December 1-6, 2018
Musical Legends Park / Bourbon Street / Canal Street
Hop On – Hop Off – We opted to buy the three day pass on the hop on-hop off bus. We enjoyed the tours and the narration for the entire loop but only got on the bus for a short hop one time after the first day. We felt the extra $10 was well worth it for the Garden District and French Quarter tours. Many offer tours of these areas. Many tours are “themed”. Think Jazz, Ghost, History, Food and Beverage, or Voodoo.
We did the self-guided cemetery tour in the Garden District. I had read a fiction book set in a New Orleans cemetery and learned that not only are the tombs above ground because of the high water table, but many, many, many people can be “buried” in the same tomb. They do what is called unlimited interments. There are alcoves built into the side of the crypt and a well-type pit is dug in the ground in the center. Deceased are laid out in the alcove and the tomb is sealed. A year later or when they need to use the alcove again, the bones/remains are scraped into the pit and the newly deceased is placed in the alcove to decay for a year. Some of the crypts are family tombs that have been used for many generations. One had at over 40 names on it. They have “community” type “slots” along the outer wall of the cemetery. If your family doesn’t own a tomb, you can rent space there and they push the remains to the back when they add new ones or they can scrape them out for burial elsewhere. It sounds… efficient.
Our Red Bus guided walking tour of the Garden District was pretty cool too. It was originally developed as a separate city called Lafayette and was planned as a rich neighborhood with 2 plots on each city block. Wealthy plantation owners bought houses there so they could “winter” in New Orleans and do the social thing. Most of those huge plots have been subdivided to pay off bills or split between heirs when someone died (EVERYONE wanted a Garden District residence – it was the rich person THING!). There are a few of the original mega plots with houses on them still remaining. We saw John Goodman’s house. They say he’ll often hang out by his front gate and give out bottles of water to the tourists or can be seen walking the neighborhood with his dog. Unfortunately he wasn’t around the day we were there. We also saw a home owned by Sandra Bullock who is said to loan it out to celebrity friends so you never know who might pop around. And then there was the house used in the Benjamin Button movie.
Our Red Bus walking tour of the French Quarter was also very good. The French Quarter IS the original New Orleans. The rest of the city grew up around it. We learned that while it was originally built while the French controlled the area, much of it was lost in some large city fires so the architecture and styles are more Spanish influenced since that is who occupied the city during the rebuild. Our tour covered the historic aspect of the quarter: Creole cottages, the Cathedral, The Baroness de Pontalba, porches vs balconies, cast iron as a sign of wealth, etc.
Mardi Gras World was a bit pricey but it was a fun tour. We saw dozens of floats as well as “where the magic happens”: where the wood and Styrofoam are cut and glued using “Great Stuff” to build a three dimensional piece; where papier mache is applied to new or repurposed pieces so they become smooth; where tagboard is cut and glued with wire between two layers to make bendable petals that will be joined to make giant flowers; and where bright latex paint is applied to all of the pieces.
Then we got to see “Pixie” – a fully automated robot that precision cuts and carves pieces for the floats. She can move pieces around the room, change bits, work on multiple projects at a time and more. They can program her and let her run through the night so the pieces are ready for the artists in the morning. She doesn’t replace the artists. They still design the piece and program her. She just does the meticulous job of carving. They have her in her own little room that is covered in Styrofoam bits like a dusting of soft snow. I’m sure the artists are happy they aren’t breathing that stuff all the time anymore. Anyone that has tried to get those Styrofoam peanuts to stay down can appreciate Pixie for that reason alone.
We also learned how the Carnival Krewes work, who pays for all those beads and throws (the person throwing), how the floats are equipped (safety harnesses for humans, hooks for beads, bins for throws and a bathroom on board – hallelujah!) and some of the laws that apply to parades (everyone on the float is required to wear a mask) and a limited number of floats allowed in a parade. Our guide stressed the New Orleanians don’t like to be told what to do or have restrictions on their Mardi Gras so they find loopholes… like if one tractor pulls four “floats” instead of one, it still counts as one float. So if 18 tractors pull one “float” each, it counts as 18 floats. But if 18 tractors pull four “floats” each, it counts as 18 floats… hmmm. Party Math!
During the tour we also learned that this company does more than Mardi Gras floats. They make the Chick-fil-A cows you see painting billboards and do some work for Disney. They rent out an area for events so people actually party among the floats and figures and they have a separate building with an awesome swamp village scene where people can hold weddings or other events. They take you there and tell you the history of the venue on the tour.
Music and extras
We heard live music when we ate, along the street and it came pouring out of most restaurants and bars on Bourbon Street. We caught an Illumination Festival at the U.S. Mint/Jazz museum with a live band and a group of Mardi Gras Indians singing, dancing and chanting. The next night we were on the trolley and heard about a Luna laser show/festival in Lafayette Square called Luna Fete so we jumped off and headed over. That was really cool and they had light-oriented art installments running down several more blocks. There seemed to always be something extra going on.
We love nature so we managed to hit a few of their parks: Louis Armstrong Park in Treme (at the top of the French Quarter – toward the lake) with Congo Square where the enslaved African Americans used to gather, play music and dance. Another day we made it out to Audubon Park in uptown, across from Tulane University. We used our Jazzy Pass to take the historic St. Charles Trolley out there. It was late and chilly so we did a quick walk through one section of Audubon Park. We saw a stone bridge leading to we knew not where so we wandered over it and realized we were on a golf course. A large sign gave a CYA warning to “Proceed at your own risk”. We were amused to see “…you risk being hit by golf balls or golf carts…” Golf balls we understood but golf CARTS? Oh yeah, that open container law. I’ll bet a lot of those golfers wandered town with their to-go cups BEFORE they crawled into the golf cart with enough adult beverages to get them through a round of golf. Toss in a bunch of clueless tourists and their emergency rooms just might see a lot of golf cart hit and run victims. We retraced our steps to avoid THAT little bit of embarrassment.
We also rested in a smaller park called Washington Square up on Frenchmen Street. The temps were in the upper 70’s with full sun so it was pretty warm in the streets. I don’t regulate body temps well and was overheating so we sought out a nice bench in the shade. It was amusing to see what we assumed were locals. A mom and two kids were romping at the playground. They had on long sleeve shirts, long pants and fleece lined boots. One had a fuzzy hat. I’m sweating and they are bundled up like it’s about to snow. I was told that if it wasn’t at least in the 90’s, it’s COLD! As I always say “it’s a matter of perspective”.