Sunday, September 14, 2008

Life and Death: New Orleans

New Orleans is the most lively city I've visited in North America. The food and music certainly make the place unique, but the bars are what really do it. There are lots of bars in cities, but there's something special about Bourbon Street (and Frenchmen Street).

The crowds move along Bourbon street.
It's not that New Orleans has a lot of bars, it's just that they're all in close proximity, they're pretty small, they've been there for countless years and, well, they're really fun. They also like beads. Sitting in one bar I was chatting with the barmaid when a big burly biker type came in with a large box and started showing her collections of beads and emblems. "If I take off my shirt will you give me some beads?" The barmaid threatened to throw me out if I did. The biker gave me a half dozen triple twisted beads all in the carnival colors. Turns out he's the leader of one of the organizations that march in the carnival parade.
A barmaid shows off a collection of beads.
Some of the bars are a bit classy. Some certainly aren't. One of my favorites is Old Absinthe House. It's supposed to be one of the oldest bars in the district (like two hundred years old), but it's changed locations a few times so I don't give it too much credit. It has an interesting decor (football helmets hanging from the ceiling), but I like the most is the fact that they have a selection of no less than four different absinthes. So, I had my first glass. I picked the one that had the most traditional flavor, according to the bartender. The bartender poured the liquor over a sugar cube balanced on a spoon then set it on fire. He followed up with some water that gave the drink a greasy appearance. A very impressive presentation, but ya know what? It tastes just like Pernod. For sixteen bucks I can get a glass of absinthe or a whole bottle of the French aperitif.
My first drink of Absinthe. It tastes exactly like Pernod and at sixteen bucks a shot, an enormous disappointment.
Of course, you could spend a lot less, but you'll also get a lot less. There are a score of "bars" that serve frozen high-octane, overly-sweet concoctions mixed up with ice and squirted out of slurpee machine. One of the guys showed me the cheap 180 proof liquor they use in the mix.

Most of the drinks on the street consist of grain alcohol stirred into a Slurpee mix.

You get a very interesting collection of people on Bourbon Street. There's your usual party crowds moving through the street. My first evening I ran into quite a few suits having an after work drink. As the night progresses, the after diner crowd comes out. Later the serious party people take over. The police clear the street at some point of the wee hours simply by hosing down the street with hoses blasting scented water.

It's party time for this bride and her troop of maids.

An exuberant showgirl tosses beads to the crowd.
On Frenchmen Street, away from the tourist crowds, locals enjoy their own bands.
It's fair to say that New Orleans is full of life, but it's also full of death. One morning I took the trolley up Canal street to see the crypts. I spent a couple hours wandering around a few cemeteries and was pretty much disappointed. There were a few interesting tombs, but for the most part it was underwhelming.

Entrance to one of the many cemeteries.
Fabulous workmanship on one of the crypts.
As I was making my way out of the cemetery, on my way to the trolley, I spotted something that was strangely unexpected and somehow expected: a goth chick. Dressed in black tights, hobnail boots and a striped black shirt under a torn jean vest, she walked down one of the paths. She didn't seem to be doing much, more than walking. I caught up to her and asked if she was tourist. It turns out she was simply cutting through the graveyard on her way to a nearby coffee shop. I told her about my disappointment with the cemeteries I'd seen. She directed me across the highway to Metaine Cemetery. I was ready to throw in the towel because I was already dripping in sweat, but I decided to make the hike anyway. It was worth it. This was where the great crypts are located.

Beautiful grass lawns run between the ancient crypts.
A soldier stands sentry before a tomb.

One of a pair of cathedral-like structures near the edge of the cemetery.
A baptismal basin in a church near the French Quarter.

1 comment:

SokYou said...

NIce pictures taken, Louise, as always ;).