Our third day in New Orleans and we’re still the Only Europeans Left Alive in the whole state of Louisiana, or so we thought until we crossed some Italian guys today. Other than that, almost all tourists here are American, with a few Asian and Latin American representatives. It’s an odd feeling when all the streets here have the Spanish coat of arms on the walls with their former Spanish names.
Today was all about the culture, now that the museums are open again. We began with the Historic New Orleans Collection, a two-floor museum about the history of the city. The ground floor is dedicated to US president Andrew Jackson, who gained fame as a general by winning the Battle of New Orleans against the British. The top floor has a room for each phase of Louisiana’s history, starting with the French and Spanish colonial eras (turns out Louisiana was given by the French to the Spanish, then the Spanish gave it back after a few years, and then the French sold it to the US a mere three weeks afterwards! They must have kept the receipt), the antebellum period, the Civil War, and so on through the roaring twenties. It’s an interesting collection, and they have lots of original documents to illustrate the times, up to and including the actual Louisiana Purchase. Plus it’s free of charge!
Next up we went to the Presbytere, one of the buildings immediately to the sides of St Louis cathedral. These buildings now belong to the Louisiana State Museum, and this one in particular houses a Hurricane Katrina exhibition on the ground floor and another one for Mardi Gras on the first floor (or, first floor and second floor respectively, in American-speak). The Katrina exhibition is a sobering account of everything that led to the 2005 floods, and how the city coped with the aftermath. I really appreciated the fact that it was uncompromising and recognised the responsibility of all levels of government in the poor maintenance of the levees, the insufficient response after the fact and the inequality of government help for the reconstruction.
One of the exhibits features the walls of a man who wrote a diary of the hurricane on them:
The Mardi Gras galleries, on the other hand, are a colourful summary of the traditions, history and customs of the New Orleans carnival, with costumes, historical photographs, dress designs… Also interesting! And being right there in Jackson Square, you shouldn’t miss it!
Lastly, we visited the 1850 House, which is also right there in Jackson Square, in one of the Pontalba buildings. It’s one residential house furnished to represent what houses looked like for the middle class of the 19th century. It’s just two floors and you can see it literally in a few minutes, but it’s only $3, so if you’re around it’s worth a peek.
All this culture and all this walking inside museums was exhausting, so we walked back to our house via Esplanade Avenue, to rest our feet and make time before going out again.
The last adventure for the day was trying to attend a concert at Preservation Hall, one of the most famous jazz venues in town. They play every night and it’s only $15 a ticket, so there’s plenty of chances, but of course everybody else is trying to attend a show too! We arrived on site off Bourbon Street a solid hour before the start of the show and even then we were among the last people to be let in. The 10-year-old kid in front and the two of us were the only sober people in the queue, this being N.O… on a Tuesday at 7PM.
Preservation Hall is the most Spartan music experience I’ve had so far: it’s one tiny room, wooden floors and brick walls, no stage, just a few chairs for the audience while everybody else has to stand, no microphones or speakers or anything else. Just the musicians, their instruments, and us. They had drums, piano, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, and upright bass, and they sounded absolutely fantastic. I liked that it was barebones and that the focus was on the music, but at least they could let the audience sit! I don’t know how authentic or skillful the music was, but I felt transported, and that was everything I wanted from a New Orleans jazz recital.
Tomorrow: we’re off to see plantations!