Sunday, December 27, 2015

New Orleans

Saturday, Dec. 19th- Saturday, Dec. 26th

Saturday we moved to Abita Springs Resort, about 40 miles north of New Orleans.  We had to drive the 24 mile causeway over Lake Pontchartrain every day to see the sights. 

Just a few sights walking around the French Quarter on Sunday.  The French Quarter sits on a crescent-shaped bend of the Mississippi, giving the city its nickname The Crescent City.

Locals pedaling/peddling their arts and crafts on the street by the pier.

Jackson Square with statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback.

This is a picture of Jackson Square when it was first built and it has not changed much.  It's just hard to see all the buildings with all the trees now.  St. Louis Cathedral was built by Don Andreas Almonester y Roxas.  The Pontalba Apartments on the side of the plaza were built by his daughter, Micaela, Baroness de Pontalba.  When they opened in 1851 they were the first large scale apartment buildings in the U.S.  There were originally 16 apartments with thick walls and windows, imported chandeliers, fine marble fireplaces and rosewood furniture.  They were built for the aristocratic families of New Orleans.

Mimes about here and there entertaining the crowds of tourists.

Brass band performing on the balcony.

Traveling in style.

Segway Tour.

Interesting building.

We took a river cruise on the Steamboat Natchez, the last authentic steam powered paddle wheeler on the Mississippi today.  It was commissioned in 1975 and is the ninth to bear that name.  The first Natchez was built in 1823 and burned in 1835.  The sixth was the one which lost to the Robert E. Lee in the "Great Steamboat Race" of 1870.

The first steamboat on the Mississippi was the New Orleans in 1811.  By 1849 there were at least 600 riverboats in service, despite the dangers of explosion and shipwrecks that sent 520 boats to the river's bottom in less than 30 years.  The expansion of railroads at the end of the Civil War reduced the once mighty steamboat trade to a trickle.

View of Jackson Square as we left port.

The Mississippi starts as a little trickle in Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota and runs 2,350 miles through ten states to the Gulf of Mexico.  It carries 63,000 tons of soil daily, causing the dirty color.  The Muddy Mississippi deposits 406,500,000 tons of soil into the Gulf each year.  Nitrogen and phosphorus washed downstream from midwestern farms remove the oxygen from the water, creating a large dead zone in the Gulf.  

There are lots and lots of barges for the tugboats to push around.  Widening and deepening the channel from the Gulf 253 miles to Baton Rouge made Baton Rouge the nation's most inland seaport.  The opening of the Standard Oil refinery in 1909 increased the need for port facilities.  With 85 miles of riverfront ports, Baton Rouge is one of the nation's top ten ports in tonnage moved.  The ports of Baton Rouge, New Orleans and southern Louisiana combined constitute the world's largest continuous port district.  The ports move 1/5 of all foreign water-borne commerce and rank first in export of grain.  They are leading importers of steel, natural rubber and coffee and support 1/4 of the nation's petrochemical industry.

The backs of these two ships dropped down into ramps for loading.  They usually haul cars.

Dominoes Sugar Refinery.  It smells wonderful going by here, just like melting brown sugar, because that's what it is.

Site of the Battle of New Orleans in Old Arabi Ward of St. Bernard Parish.

Heading back to port.

There were two cruise ships in port.

Lots of beautiful homes.

We went by a really cool children's park with all sorts of story book characters all decorated and lit up for Christmas.

In northern Louisiana in the 1800s Anglo-American settlers built grave houses to protect graves from wild animals, while also building a heavenly home for the deceased.  The tradition of keeping the family together even in death led to family plots set apart by iron fences.  

All Saint's Day (day after Halloween, hallowed eve), also my hubby St. John's birthday, has taken on a festive air with observers even holding picnics among the tombs.  St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 opened in 1788 and is the oldest surviving city of the dead in New Orleans.  They honor all Catholic Saints by white washing the tombs, attending to the landscape, cleaning the walkways, filling vases with flowers and some hold candle light vigils to prepare for the priest's blessing.  

The swampy environment in southern Louisiana influences their custom of burying the dead above ground.  Wall vaults, family tombs and society tombs all reuse the burial space.  After passage of a year and a day since the last burial. the cemetery workers extract the bones from the coffins and place them to the back or sides of a wall vault or around the foundations of a tomb.  Then they dispose of the coffin.

