the bottom of the painting).
Hallway. There was a lot of information here – I’m not sure I’ll get it all right, although the whole thing was amazingly interesting.
Voodoo room with an altar to Legba (who is a Trickster figure, and also an intermediary between the gods and humans) on the left. Rougalou, a werewolf-like spirit at the back of the room.
Zombie statues. These are Haitian zombies. I read a story about this several years ago, I think in the Nation. It was so fascinating, but according to the article (and the sign here), there is a rare practice of a ceremony in which certain people are given narcotics that imitate death. They are then buried alive and resurrected.
Tim looking at voodoo dolls (which, at least in New Orleans, were traditionally not used for bad).
Altar to Legba on the right, working altars at the back of the room (Catholic saints are used in New Orleans to represent voodoo spirits).
Of all the little museums we’ve been to so far, I found this one the most informative. I learned so much, and have only conveyed a tiny percentage of it here. The overarching premise of the museum is to show that voodoo is still strong in New Orleans, and also to undermine some of the stereotyping of voodoo in western films, music, popular culture etc.
We also went to the Pharmacy Museum, which was also interesting, though in a completely different way. There was overlap though – the Pharmacy Museum also included voodoo love potions sold in pharmacies in New Orleans in the 1920s and 1930s.
I enjoyed the special exhibition that the museum had upstairs – it was all about how during Prohibition, alcohol didn’t disappear from most peoples’ lives. It was, instead, consumed in vast quantities in patent medicine.
A real soda fountain from a New Orleans pharmacy.
We ended the night at Avenue Pub. That little, almost empty glass on the table is a sample of Jewbelation Reborn 17 – a beer from the He’Brew (The Chosen Beer!) brewing company just in time for Hanukkah. It’s 17%, no joke. And I’m glad it was just a sample – a 17% beer is so thick you can basically chew it. We barely got through the two tablespoons.
I thought it would be a good idea to go to a house museum, so we went to Laura Plantation, which is a Creole House on the outskirts of New Orleans. We met this little fellow en route.
These are the original colours. Only the Americans painted their houses white. And it’s raised on stilts because there were no levees on the Mississippi when it was built.
We both thought it was a fairly unostentatious house, until we heard that each member of the family also had their own house in the French Quarter. Seven houses altogether.
This is where the old kitchen used to stand (outside of the house).
One of the slave cabins – there were 20. I wouldn’t call Laura Plantation an authoritative museum by any stretch, but their guides are highly trained, and the visit builds up to the shady history of slavery and plantation life in New Orleans. The second owner of the house “Elizabeth” ran the plantation shrewdly for the time, but there was quite obviously plenty of abuse going on. They only tell two stories (although there are others written between the lines in the descriptions of mulatto children with African mothers showing up in the plantation records), one of a slave who was ordered branded by Elizabeth when he ran away repeatedly, and the other of how Elizabeth’s son and daughter in-law intervened to prevent her from separating a mother and baby. So the tour shows them as humane and inhumane. But the whole thing is couched in the language of business – slaves were assets, would you have done differently at the time etc. etc.? I find that argument disturbing, there were plenty of people thinking and acting differently at the time – Seminoles and Cajuns were helping slaves run away just a few miles away where the plantations became swamps, and plenty of Creoles and Americans were speaking out strongly against slavery. So when someone says what would you have done if your asset worth $100,000 disappeared, wouldn’t you have chased them down as well, I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have had that “asset” in the first place, and would hopefully not have been thinking of people as assets anyway. I don’t know a great deal about New Orleans and slavery, but I do know that activist and marginal histories always get written over, and I certainly found that to be the case at the plantation. Just as an example, the tour guide used the fact that after the Civil War many former slaves stayed on the plantation as evidence of the owners’ humane-ness. But in the van on the way home, the driver, who obviously had a very different take on history, told how former slaves had very little choice and mobility post-war. Most of them stayed because share-cropping was the only open alternative. Their staying said nothing at all about the former owners.
On a lighter note, this was the house that Elizabeth’s mother built after Elizabeth took over the plantation. She built it to face the main house instead of the fields, a decision that possibly says more about her wanting to watch over the functioning of the house than anything else. The plantation is saving to restore the building, but Tim and I both liked it in mid-decay. It just seemed to make a pretty interesting statement about the history of plantation life and slavery along the Mississippi.
This is actually just down the road from Laura Plantation, which doesn’t have an oak alley.
Back in the city, we went to see Rebirth at the Maple Leaf Lounge. Amazing. We were, unfortunately, standing behind Backwards Dancer, that person who is always at concerts who manages to take a tiny step backwards with each dance step until everyone behind them is standing at the back of the venue and they have a narrow path in front of them right to the front of the stage. Yeah, that person.
On our first trip to New Orleans we stayed near the French Quarter, but this time we stayed in Uptown, mostly because there aren’t a whole lot of dog-friendly places downtown. We were staying near Oak Street, and we took the morning to explore.
