Thursday, June 27, 2019

New Orleans - French Quarter

There are tons of things to see in the French Quarter – amazing restaurants, unique shops, vibrant music venues and of course a good number of drunk people stumbling along Bourbon Street holding hurricanes and Big Ass Beers. But one cool thing about the French Quarter is the architecture – especially the contrast between the old buildings of the Quarter and the newer skyscrapers nearby.

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Most of the buildings in the French Quarter actually date to the early 19th century, after a series of fires destroyed much of the city in 1788 and 1794.

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One of the oldest surviving structures in the French Quarter is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which was built sometime in the 1770s. The building is said to have once belonged to Jean Lafitte, the legendary pirate. The building is now used as a bar, and it is the oldest building in the country that houses a bar.

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I had the camera with me one time when we went walking around at night, which was nice because it was a little bit less humid. Just across the street from our hotel was this old ghost sign advertising mint juleps (which just seemed very Southern).

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We walked over to Royal Street and went by the LaLaurie Mansion, which is said to be among the most haunted buildings in the city. The house was built by Madame Marie Delphine McCarty LaLaurie in 1832, and was well known for the fancy parties and balls that the LaLaurie’s hosted in the home. But after a fire in the house in 1834, it was discovered the Madame LuLaurie brutally torturned and mutilated her slaves. The LuLaurie family somehow managed to escape to France, and a mob burned most of the building down. The house was later rebuilt, and has had several uses over the years. But it is said that spirits haunt the house, and all who own it are cursed. Nicolas Cage bought the house in the early 2000s, and some believe that the house cursed him and his career. But one thing is for sure, if you do live there you would be cursed with having no privacy. When we walked by, there were about seven different ghost tours crowding the sidewalks around the house.

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From there we walked over and got a few drinks at a spot with this view looking down Bourbon Street.

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Back in the daylight, we walked towards Canal Street and passed by these buildings that were showing off some bright colors in the sunlight.

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Later on we got brunch at a spot on Canal Street, which provided us with this view of the street below.


Canal Street is the dividing line between the French Quarter and the Central Business District, and the street is bisected by the tracks that were carrying trolleys filled with tourists.

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Later that evening we crossed Canal Street again while walking to a restaurant for dinner. Along the way we passed by this old church, the Immaculate Conception Church. The church was built in 1930, but is actually almost identical to a church that had been built here in 1857. Nearby construction had caused problems with the church's foundation, and the building was completely dissembled and reconstructed in the same spot (I know this isn't a great picture - I had left my camera in the hotel when we went to get dinner and had to get this with my cellphone).


And another shot, as we crossed Canal Street. The trolley was parked - it wasn't about to run us over while I tried to get any pictures.


We ended the night with a stop at the famous Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. The bar was installed in 1949 and rotates at a rate of one revolution every 15 minutes. I took out the cellphone and did a time-lapse as the bar spun around, showing off the busy bartenders rushing around making and serving drinks. We didn't linger too long at the bar since we had to be up very early the next morning to fly back home.

Monday, June 24, 2019

New Orleans - St. Louis Cemetery #1

Sitting right outside the French Quarter is St. Louis Cemetery #1, which was established in 1789 and is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans. The cemetery has been called “The City of the Dead,” and contains over 700 tombs and is thought to hold the remains of over 100,000 people. The cemetery is a unique place, with the tombs and vaults all sitting above ground. When you first walk in, you pass by a huge wall that is filled with vaults where people have been buried for centuries. The lower level of the wall is partially buried - showing how the land has sunk over the years.

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The tombs and graves were built above ground for a few reasons. Above-ground graves were common in Spain and France, where the early settlers of New Orleans were from. But it was also practical, since the city sits right at or below sea level and the water table wouldn’t allow deep graves (or else during heavy rains or flooding the dearly departed would just depart out of the ground and float away).

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Because of its age, the cemetery is the final resting place for some notable residents of New Orleans. But one of the most popular spots in the cemetery is a tomb set aside for someone who is still alive and well – Nicolas Cage. The actor constructed a pyramid-shaped tomb, inscribed with the Latin phrase “Omnia Ab Uno” which translates to “Everything From One.” There is a tradition already of people leaving lipstick kisses on the empty tomb, which our tour guide strongly stated was considered vandalism and was frowned upon.

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The tour guide spent a good chunk of time here and made fun of Cage and his career. She said that he built the tomb after consulting with a Voodoo priestess who told him to build it in this spot, with this design and with that inscription. She then added “apparently it didn’t work, have you seen his career lately?” Which I thought was a little rude.

