Prior to leaving on this long weekend with my mum (the first time we’ve traveled somewhere together!), I had the following conversation with more than a few friends and colleagues:
Curious person: Oh cool, New Orleans! Are you going for Mardi Gras?
Me: No, that’s not until next week.
Curious person: Oh right, of course.
To all of you who asked such a good question, I owe you an apology. I was completely wrong and you seemed to believe what I said without question (likely because I go a lot of places and do a lot of things and usually sound pretty confident when I speak, the latter of which is largely smoke and mirrors anyway). Mea culpa. Lessons learned: Factually, trust no one (as aptly phrased by a friend) and always, always research.
The Mardi Gras season, as the extremely friendly and hospitable New Orleanians (I may have made up that word) told me, runs from Epiphany in January to actual Mardi Gras day (Fat Tuesday). As the locals explained it, Mardi Gras is an excuse to do as much sinning as possible for 5+ weeks in order to have something to atone for over Lent.
So yes, I was in New Orleans for part of Mardi Gras. And it was amazing. There were parades everywhere at all times of the day and night. Most of these photos are from the Krewe of Cork parade in the French Quarter:
My mum and I thoroughly enjoyed collecting as many beads as we could and ogling in astonishment at the parades, costumes, and general debauchery, especially on Bourbon Street. There are no open container laws in New Orleans, which was a lot of fun and probably explains much of what we saw:
More importantly, we learned a lot about the rich history and culture of New Orleans, which has been Spanish, French, and American throughout its history, creating Creole and Cajun cultures that give the city a flavor and a pulse unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The food is darn good, too, and this is coming from a vegetarian. If I was impressed, omnivores will be even more so.
I have to admit, however, that I still don’t like doughnuts. It was a lot of fun to eat beignets and drink café au lait while walking down the street, but I just don’t like doughnuts. That said, I’d still recommend a visit to Café du Monde, if for no other reason than to say you did. We got there around 8:15am on Saturday morning and beat the lines by about a minute. And the café au lait was truly delicious.
Mum and I really love wandering along streets and in and out of shops and galleries wherever we are, which is how we spent most of our time. We explored the French Quarter and French Market on our own and also took a French Quarter walking tour to actually learn a thing or two about how New Orleans came to be. We were amazed at the beauty of the streets and buildings, and delighted with the art and music that were everywhere:
Another really excellent walking tour took us through Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District. There were some incredible homes in the Garden District, with a remarkable diversity of architecture based on sheer whim of the wealthy homeowners.We learned about the burial laws of New Orleans (as long as you wait a year and a day, you can open a tomb and shove another body inside) and some of the history of the city’s wealth from trade. The first burial in Lafayette Cemetery took place in the 1840s and the cemetery is still active, which is really neat:
We also spent one evening on Frenchmen Street where there was jazz everywhere, as well as an art market. The hard part was picking a bar to visit (we chose The Spotted Cat based on several recommendations) and a place to eat afterwards! And then we were interrupted by the Krewe of Chewbacchus parade in Marginy, which was so much fun. Unfortunately, I’m a rather petite person and couldn’t get close enough to the police barrier to take any decent photos of the parade itself. But here’s Frenchmen Street:
On our last night in the city, we took a ghost tour to learn about the haunted history of New Orleans. I’m glad that we did the French Quarter tour first because the histories are obviously intertwined, but I don’t know that I’d seek out another ghost tour. I enjoyed hearing the stories and visiting a possibly haunted bar that doesn’t have electricity, but I got a lot more out of the daytime walking tours. That’s probably not surprising, considering the supernatural is questionable at best.
I’ve always admired the “doors of” posters of various cities that are often on the walls in waiting rooms, so I decided New Orleans was a good opportunity to work on my own collection of “doors of” photos. My favorites, including one set of mailboxes:
The most surprising aspect of New Orleans was the culture of the city and the genuinely open, receptive, and free spirits of all the people I encountered, from the man in the suit to the young couple in togas to the woman wearing only glitter. People playing music on the streets seemed genuinely excited to be doing it and artists hung their work anywhere they could and worked wherever they were standing. Palm and tarot readings were readily available and the voodoo shop we visited could not have been more welcoming; they even suggested a different shop when we couldn’t find what we wanted!
(Full disclosure here: Friends have read my tarot cards twice and palm once, and while I don’t know if I “believe” any of what they said, it sure was telling. And, in hindsight, frighteningly accurate.)
Maybe it was Mardi Gras or Southern hospitality, but there’s something truly wonderful about a place where what is normally considered “subculture” is just everyday being.