Monday, 14 November 2011

French Quarter - New Orleans

Sandra loved the French Quarter!  It is pulsating and alive!  Music is everywhere and the Artisans and their art is everywhere as well.  We toured and walked and enjoyed!  Our tour guide to the plantation stressed that in New Orleans - it is the food and the socializing that dominates - and it is so true.  He stressed that they 'live to eat'!  Unfortunately, due to the Gulf oil spill - the seafood was not as plentiful or as affordable as it could have been. 

We took a walking tour of the French Quarter.  Our Guide for this tour too - was very informed.  The people of NO are very dedicated to explaining their city - its history and culture - and are most grateful for tourists that come and support their economy.  Our Tour Guides each stressed this point over and over!

Love the architecture in the French Quarter.  the street level is shops, restaurants and bars - and above are town houses and apartments!  One can determine if a structure is Creole or American but the architecture - Creole homes do not have a 'front door' but are entered by a side door leading to a long hallway and and a stair well to the upper rooms - with a courtyard at the back.  A non-Creole home has a front entrance door.

Jackson Brewery - no longer a brewery but shops, boutiques and restaurants right in front of Jackson Square in the middle of the French Quarter bordering the Mississippi River.

Driving into the French Quarter - big oak trees overhanging the streets - can't imagine being under these in a hurricane!!!!

Had to have some Jambalaya!

FQ horse drawn carriages in front of Jackson Square - we did not take a carriage ride here - but definitely enjoyed the ambiance!

Mime Artist outside of Jackson Square

Another Mime Artist outside of Jackson Square

Artwork on display outside of Jackson Square

Barry ordered a Muffuletta sandwich - Oh boy!!!!!!

Love Jackson Square - Andrew Jackson on the horse - he defeated the British in 1814 - the British wanted to capture this area to attempt to get back the New England States (they lost after the Boston Tea Party) - the Mississippi being the avenue to traverse inland to the interior and across country over the various tributaries to achieve this goal.  They lost - or New Orleans could have been far different today!  Early leaders in the community sent off plans and diagrams and plans to France - testifying to the design of the area - streets and all - before they actually existed - it was still a 'vision' later to be reality due to funding support from France and later Spain.

More street scapes!

The side streets are narrow so all One Way!  On this particular street - about in the middle on the right - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have a town house.  From the street you have no idea what is behind the walls.  The exterior is retained in 1700's - 1800's architecture - but inside they are modernized and interior courtyards are the norm.  Would have loved to see inside some of these.  Brad Pitt loves NO and the FQ we are told.  He can wander about or ride his bike and the Paparazzi - if they are even there - leave him alone.

Joan D'Arc - a gift from France to New Orleans

Loved the French Quarter City Market - everything from flee market fare to up scale artists fare!

Fountain sculpture in the French Market

Yours Truly in front of Jackson Square during our walking tour!  It was cooler that day!  St. Louis Cathedral in the background - still an active parish.  This is a rebuilt structure dating back to the 1850's.

Bronze Statue of General Andrew Jackson ("Old Hickory" - listen to Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans") - which I thing our guide said weight 14,000 Tons.  It is carefully sculpted to balance the steed on his hind feet.  Jackson defeated the British in 1814 - Battle of New Orleans - a victory of which they are very proud!

Note the protrusions on the pillars - on the buildings in the FQ.  The intruder protection during that era.  All kinds of undesirables would get off the ships (3'rd largest in the US in its day) - these protrusions were called "Romeos" as in Romeo climbs up then "Juliet" comes tumbling down!

Vestments on display in the Ursuline Convent.  The Nuns hand embroidered this garment back in the late 1700's early 1800's

Ah!  Beignets (French Doughnuts) and black coffee at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter - operating continuously 24/7 (except for Christmas Day) from mid 1800's to present day except during Katrina - they were closed for about 2 months!  SS still feels guilty indulging is such a decadent treat!
The FQ is about 13 blocks wide and 7 blocks deep fronting right onto the Mississippi River and dates back to the early days of when the city was founded - 1718.  The city was originally under the rule of France - and later Spain.  The settlers who came in the early years were of different cultures but French remained the dominant language and Roman Catholicism was the mandatory religion to be practiced - and non Catholics were required by law to be practitioners.  Those first generation inhabitants to be born in the region and since - came to be known as Creoles.  With the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 - New Orleans passed from French to Spanish  to American rule in one day.  Apparently they had the raising and lowering of three different flags in one day. 

When the Americans came (Non Creoles and Non Roman Catholics) they were restricted to settling outside of the FQ.  The bordering Canal Street was considered a neutral zone and is where the Creoles and Americans would meet to transact business deals.

