Late Nights in New Orleans – Beignets & Cemeteries

So what was I up to in New Orleans when I wasn’t at the Amnesty International AGM or French Quarter Festival

Normal people’s adventures late in the evening in New Orleans would involve lots of alcohol and wilder things that I’d go into on my blog. Only I could manage to have only one small sample of wine and spend my late nights in desolated airports, parks and cemeteries, or with crowds eating pastries. . .

My late night surrealism started in Seattle. I kept getting texts (and one phone call) as I was getting ready to go from American Airlines that my 11:15 pm flight had been delayed, eventually until 1 am.

Only I could be late for a flight that’s scheduled for 1 am. I seriously misjudged how long the new light rail would take to get to SeaTac, and how long to walk from the light rail to the airport and arrived at the American Airlines ticketing counter at about 12:30 to check my bag (which they fortunately still took, though I had to wait for it awhile in New Orleans). I really appreciated that. Especially as SeaTac seemed to be closing down as I got there.

I wasn’t crazy about the extra $25 both ways to check it, on the other hand, especially given that it means the flight was $50 more that wasn’t requested on my subsidy from our local AI cluster. Charging for the first checked bag, or worse, for a carry on, is real dishonesty in pricing, and means I’ll have to research every airline’s fees next time before checking prices on Orbitz, so I know how much to add on to the “low” price.

I slept most of my flight to Dallas, waking up, as usual, in time to hear the stewardess ask “Do you want something to drink?” to someone several rows past mine.

It was dawn, with a huge, blazing, sun rising over the city when we got to Dallas. I had to wait several hours for my next flight, as it would have been too tight a connection to my next flight, and the woman from the airline who called me before I left re-booked me.

Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, with a scalding hot cup of coffee (& plenty of time for it to cool). The main thing I remember about the Dallas airport was that all their gift stores had stuffed toys that rolled over by themselves and laughed hysterically, in a human voice. Eek!

Is it just me, or are these toys totally disturbing (or maybe just totally disturbed)?

I was bumped up to first class for no extra cost with the re-schedule. The main thing I liked was that I got extra orange juice (especially after missing it on my first flight). In flight it was served in a glass (and we had one in a plastic cup before lift off).

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A Louis Armstrong statue to greet us at the New Orleans airport. After arranging for my bag that hadn’t arrived be sent to my hostel, I hopped the bus to downtown.

I wandered around downtown awhile, getting my first 3 day visitor transit passes and trying to find one of my credit card networked ATMs to avoid fees (none were open). The Canal Street area struck me as kind of rough and not so much intimidating as exhausting (actually the same feeling I have in other cities, like San Francisco, in the downtown core area these days), I also noticed there were still a number of buildings still devastated from Katrina, even in the downtown area and in the Garden District where I was staying.

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I hopped the St. Charles Streetcar to the hostel, and found myself in a beautiful neighborhood.

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I checked into the Marquette and told the proprietor about my bag (which he brought over to the building across the street, and part of the Marquette where I was staying when it arrived). I thought the room was nice as hostels go (and for $17 a night), a bit bigger than most, and with an in room bathroom/shower. I did find the proprietor was serious about his warning of there being little maid service post-Katrina. None in the 5 days I was there, for a room shared by 6 women. . .  Oh, well. . .and it was still pretty nice and only $17 which gave me the chance to stay a few extra nights on my own money.

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I was getting pretty hungry by the time I got there, having sustained myself on the morning donut and snacks throughout the day (including one I should have known I shouldn’t eat from the airline, because it had nuts). I headed back up to Charles Street to check out the area restaurants.

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I decided to eat at the Trolley Stop Cafe, a 24 hour diner, with traditional diner style food. I ordered a cup of chicken soup and orange juice, as my guts were feeling a little sensitive from all the junk food, and chicken & noodles are a safe bet. Good, if a little salty. There were regulars there, including a security guard filling in his paperwork on break. I wandered about the neighborhood a bit more before heading back to the hostel.

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In the morning, I found the Avenue Cafe, and had a delicious croissant and coffee while planning my day. I had, unfortunately, forgotten, or not thought about, croissant with all their delicious, flaky crust made of butter are not such a good idea for me. I ate there all three of my non-conference mornings, and stuck to scones, if I remember right, after that.

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I did some daytime wandering, enjoying the beautiful, fancy, mansions on Prytania, but with mixed feelings, as I’m sure they used to rely on slaves.

