One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

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Day 9 and 10-Zoo, New Year’s Eve and Wrap Up

Today was an easy day planned because a lot of places were closing early or were closed completely… I wasn’t able to make reservations anywhere I tried over a month ago… so we just decided to play it by ear…and maybe not even do much today but hang out in the hotel room.

We got tickets to the Audubon Zoo out past the Garden District in Audobon Park- famous for its 300 year old Live Oak trees.

They had a lot of REALLY cool animals. I think we are a bit spoiled with the Indy Zoo and Cincy Zoos… and even the Louisville Zoo…. this one was good- and you could tell it has major history and has been here a long time… but some of it felt a little run down. I just hope the animals are healthy and as happy as they can be in a zoo.

Some of the cool animals we saw:

The Roman Chewing Candy cart was open inside the Zoo. Its been an institution for over 100 years at the New Orleans Zoo. The guy running it said that today was the LAST day ever for $1.00 a stick candy. I said, wow- that paint on the cart has been there a long time, when was the last time you raised prices? He said 1986. ha Went from .50/stick to $1.00/stick. January 1, it goes to $1.50 a stick. Pretty cool if Norah ever goes back when she’s old- she can tell her grandkids that she still remembered getting this candy for $1!! ha
and she has the photographic evidence to prove it!

I had made lunch reservations at a place called Superior Seafood on St Charles on the recommendation of a coworker. It wasn’t totally bad… but it wasn’t great either. I know better than to blindly listen to people about my food. ha

We had 1:30 reservations- they immediately sat us outside on the patio instead of asking which we’d prefer… strike one- I hate eating outside lol Maybe its a bit Karen of me…but you ask your reservations what their preference is…you seat your walk-ins where you have space left. Anyway, whatever, not that big of a deal… but now its 1:50 and we still haven’t placed drink orders. Then its 2:10 and we still haven’t placed food orders. Now its 3:15 and we still haven’t got our food yet. lol Yeah..it was the meal that never ends. In the end, an almost 2.5 hour lunch… and Kegan’s meal came so far ahead of mine that he was done almost before mine arrived. And I want to add that his main course- at a seafood restaurant, the Shrimp and Grits, had 5 shrimp on it. ha Ok- thats all 🙂

We got one dozen Charbroiled oysters and I got a dozen raw oysters. When in Rome.
Crawfish Cornbread. Kegan and Norah devoured this. It was very tasty.
Kegan’s shrimp and grits

I messaged my friend Tim to see if he was still around and he was… so we Uber’d straight to his hotel and met him outside. We ended up walking around downtown and looking for a Starbucks to hang out in for a while- the one we found-limited hours- closing at 2pm all week due to short staffing or covid. So..on we walked- found a gelato and espresso shop and popped in there. I got a good strong coffee to hopefully keep me up past midnight.

It was so good to catch up with Tim… but I totally forgot to get a picture of us all! Oh well.

We talked to him until it was time for us to head to our very last Escape Room- Inventor’s Attic at Escape My Room.

It was-hands down-the hardest room we’ve done. I did not have a good time. ha I have no idea how we managed to actually pull it off in the end with 2 minutes to spare. I’m not certain we actually did. ha They may have just been being nice… but they said we made it. They have a super cool machine that vibrates at certain frequencies and displays patterns- but the sand that vibrates into the patterns- there wasn’t enough on the plate to make out the patterns…and adding more sand didn’t actually work- so we probably messed with that for 15 minutes… even asking if anything was wrong with the machine and letting our guide know we couldn’t see the patterns and in the end she did help us ensure we were on the right track… but after the game she says “yeah… we’ve been having tons of trouble with that all week”. and we spend another 5-10 on another piece that “the timing is a little hard sometimes” lol In the end- the room was super hard, very cerebral, the theme was fantastic…. I hate to complain. All the other rooms there were the best anywhere… and the staff are phenomenal. I think I just had a bad and angry day lol I don’t like feeling stupid from equipment malfunction ha Kegan and I both were not on our A game tonight… he missed some basic math stuff, we missed instructions right in front of us… we missed an item literally on a ledge in front of our faces. lol Truth be told, the machine probably wasn’t our only barrier!

We got back to the room, feeling like we failed even though we escaped. ha They said there is only like a 20% success rate on that room. So we just hung out for a while and ordered some pizza and wings from DoorDash so we didn’t have to go out into the craziness that was really picking up downtown.

We stayed in the room, Norah did a Google Meet with an old classmate from her online classes and decided she didn’t want to go down to the ball drop… we were thinking cool! ha

Then about 11pm, she changed her mind. ha So…off we go into the craziness.

It really wasn’t as bad as I expected. Police had traffic blocked off for blocks around Jackson Square…and most people were up on the Moonwalk on the riverfront waiting on the fireworks. We stood on the railroad tracks in between so we could see the Fleur De Lis drop from the Jax brewery roof – the New Orleans equivalent of the Times Square ball drop. The fireworks over the river were very nice and we rang in the New Year with 25,000 of our closest friends.

Norah had this grand idea that she was going to ask all the drunk people around us to yell HAPPY POTATO at midnight. haha I told her if anyone could get it done, it would be her. But I didn’t let her actually ask anyone. lol

So, HAPPY POTATO from the New Orleans McKinney clan. LOL

The sea of people leaving the Jackson Square area was CRAZY. lol Literally filled every street as far as you could see.
But these people had it figured out! They had a guy peddling them around on a lounger! haha

Finally, got Norah wound down and asleep about 1:45am… and told her she was not going to be happy at 8am when I woke her up… but I told her all she had to do was get her butt to the car and she could go back to sleep.

Fast forward to Day 10 and packing up to head out- she cried over brushing her teeth this morning. ha so, its safe to say that she didn’t get enough sleep! ha

Our only plan today was to drive around some neighborhoods in New Orleans in case we decide to get serious about a move somewhere, we’d at least have seen some suburb areas in person… and to make some stops at an area grocery store chain that sells my La Croix Cola flavored sparkling water. ha I cant find it around Indiana anymore- every once in a while at a Big Lots, but that’s it… so when we went to Florida, I looked up where I could buy and we stopped at 3-4 grocery stores there on our way home, too.

So we combined neighborhood viewing with Rouse’s Market LaCroix hunting! Stopped at 7 different locations all around the area. Found about 15 8-packs! That should do me for a bit 🙂

It was interesting to look around and how different the items in the store there where compared to everywhere else. It really is like a whole different country down here.

This was just one section of the freezer case:

If we did move here, I can tell you Kegan would be shopping at Rouses Market! ha He was like “jaw-dropped-open” when he saw this case of dry aged beef lol
They even had Wagyu, tomahawks and other uncommon cuts
I have never had pickled pork, but now I’m intrigued!
Norah saw this cereal and asked if she could have some. Sure…why not? haha Not sure what “spoke” to her about this… but sure thing, kid. It’s yours. Come to find out, this is a new cereal from the rapper Master P- who is from New Orleans- and is quite the entrepreneur…but he decided to sell cereal, because he said that everyone eats cereal…and nobody was making cereal that was the equivalent of the Wheaties box for inner city kids…so, he put his own face on the “Wheaties” box…. and marketed it, with a portion of the profits going back to inner city communities and elderly. He said “no cereal company out there was giving back to people who need it, so I created one that did”. So, after reading that…I’m like, RIGHT ON. ha Turns out, they are only selling Master P cereal in New Orleans at Rouses Market. So, right place, right time. ha

I had planned to go to a new Vietnames restaurant called Kim Ahn’s Noodle House, but when we arrived it was closed. So we decided we’d wait until we got to Hattiesburg and hit that Landshark food truck with the cajun crab boils boxes… but they, too, were closed today according to their Facebook… So… we went with something we knew we loved- we went back to the Dong Phuong Restaurant and Bakery that we hit on our way into the city on Day 1. Such a good decision.