Lucy looking over-heated.
Interior of Z’otz Café, which is kind of a paradise for Doctor Who fans.
Then we went back down to Magazine St/St Charles, found a Miro mural that matched my pants, and then stumbled into one of the highlights of the trip so far.
This is what House of Broel looks like on the outside. It’s a wedding venue for the most part, but I had read that they have a collection inside. So we stopped by to see if we could get a tour, and my mind was subsequently blown to smithereens. This guy has way better photos than I was able to take, and it’s worth checking them out. As near as I can capture the experience, this is what happened.
We knocked on the door and no one came out. And then we knocked again. And then we knocked a third time because nothing makes a collection so enticing as not being able to get at it. Finally, a little lady dressed in what appeared to be a silk turquoise paisley track suit opened the door and seemed utterly surprised to see us. I said, “I was hoping we could get a tour of the house?” and she stared at me, and then said, yes, there’s someone coming who will be able to give you a tour. Wait here. So we did.
Five minutes later this guy arrived. He was wearing a full on three piece suit with fedora and a giant bell around his neck, and he was with two older people, also with bells around their necks (never fully explained). He also seemed surprised to see us, but took it in stride and said that yes we could join the tour. Turns out that he worked for “Miss Bonnie” (the lady in the paisley track suit), had done some painting in the house, and was giving a random tour to the parents of his “now-boyfriend-soon-to-be-life-partner” (his words) whom he had just met for the first time over an expensive lunch that had somehow resulted in bell necklaces. The soon-to-be-life-partner showed up not long afterwards, also looking like an extra from a 1920s production of Belle at the Ball. They were all extremely cordial about us barging in on what was probably a pretty important event in their lives.
We were a tad underdressed. But this is where the whose who of New Orleans get married and get their pictures taken. And have been doing so since the 1830s. There was a house there before that, but in the 1830s the owner decided that he had too many daughters who all needed to get married and he needed a place to entice the bachelors. So he took his normal house, raised it up 18 feet, and built a new ballroom floor where he could have parties and balls, and potentially weddings. Because raising your home 18 feet is a totally normal way to build a ballroom extension on to your house.
The downstairs seems like a pretty normal house tour, with a few small exceptions. There’s a case full of glittering white dresses, and our host (whose name I unfortunately never got) waved a hand at it and said, oh those are from when Miss Bonnie was Queen of Mardi Gras. And then we went upstairs through a door that looked like part of the wall, and it was like falling into another world. The place is crammed with dollhouses and miniatures, parrots, Egyptian artefacts (mostly fake, although apparently there is a piece of ancient linen in there), and frogs, everywhere.
The parrot room. We were told that Miss Bonnie picks up a new parrot everytime she “gets off the boat.” I have no idea what that means – I mean, I assume she goes for a cruise every year, but honestly, who knows.
Some of the dollhouses.
Apparently Miss Bonnie lived in Mississippi for a while and she got bored, so she started making miniatures. There’s a pretty normal house, with a kid falling into the toilet, a Japanese house, a New Orleans-themed house (with minature beignets and crawfish), a “busy” house (above), a Russian ball, and the Littlest Whorehouse in Texas, complete with Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, a cowboy in a bubble bath, and a horse in the bedroom. And those are only the ones I can remember. There must have been 40 or 50 of them!
And then there’s a room of porcelain and stuffed frogs. This seemed a little out of context. But our host told us that Miss Bonnie’s father “The Count” (upon further inquiry it turns out that he really was a Polish count) decided to enter a money making venture to breed frogs for commercial canned frog leg production. And he is now memorialized in the collection with ceramic frogs and a framed picture of the label from the cans he used to produce. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was not the moneymaker he had anticipated, and the frog leg cannery was not long for this world.
And then finally, a trip to the uppermost floor contains a display all about the House of Broel. When Miss Bonnie wasn’t collecting frogs or making miniatures she was designing dresses, and House of Broel became a designer to the stars (at least in the 1980s – there are a whole lot of sequins). It turns out that she actually bought the house when it was a near wreck, and worked with her friend whose name, no joke, is Miss Connie, in order to turn it into a fashion palace. There is also a chandelier from the Dior studio in Paris that I don’t have a picture of. So Miss Bonnie and Miss Connie turned House of Broel into a going concern, designing for the stars of New Orleans.
We wandered out through the secret garden that will soon be filled with garden gnomes and I think we were both in a little bit of shock. It was so bizarre! And amazing! Frogs legs, fashion and miniatures, and we were only able to get in because we timed out visit perfectly. On the way out there were two young women knocking on the door who were turned away – I felt pretty special, let me tell you.
One last show at the Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street and we had to make our way home to pack up. Lucy was glad to go, but Tim and I would have stayed forever I think. Instead, Lucy ruled the day and we made our way to Austin, where we hit one of the coldest days in Austin’s history (pretty temperate, to be honest, but a bit of a shock after New Orleans).