For photos of this day’s post, click here…
My day started with brunch at another local institution – a cafe called the Ruby Slipper. It’s housed in a huge, grand, double-storey brick building on a corner, and inside is just as impressive. High ceilings, grand sweeping bar, boothed seating. However whilst I was worried this would make the place intimidating or expensive, it was reassuringly casual and the menu mid-priced and with an amazing range. I’ll say it again – they really do food well here.
I’ve not yet had a disappointing meal, and the options of ‘classics’ are so endless that I don’t think I’l tick everything off whilst I’m here. Because whilst I came with a traditional list of NOLA / Cajun food to explore: Po Boys, Beignets, Crab, shrimp, Gumbo. With every new place I try, there’s more ‘classics’ that are unknown to me, but iconic to the city or eatery.
I do always endeavour to try a signature dish at each new place – and at the Ruby Slipper, they had several to choose from on their huge very appealing menu. But I went for the Banas Foster Pain Perdu – which is very flamboyant, wonderful, rendition of French toast. French Toast made with fresh brioche, with rum flambayed bananas and raisins, apple smoked bacon and maple sypup. I was worried it might be too heavy to sweet – but, as ever, it was perfect. The bread light and fluffy. The rum taking the edge off the sweetness. And not at all greasy or fatty. To go with it I had to have their signature mimosa – the Ruby Slipper. Bubbles with orange and pomegranate juice – shining just like a ruby in it’s goblet sized serving.
As I went to leave, the heavens literally opened up in a massive storm of a downpour. That would have drenched me in seconds, on my bike. So I returned to the bar seating for half an hour, had a coffee and read my book. It rains a lot here, but it’s always relatively fleeting, as it usually is in humid tropical locations. So it just pays to sit it out. Though other tourists in the cafe insisted in going back out in it, which seemed stupid. You’re on holiday, just relax, eh. You can wait thirty minutes!
Top of my list of things wanting to check out, was the Backstreet museum. A small mueseum set in a house, dedicated to black culture of NOLA, specifically Mardi Gras Indians and Jazz Funerals. The black culture here is everything, it’s not NOLA without it. We wouldn’t have jazz, or the food or well, anything without that influence, and it’s important to respect this and learn about the traditions and history.
The museum, as mentioned, is really just four rooms in a house, in the historically significant Treme neighbourhood, which is just tucked behind the French Quarter. It’s a modest $10 to enter, and whilst not the flashiest of exhibitions, it’s all genuine, lovingly put together and very informative. I like mueueums like that. One half of the house is the Mardi Gras side – with loads of amazing Indian costumes, photos and memorabilia. The costumes are just mind blowing in their detail and artistic skill. Every bead, every sequin, every feather hand applied. Such an inspiration. A Chief costume takes all year to make, and is only worn on that day. They are such things of beauty and I feel very lucky to have seen so many up close like that.
The other half of the museum is dedicated to the Jazz funeral and funeral traditions in NOLA. This is something I’ve always found fascinating and loved learning more and seeing the tributes, t-shirts and associated mementos. The Jazz Funeral is split into two parts – the sombre parade leaading the casket to the grave. Then once the body has been released into the tomb, the upbeat music starts, along with the second line, which anyone can join, behind the mourners and band. It’s a beautiful tradition and makes you look at Western funerals and feel a little dismayed at how soulless they are.
One block over from the Backstreet museum is Louis Armstrong park – a beautiful big space with many lovely trees, paths to explore, ponds, bridges, fountains and sculpture commemorating the founders and story of Jazz. At the heart of of the park, is the hugely important Congo Square. A large cobbled open space, surrounded by huge twisted low hanging trees, and shady benches. Slaves would be given Sunday’s off, and whilst not allowed to gather in other public spaces, they would cross over from the French Quarter, where the wealthy homes that kept them were, and gather in the square to play music and dance. Before too long the wealthy would come over to watch the hundreds of slaves as a form of entertainment, and really it was a huge milestone in the birth of Jazz. It is a beautiful park and a nice place to linger and pause for a few minutes.
Then onto another historic spot, a bar called Napoleons’s House. It was a grand building, in the heart of the wealthy French Quarter, that was offered to Napoleon as his new ‘free world’ home, however he died before he ever got to accept the offer and make it there. It’s run as a bar since and has been meticulously maintained in it’s original form with a lovely courtyard, and shabby washed walls, chandeliers, classical music, and dark wooden bar. The bar is famous for it’s Pimms cup (not very French, but I won’t question it!) so I took a rest at the bar, had a refreshing Pimms and the ice cream dessert Cassata, in it’s multi coloured glory.
And then, a simple jaunt next door, to the Pharmacy Museum for my last historical stop of the day. I love medical related museums. There’s always lots of weird, wonderful and grotesque not to mention row upon row of fabulous old bottles and faded labels for quirky potions and ailments. For $5 this museum was a steal, and though small packed quite a punch. There’s everything from weird metal instruments, love potions, voodoo dolls, beautiful glass jars and bottles and the history of alcohol in medicine and and things like Absinthe and wormwood. Out the back is a beautiful courtyard with a fountain. I love the courtyards tucked away out back of these French Quarter houses, They’re so private and romantic, I picture myself out here, 100 years ago, in an amazing frock, being serenaded poetry and drinking gin cups.
After returning home for a jazz nap, then back out for a few sets down Frenchman Street, including another amazing brass band on the street corner – that was the day.
Although as I write this now, I’m feeling a bit worse for wear this morning and sleep devoid. As I got home last night, this really very huge dragonfly got inside and refused to leave, flapping around all night. Then at about 1am, made the mistake of turning on the light to try and see it, only to be greeted by the multiple cockroaches that were on the walls and ceiling. I’d seen them outside, at night, in their tens, especially around the cat food – but naively let myself think there weren’t any inside. Big mistake. As an English girl, who lives in the South Island of NZ, I’ve led a very privileged life free of bugs, cockroaches and significant spiders. So I do not handle them well, and led to a night of anxiety picturing them crawling over me! Ah, never mind, I’ll get over it. I know they’re harmless, but still.
Onwards we go!