Everyone should have a great love affair with a city.
A love affair that rivals Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak’s in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – its passionate and crazy and always leaves you guessing.
Mine is with New Orleans.
A city full of debauchery, excitement, and thrill.
And let’s be honest, booze – lots of booze.
I hate to put a cliche to it, but you truly never know what’s going to happen when you’re there.
My love affair with New Orleans began when I was 13.
My father took my brother and I to the French Quarter.
We went in the daytime, otherwise, I too, like you probably are now, would be questioning his parenting skills for taking a 13 year old and an 8 year old to the quarter.
One look at all that architecture and I was hooked.
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There is a spirit in New Orleans that you just can’t quite describe.
You either love it or you hate it.
There can be no gray area with this city.
I am madly in love with it – and not just with the architecture anymore.
I am madly in love with the lore of Marie Laveau and her voodoo, the legends of Storyville and Norma Wallace, The Last Madam, the cities of the dead, the sound of jazz in the air and the ghostly whispers of great writers that once walked the quarter.
When I drug Grunt Labor there for the first time, he balked at me as I left pennies on Marie’s grave, followed by a visit to the voodoo temple to buy vesta powder, sage, and brick dust.
The day he came home and found me scattering the brick dust across our threshold and waving burning sage through our beloved foreclosure, I’m pretty sure he was ready to call the psychiatric ward.
We haven’t had any evil spirits here yet. Just sayin’.
Grunt Labor and I had to cash in some unused plane tickets before the new year. We had one weekend to jet away and only one place made sense: NOLA.
We left on a Friday at noon and were enjoying drinks and BBQ shrimp (a messy, but must-have dish) in the quarter by 7pm.
We spent too much money, ate too many beignets, drank too much bourbon, and walked it all off perusing the quarter.
And the best absolute my-life-is-now-complete thing about this trip?
I got to go in a whorehouse.
One of the most fascinating things to me about New Orleans is its history of vice.
I devour books on Storyville (New Orlean’s Red Light District in the early 1900’s).
My absolute favorite tale of prostitution in New Orleans in the one of The Last Madam, Norma Wallace. I have read the book three times now. I will read it at least 100 more times before I die.
Norma Wallace was, as the title of the book states, The Last Madam of New Orleans. She ran her upscale house of prostitution until the mid 60’s. She entertained movie stars, gangsters, and high political officials. There wasn’t a better house than The Queen’s.
Armed with my book in hand, Grunt Labor and I set out to see her last residence in the quarter where she entertained: 1026 Conti Street, coincidentally (or not?), also once the house of E.J. Bellocq, the famed photographer of Storyville. As we walked down Conti, I was worried the house may no longer be standing while I was frantically scoping out house numbers.
But it was still standing.
I snapped a few pictures of the front of the house, the sign hanging on it, and then realized someone was coming out of the door. I apologized for being that corny tourist and started to walk away.
But then something amazing happened.
One of the men coming out of the house was Mark Boline.
A broker who just so happened to be the broker for the apartments which 1026 Conti have become.
A ridiculously nice man that asked if we would like a tour.
I nearly wet myself.
As Grunt Labor gives me the look of, Are you crazy?! Should we really be going into a house with a man we don’t know in a city that’s crazy as hell?!, I followed the man inside the house.
I may die in the whorehouse, but damn it, I’ll die crossing something off the bucket list.
Mr. Mark Boline was completely harmless – and totally made this girl’s
day year. Thank you, sir.
The entryway is lined with paintings and photographs remembering the past owners of the residence, Norma Wallace and E.J. Bellocq.
The painting on the left was done from one of the famed photographs E.J. Bellocq took in Storyville. The top right picture is of two paintings that grace the wall – one of Norma Wallace and one of E.J. Bellocq. The bottom right picture is a series of photographs of Norma and the residence.
The courtyard was nothing short of stunning.
The area of the courtyard photographed above is actually much longer – I just couldn’t get a good shot. If I remember correctly, Mr. Boline said that area was where Ms. Wallace’s girls would perform their “shows.” I’ll let you read the book to learn more about those shows.
