Cities of the Dead

It is 7:00 pm and I am wasted with my mother.

Sound pathetic? Maybe it would be if I was anywhere else other than Pat O’ Brien’s, the famous origin of the Hurricane drink, located on St. Louis Street, perpendicular only by a few to Bourbon. From here, it’s easy to stumble back home to Dauphine.

It’s weird to think that only a few hours ago I was hanging out in a completely different offspring of NOLA, the Garden District. Here is where the Americans settled way back when the Creoles shunned them and built their big Southern mansions which line the streets, shielded only slightly by iron fences.

Quiet, romantic, and dignified, these old plantation homes are often raised from the ground since New Orleans holds no bedrock and simply sits on a puddle of mud. Most of them are conservative colors today of beige and white, but once featured bright tropic colors. Their vastness often remains hidden by piles of trees and shrubbery.

Strolling past homes like the former place of Anne Rice, author of Interview with a Vampire, as well as current celebrity homes of Sandra Bullock, Peyton Manning, and John Goodman, it’s easy to see how this place is a muse and celebrity hotspot. Quiet fountains in front of pink plantations, iron fences with tiny horse heads, and dotted Catholic statues, the place is understated and elegant at once. But to overlook the Lafayette Cemetery…

This above ground cemetery, one of the oldest in the city, is entirely composed of above ground tombs since the frequent rain and lack of solid ground continued to bring bodies to service until tombs enacted. After a family purchased a tomb, one body’s casket would be placed until the next member died, when the bones would be pushed to the bottom and the casket would be used again. Now, the tombs sit like buildings in a small (abandoned) city, with little streets for onlookers to walk past the mass gravesides. Most of the graves have a fair amount of wear and tear, as the first bodies placed date back to the 1800’s. Tiles are cracked, names are missing, some entire tombs have shifted in the ground.

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Look… and Listen.

“Music is everywhere, if you know where to look.”

I once read this in some book or magazine. Whoever wrote this, however, was not speaking about New Orleans, because much looking is not necessary. It doesn’t matter where you are. I don’t care if you’re strolling the Mississippi, out on Bourbon on a Friday night (or any night, really), or outside the St. Louis Cathedral in 100 degree weather. It will sing to your ears, pulling you into this direction and that, leaving you yearning for this thing called jazz, something we don’t really hear much of within our bustling in the Northeast.

The music, which sifts about, can obviously be mostly found within the French Quarter. I really didn’t know much about New Orleans before my visit, but I (most ignorantly) thought of long-stemmed roses and elegant architecture. AHA. No. Don’t get me wrong, it is no less wonderful. But wandering the streets are a little more fitted to the Knight Bus in Harry Potter, which flits noisily throughout tiny streets. The brick, age-worn cafes, shops, bars, psychic lairs, and even home are cradled upon one another like old friends. Within this little homey square you will find dive bars next to art shops, voodoo dolls next to coffeeshops.

Jackson Square is a pretty little garden that overlooks St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest active cathedral in the United States and looks like it is straight out of Disneyland. It marks the spot where the Quarter sprang and behind it lies a usually locked garden that onlookers can peer through, where a statue of Jesus sits with a missing thumb, the only part of Him damaged by Katrina.

Cruising along the streets, which like many Southern places, gets hit by a torrential downpour in the afternoon (wish I knew that the first day), it’s easy to find hidden gems hiding in nooks of NOLA. After visiting an especially lame Mardi Gras museum on the upstairs of Antoine’s, a swanky restaurant on St. Louis Street, my mother and I found ourselves on the abandoned upper decks, overlooking Bourbon as the sun went down and people began (okay, already were) flooding the streets.

And then, the animal becomes unleashed. In the summer, I find it hard to drag myself out of my cozy room, get all dressed up, then drive to some lame bar in the middle of nowhere to sit on a barstool and get drunk in the dark for six bucks a drink. Nobody in New Orleans has this problem. Before the sun is even down, people are pouring out of wherever the hell they were all day and spilling onto Bourbon. The homey bars, like the Cat’s Meow, the Famous Door, and the Funky Pirate, all have their own live music seemingly fighting for air, the music pouring out of the absent doors and walls and into the party that already exists on the street. Grandparents, 21ers, kids, hookers, moms, businessmen, artists- no one is left without a drink.

At least at Bourbon, and probably all of NOLA, maybe you don’t have to look for music because it already found you.