Kegan said he wasn’t in the mood for soup- so he got the short ribs and rice plate. It was outstanding. It was like meat candy. Glazed and charred… i could eat that every day.
I got an iced Vietnamese coffee to hopefully make the 12 hour drive after less than 6 hours of sleep. ha I forgot to photograph the rest, but I got the special Pho with meatball, beef, etc… it was very good.

The highlight though was after our meal, I went next door to the bakery since we had a cooler and ice (Kegan had picked up Andouille sausage at Rouses Market and had it on ice already) and I just asked to get some assorted meat pies and steam buns. The lady was super nice and helped me get an assortment of pies and I saw signs up for their King Cakes. You can only get king cakes in Jan/Feb leading up to Mardi Gras… and the ones from here are super famous for being one of the best.

I asked her “I assume you have to order the king cakes ahead of time?” fully figuring you did… she said Yes, that the shipping had already sold out for the year on Day 1… but if I hurry, she thought there was a few spots left for pickup that would likely sell out soon, too. I told her, that’s OK…we were headed back to Indiana today- maybe next year.

Then…she surprised me. She said “you’re so sweet…” (which- HA. just like Kegan is a pleasure in the mornings) She said “we have a few “rejects” in the back that she didn’t think were good enough to sell…. if you’d want one of those, I can ring you up and meet you outside and give it to you. I can’t give it to you in here because I can’t have any of the other people see it”

So…. that is the story of how I got a back alley reject cream cheese King Cake from Dong Phuong Bakery!!

This thing weighed like 5 lbs. Its sort of a flaky, laminated brioche cinnamon dough with a silky light cream cheese frosting. It was AMAZING! I have no idea what a king cake is supposed to taste like, but I can tell you I see why theirs is famous. That’s for sure.
Assorted meat pies. I cant tell you what they are…but I do know 1 is a crawfish pie
Assorted steam buns- I know the 2 in front are pork, egg and onion….no clue on the others. It will a surprise for breakfast or lunch tomorrow 🙂

We drove straight home with only 2 stops for fuel. Left New Orleans around noon- rolled in about 1am Eastern time- so a 12 hour drive. We crossed Louisville around midnight with the bridge all lit up, thought that looked cool

Have to give credit to Kegan’s mom and step-dad for keeping our dog so we could go on this trip… and to my dad and step-mom for watching our house, the chickens, the cats, the plants, the mail… EVERYTHING else!

THANK YOU!!

Overall takeaway- we loved the city. Had a really great time. Met some cool people, ate some amazing food, experienced a very deep rooted culture and learned way more about New Orleans that I knew before. The weather was fantastic. We only had rain one evening… and it was 80 every day all day. 70 all night. I could definitely get used to that weather, I miss the heat since leaving south Florida.

No future vacations booked right now. Norah has 2 weeks off in March- I may book something last minute, but our plan was to go to Spain… but now with Omicron spreading like wildfire, I’m not sure we want to deal with overseas travel at the moment. Europe takes Covid way more seriously than the US does. Who knows what would be closed, what kind of testing and quarantine rules will be in place… likely better to wait a few more months before heading across the pond on a deadline to return.

This summer we’ll likely do another road trip in June/July… likely this time to New England since Kegan hasn’t ever been up that way. Gotta see if any of those states or cities have relocation potential 🙂

When I have a plan or tickets booked, You’ll get updates here! Until then, thanks for following along with our gypsy caravan!

Day 8-Chalmette Battlefield and Art

We slept in today, got some coffee downstairs and then caught an Uber out a few miles east of New Orleans proper to see the Chalmette Battlefield- the site of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.

Initially, my plan was to Uber out there, then walk back to New Orleans through the lower ninth ward to see that area- as it was the hardest hit and absolutely devastated by the levee breaches during Katrina. There have been tons of focus on rebuilding houses in these neighborhoods and getting people from the ninth ward back in their homes instead of developers and landlords taking over. Brad Pitt even had a charity called the Make It Right Foundation that brought in famous architects to build avante garde modern homes, then offered them at greatly reduced costs to former residents. But…no good deed goes unpunished. The lumber, which was supposed to last for decades started rotting within 2 years. Ventilation issues and mold became an issue, the foundation was sued for selling faulty construction homes, the foundation sued the program manager and the architects for not using sound products and following code. It became a mess from what should have been the success story of the century. They’ve already had to bulldoze 2 of the homes that were built and there are other ongoing lawsuits.

We didn’t drive right by those particular houses… but we did get a pretty good tour of the lower ninth from the Uber. He recommended we didn’t walk. He didn’t say it wasn’t safe… he said “he didn’t know what we would see if we did- just empty lots and houses” and then told me it was too hot to walk that far anyway… we got the impression he was saying it might not be a great idea. So… I can listen sometimes 🙂 Also, it was like 4-5 miles… further than I initially thought from the map. ha We didn’t miss much, just a couple houses, like Fats Domino’s old house… and a small house turned into a “living” museum dedicated to the people and the history of the lower ninth, that I wasn’t even sure if it was open anyway.

We arrived at the Battlefield- but the visitor center was closed.. very limited hours of 1p-4p. I’m guessing due to staffing and Covid issues like everything else.

“In 1814 we took a little trip,

Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.

We took a little bacon and we took a little beans

and we fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans”

I can’t say “Battle of New Orleans” without that darn Johnny Horton song popping into my head! ha

The Battle of New Orleans was the final battle of the War of 1812 between a superior British force against a ragtag band of pirates, free people of color, Kentucky Riflemen, Tennessee Volunteers and one really pissed off British-hating Colonel Andrew Jackson. They say his intense hatred of the British started at age 13 during the American Revolution when he was ordered to clean a British Officer’s boots. He refused and was slashed with a sword across his face and hands… and thus started a vendetta against all things British, along with losing both of his brothers in the Revolution.

After the Revolution- once the British finally settled their little war with Napoleon in 1814, they felt they could finally put focus on reclaiming their stake on some North American territory and stop the US westward expansion. They felt that any land deals made with Napoleon (ahem.. the entire Louisiana Purchase) were null and void and shouldn’t have been able to be made. They felt like if they could recapture the territory, they could argue the US’s claim to the land was void.

They first targeted Washington DC, burning the White House (Dolly Madison, Washington’s portrait and all that). They next tried to capture Baltimore…but couldn’t quite win there…but never to be deterred, they proceeded to try to take New Orleans, thinking that if they could capture the Mississippi River, they could stop westward expansion and necessary trade routes.

Andrew Jackson was a military commander in Mobile that was warned of the British advance on New Orleans and immediately-his head exploded- and he made his way to New Orleans to ready troops to resist the British. He was suffering from dysentery at the time and is said to have not eaten in 8 days. He could barely stand when he arrived and spent the entire ordeal eating nothing but boiled rice. He had one month to ready an army… and…he didn’t have the people. He had 1,500 soldiers.. and it was estimated that the British had 12k-15k.

