A Trip to New Orleans – Part 2

As I mentioned, my intent in going to New Orleans was to experience Halloween in the land of Mardi Gras and “Laissez les bons temps rouler”. Whenever one travels a significant distance, for either business or pleasure, it behooves one to inspect the weather prognostication for one’s destination. Things didn’t look good for me. The morning of my departure, the forecast was for rain all weekend. I brought my umbrella with me, of course. Friday before Halloween, the local newscasters were noting that a large number of planned Trick-or-Treat activities had been moved up to that night, since heavy rains were predicted for Saturday night.

It started raining around 5 pm. By dusk, the rain was heavy and blowing. After Game 4 of the World Series ended, I resolved to at least take a stroll along Bourbon Street to see what was what.

I saw a lot of people in costume who looked decidedly uncomfortable as they hurried along their way to wherever they were going. Not much partying in sight. And then I stepped in an ankle-deep puddle. I had already had to change clothes after venturing out for dinner; this was too much. I went back to my hotel and called it a night.

Fortunately, there’s enough to see and do in the Big Easy so that if one of your planned activities gets washed out, you can still have fun.

One of the more interesting places to visit is the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium on Canal St. It’s a combination museum and zoo for insects. SEE real live leafcutter ants! Stick insects! Dung beetles! And if you’re there at the right time, you can snack on some of them! There’s a daily program where chefs prepare food using insects in a cafe they call “Bug Appétit”. By pure chance, I visited during the hours when that place was closed for lunch…

There are a number of exhibits on dealing with insect pests. Being stuck in a river delta, New Orleans has been cursed with mosquitoes – and the diseases they bring. The area is “ground zero” for insect pest control research.

After looking at all the exhibits on the sheer variety of insects, and their often amazing beauty, the best is saved for last. An “airlock” lets you enter the Butterfly Garden… A mock-up of a Japanese garden, the air is filled with dozens upon dozens of exotic butterflies chosen for their size and color. And presumably ease of captive breeding, as the staff will tell you that their average lifespan is two weeks (and not because of the visitors; it’s just the natural way of things).

In the planning phase of my trip, I looked online for walking tours. I settled on the “Brothels, Bordellos and Ladies of the Night” from Two Chicks Walking Tours. Christine took us around the French Quarter, telling us about the local history of prostitution. The city is OK with that side of its past (not so much the present – one thing you’ll rarely note in any of the tourism guides is that Bourbon Street is where all the strip clubs are). We stopped at May Baily’s for a Pimm’s Cup. It’s a bar that used to be a well-known bordello, and they proudly display photographs and other memorabilia on the walls.

Of course, being a major tourist destination, New Orleans is filled with ads for all manner of local tours. There’s the usual French Quarter, Garden District, Cemetery, and Voodoo tours. And the Katrina tours, where inconsiderate tourists can visit sites of major devastation and gape at the still-unrecovered neighborhoods.

I’m not that ghoulish. If you want to satisfy your morbid curiosity, a visit to the Museum of Death is the thing to do. On 227 Dauphine, it’s a recently opened “branch museum” of the one in Hollywood. It’s got a quite creepy collection of artifacts relating to death and dying. Shrunken heads, weapons from cannibal tribesmen, letters from serial killers, autopsy and embalming kits… The “lightest” things were a collection of promotional items – matchbooks, shoehorns, combs, etc. – from funeral homes and morticians. It’s most decidedly NOT for the faint of heart, but it’s also unlike any other museum around….

With the possible exception of the Voodoo Museum. An extremely dense collection of artifacts in two very tiny rooms (and a hallway), it’s also an active house of worship. Anything not covered by an object is covered with coins – offerings to the spirits from devotees. Voodoo is a real faith, and it’s a lot more than just dolls and zombies.

Of course, there’s also the National World War 2 Museum. But I’m going to save that for my next post….

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