Tuesday morning we woke up raring to go see the sights. Even though we were warned against it for safety reasons, we decided to go alone, rather than pay for a tourguide. We started out at Saint Louis Cemetery #1, one of the "cities of the dead." In these cemeteries, all burial sites are above ground. Tombs are dated from the 1700's through 2008. Look closely at some of the photos, it is eerie...It was built in 1789 and is home to 100,000 dead, including Marie Leveau. She was a famous voodoo priestess whose tomb is covered with X's written by visitors hoping for her favor. The ground around the tomb is littered with offerings ranging from coins and flowers to condoms and i.d. tags. It is believed that if you turn in a circle three times and then mark the tomb with three X's, your wish will come true. Vicki gave it a try. The jury will remain out for a while to see if it works. We wandered in awe through the cemetery for almost an hour and never felt unsafe, cursed maybe, but never unsafe.
Next on the schedule was the Historic Voodoo Museum. Small, weird and wonderful. It was fascinating to read about the intertwining of African and Haitian religion and catholicism. A lot of catholic saints are worshipped in Voodoo, including Our Lady of Czestochowa (for those of you in Bucks County). At the back of the museum there was a working alter at which people had left notes, offerings and voodoo dolls. Pretty cool.
Next up was a very long walk through the French Quarter down to the Mississippi river. We ate lunch at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and then saw the French Market, St. Louis Cathedral, Cafe du Monde, Jackson Square and the riverboat "Natchez," along with everything else along the way. We found the area to be alive and friendly, filled with street performers of all kinds. We stopped to give a couple of dollars to a guy tap dancing on the sidewalk on soda cans attached to his sneakers. Check out the picture of the silver guy; there are several of them around the Quarter posing as statues. After a long, hot walk back to the rv park, we took a much needed swim and planned for day 3.
This morning we drove ourselves (again against everyone's advice) down to the lower 9th ward. This is the area that was devastated during Katrina and is being rebuilt with the help of Brad Pitt and the Make it Right foundation. The new houses are truly unique and impressive, but the majority of the area is still in ruin. The cleanup seems to be coming along well, but the rebuilding is slow. We saw many houses with spray paint still on the front from the search and rescue workers. All of them were dated September 11th or later; the hurricane came through on August 29th! The pictures above really speak for themselves; it's a real mix of hope and desperation in that area, and our hearts went out to the people we saw there. Again, it should be mentioned that we never once felt threatened or unsafe. We were visciously attacked by very healthy mosquitos, which can apparently fly at speeds approaching 20mph. That is about as fast as you can go in the 9th Ward because chunks of road are missing.
Lastly, we found a real treasure from the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives book today! Rivershack Tavern is in Lafayette- about 7 miles from where we're staying. It's a funky little place known for its "tacky ashtrays." If you bring in a tacky ashtray, you get a free drink, and the walls are covered with amazing examples of just how tacky ashtrays can be. Mike Baskind is the chef and he is known for his creative specials. He is also a very warm and generous man. He was more than happy to sign our book, and he is so excited about his craft that he sent out complimentary samples of two of his specials for us to try. The cheddar, beer and broccoli soup was simple and fresh and amazing. We had seen another guy at the bar order the entree special, and we knew that we didn't have enough of an appetite to tackle it. But when Mike sent out a sample of it, we realized that we had made a mistake. It was succulent braised pork with jalapeno in the background, wrapped in a tortilla and topped with a fresh pineapple salsa. Wow! I don't know how he came up with something like that, but it was out of this world. The buffalo shrimp appetizer was light and crispy, not like the greasy fried popcorn shrimp stuff you get everywhere else, and Porter's BLT was perfect. Thank you to Shelly and Mike for showing us such a good time. Tomorrow we're heading for Texas!