The Big Easy
Thirty-eight kilometers driving over water. Not how I expected to get to New Orleans! Yes, I saw it on the map, but it didn't register. But, not being a fan of bridges, this one was surprisingly okay. Maybe it was because it was skimming water and not towering over a mile-deep crevice, but I was virtually panic free the entire drive.
Perhaps it wasn't the smartest move, trying to park downtown NO. I found a parking lot online that raved $20 for 9 hours, so figured what the heck. Thankfully I wasn't maneuvering those narrow streets in a 3/4 ton truck and thankfully we decided to just roll with it when we parked at my newfound lot only to discover it WASN'T $20 for 9 hours. More like $35 for 4. We just shortened our original plans and decided to enjoy the day nonetheless. After all, there was an NFL game in town that afternoon. Something I'd forgotten to google. Explained the price hike!
We found one of many visitors centres that line Decatur Street and booked a 2-hour walking tour. At least we wouldn't get lost! Colin, our fearless leader in the Legendary Walking Tour, was a riot. He'd lived and worked in the area for decades and had stories to tell about the streets and buildings that were both interesting and disturbing.
In 1718, a piece of property owned by a young French Canadian named Claude Trepagnier sat in what would soon become New Orleans' famed Jackson Square. It was awarded to the Canadian for his assistance in the exploration that led to the founding of the city, and was said to be home of troubled spirits: slaves who came off the boats before going to auction.
The land, which housed a small cottage, was later sold to Jean Baptiste Destrehan who tore down the cottage and built an elaborate family home in its place. He died in 1765 and the house was passed to his son who fell on hard times and soon after auctioned the home and property.
In 1776, a plantation owner, Pierre Phillipe de Marignay, purchased it to use when visiting the city. Tragedy struck in 1788 when the Great New Orleans Fire burned 856 of the French Quarter's 1100 structures. A portion of the de Marignay home was damaged. During the rebuilding process, new buildings sprung up in Jackson Square including the St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo. Also, a dream home was erected on a piece of the de Marignay property which he had sold to Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan.
But, yet again, the property seemed cursed.
In 1814, Jourdan, an avid gambler, lost his beloved home in a poker game. Not able to admit the misdeed to his family, he committed suicide on the second floor, in the same area that once served as the slave quarters.
Today the property is Muriel's, a well-known restaurant. But it still has to share its space with Mr. Jourdan. His ghost doesn't appear, per say, but a glimmer of sparkly light wanders the lounge and patrons have seen objects move through the restaurant. In an effort to pacify their perpetual patron, the restaurant welcomes him to dine each evening by setting an empty table, reserved for him, and set with bread and wine. For the brave-of-heart, you can dine at his table, as long as you leave one seat empty for Mr. Jourdan's sparkly light.
Our guide also pointed out several film locations which, as an ex-production coordinator, I found interesting. Especially when one involved Elvis. The opening scene for 1958's King Creole was filmed from the wrought-iron railing at 1018 Royal Street. It was here where Presley's magical pipes crooned Crawfish. Sigh. I'm a fan always and forever.
Other notable stops were one of Tennessee Williams homes, and the street where parts of Streetcar Named Desire were filmed.
Fans of John Cusack/Dustin Hoffman will also remember scenes from Runnaway Jury which showcased lots of New Orlean's landmarks: Louisiana Supreme Courthouse, Cafe Pontalba, Palace Cafe, Riverwalk and Cafe Du Monde.
One thing I learned on our tour surprised me. Many of the buildings with the ornate balconies and three-storied splendor used to be single family homes. I always assumed they were apartment blocks!
Another interesting fact is that the French Quarter fell into disrepair in the 1850s but was saved by a woman. No small feat back then. The Baroness Michaela Pontalba, oversaw the construction of two actual apartment buildings which still flank Jackson Square today. They are the longest inhabited apartments in the U.S. The cast-ironworks decorating the balconies were her personal design and are adorned with her initials: AP (Almonester Pontalba).
Bourbon Street was a bit of a bust. It seemed the entire length was under construction and when we did get to the end, it was a mess of garbage, water puddles and DJ music, not live bands that I assumed would adorn every cafe and bar.
It was an eye-opening two-hour excursion. It was and it wasn't at all what I expected. I can't say I'm dying to return during Mardi Gras, but who knows. Stranger things have happened!
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