I guess she didn’t know that he had a role in Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse? That movie was awesome. Not only was Nic Cage in National Treasure, he IS a national treasure. For what it’s worth, the tour guides are probably thrilled that he decided to move in since it gives them something to talk about.

Our tour guide then escorted us through the the narrow aisles of the cemetery, which seemed like tiny streets running through the labyrinth of tombs. Some of the vaults were surrounded by black iron fences, almost like they had little front yards.

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Considering that so many people are buried there, the cemetery is remarkably small. Most of the tombs contain generations of families. When someone dies, they are interred in the tombs and the door is sealed shut. Then the heat and humidity turns the tomb into an oven, effectively cremating the body. After a year and a day, the door is opened and the remains are pushed to the back of the vault with a long pole leaving the tomb available for another person to be buried there (which is where we get the phrase “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole”).

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Back in the olden days, sometimes people would be accidentally buried who were actually still alive, so bells were placed on the tombs, with a string attached to the finger of the new arrival. If they were to wake up and realize that there had been some sort of huge mistake, all they had to do was ring the bell. This is also, apparently, where we get the phrase “Dead Ringer” and also “Saved by the Bell.”

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One of the notable people buried in St. Louis Cemetery is Homer Plessy, who was a civil rights pioneer and a plaintiff in the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case.

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And a bouquet of flowers left for Jean-Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, who was described as a "French-Creole American nobleman, playboy, planter, politician, duelist, writer, horse breeder, land developer, and President of the Louisiana State Senate between 1822 and 1823." At one point he was among the richest men in the country, but he lost his wealth shortly before he died. He is well-known here because he introduced the game of Craps to America.

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The tombs in the cemetery range from low humble brick vaults to ornate granite structures. The cemetery is run by the Catholic Diocese, but they don't do any maintenance on many of the tombs since they are considered to be private property. So many have fallen into disrepair after centuries of abuse from the weather, decay and vandalizing tourists. Many tombs have no one left to care for them, which is why many appear to be deteriorating away.


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Some wildflowers and weeds somehow found a place to grow amongst the chunks of brick and mortar on the top of this old vault.

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Some ominous looking storm clouds gathered in the sky above us during our tour, which kinda seemed appropriate to the spookiness of the cemetery.

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But it never did rain on us while we were there, but it was incredibly warm and muggy that afternoon.

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At the back of the cemetery is this old wall vault, which has been partially fixed up with some newer concrete.

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Among those buried at the cemetery is Marie Laveau, who was commonly known as the Voodoo Queen. There are actually a few different tombs that are thought to be the actual burial spot for Laveau, and people still leave trinkets and gifts at any vault that could be associated with her. This tomb shows marks from people who used to write XXX on the outside of the tomb because they thought it would mean that she would grant their wishes. Our tour guide again reminded us that doing so would be vandalism.

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Vandalism like this is why the cemetery is mostly closed to the general public now. A few years back the Catholic Diocese limited access, so now most people can only enter while being part of a tour group.

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Photography is allowed, but any video or filming has been forbidden since the 1960s. That is because in 1965, parts of the movie Easy Rider were filmed in the cemetery without permission. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were shown cavorting with prostitutes and doing acid, with one of them standing on the statue of the ornate Italian Benevolent Society Tomb. After the movie was released, the Catholic Diocese wasn't all that pleased. And after watching clips of the movie, I can see why (I'd link it here but it is NSFW). The top of the Italian Benevolent Society Tomb can be seen in this shot, which was free of any wayward tourists doing acid by the statues. I managed to get this shot before our tour guide ended the tour and escorted us out of the cemetery.

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

New Orleans - Jackson Square

The last time we went to New Orleans, back in 2017, we travelled with Jonah. While there were some great family-friendly things to see and do there, New Orleans isn't really the city you want to visit with a toddler. So last weekend we made another visit, but this time left Jonah in the care of his Grandparents in Searcy. And while we missed having him with us, it was nice to get to explore the city without having to cater to the whims of a toddler or have to watch Paw Patrol for any reason.

We stayed in a hotel in the French Quarter that was right by Jackson Square, so we ended up passing by there several times during our trip. Jackson Square is the historic heart of the city. Shortly after the city was founded in 1718, the square was established as the Place d'Armes. It quickly rose in prominence as the center of the young city, and some of the most historic buildings in the city are situated around the square. The most prominent and famous of those buildings is the St. Louis Cathedral.