A sampling of pictures may give a flavor of the 'Quarter'.

Plantation Tour

We chose the Laura Plantation for our plantation tour.  River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge along the right bank (North) of the Mississippi River was the sight of hundreds of plantations in their hey dey - cotton and sugar cane crops.

Our Bus Driver / Guide was very knowledgeable about the NO area and in particular the Creole peoples and their culture.  He very eloquently talked non-stop on the drive to and from the plantation.  At one point we worried that he was not paying enough attention to his driving - but we survived!

  The Laura Plantation is special as archivists discovered the memoirs of a descendant of the original Creole family who built and farmed the sugar cane (white gold they called it) crop on this plantation.  Four generations of this founding Creole family worked this plantation from 1805 to 1892 - when Laura (wanting to escape the Creole plantation lifestyle) sold out to a German family.  Laura's Father named the property after her in an attempt to soften her resolve to leave and entice her to remain and manage the business.  It didn't work.  She not only left, but she married a Protestant out of St. Louis to boot!   Laura wrote her memoirs in the mid 1930's when she was 74 years old - mainly out of a desire to preserve an accurate account of Creole plantation life and culture and to clarify misconceptions prevailing at the time with the filming of "Gone With the Wind".  Laura died in 1963 at the ripe old age of 102!  Her memoirs were not discovered for another 30 years - but now provide valuable insight to the restoration of the original buildings that are open to the public.

A home in the midst of swamps and marshes - as we were driving to the plantation.  We saw this as we first entered the NO area as well.  The beginning of 'lots of water'.

Interstate 10 over and above the Bayou's, swamps and marshes!

One of only about 8 plantations still in existence along River Road that is being restored.

A copper pot used during the sugar cane harvest to reduce the sugar can into marketable product!

Laura Plantation "Great House" - Corporate Headquarters.  There are no hallways in a Creole house - just rooms with doors leading from one room to the other.  A bank of rooms is on the front and a bank of rooms is on the back.  The kitchen is not a part of this main structure - but set back at the rear in separate buildings - for fire safety reasons.  Monsieur Deparc commissioned the services of a skilled Senegal Slave to design and build this house - it took one year to lay the foundation and base for the house - a series of 72 columns placed on pyramid type columns that were imbedded in the unstable alluvial soil.  Then other slaves were sent into the forest to cut the required sizes of cypress beams to assemble the top structure - brick within cypress beams - and this part of the construction took only 11 days!  Cypress is impervious to water and termites - hence the longevity of this home.  But Formosan termites apparently will attack the cypress, so these little pests are being exterminated where possible.  We did notice metal plates flush with sidewalks in front of buildings - and those are apparently the Formosan termite traps!  Sadly the Cypress was clear cut back in those days - reforestation was not practiced 200 years ago.  We asked and yes they are planting new forests of Cypress, but it is a very slow growing tree apparently.

An ancient oak in front of the Laura House.  these oaks served an important function - running in a row down to the river with a wagon road in the middle - they provided shade and an avenue for the river breezes to blow up to the Great House - where they then opened the Breeze doors along the front verandah to allow the cooling breezes into the house in the heat of summer.

A bonfire pier in front of the Laura House.  Back in the 1700's and  1800's every plantation would construct a bonfire pier like this in front of their property on the banks of the Mississippi - and then on Christmas Eve all the fires were lit - quite a spectacle up and down the river with a huge bonfire every mile or so for hundreds of properties!!!!

A earthen vessel like what would have been used at Laura.  The outside is not glazed - as this vessel would be buried in the ground - up to where the neck is glazed - and this served as a cooling vessel for food stuffs.  This vessel is valued at $6,000

Creole family members and descendants of the founding family.  They were very fortunate to have retrieved these valuable pictures along with the detailed memoirs and other artifacts gracing the prpoerty!

A fire did start on the property a few years ago - but they were able to salvage the property.  Here one can see the structural design - brick between Cypress Columns.  They removed gyproc to expose the original structure.  The gyproc does protect the brick from deteriorating in the heat and humidity.

The original brick patio behind the Laura House - and in the background is where the series of kitchen buildings would have stood back in the 1800's

The back verandah of Laura with a shot of a Breeze door.

Innovative use of wine bottles to warm the soil in the herb garden.  One of the business ventures the women practiced was to import Bordeaux wine from France (they had contacts) - and which they then sold for a handsome profit from the Great house.  As an example of their wealth back then - one of the Daughters had a dowry that would be $20 M by today's standards.  Creole women started out independently wealthy!

