Melody's conference didn't start until the afternoon, so we did a walking tour of the Garden District in the morning. In the afternoon, I went to Jackson Square, walked along the waterfront, visited the Insectarium, and met up with Melody for dinner.
If you’ve followed along with previous trips, you’ll know we often do self-guided walking tours; we did another one, this time of the Garden District. The first stop was a former skating rink which has been converted to retail, which seemed to work out really well. The stores didn’t have heavy traffic, but the café and (especially) the restrooms were popular.
We skipped the next item on the list (gasp!) but since the tour made a loop, we would go through the Lafayette Cemetery #1 at the end.
The rest of the tour covered architecture and history of the area. As we walked the path, we kept running into several groups of people doing their own tours, crossing paths with some of them several times. We also saw a couple of tour groups, which made it easy to confirm which house we should be looking at.
The architecture of the buildings we saw was in various styles, but the metalwork gave them all the distinct New Orleans feel. The tops of the columns of metalwork had “Romeo spikes”, so named because they were installed to keep young men from women’s rooms.
A couple of the homes on the tour were owned by famous people, including Anne Rice (an author who also does frequent signings at the bookstore in The Rink), Archie Manning (former Saints quarterback), John Goodman (previously owned by Trent Reznor), and Sandra Bullock (she rarely stays there but let’s other celebrities do so.)
Pop culture was another theme. Django Unchained was filmed at the Women’s Guild Opera House, Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion was based on the house on the corner of First and Coliseum, and Anne Rice’s Witching Hour trilogy was based on the House at First and Chestnut.
The house where Jefferson Davis died was also on the tour.
There were some small details which I enjoyed. One house had a fence that looked like cornstalks. Another was one of the first chain link fence designs, but it was all welded iron, so isn’t flexible like we think of chain link today. We even saw a working gas lamp along the side of a house.
Finished with the walking tour, we crossed the street to the cemetery.
Lafayette Cemetery #1
Even though there was quite a bit of information in the Garden District tour, we did a separate walking tour for Lafayette Cemetery #1.
The Lafayette cemetery got its name from the to-be city of Lafayette which became the Garden District. There are still burials to this day there, even though it’s approaching two hundred years of use.
The tombs are raised to take frequent flooding into account, but nor all of them are above-ground crypts. Many are low to the ground, like very thick slabs. Others, coping tombs, are similar to a raised bed in a garden, some of those with soil from the occupants’ homelands. There are also vaults along the entrance walls, which are used either as a temporary resting place or a less expensive alternative to a large family tomb. We didn’t see any indication that cremated remains are in the cemetery.
There used to be one unused tomb which used to be open so you could see inside, but it has since been closed with brick. Before, you could see a shelf where the occupant is placed. The remains of any previous occupant are bagged and placed below.
Some of the notable tombs were for a Judge John Ferguson (of the Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal case”,) a blank space where a prop tomb was built for the movie Double Jeopardy (the #1 on the front gate was changed to #3, too,) and a cast iron tomb which was the model for a prop tomb used in Interview with the Vampire.
After we left the cemetery we went back to The Rink to have a quick lunch. We then walked to Canal Street so Melody could go to the conference and I continued to play tourist.
As I got closer to Jackson Square, it was easy to tell so because there were several performers between the Square and Saint Louis Cathedral.
Jackson Square is surrounded by a fence but the statue of Andrew Jackson in the middle is the focal point for not only the square but also the buildings around it. Flanking Saint Louis Cathedral are the matching Cabildo and Presbytère buildings, where I started.
The Presbytère was built on the site of the residence (the presbytère) of the Capuchin monks. It started as a commercial building until the 1830s at which time it became a courthouse. It became part of the Louisiana State Museum in 1911.
There were two permanent exhibits in the building. On the first floor was a retrospective of how Hurricane Katrina impacted the city and its recovery. One section was about the levees and the science behind them. There were several hands-on exhibits, similar to what you would find at a science center.
At the end was a video which used many screens, several which had coverings to make them look like divided windows. They did a really good job of sometimes taking advantage of the divisions by putting different images in each part, other times using the whole screen.
The second floor had exhibits and artifacts about Mardi Gras. Many costumes and masks were on display. I also noticed a display about Muses shoes, making the connection that the host where we're staying has a couple shelves of Muses shoes in the room were in.