He was definitely backed into a corner. He was approached by legendary pirate Jean Lafitte with an offer to double-cross the British and fight for the Americans…if Jackson would free his brother Pierre from prison. (surprise, that wasn’t needed, Pierre escaped ha) Jackson was disgusted by the offer…. but, eventually, Jackson realized he didn’t have a choice. He got 2,500 Kentucky Riflemen, more militia from Tennessee, Lafitte’s pirates- who didn’t add a lot of men… but it did add a ton of weapons, cannons, and the knowledge of how to navigate the swamps- knowledge that ultimately led to victory. He also recruited free people of color and even Choctaw Indians (which is a little rich since Jackson earned his stripes fighting so successfully against the Creek Indians…) People were so willing to sign up to fight because rumors had spread about how in the Spanish wars, the British had raped and pillaged everything after their victories… the whole city was in hysterics over the possibility of British victory.

This bend of the Mississippi is where the Americans waited to fight the British as they came up the river. This area was surrounded by cypress swamp, making it impossible to flank or surround the US troops.

The British troops sorely miscalculated how rough the Americans would fight. They didn’t stand in a row and fire on command with drummers and pomp and circumstance… they hid in the swamp, fired a cannon from a sunken battleship at them.. and targeted all the officers first. Take out the head, the body dies… Once the US took out the British officers, this caused pure chaos for the troops… and quickly, the battle was won…. with fewer than 70 casualties on the US side…and over 2,000 on the British side. The battle itself lasted around 30 minutes.

The British withdrew back and continued to bomb a fort at the mouth of the Mississippi for another week or so…but eventually retreated.

The actual battlefield the fighting occurred on.
Chalmette Plantation house in between the Mississippi river bend where the British arrived and Jean Lafitte’s pirates fired at them… and the battlefield where the so many British soldiers would die.
An artsy photo I took from the battlefield site.

The crazy thing is, that when this battle was fought in January of 1815, the Treaty of Ghent had already been signed over a week before- marking an end to the War… but news hadn’t reached the US yet. Once it did, Jackson was hailed a hero…and eventually would be elected President on that popularity… and the story lives on as folklore of another example of our American Exceptionalism in the face of a stronger, better opponent….and it lives on in that stupid Johnny Horton song. ha

After we walked around the battlefield, we went to the Parish diner out in Chalmette on the recommendation of our morning Uber driver. He said it was one of his three favorite places in the city. So, since we didn’t have lunch plans yet, sounded like a winner to me! They had a huge menu. Tons of breakfast, tons of platters, sandwiches and more.
We decided to share the boudin brisket egg rolls as a starter. They came with a blueberry chipotle glaze sauce. They were pretty wonderful.
I had the Cajun Po-boy- Fried shrimp and a cajun sausage patty dressed on a bun. The roll was super dry and just kind of crumbled apart… so I just ate it open face with only the bottom bun- but it was good! and the fries were stellar.
Kegan got the fried pork chops meal. He said it was fine… but nothing to come back for again.

When we finished, we called an Uber to take us back downtown to walk along Frenchman street. Man was that guy weird. He spent the whole ride coughing. He was an old retired white guy from Massachusetts. Talked nonstop about hurricane science and then got into Katrina as we drove through the Lower Ninth ward… then started in with the “those people” comments. Could not get out of the car fast enough.

We started along Frenchman St, just seeing the bars and shops along the street. Frenchman street down this way really started growing in the 1980s. It was almost a direct response to the growth and tourism of Bourbon Street. As Bourbon got more touristy and loud… Frenchman became the spot for locals to gather and it has the highest concentration of music venues in the city.

We did find some live jazz coming out of Bamboula’s and hung around a bit to listen

We walked north and came across Washington Square Park with a playground… so we let Norah play for a while. She made friends with a 6 year old named Dwight. lol he was a cutie.

Walked a mile or so around the neighborhood… found lots of cool building street art.

Went to a shop called WE BITE Rare and Unusual Plants… but I forgot to take any photos. It was in a cool old church building… but they only really had like 6-8 types of plants inside… none of which were terribly rare…or unusual lol So I didn’t buy anything. I was hoping to clean house with some cool plants- maybe even a pitcher plant or venus fly trap or something… but alas… it was not to be.

We started walking south towards Studio Be where we had 4pm reservations to an art installation.

We passed a wall mural and this historical marker designating the site where Homer Plessy was arrested for violating the Separate Train Car Act- segregating black and white passengers.

Ruby Bridges- also pictured in the mural on the site, was from New Orleans, too. The school she was escorted into is still an active elementary school in the area.

Studio Be is a 35,000 sq ft warehouse filled with art by New Orleans artist Brandon “BMike” Odems, who strives to show the relationship between art and resistance. From his website: From film to murals to installations, Odums’ work encapsulates the political fervor of a generation of Black American activists who came of age amidst the tenure of the nation’s first Black president, the resurgence of popular interest in law enforcement violence, and the emergence of the self-care movement.

We really looked for this one all around the gallery, but I think it has already been moved elsewhere or sold… Its a super inspirational painting.
A portrait honoring civil rights activist and Representative John Lewis who said “never be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
I just love the defiance of this one.
A mural dedicated to the Mardi Gras Indians in their suits

At 5pm, we had tickets to another art project called JAMNOLA. Which stands for Joy Art Music New Orleans. This was a visual art exhibit from various local artists and super cool.

Norah grabbed some props to do the 360 degree rotating glam cam…. her poor hat fell off mid-spin- but I think that might actually make the video better. lol

After JAMNOLA, we had our last escape room at The Escape Game downtown- it was called Special Ops- and we were undercover agents in a Moroccan Market trying to find a rogue bad guy’s secret bunker. We found it and then had to find the intended site of a nuclear bomb attack, and then disarm the bomb! It was a toughy! Definitely their best room. Norah saved the day- at the end Kegan and I could NOT figure out a certain section… and we worked on it for a while. Norah finally figured it out for us and it was our final task to disarm the bomb. Couldn’t have done it without her.

As we walked back to our hotel, it was a bit busier downtown than it has been… and it was the first time I saw a police presence camped out waiting for trouble.

We used the PostMates app to order sushi from a restaurant across downtown we didn’t want to walk to. ha I forgot to take photos but it wasn’t anything to write about. I forgot to order Norah’s California roll, then they missed including Kegan’s seaweed salad… but I gave Norah one of my rolls and she ate the whole thing plus an order of dumplings. She definitely got her mamma’s love for all asian food. ha

We had time before bed, so we watched the new Matrix revolutions 4th installment. I sure hope there are more planned, because that whole movie was like over an hour of back story building and like 15 minutes of movie. I was terribly disappointed. The whole thing just felt like a nostalgic throwback to all the original catchy pieces of the originals… but since I did love the originals, and all things 90s are cool again, (I saw a girl in black leather low rise pants today…. I’m going to pass on that trend this time around haha) I’m sure that’s what the creators are counting on. People like me that grew up on the Matrix throwing their money down whether it is good or bad. The ideas were fresh… but just maybe a little too big for the 1.5-2 hour format to create a cohesive roadmap. Would love to hear someone else’s thoughts on it.