Banana trees out behind the Great House - there would have been massive gardens in its hey day - to support and feed not only the family members but the 186 slaves on the property.

This bell would have been used to summon the plantation workers (slaves) and family members to meals.  Slave children starting at age 5 would walk up to the kitchen with a pail each to collect food to take back to their families slave cabin.

One of the original slave cabins on the property.  They were required to provide a 8' X 16' cabin for each slave family - the family then innovatively built duplex structures 8' X 32 ' to house two families each.  The Creoles adhered to an established code of ethics in the management of their slaves.  They attached value and status to their slaves depending on the skill set that a slave may possess (the housebuilding slave from Senegal would have had a very high value at the time).  We asked if the Creole treatment of slaves was better than that other Southern American Slave owners.  The answer was "not necessarily better - just different".  And interestingly - when the English speaking (and Protestant) Americans started moving in and bringing their slaves with them - there was considerable distrust and animosity not only between the Creoles and the Americans but between the Creole owned slaves and the American owned slaves as well!

The retirement home of one of the family Matriarchs who, when she retired from the management of the plantation - had to move out of the Great House.  She refused to move into town so this home was built for her on the grounds.  Apparently- not totally ready to let go of the reins,  she tried to continue firing out orders to the workers from her walkway balcony - which has since crumbled.  The plan is to restore the building as well.
The Laura property was only about 3/4 of a mile wide - fronting onto the Mississippi - and 12 miles deep (12000 acres) - the French Colonial method of parceling out the land.  Everyone had to have a river front - as the river was the 'highway' of the day - the main mode of shipping and receiving goods!  The restored main house dates back to 1805 - over 200 years old!

The Creole lifestyle was very different from the American lifestyle in other Southern regions like Alabama or Tennessee.  For example (sorry guys!) the business in a Creole family did not automatically pass to the eldest son but to the 'smartest' child - and at Laura - that meat 3 generations of women heading up the corporation - and they managed the business with a shrewd skill.  Creole women had rights - they could do banking, sign contracts etc etc.  Rights not enjoyed by women elsewhere in the country in this era.

At the height of its operation the Laura Plantation had 186 slaves.  The main house served as Corporate Headquarters - and everyone who lived in the big house had to be a participating family member in the business or else move out.  The Creoles worked hard and played hard.  After the harvest was in and after Christmas but before Lent, they would leave the farm and move into the city (New Orleans) to their town house - and there would begin 2 to 3 months of socializing, partying, singing, eating, dancing and it would be at this time that the young women or "Debutante's" would have their coming out appearance - then the courting would start!  The pictures will fill in some blanks!

Cemetery Tour

A row of family vaults dating back to the mid 1700's.  There are approximately 40 such cemetery's in NO - often referred to as cities of the 'dead'.  Several generations of family members would be interred in these vaults.  This cemetery is still in use today.
These are crypts lining the wall around St. Louis Cemetery.  The main family vault could not be reopened for another burial until one year and one day after the last burial.  This presented a problem when scourges hit the city - the worst of which was yellow fever back in these days - the worst being in the mid 1800's.  With multiple deaths in a family - what to do - well they were temporarily parked in these wall crypts until such time when the family vault could be reopened to properly place them in their family's resting place.  I can't imagine the process of opening these vaults - but I guess all soft tissue would be decomposed - leaving only bones - which were packaged and move to the back or center of the vault leaving room for the new burial!  Vaults are never opened on the anniversary of the last burial - that is why 1 year + 1 day is the rule!

A wall crypt - where the person has never been moved - but descendents still visit and decorate the spot!

Another section of wall crypts that is deteriorating.  If families do not restore the sites - they will deteriorate!

An interesting plaque in the Protestant section of St. Lewis - a lot of history and information is included on this plaque.

Side by side restored crypt and some deteriorating ones!

An interment as recent as 2010 - saying "Her body lies where her family has lain since the 1700's"

The vault belonging to the family of Marie Lavore - the well known Voodoo practitioner!  Voodoo was a regularly practiced religion in the area and is still practiced today.

An interesting anecdote - the lady who practiced a form of Voodooism in Salem, Massachusettes in the 1700's set in motion the Witchcraft persecutions that happened over a period of 8 months in 1692 (We visited Salem earlier in our travels).  Voodooism was feared and distrusted in the New England States - far different from the culture and practices that prevailed and were accepted in the New Orleans area.

The New and the Old!

A Society Vault - meaning that it is dedicated to either a certain group - like the French, the Italians or the Germans etc.  Or to a particular activity - this society vault is to commemorate Veterans!  So qualifying Veterans would be interred here rather than in a family vault.

