Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Orleans vacation day 5: Digger meets Doughnuts

Day 5 of our New Orleans vacation started with a beautiful sunrise

before we headed down to the Lucky Ladle on Magazine Street for a great breakfast.  The joint also had some modern art that I really liked on display.

Lafayette Cemetery #2 & #3, or "Creepytown"

Maybe we shouldn't have had full tummies for our next stop: the graveyard!  It was creepy.  I navigated us to what I thought was Lafayette Cemetery #1, but when we got there, the sign said Lafayette Cemetery #2 & #3.  Oh well, a cemetery is a cemetery, right? Wrong.

The cemetery was in a bad part of town and it didn't look like anyone took care of the place.  Many of the monuments were broken, like this one.

One of many broken grave markers. It is fitting that in the background of this picture is an abandoned apartment building with the windows broken out. 

One of the interesting things about these cemeteries is that one grave site has multiple people, usually family members, buried in one vault.  That seems strange to me, being from the West, where each person gets his or her own plot of earth.  Is it because we have more space here?  The other thing, of course, is that the bodies are above ground.  It is just too wet to dig a 6 foot grave.  Personally, I would rather be cremated than rot above ground, but perhaps that is my ethnocentric Midwestern upbringing talking.

Some of the monuments looked to have one day belonged to a wealthy family, but no one is looking after their dead relatives now.  This pitched roof tomb was grand,
but the sandstone plaque containing all the writings of who was inside was now worn through. And a mini dune of sand and broken statuettes was all that was left of the words.

These "society tombs" were interesting.

 A society tomb.

According to, society tombs are pretty much like mausoleums but all the people buried there belong to a society or organization.  We saw society tombs for firefighters, policemen, and orphanages.  Again, each vault has multiple names on it because after a respectable time, the remains of a burial were pushed to the back where construction of the vault allowed the bones to fall to a receptacle below; the space was then ready for another recipient! Trees and vines were taking over many of the graves, and trash was littered about.
Drew was getting a little creeped out by this time.  I don't know if it was because the place was creepy, or because I was so fascinated by all the graves. He called me "Digger" for the rest of the trip.  The creepy level went way up when we saw this.

A coping grave with bonus pigeons.

Two fresh, decapitated pigeons on top of a "coping grave".  Probably voodoo.  Time to go!  BTW, a coping grave is an above ground burial. Uncovered empty chambers are framed by stone, brick and plaster. They are filled with earth and are built up to 3 feet from the ground, which allows for burial in the soil. Bodies are entombed repeatedly in one coping. 

We made our escape through the bad neighborhood again, passing this abandoned house that I couldn't drive by without taking a picture.

Check out how the vines are taking over the chimneys.

French Quarter and the best doughnut on the planet

We returned out rental car and set out on foot for the French Quarter to see the sights in daylight this time.

We listened to these street musicians for a while.  Our first and really only jazz.  (Listening to live jazz was the one thing I wanted to do but we never got to.)

Next stop, Cafe du Monde, or more correctly named Doughnut Heaven by me.  Cafe du Monde is a New Orleans icon established in 1862. The Cafe is open 24-7 so tourists and locals can get their chicory coffee (served black or au lait) and beignets. Beignets are now on my top ten food list. They are these little fantastic fry bread/doughnut type of pastries served covered with a mound of powdered sugar.  I describe them a like a rectangular doughnut but the texture is slightly denser and chewier than a doughnut, but not as tough as a fry bread.  Something about the taste is really nice - not oily and fried. 

Anyway, I was in heaven.  Three beignets are served on a plate.  We ordered two plates. Drew only got to eat two.

Got beignets?

It was a chilly, windy day, but we walked around anyway.  Here we are on the levee parallel to Decatur Street with Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral in the background. A statue of general Andrew Jackson on a horse is at the center of the square.

We strolled through the French Market and bought ourselves, what else, a pig figurine.

And then we just walked up and down a few of the streets, looking in shops and taking pictures of all the buildings.  Contrary to what one would think, most of the buildings reflect Spanish architecture, not French as the name implies. The reason is that most of the buildings were built after two big fires in the late 1700s destroyed most of the existing structures.  The area was under Spanish rule at that time, and so the ornate ironwork, bright pastel colors, and galleries (like balconies but supported from the ground) are from Spanish architects.

One of my favorite photos from the trip is this bike loaded down with beads.

It was a fun stroll.

The best food in North America

Later that night we met up with Drew's two college roommates for drinks and dinner.  Todd now lives in Salt Lake City (but we hardly ever see him) and John and his wife Marie live in New Orleans.
 At Oak Wine Bar. Very swanky. (I only had my cell phone with me for pictures and accidentally turned on some weird solarize effect.)

Drew, John and Todd got along like old times and got caught up on each others' lives.  

But time for eatin'!  On John's recommendation, we went to Jacques Imo's for Cajun food.
At Jacques Imo's Restaurant.
On our first day in NOLA, a local had also told us it was very good.  "Very good" does not even come close to the absolute food extravaganza we enjoyed.  On a normal night, I would have to say this place would be really excellent, but on the night we were there, we were treated to the best meal I've ever eaten, with the possible exception of the 7-course wedding meal we enjoyed in Italy last year after our friends' wedding.

I believe the treat we had that night was mostly because by total chance, we ran into Dave, a former classmate of Drew, John, and Todd's.  Dave was only in the ROTC program at Tulane for a year or two with them and then moved on to other things, eventually landing as a waiter at Jacques Imo's.  As we were standing at the bar waiting for our table, Dave recognized the guys, whom he had not seen for 22 years, and came over to say hi.  He then took it upon himself to bring out only the restaurant's most fabulous dishes, not letting us order anything off the menu ourselves.  He served it family style, so we all got to try each of the approximately 15 dishes he laid out in front of us.

There was not one of them that was anything less than great, but the alligator cheesecake, beet and Brussels sprouts sauce, garlic butter cornbread muffins, and beef with blue cheese were absolutely out of this world.  How do they make cornbread muffins taste like a bite of joyful love?  The only thing I didn't try was the big prawns with their heads and tails still on (never been a fan of shrimp), and the only dish that wasn't everything Drew cracked it up to be, was the crawfish etouffee (shrimpy - that explains everything).

It was such a fabulous meal, made fun by the new/old friends.  I still have longings for that food, and I expect that I will use my Southwest benefits to fly to New Orleans just to eat there sometime in the next couple of years.  It was that good!

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