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I came to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and wandered through it a bit. It takes a bit of getting used to, New Orleans cemeteries being so above ground. Sadly, some were vandalized, which I found disturbing.

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Others had fresh flowers.

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So, I was in the middle of wandering though a cemetery when my gut problem hit. I really shouldn’t have had that tasty croissant. . .

I remembered the book store I passed, which seemed to be part of a mini-mall, and hoped they had a restroom I could use (and luckily, they did, in their coffee house).

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Fortunately, I felt a little better, and wandered some more, over to the area on the other side of St. Charles, heading back to the hostel.

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One of New Orleans shotgun style houses.

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This church had a sign for the United Saints 1st Street Recovery Project, and a nice mural with inspiring quotes.

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I touched base with my hostel before heading off to the French Quarter Festival and AI Conference, which kept me mostly busy for the next 3 days (and I’ve talked about in my last two posts).

 During the middle of that, though, I was reminded of the down side of charming public transit like the St. Charles Streetcar as I and other AI friends staying at the hostel, along with our women’s dorm roommates, off to party on Bourbon St. waited, and waited, and waited for the streetcar that never came. Finally we all crowded into the cab with a nice, middle age couple (which come to think of it, means they weren’t much older than me) who adopted us all and paid for the cab! Thanks, Mom and Dad! Got to love New Orleans!

We went down Bourbon St. for awhile where the other girls, and some of the AI folks, deciding to join them in exploring. I really am not into the Bourbon St. scene. So, I and a couple other AI friends headed over toward the Hard Rock where the Amnesty event was.

Got to love New Orleans – music in the street on the way there:

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Beautiful music, and it was the first time they had jammed together!

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As I think I noted in the AI post, I wasn’t crazy about the loud disco music at the private Amnesty party at the Hard Rock, so I wandered out into the French Quarter of New Orleans to explore. . .coffee. . .and . . .pastries. . .

I know what you’re thinking – how Seattle, but, I explored Cafe Du Monde with their beignets and chicory coffee.

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I had wanted to check out Cafe Du Monde and beignets ever since I read about them online before my trip. It was way packed during the festival and I thought night time it might be a little less crowded. It was, but only a little less. It was totally packed, but there was a table to sit down at, as they have table service.

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I ordered their beignets, which are deep fried tasty treats which come in 3, with tons of powdered sugar poured over them leaving huge pile of sugar on the beignets, under them on the plate, clinging stickily to the table and falling onto your clothes as you eat them. Along with coffee, of course. I wish I could still have the recommended cafe au lait, but stuck to regular. I didn’t really taste the chicory (which I’m sure I would have if I could have had milk in it).

The beignets were pretty good, though a little bad for me with my health problem (fortunately only a little trouble from eating them, and I split my order with an AI friend on my next visit). I loved going there because I was just fascinated by how much the local folks loved them. Totally packed, day and night, all races and classes, and this, the original location is open 24 hours.

In fact, I was shocked to learn it was already around midnight as I paid my bill, and decided to walk back, given the streetcar trouble earlier in the evening (and just had one pass me about 4 blocks from the hostel).

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Got to love New Orleans – I was walking by this building, after midnight, and could hear a jazz concert still going on inside.

I caught up on my e-mail in the main part of the hostel before heading to bed and  another 7:30 am breakfast at the conference hotel (with the board candidates).

Finished up the AI conference, then went to the French Quarter Festival until closing Sunday, as I’ve talked about in my previous posts. I wandered up on Magazine Street after going back to the hostel from the festival. Interesting shops including this Alligator Museum:

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I also found this memorial to a victim of Hurricane Katrina, now with a thank you to the Saints for winning the Super Bowl.

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The next day I had a lot of plans for places I no doubt wouldn’t have made it to anyways, and probably would have ended up with my same mis-adventure of trekking through City Park to Lake Pontchartrain too late in the evening.

After breakfast at the Avenue Cafe, I got a text from Jenny from our Seattle AI group, who had missed her flight. So we decided to meet at the ferry and go over to check out Algiers, across the Mississippi, together.

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Aisha from our group decided to meet us, too, but missed the ferry we were on; so Jenny and I waited on a bench at the start of their Jazz Walk and split a po-boy Jenny brought.

I had downloaded a map of Algiers, and had plans to explore much of the town. Turns out my AI friends weren’t so enthused about walking around looking at buildings as I was. After asking some local women advice for a good restaurant to eat at (as Aisha hadn’t eaten yet), we ended up at the Dry Dock Cafe, the one visible from the ferry landing.