As we’re headed to sleep, Kegan notices my old friend Tim Jackson has marked himself “interested” in an event in New Orleans for New Years Eve. He asks me if he’s in town. Heck, I don’t know… lol We talk every few months and see how the other is doing.. and we share an online movie streaming database haha…but I don’t keep up on his weekly whereabouts. lol He got married last year, he’s not my responsibility anymore. 🙂

I message him around midnight and sure enough he’s literally staying NEXT DOOR to the Roosevelt Hotel we were in! hahaha He’s well on his way already this evening in a bar and says “meet me downstairs now!” ha – I inform him I’m now across town in another hotel, I’m also old… and I have a 9 year old. I would not be joining him in a bar at 1am on a Thursday. ha

We agreed to check in tomorrow and meet up just to catch up for a bit. So I’m excited for that! It’s been 7 years since our paths have crossed- last time was when we still were working out in California. So it is time!

Day 7 – Jazz Museum, Voodoo Museum and lots of Covid closures

Today we headed out in search of coffee because the free coffee in the lobby is terrible and weak…and the espresso machine for the pay shop inside the hotel was broken… so along our walk back to the French Quarter we found a PJs coffee. I got a cold brew, Kegan got his normal espresso and Norah got a frozen hot chocolate which was straight syrup lol. So… she had energy for walking around to say the least ha.

We walked through the French Market.. tons of shops and vendors. Lots of food it looked like would be available around lunchtime.
Our first stop for the day was the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old US Mint
The US Mint was built in 1835. It was seized by the confederates during the Civil War and the building was used to mint confederate money. When it was recovered by federal troops in 1862, they hung the man in charge- William Mumford. It stopped being used as a mint in 1909, then it was a prison, then a Coast Guard headquarters… now… a museum.
They had a few neat artifacts from the building as a mint on display
This 1868 coin press was built in Philadelphia, used to mint circulating and proof coins in San Francisco until 1974, now on display in New Orleans. It’s travelled to all the mints except Denver lol
The other half of the first floor was dedicated to Jazz music.
They had a photo gallery from Rick Olivier of various New Orleans musicians. I like this one of Art Neville showing him as a Trekkie. Apparently he was a huge fan of Star Trek…and this one below of Mannie Fresh, a rapper from New Orleans who rapped with Hot Boys, Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Big Tymers.. and also did some solo stuff.

Upstairs was an exhibit on Louis Prima, a Jazz and big band leader from the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans.

I have a few more vinyl records to find in my searching
They also had these old cutouts of the Preservation Hall Band Members

Preservation Hall is a jazz institution of New Orleans. It was started in the 1960s by Allen and Sandra Jaffe- it was truly the first integrated black and white music venue in the south during segregation. Sandra Jaffe was even arrested once for violating segregation laws… They were from Philadelphia… but were on a grand adventure to find a place to settle, then went as far as Mexico City experiencing other culture and cities… but when they got to New Orleans, they fell in love with the culture and beauty and decided this was the spot for them. They rented the small space from a man who was letting some Jazz musicians play there in the evening, most of whom were elderly musicians from the Jazz era… and Allen Jaffe formalized the venue as Preservation Hall to preserve the jazz legacy and educate the next generation on the genre.

Allen Jaffe died in the 1987, but Sandra Jaffe just died Monday Dec 27th…

Their son Ben Jaffe runs the Hall now and plays Sousaphone in the jazz band. They travel and educate on New Orleans Jazz around the world and they hold shows at the Hall most days. If you want to learn more about this band and venue, I highly recommend a documentary called A Tuba to Cuba. Great film.

There was a tradition post-Katrina of a created festival called “ChazFest” in someone’s backyard… and the museum had tons of photos of present day musicians in the area taking photos in front of a wallpaper backdrop. They did this for 5 years, so there was quite the collection of candid photos in a gallery. They also had the wallpaper from one year on the wall, so you could take your own portrait. Of course, Norah was all about that.
The original cornet from the Colored Waif’s Home where Louis Armstrong learned to play music as a young boy.
This was a piano from Fats Domino’s house. His house was flooded in Katrina and the piano was completely destroyed with mold, mildew, water damage, etc. A restoration project that took apart every piece of the piano and cleaned, fixed, reassembled and even re-lacquered the piano to preserve what they could.

There was an amazing painting gallery by James Michapoulos of famous New Orleans musicians

After leaving the museum, we headed north into the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.

This tree caught all of our attention. The roots had taken over the entire square that was available. I’ve never seen anything like that.
There is a marker for the site of the slave pen that existed here prior to the end of the Civil War. If you’ve ever seen the movie 12 Years A Slave, it was based on the true story of a free black man, Solomon Northup, who was sold into slavery and spent 12 years fighting for freedom.

Now it was time for lunch. I found a Dim Sum restaurant open for lunch online… so that was our destination.

Except…they were closed today… lol

So… on we went, looking for something else that looked good and was open at 11am ish for lunch. We ended up killing some time looking through some various shops along the street.

We eventually stumbled on a restaurant that said they opened at 11:30… and it looked like from Google that they had some dim sum type appetizers.. so we decided to wait. 11:30 came and it was still dark. Darn. 11:35, still standing on the sidewalk, hoping they were just a little late to the game… I’m writing a work email and trying to find another restaurant and the lights pop on and the hostess gets dropped off out front. Just running a bit behind. Woohoo!

The food was EXCELLENT. Highly recommend. We just ordered a bunch of small plates for all 3 of us and shared.

After lunch, our walking continued, on towards the LaLaurie Mansion. If you’ve ever seen the season of American Horror Story on New Orleans and Voodoo, then you are familiar with Madame LaLaurie and her physician husband, who kept slaves in their attic and tortured them to within an inch of their lives. Some eyewitness accounts said their eyes were gouged out, skin flayed open…and other way worse things I won’t write here in case someone reading is squeamish. A true house of horrors. A fire broke out and when the firemen discovered the slaves in the attic, the rage of the town turned on the lady, and 4,000 townspeople rioted and destroyed her house, but she fled with her driver… never to be heard of again. Some say she went to Paris… the world may never know.

The Beauregard-Keyes Mansion and gardens, owned by Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard- the general who ordered the first shots fired of the Civil War at Ft. Sumpter, South Carolina in 1861.
Across the street is the oldest building in the city, built in 1734- the Old Ursuline Convent.

We had a 2pm Escape Game room booked- this time Prison Break. We started the room separated in 2 different cells, and we had to work together to unlock our cells, then escape the common area outside of the cells, then navigate the boiler room to find the secret hatch to the wardens office, then clear 3-4 puzzles to eventually escape.

We did it! With only like 13 minutes left. We really didn’t think we were going to make it. ha We got stuck for a long while on one puzzle that we had right… but it was so poorly written, in such a dark room, it took us a good 10-15 minutes to finally get it solved. Then we crawled through a tunnel to the last room and we both went…oh no… there’s more. We’re never going to make it. ha But…in the end we did. and got this fantastic picture of Norah acting afterward. ha

Next, I wanted to check out the Pharmacy Museum… thought that would be a cool museum to walk through, so we hoofed it that direction, but when we arrived….