Our bus driver stopped, so we could wander around one of their unique cemeteries.

Our bus also stopped for about 15 minutes, so we could walk through this beautiful sculpture garden which is free and open to the public.

Karma (2011) by Do-Ho Suh (Korea)

Pablo Casal's Obelisk (1983) by Armand Pierre Fernandez

After our bus tour we had an early supper at Cafe Pontalba in the left-hand corner of Jackson Square.  I had jambalaya with shrimp that was the best shrimp I've ever had.  John had combo of etouffee, gumbo and jambalaya.  These horse carriage rides for 2, 4, 6 or 8 are everywhere all day long.  There was a Christmas Carol Concert in the plaza and it was mobbed with people lining up to get in.

This is the back side of the Cathedral.  Kind of a cool picture.

Then we walked over to Bourbon Street and walked around for bit.

Lots of really good music drifting out of Jazz joints.

Hot dog peddlers on every corner and fortune tellers or palm readers on every block.

Everyone seemed to be having a very good time and some maybe too good of a time.

We even saw a few sights we won't soon forget.

Monday we went to the National WWII Museum.  It is four huge buildings and more than you can really do justice to in one day.  They have interactive things you can wand with your card, so you can bring them up later on your computer at home to read more about them.  They have a very good movie which you pay extra for and a live musical U.S.O. type show that looked really good, but we didn't go.  The reason the museum is in New Orleans is bacause Eisenhower said, "Andrew Jackson Higgins is the man who won the war for us.  Without Higgins designed boats that could land over open beaches, the whole strategy of the war would have had to be rethought.  In Sept. 1943 in the very middle of the war, the American Navy totalled 14,072 vessels.  Of these, 12,964 or 92% of the entire U.S. Navy were designed by Higgins Industries with 8,865 built in New Orleans.  By the war's end 20.094 boats had been built by 30,000 New Orleans at the 7 Higgins plants in New Orleans.  We had supper at the museum.  I had smoked Gouda grits and shrimp, absolutely delicious.  John had lamb ribs and they were also wonderful.  They really know how to cook here!

Tuesday we saw the movie The Big Short.  It was pretty good.  We both liked it.  Wednesday morning we visited Chalmette National Cemetery.  It was established in 1864 to bury Union soldiers who had died in the Gulf area.  There are over 16,000 buried here in this 17.5 acre cemetery (6,773 unknown), veterans of all major wars from the War of 1812 through the Vietnam War.

The brick wall around it was completed in 1875.  It was closed by 1945 as all sites were occupied or reserved.  It reopened briefly in the 1960s for burial of Vietnam veterans.  There is still an occasional funeral for those few with reserved spots or the widows of veterans already here.

Notice how the roots of the live oak tree have grown around the grave markers.  This ground was part of the battlefield during the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.  Only four U.S. veterans from the War of 1812 are buried here and no British.

Just next door is the Chalmette Monument for the Battle of New Orleans.  The cornerstone was laid in 1840 when Andrew Jackson visited for the 25th anniversary of the battle.  In 1852 the legislature appropriated the funds.  It is about 100' tall.  The 1871 plans called for 150', but engineers in 1900 discovered the foundation could not support that much weight.  Plagued with funding problems, it was finally completed in 1908.  As spongy as the ground is around here, I'm surprised it's not the leaning tower of Chalmette.  There are exhibits and a short film in the visitor center behind the monument.  There is a reenactment on the grounds every January.  2015 was the 200th anniversary.

The battle took place on Chalmette Plantation and the day was very much like this one, very wet and foggy.  The plantation house is just to the left of the tree next to the Mississippi.  From the river to the
 swamp behind me there was a small canal.  They dug it deeper and used the mud to build a rampart behind the canal and filled it with water.  They lined up their cannons and artillery behind the ramparts.