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The first church here was built in 1718, which was replaced with a nicer building in 1727. But that building, along with most of New Orleans, was destroyed by a massive fire in 1788. The church was rebuilt by 1794, but after a few decades the church decided it needed to do a renovation and expansion. So most of the old church was torn down and replaced with the current cathedral in 1850.


And the view looking inside the cathedral, which was crowded with a bunch of people taking pictures (and probably enjoying the air conditioning).

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Jackson Square is named after Andrew Jackson, who successfully defended the city during the War of 1812. The square is dominated by a large of statue of Jackson, although that statue is now a little controversial because of some of the awful things Jackson did while he was President (like the Trail of Tears). There's no telling if the pigeons have any opinions on Jackson or his legacy, but it seems like they do enjoy pooping on his statue's hat.

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Among the other historic buildings overlooking Jackson Square is the Cabildo, which was the New Orleans' old City Hall and is the place where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803. There is also the old Pontalba Buildings, which were built in the 1840s and contain some of the oldest continuously-rented apartments in the US. We did a cocktail tour, and our guide walked us by here. He said the rents here were only about $1,500 a month. Which seems like a steal until you realize the buildings have old plumbing, no insulation and no parking. Plus you get to hear all the music and commotion from all the drunk tourists and bachelorette parties going on all day. But I don't know, $1,500 sounds like a good deal. I used to pay $700 for a one bedroom apartment in North Little Rock that also had unreliable plumbing, weird neighbors and awful parking. This is the view of the balconies on one of the Pontalba Buildings.

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This was taken from the balcony of Muriel's, a restaurant that had this view overlooking the Pontalba Building and Jackson Square. This was a great spot, and it's one that we visited several times during our visit to New Orleans. The only problem is that they didn't offer any service to the balcony, so you had to go down the stairs any time you wanted a new drink (a small price to pay in order to have that view). But the stairs go by a small table that always had some wine and bread sitting out, which turns out to be the table reserved for the ghost that haunts the building.

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Another shot of St. Louis Cathedral, when it was bright and sunny out.

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I went by the Square one night after dark, and tried to get a few shots. I didn't bring a tripod with me on this trip, so I had to awkwardly place the camera atop an electrical box along the fence to get this picture. The street in front of the Square was busy with traffic and tourists roaming about.

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And one more shot of the cathedral at night, but this time showing the back of the cathedral under the full moon.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Boxley Valley

From Triple Falls, I headed down the road (and down the mountain) into Boxley Valley. It was nearly dark, so I only made one stop that night at the old Boxley Baptist Church. There was just a hint of light in the sky, and a tiny bit of fog beginning to form off in the distance.

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I spent the night at the Steele Creek campground, and then woke up at sunrise and headed back into Boxley. That little bit of fog that had formed the night before and expanded. The entire valley was now shrouded under a vast foggy blanket that was so thick it would take the sun a few hours to break through.

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Boxley Valley is one of my favorite places to take pictures, since it's like a photographer's playground. The road through the valley is only seven miles long and it seems like there is something to see along every turn. The valley is a historic district, and is filled with all sorts of old homes, barns and churches. This old schoolhouse sits near the Lost Valley trailhead.

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Nearby is the old Beechwoods Church, which was built in 1918.

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The church sits by the Beechwoods Cemetery, which is the oldest cemetery in Boxley. The oldest grave here dates back to 1848.


This is the road by the cemetery, which disappeared behind the trees and into the fog.



I headed down the road but stopped again at this old barn, which was surrounded by a sea of tall grass.


Near the barn is an old house, and a few small one-room tourist cabins. They are closed now (although the National Park Service occasionally opens one up for tours). This plant was growing tall beside one of the cabins, which featured some not-so-realistic fake brick siding.


I headed back to the old Boxley Baptist Church, which sits in the heart of Boxley Valley. The church was built in 1899, and is still used as a community center.

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Near the church was this dirt road, which meandered by a field and then was lost in the fog. I wish I knew where it went, but from here it was marked as private property.

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At the far end of the valley sits this old barn, which has this smaller building along the fence in front of it. I'm not sure what its purpose used to be. Maybe it was used to move animals in and out of the pasture back in the olden days, perhaps?



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The barn was built sometime in the 1920s and sits by a spring that still provides drinking water.



Nearby is this little structure, which I think was once used as a root cellar?


I drove back across the Valley and made one last stop at this old building that sits near the Buffalo River. This old building was constructed in 1850 by one of the first pioneer families to settle in the area. It served as a house for several decades, but was converted into a barn in the early 20th century. After this stop I headed towards home, driving up out of the valley and the thick fog and into the bright sunshine.