Sunday, July 1, 2012

New Orleans: A Weekend in Pictures

Diana and I have been talking since the beginning of the summer about heading down to New Orleans at some point. We'd been told that Amtrak tickets were cheap--about $20 each way--but when we checked on Tuesday, they were $50 a piece in each direction. On Wednesday we found out that one of the Education Fellows from the office was planning to drive down this weekend, and she agreed to take us with. Then began the work of finding a place to stay. Hostels were always an option, but we wanted to go more the route of CouchSurfing. So I emailed a bunch of Princeton New Orleans alumni to no avail (everyone was out of town/moving/having in-laws over); then I remembered that a few people from high school went to Tulane. Turns out a couple stayed in New Orleans for the summer, and one offered to let the three of us (our friend Jo from the office came with, too) crash at her place in Uptown. It was about a mile north of the St. Charles Streetcar, which took us everywhere we wanted to go (or close enough).

We got to New Orleans a couple hours before Charlotte (who's place we stayed at) got off work, so we spent a couple hours wandering up and down Magazine St. In front of the hostel where we snagged a (very bad) map of the city, we found a cut-off branch of plantains sitting in the street. There were three perfectly ripe ones, which we ate right then and there, and then a whole bundle of still-green ones, which we carried with us the rest of the afternoon and brought back with us to Jackson. We got some funny looks walking around with it, but one woman stopped us and gave us some great ideas for how to eat them! 
Also on Magazine St. This is just on the porch of a private home. 

One of the first things we saw was this wall o' taps. Who knew one restaurant had so many kinds of beer!
We headed back to Charlotte's place to drop our stuff off, cool down, and figure out the evening. I had contacted the rabbi of Anshe Sfard, the Orthodox synagogue within New Orleans proper, earlier in the day to find out if they had Friday night services. The answer was no, but it came with an invitation to Shabbat dinner, which I accepted happily. Though I went into the summer knowing that my Shabbat experiences would be very different from what I'm used to, I'd feel weird not doing anything Shabbat-y at all. So I headed over there and had dinner with the Rabbi and Rebbetzin, and two Israeli girls roadtrip-ing from Connecticut to California and back.

After dinner, I went to meet up with Diana and Jo at Tipitina's, a bar/jazz club near the river that was having a good New Orleans brass band and later a jazz band. My plans got interfered with a bit by my brother's friend, Jesse, who lives in New Orleans, who insisted on picking me up to drive me there rather than have me walk alone. (Thanks, Jesse!)

On Saturday we headed out to the French Quarter, infamously the home of Bourbon St--which is every bit as ridiculous as what you'd imagine. But before we began our wandering, we got breakfast at a place called Nosh, where I got sweet potato pancakes (so good). 

The following are pictures from the French Quarter:
This kind of intricate lacy ironwork decoration is a staple of classic New Orleans architecture.  

Mardi Gras is a huge part of New Orleans culture, even not during Mardi Gras. Every tourist shop had  Mardi Gras beads, and half the trees and telephone wires in the city were draped with beads people had thrown in the air (during the parade, I assume). I've got some pictures of very inappropriate ones, but figured those shouldn't go on the blog...

This is in the French Market, an outdoor flea/art/produce  market in the French Quarter.  Airship Isabella had a stall where they were making some of their "steampunk leather and accessories" on the spot. One of the guys showed me how to dye and stamp the leather. Another showed me his leather wristband (pictured), which has a phone holder and keyboard for his phone, which hooks up to the bluetooth he had attached to his ear (with a hand-made leather cover, of course).

Jackson Square Park, named, of course, for Andrew Jackson. I'm pretty sure this is what Disney's logo is based off of.  Behind the park is a cathedral, next to which stands the Cabildo, once the center of government in New Orleans, and the site of the ceremonies associated with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

From Jackson Square Park, the three of us split off into different directions to go exploring on our own. I walked along the River, and came across a placard for the Woldenberg Riverwalk Park (the same Woldenberg of Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life)--and later a Holocaust Memorial funded by the Goldring family.
In any case, there's a free ferry that runs from Canal St. across the Mississippi River to Algiers Point. I took the ferry across and then back, and this is a shot from the boat. The River is not that wide there!

During my wanderings I heard some nice loud music coming from a few blocks away, and followed the sound until I found this brass band playing on a street corner in front of a Foot Locker. They were great, and I stopped to listen for a while before heading out for some more exploring. 

There were a lot of good doors, but I didn't want to flood this post with pictures of doors (when I put up albums later, there will be plenty of doors). This was one of my favorites. From the French Quarter. 

