Scrapbook of a Future Nobleman

New Orleans

About a month ago, I took a road trip to New Orleans with a couple of friends to celebrate a birthday, go to Jazz Fest, and just chill out. It was an awesome trip that I really needed, and I had a couple of opportunities to take photographs of this beautiful and historic city. Normally, I’ll stick to just concert photography on this site, but every now and then I’ll have something different to share.

But no worries, I got some great Jazz Fest photos that I’ll post later on.

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The city is astoundingly beautiful and unique. The French founded it as their North American capital city, then the Spanish owned it for a while, and the Americans got it with the Louisiana Purchase. It was (is?) a major trade center, since it’s at the mouth of the Mississippi River and is like nowhere else in the South.

Probably the two most interesting – and visited – areas of the city are the French Quarter, directly above, and the Garden District, top.

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The French Quarter is the historic downtown, still very much a functioning part of the city, even if it is overrun by tourists. It’s dominated by two- to four-story apartment buildings with wrought-iron balconies.

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The entire city is ridiculously colorful…

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…and plants are everywhere.

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It’s kind of fantastic to see how, even though there are several different styles of buildings in the Quarter, they all follow the same general New Orleans style.

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At the center of the French Quarter, right by the Mississippi, is Jackson Square and the church. If you are ever in New Orleans, be sure to stop by the fantastic Café du Monde to pick up a café au lait made from chicory coffee and a couple of beignets absolutely smothered in powdered sugar.

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Then you can walk up the hill (yes, up) to the riverfront and sit in the park and watch the steamboats and barges drift by.

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The cemeteries are another sight not to be missed. They have a completely unique view of death in New Orleans. For one thing, they celebrate it… I’m speaking of the famous jazz funerals. They have also developed an original form of burial. Since the land is a swamp, they have to bury above-ground. The tombs provide a type of natural cremation, with entire families in one monument. The result are what are truly cities of the dead, as you can see in this view of the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 above.

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And what city would be complete without colorful apartments?

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Or skyscrapers?

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Or houses? And since this is New Orleans, a touch of mystique… This is the supposed tomb of Marie Levau, the most famous voodoo priestess possibly of all time. People leave trinkets in front, and mark “XXX” on it (for some reason no one, not even voodoo practicioners, seem to be able to figure out).

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There’s even a rich section of town. This photo is from the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, in the Garden District. Now I can’t say for sure because I’m not from there, but it seems like death, and the past in general, is felt as a far more present part of life. They accept it and live with it. It adds to the interesting aura of the town.

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Which reminds me… although I don’t want to get into it much here, even four and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, the damage to the city is very obvious. The French Quarter and the Garden District seem to have missed the worst of it and cleaned up pretty quickly, but scattered throughout and particularly on the way into the city, you can see lots of damage evident. A visit to the Lower 9th Ward was both more depressing and more hopeful than I expected it would be. Probably one half to three quarters of it is still in ruins – although I don’t know whether that all has to do with the Hurricane directly. Another near quarter or so is clean and occupied, and the last near one quarter is abuzz with construction by both people who are obviously residents living out of a trailer in the front yard and church or volunteer groups. Markings like the one in the photo above are on houses here and there (this one was actually near the Garden District) which show when the hosue was searched, by which FEMA crew, and how many bodies they found.

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Anyway, an example of living with the past: the streetcar is still a major component of the transportation network. As far as I can tell, they still use the original ones. Here is the St. Charles Streetcar, which runs down St. Charles Avenue between the French Quarter and Audobon Park, right past the Garden District with its fantastic old mansions.

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The level of detailing that was put into every building, it seems, in New Orleans never ceases to amaze me. Even something as basic as an awning is a reason for intricate patterns and bright colors.

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There are so many large and beautiful houses in the District, but my favorites were the ones like this. There is even more profuse vegetation there (hence the name), and the past is obviously key.

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A detail of the above house. I loved the decaying grandeur of this still quite occupied home. That, I think is what pretty much sums up New Orleans: decaying grandeur that is still filled with life.

Everything in this post is Creative Commons License