The Cabildo was built during the period of Spanish rule in the late 18th century and was the site where the United States finalized its acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase. It became part of the Louisiana State Museum in 1908, a few years before the Presbytère. It was restored after a 1988 fire using 14th-century French timber framing techniques.
The main exhibit was celebrating New Orleans’ 300th anniversary, with lots of memorabilia from the city’s history. It was quite a mix, from a cast iron column capital to a huge portrait of Napoléon.
On the side of Jackson Square opposite Saint Louis Cathedral is Washington Artillery Park, and on the other two sides are the Upper and Lower Pontalba buildings. They're of a different architecture than the cathedral and the Presbytère/Cabildo pair but still fit in. In the Lower Pontalba is the 1850 House, which recreates how an upper-middle-class family would have lived in the middle of the 19th century. You enter through a gift shop, then go into the courtyard in the back to enter the vestibule to take the stairs. After viewing the rooms on the second and third floors, you go out and down the back staircase to the kitchen, and finally, back down to the courtyard.
After exiting the 1850 House, I went back to Jackson Square to figure out what I should do next. Café Dumonde was right there, and since we had beignets at Café Beignet the night before, I thought it would be good to compare the two. The take-out line was only a few people long, but since there were plenty of open tables, I took a seat and a minute or so later I had fresh beignets in front of me. They tasted very similar to the ones from the night before, but not quite as hot. They still had good crispiness on the outside, though, and I'd need to try them again to take day-to-day variation out of the equation. Another time, I guess. I only had one of the three beignets so I put the others into the provided bag. I knew they wouldn't be as good later on, but would probably still be pretty good.
Done with my snack, I went across Washington Artillery Park to the path along the waterfront and started going west. On my list of possible things to do was a steamboat cruise, so I took a closer look at things while walking past the dock for one of the boats (the boat wasn't docked, being out on a cruise). While it would be interesting to be on the Mississippi and explore the boat, I realized I was more interested in seeing the boat moving along the river. Even so, it was still something to keep in mind for later in the week.
The next thing I went past was the aquarium. I knew I didn't need to meet Melody for dinner until after the aquarium closed, but I wasn't sure if I could see everything in less than an hour and a half, so that went onto the “maybe later” list. I did see that the Insectarium wasn't very far, so I headed there.
Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
Before going into the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium I checked the ticket prices. I saw that I could save $3 by buying online, so I did the purchase on my phone before walking in the door. Since the Insectarium is in the U.S. Customs House, a federal building, there was security screening on the way in. Once past that, I had my ticket scanned then went inside. There was an impressive array of insects on display, both mounted and live. I spent more time watching the leafcutter ants move around than I thought would, impressed with the large size of leaf cuttings they were carrying.
I enjoyed the exhibit with mounted insects arranged in various arrangements representing the different continents, such as a dragon representing Asia. The use of shape and color was very creative.
The final room is the butterfly garden, which wasn't nearly as humid as I anticipated (showing, I suppose, that it was more humid outside than I realized). The whole exhibit was like a big Japanese garden, complete with a low bridge over a small pond with koi in it. Even the ceiling was painted like the sky; I asked the docent if the butterflies got confused when they landed on the sky, but he took my question more seriously than I intended, saying they probably didn't know it was the sky. Ah well.
I still had some extra time, so I took a quick spin through the Canal Place mall since I always like checking out how escalators are arranged.
Next, I walked over to Lafayette Square, complete with sculptures of Henry Clay, John McDonogh, and Benjamin Franklin. By the time I was heading back to the conference hotel, Melody let me know she was done for the day.
Dinner and the evening
Since this was Melody's first time at the American Translator's Association conference, she was paired with a buddy to help with navigating the conference and as a source of introductions. She chose one of her former teachers, Caitlin, and the plan was to meet up for dinner. However, Caitlin's flight was extremely delayed, so we punted and went to find a place to eat.
We ended up going a block away to Mr. Ed's Oyster Bar & Fish House, ordering red beans and rice as well as a bowl of gumbo. Both were really good, but we decided to concentrate on the gumbo and get a box for the beans and rice we didn't eat. There was enough left that we could have with breakfast the next day.
As we were finishing up, Melody got a message from Caitlin saying they made it, so we went to chat with them in the hotel bar. It was fun chatting and meeting the people who stopped by to say hi. It wasn't too long, however, before we were ready to head back so we could settle in for the night.