Sunday, May 9, 2010

Voodoo Priests and Bourbon Street Adventures in New Orleans


Attending seminars and conferences is a large part of a teacher's professional development. A first-year teacher learns this quickly. But most first-year teachers don't get to attend conferences internationally, which is something I found myself doing during my first year at my little rural school. This conference, held in New Orleans of all places, was something my principal was keen to attend, but didn't want to attend alone. Two other new teachers and myself joked about going with him to 'supervise' him, not realizing we'd actually be able to. But one week before March break, we found ourselves packing our bags to head to the 'Big Easy' for a week of sessions, sight-seeing, and even a few leprechaun sightings!

Strolling Bourbon Street with some lucky leprechauns!  Anything can happen in the Big Easy!

Canada in March is cold. Too cold. I'm not really a lover of winter weather. So when we landed in New Orleans, I rejoiced: the sun was hot, the air warm and humid. I shed my coat instantly. We checked into our hotel, a fancy place about one block away from famed Bourbon Street, and two blocks away from Canal Street, ensuring we had a nice, central location for everything we wanted to do. We dropped off our bags and then decided to map out our area, finding the conference area and seeing what was nearby for tourist trappings. We strolled along Canal Street, and reached the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. A majestic paddleboat was parked along the dock, advertising a dinner and theatre evening. We were excited to try that (but in reality, never did... next time!)

Outside the Creole Queen boat on the Mighty Mississippi.

We found the conference center, one block away from a giant mall that was built parallel to the water. Inside the mall, we were pleasantly surprised to find that margaritas, daiquiris, and huge mugs of beer were cheap and made to go! We filled up with our drink of choice, and headed back down Canal Street, sipping them contentedly.  We noted how truly close we were to Bourbon Street, and walked down its length. In the day, it is fairly unremarkable, boasting many, many liquor stores and bars, and more than a few sleazy strip joints. We stopped at a little seafood restaurant called "Oceania" and I had the greatest crab cakes of my life.

The rest of the first evening, we bounced from place to place, working our way down Bourbon Street. We even bought some cheap masks and beads in the spirit of New Orleans!

Our beautiful Bourbon Street masks!

The next morning, we were up early and out to our conference, which was very well organized. The second night of our trip, we just wandered the streets of the French Quarter, soaking in the unique and exciting atmosphere of the city. Street performers are a common sight on the streets, and we were lucky enough to see a live old-school jazz band performing on a street corner.




We also saw some well-polished break dancers, who slid on their heads and did other amazing tricks. We visited the casino, and my boss won $300 with ONE spin on the slot machine... disgusting. We couldn't whine about it though, since he took us out for a fresh lobster and seafood dinner with his winnings!

Other things we did while in the Big Easy included a wild St. Patrick's Day celebration, where the two other girls and I battled for beads - without flashing any part of our bodies - and I got kidnapped by an inebriated gentleman, who shoved me on his float and tried to drive away with me. We visited the IMAX theatre and learned about all the environmental issues that were associated with the famous Hurricane Katrina.

The result of our bead competition - all done while keeping our dignity intact, thank you very much!

On the afternoon of day four, I got on the wrong trolley, and instead of being delivered to the conference center, I headed the opposite direction down St. Charles Street, which was actually a plus. I was able to see all the traditional southern mansions, Emeril's first restaurant, Loyola University where they train all those classic southern lawyers, and I befriended a charming older New Orleans native named Ray, who took me to a wonderful restaurant called "The Carmelina Grill", which is a favorite for New Orleans residents, but kept a secret. We ate outside on the levy, now repaired after breaking during Hurricane Katrina. After saying goodbye to Ray, I took the trolley back the way I had come, and realized that I'd missed the last afternoon session at the conference center.

A typical apartment in the French Quarter - very beautiful!

While waiting for my group to return, I explored some of the side streets in the French Quarter and found Lafitte's Bar, the oldest bar in town, opened originally by pirates and is now, supposedly, a gay bar. I didn't go in, so I can't say for sure.

Lafitte's, a historical landmark in the French Quarter.

I discovered the voodoo museum, which outlined the history of voodoo and had a real life practitioner living upstairs. He was very friendly and open about what he did for a living, and I went up to visit his pet albino python, who slept in a dog basket in the corner of his living room. He made me a few 'trinkets' for luck and money, and a poppet, or voodoo doll, for future use should I need it. I still have everything, but have never used the poppet!

Creepy voodoo poppets, apparently still 'active'.

My group and I also went for an early evening swamp tour. A bus picked us up at our hotel, and drove us out of New Orleans to a small Creole fishing village that offered swamp tours to see alligators, swamp life, and the after-effects of the hurricane. We saw four giant alligators, some snakes, a heron that eats alligators by pecking through their skulls, and some gorgeous scenery and vegetation. Our captain was incredibly experienced and informed, and entertained us thoroughly the whole time. I would recommend a swamp tour for anyone heading to the Big Easy for a vacation.

Can YOU spot the gator?

Going home was a completely different story - not as enjoyable as my stay. Read about it here. But I do hope to head back to New Orleans one day, dragging my husband with me. It is now one of my favorite cities, and I know Joey would love it. Plus, I still have to ride that paddleboat!

All decked out for the St. Paddy's Day parade.

No comments:

Post a Comment