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We took a table outside and Aisha and Jenny enjoyed some more tasty food, and I had a tasty lemonade (which they have on tap).

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After that, we went on the Jazz Walk a little ways. The lamp posts are dedicated to jazz greats.

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Then we took the ferry back.

Aisha had to catch her flight. I went with Jenny and wandered about the French Quarter, including a stop at Cafe Du Monde, and wandering through some art galleries (one of which had complimentary wine that I had just a little of). 

Jenny wanted to head over to the 9th Ward, and her host where she was staying came to drive her there. I had mixed feelings, and really didn’t feel comfortable going unless I was doing something to help, as I felt I’d just be gawking. I don’t know. After seeing how some of the detestation in the rest of the city that’s still visible, maybe I should have seen how bad it is in the 9th, nearly 5 years later.

In many ways, what happened to the people of New Orleans during Katrina, especially in the 9th Ward, horrifies me even more than slavery, because this happened in our time, just 5 years ago. 

Here’s a trailer for Greg Palast’s Big Easy to Big Empty that was made a year after Katrina. I’ll link to the 3 parts on YouTube, or buy or rent a copy. To begin with, all those deaths didn’t have to happen. They ignored the evacuation plan of LSU scientists, hiring a private company of Bush cronies with no plan. The levees were build 1 1/2 feet lower than they should have been. Most devastating, the LSU scientist tells how the Army Corps of Engineers & FEMA knew at 11 am Monday the levee had breached, FEMA flew over and took pictures at 2 am, the White House knew at midnight. No one at the emergency management center in New Orleans knew until it was reported on CNN midday Tuesday; and of course, they had stopped evacuating people as Katrina had passed by. Then they didn’t let the poor people back, even in housing projects not affected by Katrina.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bkpv6rpJEI8

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-cAApvpPX4

Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BN7BOSNcEM

Maybe I should have went to the 9th. . .

I headed over to their beautiful City Park next, though, taking the Canal Streetcar.

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It was gorgeous (and I know, they’re still repairing it after Katrina; there was an AI work-party before the conference).

I had an ambitious plan to walk all the way up the huge park, then a little bit further, to Lake Pontchartrain.

I walked, and walked, realizing it was getting later. Checking out the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the home turf was looking unlikely. I marveled that they had no restrooms and served nothing but water, with people using the facilities and getting a drink to take back from surrounding bars (neither of which would be allowed in Seattle, where someone stands by the door as you leave club shows, to make sure no one takes their drink out, because the bar would be in big trouble. . . I’m pretty sure restrooms are required at music venues, too. . .)

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I kept heading up the park, and crossed over at one point, so I could find St. Johns Bayou and follow it up. I updated my Facebook page via texting Twitter that I wondered if there were any alligators in it. . .

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It was sunset though, which should have been my real warning (and my camera does not do that sunset’s beauty justice). I walked by other people walking, jogging and riding bikes along the bayou; who were all friendly, as I found throughout my visit. Got to love New Orleans.

I kept walking and walking. It got later and later. It was dark when I got past the park and continued, first hitting a desolate stretch of unrepaired highway, which I walked around. I could see, in the dark, there was the lake, although I couldn’t see much of it. I had thought there’d be a restaurant or something. . .  The street lights were out on that stretch of lake, even. It was really eerie. Like being in an abandoned city. Oh, wait. . .

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It wasn’t that scary, though. I made my way back, and there were suburban style houses I probably could have knocked on the doors of, if I wanted to. I kind of felt like I got myself into this mess, and would get myself out (and was too cheap for a taxi).

I even found the bus stop to the bus I’d planned on hopping back. It just seemed kind of late for this desolate an area, around 8:30 pm. I found a number to call the bus company on the sign, but it had a voice mail from some other business. Then I checked my Canal Streetcar schedule, found a different number, and the recording said it was only answered during the day time.

I decided to walk back. A very. . . long . . .walk. In the dark, with a few cars going by, not any people.  I hadn’t planned on spending my last night in New Orleans walking though an unlit park. I did check my e-mail messages, which included Facebook updates of the wise guy comments my friends made about my question of whether there were alligators in the bayou.

When I finally got back down to civilization, I thought of getting a drink, but the bars I passed were closed. I got back to the cemetery stop for the streetcar in time to catch the next one at 10:56 pm, which was laying over.