The British had approached the Baratarian pirate Jean Lafitte and asked him and his men to join them in their attack on the American forces.  He had preyed upon merchant vessels and imported illegal goods and slaves.  They offered him land, protection, cash and military rank to aid in their invasion.  Instead Lafitte went to Jackson and warned him of the attack and proposed an alliance, offering his men and large cache of munitions in defense of Louisiana.  They were rewarded with pardons for crimes they had committed against the U.S.  Jackson also had businessmen, free men of color and anyone else he could get.  In 1814 Jackson appointed a free man of color, Joseph Savary, as second major of his battalion in New Orleans, the first black soldier to hold this high rank in the U.S. military.  It was the last major battle of the War of 1812 preserving U.S. claims to the Louisiana Purchase territory, prompting settlement and making Jackson a national hero which led to him becoming the 7th President, serving two terms from 1825 to 1833.

The destruction of the Chalmet Plantation during the battle left the family in financial trouble.  The soldiers had used wood from most of the buildings and fences to build the ramparts.  In 1817 brothers Hilaire and Louis St. Amand (free men of color who already owned several plantations) bought the land.  In the early 1800s in Louisiana it was not unusual for free people of color to own plantations and slaves.  They rebuilt the property and returned the land to sugar production when the industry was growing rapidly.  Sugar cane was boiled to evaporate the liquid and leave crystalized sugar, a hazardous task for slaves who used long-handled ladles to transfer boiling cane juice between kettles and pans.  Norbert Rillieux, a free man of color, changed the industry forever in 1843 when he developed the multi-staged evaporator, which used condensers rather than the open kettles.  The house was built in 1834 by a widow who bought part of the land.  Its last private owner was Judge Rene Beauregard, son of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard.  It became part of the National Park in 1949.

Wednesday afternoon we took a tour of the Mardi Gras Museum.

It is a huge warehouse where 35 artists work year round making the floats for Mardi Gras.  They also make a few other things like the cows you see climbing on the Chick-fil-A billboards.

Before he founded New Orleans, Iberville and his French explorers camped beside a small bayou at the mouth of the Mississippi.  He checked his calendar and named the spot Point du Mardi Gras and the Waterway.  Their celebration of Fat Tuesday on March 3,1699 marked the first Mardi Gras celebration in the New World.  Mardi Gras masking actually began many years before street parades by celebrants at Bal Masques (Masquerade Balls) in the early 1800s.  The Creoles (original settlers, usually French) loved masking as much as they did dancing. reveling at celebrations that eventually spilled into the city streets.

9:00 PM on Feb. 24, 1857 marked New Orleans first organized Mardi Gras parade, the inspiration of six members of a mobile New Year's Eve parade group called The Cowbellians, who changed the French Creole celebration forever.  Joined by 52 locals, mostly on foot, they paraded as the Mistick Krewe of Comus with decorated floats lighted by flambeaus (torches).  The Krewe of Rex was formed in 1872 by businessmen wishing to honor a visit by Russia's Grand Duke Alexis on Mardi Gras.  The King of Carnival's humor and flair were instantly popular giving the Mardi Gras its official colors, song, flag and first day parade.  The traditional colors are purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power).

1894 saw the creation of the first black carnival club in New Orleans, the original Illinois Club, but it was Zulu that first paraded in 1909, and poked fun at the pomp and circumstance of the old Mardi Gras krewes.  The unique Zulu "coconut" is one of the sought after treasures that are thrown from floats.  Louis Armstrong, on the float above and below, was honored in his hometown as King Zulu in 1949.

"Throws" and interactions with the crowd are part of the tradition.  Throws were a European custom adopted in 1838 in New Orleans as maskers (on foot and in carriages) playfully tossed bonbons, sugar-coated almonds and other sweets to ladies along the parade route.  Each float rider spends hundreds of dollar on throws like beads, candy, souvenir cups, ramen noodles and all kinds of strange things.  Some of the items are very special and highly prized by the spectators.  Sometimes people will bribe the throwers with bottles of champagne, bourbon, etc.  Often they put fake labels on the bottles to make them appear to be very expensive brands.  Stand near the end of the parade if you want to get lots of stuff, as they will throw arm loads and bagfuls of whatever they have left.  No commercial sponsors or ads are allowed.  Every krewe pays for the expenses of building their floats.