You guessed it, Covid. lol They are closed, likely due to staffing issues related to Covid.
Next we were supposed to see a show at Preservation Hall, but they are closed for Covid as well. I assume even if not for Covid, they would have been closed for the funeral of Sandra Jaffe anyway. Next time, Preservation Hall.
With our afternoon greatly opening up, we wandered towards the Voodoo Museum. It was such a tiny little place- total tourist scam. ha but The lady was nice- gave Norah a free little travel monopoly game… but I’m fairly certain she stole $2 of our change knowingly… I’m not fighting anyone over $2. lol and I’m sure thats what people like that count on.
Lastly, the last sight marked on my map was Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop- now a very popular bar on Bourbon Street. Its one of the oldest surviving structures in New Orleans- built around 1770. Supposedly once owned by the pirate Jean Lafitte.
Around the corner, there was a lady set up on a quiet side street with a deck of tarot. Norah had mentioned finding the gypsy lady in Jackson Square on our way back to the hotel if she was still there… so this quiet side street lady seemed like a better choice. And turns out she did palm readings which Norah was super excited about. This lady was very good… everything she said was spot on to our lives and Norah’s life. Now, of course, its all a little vague…. but this lady had me questioning my sanity a bit. ha Keeping in mind, she doesn’t have a clue who we are and we’ve not said hardly anything around her- she says Norah is incredibly smart, she will get her business acumen from her mother…she will have an inheritance to make her comfortable, she has female teachers, she lost a female family member in the past- the “matriarch” she says- which is what I always say about Kegan’s Grandma Sharon- she was the matriarch glue that held everything together. Then she said “you’ll be a baby until you die”..which is exactly what I always say to Norah. “You’ll always be my baby, even when you’re 40, you’re still my baby.” Now again, generic I’m sure… lots of parents say that…but her phrasing was just like things we often say. She also told Norah most girls wont be able to handle her spirit and to prepare for that…and she told her to always tell her parents things she dreams so we can help decipher the meanings. She rattled off a bunch of other stuff…but in the end I was like DANG, this lady is good at this. lol
Our next stop was the Caricature guy in the square. For two days, every time we pass there is a line for drawings and I always have told her “later…” but this was “later” ha it was likely the last time we’d be by here….so we waited.
Norah made friends with a 14 year old from Texas and they showed each other their cats back home. lol
His airbrush machine was broken, so he could only do black and white today…. but that’s OK. Norah was thrilled. ha

We walked back to the hotel and put on the 3rd Matrix movie- Matrix Revolutions while we waited for our 8:45pm dinner reservations at Saba. About halfway through we notice this:

Poor thing couldn’t hack it and needed a power nap for an hour before dinner. (giant arm bruise from running into the bathroom door knob on Christmas Eve. lol)

When it was time, we grabbed an Uber way out to the Garden District to the restaurant. Its just a pretty drive all the way out there with million dollar homes all along the street for miles and miles. The housing density here is so crazy. every house is 4 feet from the next one.

Norah asked the waitress if they had any mock-tails. ha Turns out they had 3. She chose the Pineapple Shrub…then proceeded to drink one drink of it because it was too herby. *eyeroll*
We ordered a Blue Crab Hummus and a roasted beet spread as starters and we were so hungry, I forgot to photograph it.
I had the short ribs on couscous
Kegan had the market fish which was a Spotted Trout on creamy grits.
Norah had a pita pizza from the kid’s menu. For dessert she chose the dark chocolate sorbet with mint. It was so rich…. so good.
Kegan had the Pecan baklava
I had a milk custard with a satsuma/rose/orchid gel on top. It was so light and fabulous. It was a perfect end to a very good meal.

Overall, we had SUCH high expectations after Shaya…. that I was fully expecting more “wow”… and everything really was great. Objectively- perfectly cooked, great flavors… but I still preferred Shaya better. Their menu was more robust, the portions a little larger, the price a bit lower… but both are great, great restaurants.

We caught an Uber back downtown and finished up our Matrix movie before bed. Now Norah is fully prepared to watch the new Matrix Resurrection film for our New Year’s Eve in-room party evening 🙂

Tomorrow, we’ll head out east of the city to Chalmette to the battlefield of the Battle of New Orleans and see the Lower 9th ward and some other east end points of interest.

Day 6 – Jackson Square, Cabildo, Presbytère and more French Quarter

Today started out by trekking it across downtown to the other side of the French Quarter. We were headed towards Jackson Square… and I knew there was the original Cafe Du Monde across the street at the French Market…so I thought if nothing really opens until 9, if we get there around 8:30 or so… we shouldn’t have too much of a wait.

HA. Nope. The line stretched all the way down the block. Then we found out there was another line on the other side of the building for take away… and it was just as long. ha Craziness. BUT… its Cafe Du Monde. You have to get coffee and beignets once if you’re in New Orleans, right? So we waited.

Coffee itself came to North America via New Orleans in the mid-1700s. It was grown in some French West Indies colonies in the 1720s, and French settlers brought coffee with them as they settled the Mississippi river area. During the Civil War, coffee was scarce, and people started grinding up chicory roots- the root of the lettuce Endive into the brew to give it more flavor and body and an almost chocolate quality to the coffee.

Cafe Du Monde has been open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day at this location at the French Market since 1862. The French Market location itself stretches back prior to European settlers in New Orleans, the Choctaw Indians used to use this high dirt natural levee at the bend of the Mississippi to trade goods with the river traffic. Then French settlers used this area to trade and sell produce and dairy and then in 1718, the city of New Orleans was officially founded here.

Ended up taking us about 45 minutes to order and get our food…The Beignets were very good. Basically a doughy funnel cake. I wore black. ha Not a good combo with all the powdered sugar… and the wind was blowing in so strong from some incoming rain that I was getting other people’s powder sugar on me. ha The coffee…. meh… I’m so picky about my coffee and it has to be oily and strong… no acidity. A dark French Roast is my thing. The Cafe Au Lait was weak… Kegan said the same about his black coffee. The do have a no chicory French Roast coffee that if I end up by another cafe again, I’ll try that instead. I’m sure objectively, its great to most people. Just wasn’t my thing. However, Norah’s hot chocolate was spectacular. ha I’d order that again.

This Cafe Du Monde sat directly across the street from the prettiest and most famous plaza in New Orleans- Jackson Square.

Historically, it is significant because it was the Place d’Armes- or the weapons place- the center of the city. It is also the site of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase. The Spanish built the St. Louis church in the background in the late 1700s and the building to its left, The Cabildo in 1795. After General Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, the square was renamed in his honor as the savior of New Orleans. The equestrian statue went in in the 1850s.

We were first headed to the Cabildo, the actual building where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. Today it is part of the Louisiana State Museum and houses various historical items on display.

There was a great display of historic Jazz items.