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Lucky! I’d have to walk a long ways down for the next one.

I thought I was where I should be to get on once the driver was through with their break. . .

What more could go wrong?

The streetcar pulled away, me following, “Wait! Wait!” It kept going, abandoning me amidst all the cemeteries.

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I . . . started walking. . .

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I could really use a drink about now. This one was closed, too. It was only after 11. . .

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Nick Cage’s cameo at the Amnesty International AGM suddenly seemed appropriate. I was in some kind of film noir.  Hope Mausoleum would be the last picture on my camera the detective played by Nick would find. . . Of course there would be the alligator in the bayou Facebook update as a red herring, but I can’t swim, and wouldn’t really jump in to check out if one was there. . .at least, not of my own free will. . .

Then a friendly kid with a dog walked by.

Next, I came across this sign, reminding me real life was scary enough for the citizens of New Orleans.

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I made it down to Canal Street & Carrollton to catch the next streetcar. . . which did pick me up, even if the woman driving seemed a little surly. A group of German tourists got on.

I ended up down near the stop for the St. Charles Streetcar for my hostel with a few minutes to spare for the midnight streetcar. I stopped into a 24 hour drug store and ended up buying a pie (not a Hostess, but their local brand). I was fishing out 3 cents more I needed, when the clerk said, wait a second, there was 4 cents on a card the last customer said to give to some one else. Which was a minor thing, but after my adventure, it made my night.

The St. Charles Streetcar driver was friendly, too. A bunch of regulars got on – people who worked for the hotels and restaurants. Then there was the very drunk, and highly amusing, young couple. Ahh, New Orleans!

I was worried about stumbling around in the dark in my hostel room, as I figured I’d have new roommates and they’d be asleep; but found I was now the only one in a room for six. I could turn the lights on!

After having breakfast one last time at The Avenue Cafe, I checked out of the Marquette, stopping first at the Garden District Book Shop to find a book for the flight back. I got a short story collection, New Orleans Noir, which if I read before coming, or before my previous night’s mis-adventures, I might have been a little afraid.

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I remembered one place I had meant to visit and forgotten, The Tomb of the Unknown Slave, and decided to head over to see it in the Treme neighborhood, near downtown, just before I left.

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I passed by Louis Armstrong Park, which seemed to be closed for major renovation, and looked very beautiful.

I also passed a hand bill on a phone pole to save New Orleans’ Charity Hospitals. We talked some at our Amnesty International conference about many hospitals not being opened. 

Here’s a video I found featuring Charmaine Neville on saving Charity Hospital.

More information at: http://www.savecharityhospital.com/

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St. Augustine Catholic Church, “the oldest African-American Catholic Parish in the United States” is the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.

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 I felt so sad for the person in that grave, and all the other slaves for the suffering they went through. The whole concept of slavery is overwhelming. That’s why there should be more memorials like this, and not just on the grounds of an African-American  church.

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Of course, the signs of the more recent horrors following Katrina, were still visible.  This is a neighborhood struggling with dignity to rebuild. Signs from the new HBO series, Treme, were up all over the city.

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Of course, I don’t have cable, so it may be awhile before I see that one.

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A rose in Treme. So beautiful, and so full of hope.

I passed by the Louis Armstrong Park on my way out, and only then did I read the sign and it dawned on me. . .

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“Recovery in Progress” – they’re still rebuilding the park, 5 years after Katrina, as well.

As I had gotten off the airport bus in front of the library, once I got back to the main downtown area, I wanted to check where to get the bus back, as I still had time for the run I was going to catch. I found it loaded at the same place, and was loading. So I headed out to the airport early this time.

Po-boys at the New Orleans airport too expensive for this po-girl, so I waited until I got to the Dallas airport to eat. It was sunset, and the sun in Dallas was blazing so bright again. . .

I had a talkative seatmate, who told me all about her adventures in the early days of flying, and that there’s still part of the original airport at SeaTac.

At SeaTac, I found that the walk through the parking garage to the light rail was, indeed, very long and convoluted. I was moving fast trying to get there in time going and didn’t fully realize how far it was. Not the most convenient thing, especially if one of the ideas is to get people out of their cars.

The ride itself is rather long, longer than the old express bus, but far shorter than the local; and definitely more comfortable. Transfer at the International District station, with a short wait for a bus to the U District and I was home, and still savoring my New Orleans music, food & adventures.

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