The One With the Cemeteries

When I was in New Orleans, I couldn’t help myself. As I passed the gates of St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, the tombs shaped like tiny houses invited me in. Like a friendly suburban neighborhood, they stood shoulder to shoulder in front of small sidewalks. The sidewalks lined paved streets. Some of the tombs had fresh flowers on the stoop. There were apartment-style tombs for those who couldn’t afford the stand-alone model, and there were large tombs for guild or league members like firemen and masons. It was a small city. A city for the dead.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 3

This cemetery was established in 1854 and was well tended. Most of the marble tombs gleamed white. There were no weeds and hardly any broken tablets. As I wandered up and down the lanes, I scanned the names and ages of death. Life was so much shorter back then.

Some tombs had ten or twelve names engraved on the tablet. How did all of those bodies fit inside? They can’t dig crypts below the tombs—the water table is too high. A guide told me this: A simple coffin is put in the tomb, which is then sealed with a closure tablet for a minimum of “one year and one day,” according to tradition. At the time of the next burial, the first body is removed from its coffin and placed in the rear or bottom of the tomb. The coffin of the next deceased is added and the first body can return to the earth. This process allows more people to be buried in a smaller area.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Twelve bodies are buried in this tomb dating from 1870 to 2014.

What happens if two people in the family die within the “one year and one day” period? Unfortunately this was common during epidemics like the yellow fever outbreaks that regularly swept through the city. (In 1853 nearly 8,000 New Orleanians lost their lives that year alone.)  In these cases the newly deceased would be laid to rest in a vault until the mourning period had ended and the person could be interred into the family tomb. These wall vaults were also used for poor families that couldn’t afford a larger tomb.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 3

Vaults for the poor or those waiting to be moved into the family tomb. These tablets are written in French. 

Some of the wealthier family tombs were made of marble with elaborate details, but most were constructed from inexpensive plastered brick.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 3

A quick hop on the streetcar and I was at the Lafayette Cemetery No 1. Established in 1833, it is the oldest of the city-operated cemeteries.  It is located in the Garden District, one of the wealthiest areas in New Orleans, but this cemetery was filled to capacity within decades of its opening—before the surrounding neighborhood reached its greatest affluence. More than 7,000 people are interred in this one city block.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

This cemetery had much more of a “spooky” vibe than the St. Louis Cemetery No. 3. Maybe it was because the day had turned rainy and gray, or because the weeds were overgrown, or because the plaster was caked with grime. Whatever the reason, I knew I didn’t want to be here after dark.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

This cemetery’s most famous residents are of the blood-sucking kind. Anne Rice’s vampire Lestat. among others, “lived” here, and Anne Rice herself lived around the corner. But I was far more interested in the everyday people, the ones who are all but forgotten to history, except for these markers that said they were here and that they “went about doing good.”

Part of the epitaph below reads: Dr. George S. Brown aged 76 years, died 1943 — “He went about doing good.” His son Grayson Hewitt Brown, aged nearly 20 years, died in WWI –“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Dr. George S. Brown aged 76 years — “He went about doing good.” His son Grayson Hewitt Brown, aged nearly 20 years, died in WWI –“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

If you’re planning a trip to New Orleans, check out Save Our Cemeteries, a non-profit group working to restore these historic cemeteries. They also offer tours.

Have you toured a cemetery? Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One with the Summer Reads

Long gone are the days when summer meant freedom to spend hours listening to my Walkman with the most difficult decision being what time to take a dip in the pool. So when I pick up a summer book, I like to keep things light. Fun setting, interesting characters, thoughtful plot, but nothing that distresses me as a reader.

Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project, by Graeme  What fun! Highly intelligent, socially awkward Don Tillman is associate professor at a university genetics department. (Reminding me of Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory.) Don is looking for a wife, and he decides to go about it in a very methodical way. He develops a very thorough questionnaire, but gets nowhere. Enter Rosie. She’s “not suitable” as Don would say. She meets none of his criteria. But, as a friend, he decides to help her find her biological father since he has extensive knowledge of DNA testing. Romance and hilarity ensue. If you’re taking a long car ride this summer, this is a perfect choice as an audio book.

Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin. Admittedly I’m a sucker for novels about bookstores and bookstore owners, but A.J. Fikry is my favorite to date. I wanted to pack my bags and move to Alice Island. While I loved the bookstore and island setting, the characters are the most memorable part of the story. Even the minor characters are endearing and charming. They feel like people you might know. This was a book I couldn’t wait to get back to and I find myself thinking about the characters long after I finished.

The VacationersThe Vacationers, by Emma Straub. The Posts and their friends are off for two weeks in Mallorca. It should be the vacation of a lifetime — Franny and Jim are celebrating their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, Sylvia is off to Brown in the fall — except things are not going well for anyone. But when seven people stay in the cottage for fourteen days secrets and old hurts are going to bubble to the surface. How much information each character chooses to reveal and what they choose to keep hidden and how they choose to reveal the secrets of the others in the house kept me hooked. The opening pages are a bit slow, but stick with it — you’ll be rewarded!

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie–who is 600 miles away–because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die.

2 AM at the cat's pajamas2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino. True, this story takes place on Christmas Eve Eve, but nonetheless it’s a great summer read. Madeline Altimari is a smart and independent nine-year-old girl who just wants to sing. She’s not allowed to sing at the school pageant and she’s determined to get to The Cat’s Pajamas to make her stage debut. I loved Madeline’s sassiness. Sarina Greene, her teacher. is recently divorced and, despite her better judgment, accepts an invitation to a dinner party, where she knows she’ll run into her former flame. The dinner party scene was one of my favorites in this book. Then across town, at The Cat’s Pajamas, Lorca is about to lose his club. The fines from numerous violations of city codes are mounting and he doesn’t have the money to pay his debts. This was an entertaining and light read.

And two I plan to read this summer: 

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee. I can’t technically recommend this because it doesn’t release until July, but this has to be the most highly anticipated book of the summer. The story picks up 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird as Scout returns to Maycomb and her father, Atticus. From the jacket copy: “Scout struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.” Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird.

Little Paris BookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. Okay, another novel about a bookstore. But a bookstore — on a barge — on the Seine? Yes, please. Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened. Releases in June 2015.

Any summer reads you’d recommend? Share in the comments. 

Friday Five (or More)

It’s time for the Friday Five!

Letting Go of Things. What would you do if you were traveling around New Zealand for three weeks and everything you’d brought with you was stolen on day one? Lovely post by Alison Turner on detaching from “stuff” and making the best of it anyway. (Also check out her “vanscape” photos from New Zealand.)

Do you hate deciding what to wear? Spend a ridiculous amount of time in front of the closet? 8 reasons some people choose to wear the same thing every day, including having to make fewer decisions.

A CEO cuts his wages by 90 percent to increase the starting salary for his employees. No, this isn’t in The Onion. One Company’s Minimum Wage: $70,000 a Year.  

Or what if your job was to paint the Golden Gate Bridge? It’s never ending, apparently.  

The Moral Bucket List. A New York Times op-ed piece by David Brooks. “I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.” What do you think?

Planning your summer vacation? “Taking the Kids” columnist Eileen Ogintz has tips from nearly 20 years on the road in this NY Times Q&A.

Feeling stressed? Anxious? Don’t worry…

Don't Worry, Be Yonce

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With the High Line

Occasionally I break out my fanny pack (just kidding) and white sneakers (kidding again) and pretend to be a tourist in my town. Come along with me as I walk the High Line, an old elevated train line now converted into a New York City park.

It opened in 1934 along the west side of Manhattan connecting a busy manufacturing district from Spring Street to 34th Street. The last train ran in 1980 and the elevated tracks sat unused for more than two decades. After a lot of red tape and design plans, the first section of the High Line opened as a park in 2009 with the rest of the park opening in stages until 2014.

I started at the southern end by taking the stairs up from 14th Street. The High Line is about three stories up.

Stairs leading up from the street level.

Stairs leading up from the street level.

As soon as I got to the park level, I was greeted by an abundance of trees and plants in bloom.

You can still see the old train tracks.

You can still see the old train tracks.

Highline

Highline

Many of the plants chosen were inspired by the “self-seeded” landscape that grew on the tracks during the 25 years after the trains stopped running.

The Highline feels like a cross between a park and a botanic garden.

The High Line feels like a cross between a park and a botanic garden.

