If you are a tourist who has never been to New Orleans before, there is something you do: visit the French Quarter.
I originally planned to go on a “free” walking tour (they request donations) but the tour got canceled by the last minute because of rain. I did not think the rain was that big a deal – it wasn’t raining as hard as it had in San Antonio (and New Orleans has much better drainage). But that’s how it happened.
Therefore, I went into a gift shop, looked through a book called ‘Walks in New Orleans’ or something, read about their French Quarter walks, and then gave myself a tour of the French Quarter.
Since I am not very knowledgeable about New Orleans history, there was a limit to how much I could cram by looking through about twenty pages of some guidebook in a gift shop.
Though I cannot read New Orleans architecture nearly as well as I can read San Francisco architecture, I was able to figure out a few things. The balconies/arcades are there to offer shelter from rain and sun. The doors/windows are so tall so that they can ventilate a lot, and the shutters are also there for ventilation.
While I was on Bourbon Street, I bought a ‘hurricane’ (very sweet and very alcoholic drink). It did not affect me much, possibly because I drank it slowly.
Of course, I had to visit St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest Catholic church in the United States.
Inside, I learned about Venerable Henriette Delille, who might become the first saint to be born in New Orleans. I also looked at the artwork, in particular the stained glass windows which told the life of the Louis IX of France, who is the St. Louis that the cathedral is named after. There was a friendly docent inside who told me some interesting things about the cathedral; I noticed that she wore a button which says ‘Abortion Hurts Women’.
One of the cool things about giving myself a tour of the French Quarter is that I was able to stumble on interesting stuff.
One my favorite places in the French Quarter was Benvolo’s, a workshop which manufactures gas lamps. Yes, there is manufacturing in the French Quarter.
The sales representative inside their showroom was happy to tell me about gas lamps. Apparently they sell gas lamps to customers all over the world, and some of their customers are in San Francisco. She was able to tell me about the government regulation of gas lamps in California.
Ever since I visited that shop, I noticed just how many gas lamps there are in New Orleans. They aren’t just in the French Quarter – they are everywhere.
The parts of the French Quarter away from the river and Canal street look much humbler. I saw an exhibit which explained that, back in the old days, this was where the non-rich people lived. It looks like they still live there. In the quieter streets of the French quarter, there are few shops catering to tourists, and more shops like laundromats or convenience stores.
After walking around the French Quarter, I decided to walk into Treme, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the USA. At first, it did not really look different from the less fancy parts of the French Quarter, at least to me.
However, as I got further away from the French Quarter, I noticed that the buildings looked more weathered.
I did like this old sign:
I noticed a lot of, for lack of a better word, anti-crime signs in Treme.
I don’t know enough about Treme to say anything particularly insightful about this, but it seems that the people of Treme feel strongly about reducing crime.
After walking around the French Quarter and Treme, I took the St. Charles streetcar into Garden District.
The Garden District is full of large Greek Revival / Italianate houses or something.
Frankly, I was more interested in the trees.
The live oak trees, decorated with Mardi Gras beads, are lovely. At this time of year, there are a lot of acorns on the ground – that’s a lot of food for critters (including potentially humans). Even better, they have lots of ferns growing on the branches.
I heard that the ferns were looking dead last week, but thanks to the rain, they have revived, which is why they are called ‘resurrection’ ferns.
I took a peak at Lafayette Cemetery, with the famous above-ground tombs.
However, I was more interested in the ferns growing in the wall of the cemetery.
So that is New Orleans – a city with a lot of gas lamps.