New Orleans (NOLA), I was to learn, is a party city. Every weekend they have a festival, some sort of festival, any festival really, let’s just celebrate. I mean really. Music, food, culture. You name it. Like Beignet Fest, which is just a festival regarding a French doughy pastry with icing sugar sprinkled on top. I imagine our equivalent would be a Timbit Fest. Can’t you just see it? We stayed in the French Quarter, at what would be the equivalent of Church and Wellesley Streets during Gay Pride Week. I was to find out the traffic is stopped about 3:00 pm every day as the streets became packed with revelers, crowds that pack the streets from side to side. Alcohol is given in plastic take out glasses because you can walk around with it openly and the bars did not have an end time to stop serving. Instead they had a time they must close their shutters. I was to learn this was to keep the music and patrons mostly inside after 4:00 am.
It was a real treat walking around the French Quarter at night. There were many different people, characters really, who came there each night, dressed in some funky outfit, and just had themselves some fun. Some did this for money and tips, while others, just for the sheer fun. Much like I imagine why people attend Comicom type of events – just to dress up. After a few nights strolling around the hood, I was to discover there was a ‘regular’ mix of characters amongst the visitors to the city. There was this older woman, who appeared in her 70’s and stood about 5’0”. She would come with a bike, and blare Christian Holy Roller music while being dressed up in different and bright costumes, like in a flapper dress or as a cowboy, and she would just be dancing up a storm each night. There was also the guy with the parrots, who stood, usually in a jester outfit, waiting to get a $5 for a photo with him and his birds, or $10 for one with a bird sitting on your shoulder. What was really delightful were a pair of pirates, male and female, standing near a corner, whom I took their photo. When I showed a friend, she showed me one of hers, taken of the couple in the same area and outfits, from a couple years before.
I must admit, I did walk around and on more than one occasion I would scratch my head in disbelief, as I chanted the well known “Only in NOLA” mantra. I saw things I don’t think I could ever see anywhere else, as people walked, road, jumped and almost floated through this theatrical district each night. I remember on one walk, there was what appeared a big old fashioned bicycle, you know the ones with a huge wheel at the front and a little one in the rear and it was so very tall. But what got me staring was the glow of what, I did not know, but some apparatus it was attached to. As it got closer I realized there was a complete swing set attached to this bike so people could swing threw the Quarter as he cycled hard for them. Only in NOLA!
I was excited to be there the week before Halloween as they celebrate their Day of the Dead big time. The city is deeply ingrained in the history of voodoo, hauntings and ghosts and the like. The walking tours were great. There were so many stories one could talk about just walking around the French Quarter, that the guides choose for themselves what they want to tell you about. I actually took three of them and am so glad I did. Each guide told different stories and visited different buildings. Of course these were all haunted tours at night, but they did promise that no one lays in wait to jump out and scare us. They talk about Madam Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen, who really wasn’t as much a practitioner as she was a shrewd politician. They described the apothecary, who was really a serial killer. He experimented and tortured and killed prisoners for years, under the guise of medical experimentation, which was totally sanctioned by the government. Then there was Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie, who did unspeakable things to her slaves, most notably having nailed them alive under the floorboards of her home. Her story was captured in the series, American Horror Story, while some movies, such as Interview with a Vampire was filmed here. And then the movie stars, like Nicolas Cage, who owned and lost homes in NOLA. Mr. Cage actually bought his grave here, a tomb, above ground like all the others, but his is shaped like a large pyramid, like from his movie National Treasures. It is rather a monstrosity close to the voodoo queens crypt in Layfeyette Cemetary No1, where they say at night, the ghosts, ghouls, vampires and warewolves run amuck though the graveyards. I think it was at this point that a drunken fool was walking by and yelled “BOO” at my group. I jumped and screamed and definitely did not find it as funny as he did!
This all culminates in a Day of the Dead parade, which is second only in attendance and participation to Mardi Gras. Sue was a little surprised about the amount of floats, bands, entertainers and jugglers amongst other things. We watched for two hours and neither did we see the beginning nor the end of the parade. In fact we had no idea how long it actually was. The parade is at night and goes up and down Canal Street, giving lots of room for spectators, and I was right at the front. I came to understand what throwing beads actually means, and yes, it really is necklaces of plastic beads. I gathered up so many, I remember that it weighed down my neck, so I actually stopped collecting them. What struck me as different about this parade, is the age of most of what I saw as the participants. I have never seen so many 50 – 70 year olds, dressed up in all kinds of outfits and costumes and having such a great time at it. In fact, that was what struck me a lot about NOLA, was the ease and comfort of people to just join in, let go and dress up. So not to be left out, Sue and I did dress up, attended the parade and walked around the streets in our costumes. It was fun and freeing all at the same time. Yes, even oldies can became young at heart. “Arr Matey. You see what I’m saying?”
However, as fun as all the dress up and theatrics were, a big part of us coming to NOLA was for the music …..