Mr. Boline showed us one of the units available to rent. In that certain unit was the place, Norma would stash her cash:
I was thrilled to see they had preserved it. Of course in her day, a brick would have covered the hiding spot.
In this same apartment was the side door of the house where Norma would pay off the police.
She would hand it right through the door and carry on with business.
This is the kitchen of that apartment.
I was taking photos with my phone, thus the blurriness – I had left my camera at home as I had promised I wouldn’t do any photography for work, but ya know, when duty calls… Anyway, these apartments are small, but have beautiful high end finishes.
Upon leaving the whorehouse, Grunt Labor put his arm around me, laughed and said, “Well, I guess nothing else we ever do in New Orleans will top this.”
But I’ll still go back to my beloved city. I just can’t get enough.
Here are our favorite things to do in the city, photos and commentaries included. 🙂
Must Do’s in New Orleans:
1. Peruse the quarter, preferably with coffee from Cafe du Monde or booze in hand. Bask in the architecture.
And then bask a little more.
2. Have a breakfast of cafe au lait and beignets (french doughnuts) at Cafe du Monde.
And then go back a couple hours later for more.
3. Dance to a jazz band in the street.
And then leave them a few dollars.
4. Walk down Bourbon Street at least once in the daytime and once in the nighttime.
This should also be done drink-in-hand. People watch – you won’t believe the stuff you’ll see at night.
5. Visit Faulkner House Books where, yes, William Faulkner once lived.
Take in all the fine literature here, buy a book or two – I suggest a Faulkner or New Orleans one as a souvenir.
6. Visit a City of the Dead
New Orleans cemeteries are known as cities of the dead. I think you can see why from the photo. If you have never been to NOLA before, I highly suggest taking a cemetery tour. Going alone on your first visit isn’t the best idea. Some of the cemeteries are not safe.
If you visit St. Louis #1, leave some pennies or gifts on Mrs. Laveau’s tomb. It can’t hurt.
7. Take the St. Charles Street Car to the Garden District
Peruse the garden district. Take in all the beautiful mansions.
If you have read any of the Anne Rice Mayfair Witches books, many of the places in those books are in this district.
8. Visit the Roosevelt Hotel, preferably at Christmas time.
This was suggested to me by Kim from O is for Organize, and boy was she right on. This hotel is stunning at Christmas.
I also couldn’t resist this old letter box in the hotel.
9. Stop in at NOLA Couture.
This is a new favorite shop Grunt Labor and I discovered on our recent trip. Pick up a classy bow tie for your man and an out-of-this-world good smelling candle inspired by none other than the city of sin itself.
10. Visit the address where Marie Laveau once lived.
Her house is no longer standing, another one is in its place, but its still worth the walk.
11. Have a cigar in the quarter.
According to Grunt Labor, the cigar shops in NOLA are pretty good. This visit, we stopped in at the Cigar Factory on Bourbon Street.
12. Drive out to River Road and visit an old Plantation.
Grunt Labor and I didn’t have time to do this on our recent visit, but the time before we drove out to River Road (I think it was about a 45 minute drive out of the city) to tour a plantation. The one pictured above is Oak Alley Plantation (you’ve probably seen it in movies before). We just stopped at it and looked around, but didn’t tour the inside. However, we did tour a creole plantation, Laura, and we throughly enjoyed it.
Books I Love about New Orleans & Their Characters:
The Last Madam by Christine Wiltz – hands down, my favorite book.
Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches Series
Voodoo in New Orleans, Robert Tallant
Storyville, New Orleans, Al Rose – This book contains many of the famed Storyville photographs taken by E.J. Bellocq.
Empire of Sin, Gary Krist- Just got my hands on this one, but I think its going to be great.
If you have any suggestions on things to see in New Orleans or books to read, please leave them in the comments!
More posts about Southern travel:
Things to Do in Nashville – probably my 2nd favorite southern city!
Isle of Palms Beach Vacation – no traffic like in Florida!
Fried Green Tomatoes Road Trip – visit the place where the movie was filmed!
Jimmy Carter Sunday school in Plains, Georgia – attend a Sunday school class taught by former President Carter.
You know you don’t wanna miss any of this crazy.
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