The Old and the New again!

While in NOLA (New Orleans, LA) we took 4 guided tours - one of which was the St. Louis (St. Louis Parish in the French Quarter) #1 Cemetery tour - the oldest in NO.  NOLA was founded in 1718 and very quickly the residents realized they had a problem with burying their deceased loved ones.  Due to the very high water table (NOLA is below sea level) they would no sooner dig a grave than it would fill with water.  And if they did manage to bury a coffin in the ground - the frequent floods that ravaged the area meant that coffins and/or corpses were often washed up out of their final resting place!  Hence the above ground crypts or vaults.  Families would have their vaults built with the intention that they would house all family interments for generations to come.  Now cremation was not permitted at this time - the majority of people were Roman Catholic - but once placed in the vault or crypt - a form of natural cremation would occur (high summer temperatures in NOLA).  Later, after the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 - Americans moved into the area - many of whom were Protestant - to co-mingle with the Creole population - who were of blended heritage - French, Italian, German, Canadian Acadians, and Afro Caribbean.  The Americans' were interred in a segregated part of the cemetery.

Hurricane Katrina

Superdome - sheltered thousands of Katrina victims in spite of suffering some damage also

A reconstruction in progress - note the stilts - most homes now are building in this manner.  One house appeared to be sitting on 10' pillars!

A completed restoration.  Our driver explained that a constant challenge in NO is the shoring up of homes every 5 years or so - including the shoring up of sidewalks and lawns - the ground is very unstable - alluvial deposits - shifting of structures is a given!

This wide boulevard served as a transfer station in the immediate days after Katrina once the mop up commenced.  They had to have a process to dispose of large items - cars, trucks, fridges, freezers etc.  These items would be deposited in designated spots along this Blvd. to be appropriate disposed of by the authorities.

Our Guide pointed out the high water mark on this One Way sign!  Unimaginable!

Not the best picture due to the shadow through the bus window, but it shows the complex pump systems around the outflow canal to control water surges in future.  A core of Engineers worked diligently to improve these systems during the reconstruction!

With the car in the foreground - a better idea of the massiveness of the control pump system!

One of the outflow canals where a barrier wall was breached - note the lighter colored section.  The barrier walls are being installed in a manner that should strengthen their ability to withstand water surges our Guide explained.

Trying to show how the ground is sloping away and down from the canal barrier wall and Levee into a community that was flooded.

Another canal where during reconstruction they created a bit of an S curve to further enhance the ability to buffer water surges!

Part of a devastated and abandoned strip mall.  We passed many of these including abandoned schools, bigger shopping malls. 

Part of the fareway of a golf course (not yet in use).  The city park system had 3 or 4 golf courses - one of which has only just re-opened apparently.  The golf course revenue helped support other recreational areas in the city - parks and playgrounds etc.  So the double whammy - no golfing, no $$ to support other recreational activities - a vicious  circle!

A 400 year old oak tree in the city park.  Not the best picture through the bus window - but wanted to show the massiveness of these stately trees.  The metal posts are supporting the massive branches!

Spanish Moss dripping from the majestic oaks in City Park

Sculptures in City Park

More Sculptures!

And More

I like this one!

Couldn't resist this one!

Cardinal in City Park

Restoring some beauty in City Park

More Spanish Moss

This was a home pre Katrina - now devastated and abandoned.  There were many of these along our tour.  Our Guide explained that the city has a major clean up problem - technically the owners should be addressing some of this and taking responsibility with funding support - but many of these property owners have literally vanished - moved to other parts of the country etc.

This Sculpture by a local artist stands in the community where he lived.  This artists home and studio was looted in the aftermath of Katrina.  The artist did leave the city and has since died - this is to honor him and his work.  Interesting sculpture - a house on stilts!

A rebuilt apartment complex in an outlying area.  Our Guide explained that they are having a problem attracting people back to these districts - a lot of infrastructure to meet their needs has not yet been put in place - shopping malls, schools and hospitals.  A real catch 22!

Another abandoned structure!

Lowes has not re-opened.  Part of the problem in the general corporate troubles added to the devastation of Katrina our Guide explained!

The skeletal remains of a devastated and abandoned amusement park.  This mult million $ park had only just opened and been in operation for one year when Katrina struck!

Shows how the major roadways are elevated above the city.

View from the South East end of NO and the 9th Ward that was heavily hit by the 32' surge wave!