The base of a float costs about $50,000 and lasts 50 years or longer.  But they spend thousands of dollars every year to have the theme changed.  Krewes are also required to put on an elaborate ball for its members.  No more than 50 units (floats and bands) are allowed per krewe.  The loop hole is whatever one tractor can pull is considered one unit.  So some tractors pull as many as 9 floats as long as they can make it around the street corners.  The Krewe of Endymion parade lasts over five hours with over 130 units.  They entertain over 15,000 at their annual post-parade Endymion Extravaganza.

In 1857 the krewe system introduced the thematic pageant to New Orleans.  In 1871 the tradition of selecting a queen was established to reign with the king chosen from the krewe's membership.

In recent years Super Krewes have developed with as many as 2,200 members and king and queen and celebrity Grand Marshalls, like Louisiana native Britney Spears, Drew Carey, David Schwimmer, etc.  Dennis Quaid wore the King's costume for the Krewe of Bachus (god of wine).

The first Mardi Gras boat parade was in Tchefuncte.  There are also boat parades in Springfield, Tickfaw, Slidell and Amite River now.  The first pet parade was established by the Krewe of Barkus in 1992 and attracts well over 1,000 dogs.  They are also now held in Mandeville, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Nachitoches.  Shreveport has the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux.

Master battles between the maskers and the captains entertain the onlookers.  Some climb trees.  Others stand on horses and dance.  While some degree of inebriation is permissible and even desirable, Captains seek to ensure no one is so intoxicated as to become disorderly or endanger themselves or others.  Floats actually have harnesses, so riders are attached and can't fall off into the crowd.

Mardi Gras literally means Tuesday Fat and is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.  It is the last day of a two week long carnival.  Lent is 40 days before Easter which is the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox (when day and night are equal, both 12 hours).   The first Mardi Gras Ball in Washington, D.C. was held in 1944 and has been held every year since 1957.  25 Mardi Gras Queens from here are the reigning royalty at the Washington ball.  Over 100 cities and towns in the state and beyond celebrate Mardi Gras.  Larger cities have multiple parades and dozens of balls over several days or weeks.

Louisiana communities and organizations host more than 400 festivals every year.  Abbeville has the 5,000 Egg Omelet Festival.  The Blanchard Festival honors poke salad.  The poke weed plant is poisonous if not properly prepared.  The International Rice Festival in Crowley, started in 1927, is one of the oldest in the U.S.  Natchitoches has the Christmas Festival and Shreveport has had the State Fair since 1906.  There is also the Sugar Cane Festival, Strawberry Festival, Shrimp and Petroleum Festival, Rose Fest, Orange Fest, Camelia Fest, Paper Fest and many more.  The Yambilee Festival celebrates the sweet, golden yam because its been something to celebrate since the Frenchmen established the first settlement in 1760.  The Native Indians were eating them and they became a favorite food item of the French and the Spanish settlers.  They guarantee you'll have a "Yam Good Time!"

In case anyone is interested in tweeting with the artists.

We drove along the Plantation River Road to see the traditional Christmas Eve Bonfires that were all lit at 7:00 PM to light the way for Santa or Papa Noel.  The spots on top of the levee on both sides of the river are about 200 yards apart.  A group gets an assigned spot and starts building their bonfire a couple weeks or so before Christmas.  They used to be 20' tall, but now they are only allowed to build them 15' tall.  Most of them are built in a Christmas tree shape.  Some have lights strung around them and they just torch the whole thing.  This one had three tent tops nearby where their group had set up tables with food and such for their party.  There were lots of fireworks and one tree made a terrible racket when they torched it because they had put thousands of firecrackers in it.  I think there is a competition.  A couple were built like log cabins, one like a truck with lights outlining it and one like a fish jumping out of the water.  There were cars parked everywhere along the road, people wandering about everywhere partying and the traffic was at a stand still watching.  Police cars every so often and a fire engine centrally located.  It must be a nightmare to be a law enforcement person in Louisiana as much as they like to party.  It was 76 degrees with 92% humidity by 10:00 AM today, setting record temps before noon.  80 for the next few days with very high humidity because there has been so much rain.  When you walk out the door, it just feels like someone wrapped you up in a warm heavy blanket.

Saturday we moved to Wilderness RV Park at Robertsdale, Alabama just east of Mobile and north of Pensacola.  We will be here 8 days.

Happy New Year You'all,