Tuba Fats’ Sousaphone
Vintage tableware from the Roosevelt Hotel from 1950. The Roosevelt, where we stayed earlier this week, used to host various big bands in the ballrooms and has always hosted fancy dinners
This was so interesting! Antoine’s, that we ate at last night- and had the Oyster’s Rockefeller- used to issue a postcard with each order of Oysters Rockefeller! How neat! If they were at 1.2 million orders by the 1946…image how many orders they are up to now!
There was an entire room dedicated to historic photographs of George Francois Mugnier
I loved this image of the French Market showing the old French butchers. We’ve walked along these same arched openings at the French Market…so I loved seeing this old photo of how it used to be.
Looks like Mardi Gras has always been the same zoo it is today 🙂

They had lots of items, paintings and artifacts from the Battle of New Orleans- more on that in a couple days when we visit the Chalmette Battlefield

Swords recovered from the battlefield
A painting of Andrew Jackson
A British plan of attack against the Americans. This was a drafted plan for their final attack that ultimately failed.
This giant oil painting of The Battle of New Orleans was about 16 feet across and 10 feet tall. Absolutely massive.
A coronation painting of Napoleon Bonaparte (Emperor Napoleon I) made by GĂ©rard in 1805.
Napoleon’s death mask
Next we headed across the square to an identical building on the other side of the church- The Presbytère. They had an exhibit dedicated to the causes, effects and science of Hurricane Katrina. Basically tying in global warming, hurricane science, inadequate FEMA and local disaster preparedness, levee design and maintenance issues and the issue of people not following instruction of evacuation. It demonstrated that there was no one single cause for the disaster, but human components exacerbating a natural disaster.
These spray-painted crosses because a familiar sign in New Orleans after the floods. The top number was the Date/Time the rescue team left the structure, the left side the Rescue Team that checked the structure, the right side- the hazards in the structure, the bottom- the # of live and dead victims and pets found in the structure.
A fitting shirt asking the government to focus on domestic works projects like levees that the Army Corp of Engineers never finished in 20 years… before fighting wars on the other side of the world.

There was so much more about Katrina in the exhibit, but I feel like everyone focuses so much on Hurricane Katrina as all they know about New Orleans…anything I’d write or photograph here has already been said or filmed so much better in any of the 100 documentaries on Katrina. My favorite was When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in 4 Acts by Spike Lee. It is on HBO Max. It was filmed in 2006 just after while clean up and resettlement was still going on. Still FEMA trailers lining every street and the culture of New Orleans still missing. It was powerful to watch. He even did a follow up documentary called If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise- revisiting the areas 5 years later.

The next exhibit was far more festive: The history of Mardi Gras.

After leaving The Presbytère, we took a walk down Pirate’s Alley, an alleyway with legend that famous pirate Jean Lafitte or his brother Pierre used to arranged meetings here. No actual evidence of this being true- but its hard to believe a pirate would be making back alley deals, literally in the alley outside the The Cabildo which held the prison at the time… but maybe its one of those hide in plain sight things.

William Faulkner rented a space in the alley in 1925 and wrote his first novel here.
St Anthony’s Gardens attached to St Louis cathedral.
A view down pirate’s alley
Jackson Square has a long history of tarot readings, palm readings and other rituals in the square- so only fitting Norah would get a tarot card reading from someone there. The vendor asked I not put her in the photos but that I could photograph the table.
The reader said Norah showed very “strong” cards for such a young girl. That she was going through a period of change… that she needed to trust herself, trust her abilities, don’t self-doubt so much… (pretty much what any preteen needs to hear, right?) I’m not sure what anything in Tarot “means”… but I did take a photo of the cards in case anyone has a Tarot background and cares to interpret Norah’s future 🙂

We continued walking along the waterfront on a walkway called the Moonwalk- named after Mayor Moon Landrieu that commissioned it to be built.

Instrument Men Fountain along the way
The Joan of Arc statue in the street median.
Well, this was our lunch destination. The Central Grocery – the birthplace and home of the Muffuletta sandwich. So that was disappointing. Their website said they were looking for a temporary location while their building had repairs done from Hurricane Ida in September…. but it looks like they never found that venue. Oh well, next trip.
Our next destination was Esoteric Occult Goods, an oddities shop…but it, too, was closed. I could only look through the door.
We did stop into Voodoo Authentica to see some voodoo related items.
We stopped by the Jean Lafitte National Park and were able to get a National Park stamp for Norah’s book while we visited. It had a lot of history of the Mississippi Delta region and the swamplands around New Orleans.
I didn’t know John James Audubon basically got his start as a wildlife artist drawing and painting birds from the Louisiana swamplands for his Birds of America series.

By now, we were really hungry… and a couple places we stopped all had 2 hour waits… so we walked back towards our hotel hoping to find something with decent reviews without a wait. We found Mr Ed’s Seafood House…and only a 10-15 minute wait. I really wanted raw oysters. When in NOLA, right? Can’t get them this fresh and good at home… We also decided we’d try Charbroiled oysters for the first time. I think it was a mistake to order them here…they were totally burnt and overdone.. but the fried seafood hit the spot and Norah’s kid’s shrimp basket was stellar too. We kept stealing shrimp from her plate and calling it shrimp tax lol.

Our next stop was The Escape Game to play their Heist room. Our game guide Eric the previous night booked us this private room for very cheap the following day… I was happy about it not costing and arm and a leg. lol

Of course we ESCAPED! We recovered a stolen Monet from the egotistical museum curator before he returned from a staff meeting and saved the day. These escape rooms really are the highlight of Norah’s life right now. Its amazing to watch her go through and solve some of the riddles that I’m sure adults struggle with. ha And I’d be lying if I said Kegan and I didn’t enjoy them, too… its a brain workout… but its a great sense of accomplishment to “beat” the game. We really do work well together… and usually its a good mix of all 3 of us figuring out various parts to win.

As we walked back, it started sprinkling on us… and just as we reached the last hotel intersection- it was pouring rain like this…. couldn’t have timed it better!

We hung out in the room for a couple hours and watched the 2nd Matrix movie- Matrix Reloaded. Norah was just as into #2 as #1.

We last minute booked another escape room at Escape My Room- our favorite place so far (the one with our game guide Laszlo). He was supposed to be off tonight, but when we walked into the Private investigators office, awaiting who would greet us this time- we heard a familiar voice- our man Laszlo had traded shifts and was there again! It was a great surprise. I’m sure all of the guides there are great… but we’re basically old friends at this point…ha

The room we booked for tonight was very different.. and we weren’t sure how we would like it… it was called Smuggler’s Den and it was only a 45 minute room instead of an hour…and….like 30 minutes of it happens in the PITCH BLACK DARK.

In the end, we escaped with 13 minutes to spare! Pretty good on a 45 minute room… we had some great teamwork…and Kegan really knocked this one out of the park. I don’t think I would have made it out on my own. Blindly feeling your way around a room for clues and items was totally different that the normal cerebral puzzles and visual clues, but Kegan was very methodical, sweeping the room around the perimeter and putting some texture items together way before I did. Norah was on “11” for the whole thing. I think the dark really freaked her out for a while. Every bump or nudge and she was like WHAT WAS THAT?? WHO’S THERE?? hahaha It was a little funny. She finally settled in about halfway through. She was so amped she was talking at extreme volume afterward. haha

Later after a walk back to the hotel, we ordered delivery Shake Shack from the shop down the street. It was so close, a guy literally walked it down to the hotel for us. haha No fancy dinner for us tonight- just good ole cheeseburgers and fries.