Reconstruction in progress

Unlike Lowes, Home Depot is thriving with outlets all over the city - a booming business supporting the reconstruction efforts - that will go on for years yet to come!  There  were many examples of corporate support during the crisis - Walmart supplied many semis' that brought much needed ice water and food to the victims, Harrahs Casino of course closed - but continued to pay a full salary and benefits to all its laid off employees for 4 months (until they reopened) and dedicated space as a command center for the First Responders!

A 9th Ward property where a home once stood - and an abandoned one in the background.  Our Guide explained that there were funding support schemes in place but not appropriate checks and controls - and some people took these support payments and fled the city - not following through on dealing with their properties for which the funds were intended!

And beside devastated and abandoned properties - we'd see hopeful efforts like this to rebuild

Fats Domino Home - Fats was rescued from his roof during Katrina - the home still needs to be rebuilt inside.  Apparently "de molding" businesses are thriving.  Where it is possible they totally gut the homes and rebuild the interior.  We are amazed that they can restore some of these homes.  We would have thought they'd all be condemned - although many were as evidences by the vacant slabs where a home once  stood.

A restored home beside a condemned home!

Another work in progress!

Devastating!  And we are 6 years after the tragedy!

The remains of a site where a home once stood!

Foundations to support reconstruction have been established by performers like Brad Pitt and Bon Jovi.  Several of these homes - with some interesting architectural design were supported by these foundations!  We loved them - but note the stilts are in place on all.

We also noticed the inclusion of solar panels on a lot of homes.  The area was without power for weeks leading into months I think our Guide said.  Katrina struck during the hottest and highest humidity time of the year!

Innovative - elevated home - incorporating a carport underneath.  Even at our RV Park - their office was elevated in this manner with lots of storage space etc underneath.  Mind you we were parked near a canal leading into Lake Pontchartrain - so this area would have been hard hit during Katrina.  The RV Park was only 3 1/2 years old - built since Katina.  Gave us a funny feeling to be parked in such a vulnerable spot.  We kept an eye on the weather!

A higher base of pillars for this home!

Eerie!  Steps into a home that is no longer there!

The canal barrier wall that was breached by a barge that ended up sitting beside the blue home in the center - in the 9th Ward.

The First Responders would go into each property and label the front wall with what they determined to be the status of the home.  These codes were written in a clockwise format.  By City Ordinance, First Responders were required to live in their community - so these people lost everything too.  Too support them in the role to address the crisis, they brought in cruise ships to serve as homes for the First Responders and their families.

Another condemned property!  Our Guide said that apart from losses through death, the city's population is about 120,000 less than it was pre Katrina!
We took a 3 hour Katrina tour while in New Orleans - and what an incredible tour it was - very sombre as our bus driver/tour guide narrated the horrific events of that disaster that occurred 6 years ago on August 29, 2005.  And when I say narrated - I mean narrated - our guide talked steady for 3 hours while driving through the various sections of the city that were devastated - this has to be cathartic for him.  He did pause for a break at City Park - and I am sure he needed the break too.  We were able to stroll around the park where they have installed some interesting artwork - sculptures etc through the generosity of a donor.  He said they are just now getting around to restoring the aesthetic things that suffered devastation during the storm and flood - earlier efforts of restoration had to focus on the necessities - homes and infrastructure.  Their many beautiful old oak trees for the most part survived, but the Magnolias took a hit from standing in the brackish sea water.  Now that we've been to NOLA we can more clearly understand their geography and how things played out.  As we left Mississippi and dropped down into LA - the countryside dramatically changed - all of a sudden we were driving on an elevated interstate (I 10) (west approach to NO) that went through Bayou's, swamps and marshes - water everywhere.  There is a 24 mile long causeway the crosses over Lake Pontchartrain (not really a Lake as Lakes are bounded by land - and Pontchartrain is not - so is really a Bay off the Gulf of Mexico) from the North into NO (this was breached during Katrina - and has now been rebuilt - higher - in case a similar storm ever strikes again), and then there is an Eastern access - which is likely similar to the I 10 access - through Bayou's, swamps and marshes.  The South is a series of more Bayou;s, marshes and swamps plus the Mississippi River and the Gulf.  NO is 2' to  14' below sea level - the highest part being the French Quarter - which was the only section spared the flood waters during Katrina (only about 6" of water seeped into the streets of the 1/4) - the rest of the city had between 2' to 11' of water.  The counter clockwise winds of Katrina sucked the water off of Pontchartrain into the outflow canals - and the surge of water was too great and the barrier walls were breached in places - the ground Levees held - but the barrier walls did not.  Then the water rushed into the lower areas and was held in there by the walls and Levees that were meant to protect the communities - like one big toxic bathtub!  The pictures will explain it a little better.