On my way back to meeting Diana and Jo at our designated meet-up, I passed an art gallery that  had easels and canvases everywhere, including all the way up to the ceiling and stacked on the floor. Turns out it was the gallery of Adrian Fulton, a helicopter mechanic in Lafeyette, LA (originally from Philadelphia) who has three art galleries in the New Orleans area that he uses as refuge from his "day job" of engineering. Only upon looking at his website just now did I find out that Fulton was one of the artists invited by former First Lady Laura Bush to the White House a few Christmases ago--an ornament he designed was one of the decorations on the tree in the Blue Room of the White House.
While I was in his studio/gallery, he asked if I was of legal drinking age. He looked disappointed when I said no, and then pointed to the wine he usually passed out to visitors. Looks like I'll just have to go back to New Orleans after September! 

While waiting in the park, Diana saw a woman carrying a Hebrew workbook sit down on a bench. Naturally, I went over to talk to her. Turns out she's also living in Jackson for the summer (and went to college a couple blocks from my high school!), so we chatted for a while and ended with an email exchange and an open offer for Hebrew help.

Then it was time for a snack. Since we were a block away from the famous, 24-hour Cafe Du Monde, we couldn't not go. So we went. We got an order of beignets (basically, fried dough with powdered sugar on top) to split between the three of us and they were delicious! But we were still off in search of dinner we went. We'd gotten a recommendation and followed through on it--it was yummy, but fancier than we thought, and smaller portions than we'd expected given the prices. The wandering continued, with Frenchman Street (lots of live music) the eventual destination.
On our way, we passed this building with shiny red  glass preventing anyone from looking in. Strip club, we're pretty sure.

The walk to Frenchman St. was long, so we took the streetcar that ran along the river. Just like in San Francisco, streetcars are an actual mode of transportation used not only by tourists. 

We'd gotten a couple suggestions for venues to check out, but had to stop at a street party we heard from blocks away. We weren't really sure what it was--flash mob? Dance party? Organized?--because it didn't look like everyone knew each other, yet at the same time there were lots of people with umbrellas and parasols who knew to bring them. 
And there was a strange beast-head (?) built of tin with neon lights dangling down with a shopping cart as its base structure. The boombox providing the music was coming from somewhere inside the structure.
Then we went to a couple of other clubs and saw some great live music! I couldn't go into many of the clubs, but there were still a bunch of goods ones that are 18+. When we got to The Maison, the FauxBarrio Billionaires, a band Diana had seen in New Orleans a few months ago, were playing. I'm not sure exactly what I would call their music, but it's got some jazz and blues, maybe some klezmer, some soul--and a washboard. We had to run out in the middle to say hi to our boss Stuart and his wife, who were also in New Orleans this weekend and had just walked by. Upon Jesse's suggestion, I went to the second floor of the Blue Nile, where a band whose name I never knew was playing. The lead singer was a man whose sultry, classic-Blues voice was one both Diana and I thought belonged to a woman. They were so good they almost had me up and dancing--and I don't dance!

We caught a cab home, and I have never been more scared of somebody else's driving (except perhaps one time in Hungary). Imagine a combination of start-and-stop gridlocked traffic with 80 mph tailgating. Now imagine worse. We got back to Charlotte's safely, surprisingly, and quickly.

This morning we went out in the direction of the Tulane and Loyola campuses in search of breakfast. Luckily, the place we'd been planning on was closed ("for summer vacation"), and we wandered into a place called Chill Out Cafe, which is "Breakfast & Asian Fusion". That means it's a Thai restaurant that realized it could get a much bigger draw from college students if it added classic American breakfast foods (with a southern twist--there was a shrimp omelette option).

Then we split up again for our last few hours. I decided to see if the Touro Synagogue (one of three reform temples in New Orleans proper; the first synagogue outside the original 13 colonies, and the sixth oldest in the country) was open. It wasn't, so instead I wandered through the Garden District, in awe at the size of the single-family homes I saw lining the streets. By this point, I was literally dripping with sweat--apparently, it only hit about 93 degrees, but the humidity made it feel much worse. I think I probably had 5 liters of water just in the couple hours I was out.

One of the places I wandered into was Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. What distinguishes these old New Orleans cemeteries from most is that the tombs are above-ground (because of the water). 

This tomb stood out, because it didn't have a big above-ground mausoleum.
Like I said before, Mardi Gras decorations remain visible year-round, draped on telephone wires and trees. 

This chicken-cage truck is actually from the drive to New Orleans. We had to peel our eyes away from the Bayou and the (former) longest bridge in the world (the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway) to take a look at the truck driving next to us. 
Coincidentally, the ride home included a stop at Kosher Cajun, where I bought--what else--chicken.


  1. Hey Abby!
    It's Dina Weinstein in Miami, formerly Hyde Park, Chicago, IL. Cool what you find when you Google people.
    I passed through Jackson, MS last year and can send you some articles I wrote about ISJL.
    What you're doing sounds great! Have you been to the Broad Street Bakery?
    Benjamin and Yehuda miss you and the old 'hood!
    I'm listening to WHPK right now.
    I couch surfed in Jackson and you'd like my host.
    Keep writing your great stories and posting photos. Hi to your family.