Tomorrow we’ll explore more of the French Quarter for the last day… and hit another Escape room….and dinner is a followup to Shaya- a booking at Saba, the newest restaurant in New Orleans by Chef Shaya. Since Shaya was one of our favorite meals EVER, we’re excited about that one and we don’t even know what is on the menu. ha

Day 5 – Treme, Congo Square, Willie Mae’s, Antoines

We started out today with coffee and pastries from the downstairs shop of the hotel. I shared this because the girl working put a little heart in Kegan’s cappuccino and told him he was just a pleasure to serve this morning. Kegan. A pleasure. If anyone has ever seen my husband prior to 9:30am or so, you will cackle out loud at this statement. haha He came back to the room and said “someone thinks I’m a pleasure in the mornings” LOL

Our plan today was to trek it from the southwest corner of downtown, to the French Quarter, winding our way up through it, then continuing through the TremĂ© neighborhood to some good fried chicken lunch at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a famous little chicken shack that might just have the best fried chicken in the country.

Norah thought this was amazing. I just see some inadequate government services. lol
We thought the stained glass windows on this building were neat.
Our first stop was Music Legends Park, which is an open space park with live jazz every day starting at 10 am.
However, this morning, they had it roped off and it was the seating area for the Cafe Beignet in the background… so maybe since Covid they have been using the tables as an outdoor dining space? Not sure… but I could only snap a photo of a few statues and the fountain.

We continued through the French Quarter to the Museum of Death.

It was a tiny little museum, probably a little overpriced in hindsight. Dedicated to all things dead. The front had taxidermy animals… then a serial killer room with letters and drawings and newspaper clippings from various serial killers over the years. Then some more macabre crime scene photos of famous murders, some African and tribal rituals involving death, like shrunken heads and carved animal skulls. They even had a small area on terrorism with video of 9/11 and a theater in the back corner with a running reel of black and white images of suicides, homicides and other gruesome deaths.

The girl at the front was a bit concerned we were bringing in a 9 year old… but I told her this kid was more morbid than I was. I said, Thank you, I do appreciate you letting us know- but we killed a deer this year and she kept asking to poke its eyeball. She’s going to be fine. ha And…she was. The girl replied with “I always wanted to stick my thumb in someone’s eye socket…… if you are good with it, I’m good with it!” She looked at some photos, but she wasn’t really super interested in most of it because it was just letters and small photos on the walls.. and we gave her the cell phone to play games while we watched the film, she wouldn’t have had a clue what was playing on the TV. She walked out no more scarred for life than she was when we walked in 🙂

I thought it was a bit boring…and really wasn’t that macabre or gross. I was disappointed. I don’t know what I expected or wanted. Maybe some actual gory color photographs, a video of a live autopsy, they had an embalming table there, maybe a video of the actual body preparation process?

There was only one small set of 4x6s in a case that I was actually surprised to see and had a “ooohhh, this is taboo” feel. They had the crime scene images from the murder of a woman, supposedly a Hollywood actress named Linda Carr (but I cant find a single Google link about anything with her name) who was found bound on her bed with a bag over her head. Those photos really piqued my interest…but that was about it.

We walked past a seemingly random statue of Benito Juarez, a former president of Mexico… but on further research, we learned that he spent two periods of exile for political reasons, living in New Orleans in this neighborhood. He worked in a tobacco factory and rolled cigars, wrote revolutionist papers from New Orleans and eventually, as part of a revolution, returned to Mexico and served on the Supreme Court. A couple years later, he was forced to leave again for New Orleans, but again returning, this time as the president in 1861. Mexico donated this statue to the city in the 1950s
Lafayette Cemetery #1 is still closed, but Kegan was tall enough to take some photos over the fence for me so I could see inside. Even the gates have a cloudy plastic over them so you cant see in. This is where Nicholas Cage purchased a pyramid tomb for his eventual death… and the famous tomb of the Voodoo queen Marie Laveau is here, although I couldn’t locate it on just a few snaps over the wall. Maybe next trip 🙂
We crossed into the historic Tremé neighborhood.

Tremé is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and was originally, in the 1700s, a part of a large plantation, but the landowner gifted land to the city and around 1810 it was founded and became the main neighborhood for New Orleans Free People of Color- a distinct class of people with mixed African, Native American and European roots- who usually had light skin, spoke French, and enjoyed full citizenship under the law if you were born free and to two free parents. The Free People of Color is a different legacy than the usual slave ship ancestry that brought most Africans to America. These people of mixed race background settled here from the West Indies or other French Territories and contributed greatly to the economy and culture of the area.

Treme is considered the oldest black neighborhood in America.

Our first stop was at a visitor center at Basin Street Station that had some historic signs and photographs

A photo of Allison “Big Chief Tootie” Montana. The man responsible for the shift from violence to pageantry for the Mardi Gras Indians. He was the “chief of chiefs” for over 50 years until his death in 2005. Originally the Mardi Gras Indians were a group of violent people- who would execute revenge during carnival to their enemies. They would dress up in carnival suits for disguise, stab or kill someone they had been waiting to seek revenge on… and then disappear into a nearby bar to change clothes. They say there were always tons of disposed of and bloody costumes found after Mardi Gras from all the events of violence. Sort of sounds like The Purge in real life. Waiting all year to carry out your violent revenge during a set timeframe. Chief Tootie was the first to say “stop fighting with your guns, and start fighting with your costumes and your minds”. Now, different tribes compete every Mardi Gras for the best costumes, with feathers and jewels, bright colors- all handmade, made over the full year leading up to Mardi Gras. Chief Tootie believed if you had to work all year on your costume, you would be distracted from other events that might lead you down a dark path…and also, you wouldn’t want to throw away your beautiful costume or get it dirty with blood carrying out revenge plots and fighting.

Wikipedia summed up the Mardi Gras Indian tradition better than I could:

The start of Carnival involves the Chief marching in the back of his tribe, while non-costumed followers trail behind the Indians, known as a second line. Ahead of the tribe is a “Spyboy” who is a block or two ahead. He will motion to the “Flagboy” if the road ahead is clear or not. The “Flagboy” will then alert the chief.[11] The chief will then make the decision as to what road to take. Because of the ambiguous nature of the Indians, there is no telling what path they make take around New Orleans. This makes finding their exact location difficult to pinpoint each year. When two tribes meet each other on the same path, they will have a battle. This battle no longer involves bloodshed and weapons, but chanting and dancing, as well as an informal competition as to which chief has the “prettiest” suit.[10] The chants are in a native language, and can tell a story, shared experience or taunt the opposing tribe. The relationships between the tribes have become calm since the work that Tootie did with changing the traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians.

That led us down the street to Louis Armstrong Park and to Congo Square.

Congo Square is basically the birth of music as we know it. Under French law or Code Noir (Black Code) enslaved Africans were required to be given 6 hours for recreation on Sundays. They began gathering here, playing music, selling goods, preforming healing or voodoo rituals- earning their own money- to eventually buy their freedom and the freedoms of their family. They learned French here, too, from some of the free people of color who wanted to help enslaved people escape slavery.
As we looked at a few sculptures, a guy came up to us and decided we were getting a tour from him lol just started talking, telling us the history of the square, the park, the neighborhood. He knew his stuff though! Mandela the Storytella was his name. We hung out with him for probably 20 minutes hearing about his plans for the future, the city’s history, etc before tipping him and going on about our day. I had to respect the hustle. He had printouts of historic events and people and maps, he knew a LOT about history… he knew we’d be the type he could corner and talk to. Ha but end of the day, it was a good experience.
Statue dedicated to Big Chief Tootie
The big man himself, Louis Armstrong. Satchmo the Great.

