After yesterday’s busy day we spent the morning sleeping late and then chilling out in the room. Carolyn’s cousin Melissa – who we had gone to the ball with – had recommended the Saints and Sinners tour run by French Quarter Phantoms which has their office in the back of the Voodoo Lounge. Luckily for us this was on the same street as our hotel and so we wandered along just before the tour started at 1p.m. Being Mardi Gras season it was super busy but luckily they had a few different tours running so we were split into groups before meeting our wacky tour guide Stella! She was a little rough around the edges and had bright green hair for Mardi Gras but was very knowledgeable about the city and the saints and sinners that have inhabited it over the years. After going over the rules we headed into the French Quarter and to our first stop of the day.
The architecture all around the city, but particularly in the French Quarter is beautiful. Each of the buildings have their own unique character and somehow the mix blends perfectly together. Since there was only one saint (well sort off) we started here and learned about our first sinner – a Scot named John Law. Back before New Orleans was a city it was a swamp and as such no-one wanted to settle and live there. However, when it comes to salesmen look no further than us Scots. John Law decided that he could easily sell this land no-one wanted and went off to France telling everyone who would listen of this great coastal land available for incredibly cheap where the weather was temperate year round (well until you get to summer where the heat rises to over 100 degrees, but he forgot to mention this part). He was honest about the fact that the land had to be cleared but claimed there were American Indian’s who would be so happy for people to come and develop the land that they would clear it for free for them (not sure about this either). So in the end Law sold the dream to enough of the French high society who invested enough in getting here that there was no going back and New Orleans was born.
The only saint (or almost) of the tour was Henriette Delille. Back in the day woman were married to older men around 14 years old but since the men were older they needed people to ‘have fun’ with before they settled down and got married. Since the aristocrats at this time were white men who married white women they used rich black girls (generally with one white parent and one black one) as common law wives in the placage system. Once a mixed race girl reached a certain age they were groomed by white men to be their common law wife or mistress whereby they would receive a house to live in, a percentage of the man’s salary for life and their children (although technically illegitimate and not entitled to the same inheritance rights as children born from legal marriage) they were well cared for. So mothers started to take their children out once they came of age to be groomed and live a comfortable life in turn for sex. This was at the time preferable to manual labour in a workshop and so many perceived it to be a better way of life. However, Henriette had other ideas and told her mother, that instead of being a mistress she wanted to be a nun. She ran a school providing education to girls in a similar situation she had once been and offered them alternatives to a life as a sex slave to a white man. She devoted her life to the Catholic church and actively opposed the placage system which caused conflict with her mother. She is currently being considered for sainthood due to several ‘miracles’ she performed and if successful will be the first ever black female saint. Pretty inspirational.
By this point it was time for our mid-way drink stop at Tony Seville’s Pirate’s Alley Café where the specialty was absinthe. It was really cool to see the ice water dripping down into the green absinthe and was actually pretty nice. Another great thing about New Orleans is their open cup policy where you can get a drink in any bar and take it in a cup around the city – very cool. So we walked along with our absinthe taking in the Cathedral and cool atmosphere of fortune tellers outside on Jackson square. The Catholic church is surprisingly very accepting of this alternate practice right on their doorstep which stems back to West African slaves who brought their voodoo practices to Louisiana and incorporated them into the Catholic practices with both religions having a lot of similarities. It wasn’t until the slave uprising that voodoo was deemed the evil practice that Hollywood subscribes to today.
After our very informative introduction to New Orleans and specifically the French Quarter we headed for some lunch at The Gumbo Shop where we treated ourselves to some local cocktails – Cajun bloody marys and hurricanes to go with our bbq shrimp and chicken and sausage gumbo. It was great and the décor inside was really pretty with huge historic wall murals in the old French style. We just had some room left for gelato at La Divina across the road where I was introduced to the phenomenon that is mimosa sorbet (made from prosecco!!!). This needs to become a thing in the UK!
After all the food we took a walk around some more of the French Quarter and around Jackson Square down to the riverfront. There were some nice shops to look in so we nipped into a few cool ones before taking on the institution that is Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street for anyone who doesn’t know is basically a street equivalent to Magaluf or San Antonio (Ibiza) aka a drunken mess. Historically prostitution was spread throughout different areas of the city with The Swamp being particularly notorious. This wasn’t liked by the authorities who had no control over the bad guys and so Storyville was established with an idea that prostitution, drinking and gambling could all be regulated in one place. This worked well as a concept but it failed geographically – Storyville was right next to the train station and so visiting families got a bad impression of the city when they stepped off the train and saw a bunch of prostitutes hanging out in the window selling their wares. So Bourbon Street was born and Storyville was moved a few blocks closer to the river. We walked down and took in the craziness and swiftly left – really not our scene particularly during Mardi Gras.
Instead we headed to the Monteleone Hotel for drinks at the carousel bar. This was a really cool bar with you guessed it – a moving carousel bar where you can sit and order drinks. It was super busy when we arrived and so we managed to recruit some locals – Steve and Andy – to purchase some drinks for us and we hung out with them discussing a locals take on Mardi Gras. After a few too many wines we headed down to Canal Street for a tourist perspective of Orpheus one of the night parades. Even with our parade tracker we still had to wait a good 30 minutes for the first float and then only managed to see 3 more in the next hour (the parades often get stuck and so get delayed – particularly towards the end of the route where we were). We gave up on the crowds and pretty lit up floats and headed to The Royal House Oyster Bar for some yummy seafood spaghetti and prosecco before falling into bed slightly worse for wear….. Happy Lundi Gras!