The tracks were originally designed to travel through the center of blocks rather than over the avenue the way most elevated tracks run, so the buildings are very close and sometimes cantilevered over the tracks themselves. When the line was in operation, this neighborhood was industrial. There’s not much industry going on here now, but this has become a desirable (read: expensive) place to live and work. Such is the way of things! Many of these buildings are residences or office complexes.

Highline

A nice patch of green grass -- that you can't walk on.

A nice patch of green grass — that you can’t walk on.

There are plenty of areas to take a load off.

There are plenty of areas to take a break…

and lots of great views...

and lots of great skyline views…

and cityscapes...

and lots of cityscapes…

and lots of art installations.

and lots of art installations.

To walk the entire length of the High Line is about a half mile, but there are multiple entry/exit points along the way. There are also coffee stands and snack bars. Come early or late in the day as the midday sun can be punishing in the warm months. I bet it’s lovely at dusk just as the sun is setting across the Hudson River, which you can see from several points along the path.

Other Tourist in My Town posts.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With New Orleans

Last Friday I kicked off a fun quiz and invited y’all to guess where in the world I was. Many of you guessed correctly—the Big Easy: New Orleans! A special mention goes to T.B. Markinson and Lorraine Kleinwaks for guessing right on the first day.

I’d been to New Orleans once before, during Mardi Gras. I was 18. The city has a decidedly different feel when masked people aren’t throwing plastic beads at you from atop floats. I hope you enjoy a short photo tour of the city.

Mardi Gras beads adorn fences and light posts all year long.

Mardi Gras beads adorn fences and light posts all year long.

Home in the Garden District

Home in the Garden District. I could show a dozen photos of homes — each more gorgeous than the next. 

This is one of the few surviving "cornstalk" wrought iron fences in New Orleans.

This is one of the few surviving “cornstalk” wrought iron fences in New Orleans. This style was one of the most expensive to produce. 

Having drinks on the porch at The Columns hotel and watching the streetcars pass.

Having drinks on the porch at The Columns hotel and watching the streetcars pass. Highly recommended! 

Reggie hanging out on the Mississippi River levee.

Reggie hanging out on the Mississippi River levee. The levees on the Mississippi River have been expanded since Hurricane Katrina. 

Lovely French Quarter digs.

Lovely French Quarter digs.

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral on a rainy morning.

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral on a rainy morning, but…

that didn't stop me from waiting in line at Cafe du Monde.

that didn’t stop me from waiting in line at Cafe du Monde for beignets. Cafe du Monde might serve other items, but I never thought to look at a menu.

Word of advice: do not wear black while eating beignets. Beignets are fried dough covered with powdered sugar. They might serve other items at Cafe du Monde, but I never thought to look at a menu.

Word of advice: do not wear black while eating beignets. Beignets are fried dough covered with powdered sugar. 

Grilled pecan pie at the Camellia Grill, a greasy spoon in the Carrollton neighborhood. This was easily the best thing I ate in New Orleans.  The best time to go is after midnight. Even then, expect a line.

Grilled pecan pie at the Camellia Grill, a greasy spoon in the Carrollton neighborhood. The place was closed after Hurricane Katrina until April 2007. The front door was covered with hundreds of notes from neighbors who missed it.
This was easily the best thing I ate in New Orleans. The best time to go is after midnight. Even then, expect a line.

Sinful.

I was told this was calorie-free. What?!?

Hansen's is a hole-in-the-wall bungalow on . They serve snow cones to which you can add a variety of flavors...

Hansen’s is a hole-in-the-wall bungalow on Tchoupitoulas Street opened by Ernest and Mary Hansen in 1939. Now the place is run by their granddaughter. They serve snow cones to which you can add a variety of flavors…

I chose cream of nectar. It doesn't look like much, but it's refreshing on a hot day.

I chose cream of nectar. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s refreshing on a hot day.

I can't leave you without a grainy photo from a night out in the Marigny neighborhood, listening to the well-known Kermit Ruffins on horn.

I can’t leave you without a grainy photo from a night out in the Marigny neighborhood listening to the charming Kermit Ruffins on horn. Yes, he is wearing blue suede shoes. 

Thank you for posting your answers. You helped raise $54.00 for Rebuilding Together New Orleans, an organization that helps repair and rebuild homes for people in need using a combination of volunteers and professional labor.

Have you been to New Orleans? Have a great weekend, everyone!