Louis Armstrong is from New Orleans. Born in 1901, he got in trouble at a very young age of about 10 for firing a gun in the air on New Year’s eve and was sent to a group home. There he was given a choice to learn the cornet and then he could pick any instrument he wanted to play. He learned the cornet, tried out the drums and eventually landed on a trumpet as his instrument of choice. He grew up mastering trumpet and as a young man, followed his mentor King Oliver to Chicago to play in the Creole Jazz Band. Eventually he was recruited to New York to form his own bands and lead… and the rest is history. Records, jazz shows, television… we all know Louis Armstrong’s songs, voice and talent. He eventually settled in Queens but always reconnected with New Orleans. He was even the king of the Zulu krewe at Mardi Gras one year. He really did clear the path for all future Jazz and black musicians… they don’t call him Pops for nothing.

A statue dedicated to Sidney Bechet. You can’t downplay the importance of Sidney Bechet either. He was a fantastic clarinet player around the time of Louis Armstrong, too. He played in New Orleans before touring the country and then eventually London and France. He was jailed in France for 11 months for accidentally shooting a woman when he was aiming for another musician who said he played the wrong chord. He eventually played at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. He never learned to read sheet music, in all his years of music… very interesting.
Statue dedicated to Charles “Buddy” Bolden. Buddy Bolden really is the father of jazz. A cornet player, he was one of the first musicians from like 1900-1910 who was know for playing loud, improvising….combining ragtime with the blues, creating the “Big Four” beat that is the basis for most early jazz. By the age of 30, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent his life in a mental institution…
Across from Louis Armstrong Park is an unassuming yellow building with a plaque on the front… this is where Cosimo Matassa opened J&M studio and recorded some very famous songs. Tutti Frutti by Little Richard was laid down inside this building, along with nearly every Fats Domino song you know. Jerry Lee Lewis saved up his money and travelled down here to record his first songs, 5 years before recording with Sun records. The studio closed for good in 1974, but is now a historic marker for its significance.

We continued our walk further into the Tremé neighborhood until we arrived at the Saint Augustine Catholic Church- the oldest black catholic parish in the US. Established by the free people of color, who also bought pews for slaves, back in that time there were pew fees, so they would pay extra so enslaved blacks could attend.

The church was closed when we arrived, sadly… but the pews are all originals from the mid 1800s. There is a pink stone alter that is hundreds of years old. The stained glass windows are all imported from France and depict 5 male saints on one side and 5 female saints on the other side.

Sidney Bechet was a parishioner here. So was Big Chief Tootie, So was Homer Plessy (of the famous Plessy v Ferguson court case on segregation that rules “separate but equal” was OK).

The archdioceses was set to close St Augustine in 2005, but parishioners asked hurricane volunteers to help them protest and they barricaded themselves inside the church. The catholic church decided to “reconsider” and placed the church on probation status pending they fix some falling down elements of the building, address falling attendance, etc. They made the repairs, they applied for grants, and in 2009, the building was finally removed from the probation list of potential church closures.

Our walk continued through a large portion of the Tremé neighborhood and on up into Lafitte as we worked our way toward lunch.

Dooky Chase’s. A famous landmark restaurant in New Orleans and an icon of the civil rights movement. Thurgood Marshall, a local attorney… as well as Martin Luther King and company used to take meals here when in the area, discussing business and strategy in the upstairs dining room. Leah Chase- the wife of the owner, became known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine and ran the restaurant from the 1950s through 2019 when she died at the age of 96. Barack Obama ate here in 2008 with her and famously got in trouble for putting hot sauce in her gumbo before he tasted it. ha Even presidents have to follow Ms. Chase’s rules.
We were headed to Willie Mae’s Scotch House. Another famous establishment…and might very well be the best fried chicken in the whole United States. We waited for quite a while, placed a take out order, waited another long while… so the chicken would have had to be pretty good to make up for all that touristy waiting… and it really was. They slather the chicken with a spicy creole spread of some kind before they bread and fry it… and it was outstanding. A tad greasy if I was getting super picky… but it’s fried chicken. Their cornbread was great… their fried shrimp was great. A very satisfying lunch.

After lunch, we had completed our itinerary for the day until time to eat again (notice a pattern here this week? ha eat. eat. eat. ) So we sat in the room and watched the original Matrix movie with Norah because she’s been begging to watch it so she can watch the new Matrix Revolutions. She loved it.

We ventured back out after dark and walked back into the French Quarter in the direction of Antoine’s Restaurant.

Antoine’s has been a restaurant here since 1840. Owned by the SAME FAMILY. Mind blowing. That’s through the Civil War, 2 World Wars, Prohibition, Vietnam, Katrina…. they have weathered it all. They have 14 dining rooms… it is an incredibly huge operation.

From their website:  Lining the walls are photographs of the rich and famous who have feasted amid the splendor … musicians, politicians, military personnel, sports figures, royalty … the list is endless. It includes George Bush, Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Kate Hudson, Jimmy Buffet, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby to name just a few!

For starters, we got the Soufflé Potatoes. So light and airy, the third preparation just makes them puff up like a soufflé is what our waiter told us. Norah was sold. And she ate the whole plate.
Oysters Rockefeller. Literally invented at THIS restaurant- and still a closely guarded secret for the Rockefeller sauce. Named that way because the sauce was so rich, it had to be a Rockefeller. Most places do Oysters Rockefeller with spinach and cheese- but Antoine’s says their recipe has no spinach.
We also got the seafood duo at the recommendation of the waiter. It was a crab salad and a cold shrimp cocktail in a remoulade sauce.. nothing terribly inventive… but if this was on the menu “as is” in the 1800s- I’m sure it was an incredible dining experience.
For my main, I got the Filet- I hate to say it, but it was the worst part of everything. It had no salt, no marinade. It tasted like it was cooked in a non stick skillet. It was a grocery store filet with no flavor. Terribly underwhelming.
Kegan ordered the Pompano Pontchartrain which was a pompano fish with a sweet buttery crab on top. It was very good.
Norah got the kids Shrimp and fries. And the shrimp was AMAZING.
Norah made a friend from the next table over from South Dakota. She was also 9 and talked more than Norah. They would have gotten along so great if they had more time to spend together.
The highlight of the meal. The famous Baked Alaska dessert they are known for.
It did not disappoint, and almost made up for the fact that my steak was terrible. lol Very, very good mix of pound cake, vanilla ice cream, toasted meringue and a fantastic chocolate sauce. Really regretting not finishing that as I write this…. lol

Our last stop for the evening was Escape Room #8,054 lol. This time at a new venue called The Escape Game. We did The Playground where you have to complete your report card by completing various subjects before the deadline so you can make it to the big kickball game! We made it with 13 minutes left and our game guide said he was shocked we made it out, most people with only 3 people (because it is a big space for 12 people) only make it to the second room. He said he basically thought “whatever” when we walked in and said we didn’t want help and we had a 100% track record and it was just us 2 with a kid. But… we changed his mind. lol He gave us a discount on a room tomorrow night and he’s our guide again… so we’re looking forward to doing The Heist where we steal artwork.

We walked back to our hotel…this time Canal street was all lit up with Christmas lights. Very pretty

Tomorrow we are being proper tourists and hitting some major tourist points like Jackson Square, Cafe Du Monde, some Voodoo Shoppes… should be fun if I can keep Kegan from wanting to murder all the other inconsiderate tourists. ha

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