Reykjavik’s Thriving Street Art Culture

my god its full of stars

acorn

black and white

creeper

dont panic

face peeping between buildings

faces

fish and hair tendrils

I was so thrilled by the art everywhere on Reykjavik streets–peeping around corners of buildings, on parking structures, even on temporary wooden boards meant to hide construction. Everywhere I looked, there was more art, and I tried to look everywhere, behind apartment buildings, down side streets, only chickening out at the prospect of climbing a teeny tiny ladder to get on top of a particularly art-covered building. I’m sure I still only saw a small portion. At one point, I was trying to navigate a path to get a closer view of one building and slipped on the ice, falling onto my purse so hard that all the air whoofed out of me. I was certain that I’d managed to break my phone, my camera, and no fewer than three ribs, but luckily, nothing broke. The only damage was a massive Iceland-shaped bruise that bloomed on my side, which turned shockingly purple with even darker tectonic plate lines which lined up with a seam on my pants. In other words, super cute. Also, as a mature adult, every time I felt an ache in that area for the rest of the trip, I would moan “Oooooh, my ass-land”, which never stopped being funny for me because I was overtired for the entire trip, but probably got old for Jason on the second or third repetition. The thing that deeply bummed me out were the instances when an otherwise beautiful mural was tagged with things like “faggot” and “kill your fucking self”, because if you can’t contribute, why not destroy something, right?

There’s so much more art after the cut, including some of my favorites! Continue reading

The Viking Horses of Iceland

viking horses frosted glass

My flight to Iceland departed on a Thursday afternoon and arrived bright and early on a Friday morning. In order to prepare for the time change and make the most of my time there, I thought it was best if I went to bed late on Wednesday, woke up very early on Thursday (3:30am early) and had no caffeine all day so I’d be good and ready to sleep on the flight. I dragged ass allllll day. Then the flight was delayed for three hours due to mechanical problems, so I had to put off sleeptime even further, looking longingly at the airport Dilettante cafe and all of the happy, perky people sipping their delicious mochas. By the time I boarded the plane, I was good and ready to sleep…only to discover that my seat was in the last row before the toilets and thus didn’t have the option to recline even a fraction of an inch. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The seats in front of me, of course, reclined just fine. Maybe farther than normal, even, because I felt like the man in front of me was practically sitting in my lap. I’m not generally one to feel claustrophobic on planes, but the seat situation coupled with my extreme tiredness was a bridge too far.  Have you ever been so tired that you didn’t know whether to cry or go limp and boneless in despair? That was me, except I was too dehydrated to cry and strapped into a seat with two inches of breathing room in front of my face, there wasn’t enough room for my bonelessness to achieve its full dramatic effect. The flight was just over seven hours and of that, I got maybe two hours of terrible, terrible sleep.

But somehow, that two hours was enough for me to rally once I landed in Iceland. After getting through customs and taking the bus from the airport to my hotel in Reykjavík, Jason and I had only a couple of hours to spend before it was time for the horseback riding excursion I’d booked, and since we couldn’t check into our room yet, instead it was just enough time to fuel up with a sandwich and black coffee at Sandholt beforehand. Our ride leader, Viggó, who looked every inch the tall blonde Nordic gentleman you’d expect from hearing that name, picked us up promptly from our hotel at the previously agreed-upon time and drove us to the Viking Horses stables, where I got to meet my very first Icelandic horses.

Icelandic horses are unique; the breed has spent 1,000 years in isolation after originally being brought to Iceland by Norse settlers. In fact, they are the only breed of horse found on Iceland. No horses are allowed to be imported to the island (no livestock at all, actually), and horses that have been exported cannot return; this is to protect the breed as any new disease has the potential to be absolutely devastating. As a result of their breed isolation, Icelandic horses are much shorter than your average horse, more akin to the size of a pony, but with the strength and stamina of a horse. They’ve got full manes and tails and a double coat to protect them against the weather, and in winter, this means that they are so shaggy and adorable that they can make a full grown woman in her thirties squeal with delight at first sight (I’m talking about me, of course). Their personalities are the best, too–not easily spooked (no predators in Iceland), willing to work, and so flipping sweet they could make a diabetic keel over while they inquisitively nuzzle and nose into their way into his coat pockets. This is a horse that moves into a hug instead of backing away and going “whoa there, human, let’s  maintain that personal space bubble, shall we?”. What I’m saying is, I love them. I love love love love them. 

curious

shaggy chops

At the stables, after I managed to tear myself away from the horses, we met the two other people riding on the afternoon tour–some lovely British girls on holiday. We chatted a bit and then it was time to suit up and ride. If you don’t have all the proper clothing, Viking Horses has a great stock of loaner clothing–my fleece lined water resistant pants were stuffed into my suitcase, so I grabbed a pair of their loaners to go over my jeans so I wouldn’t get cold and horsey. When we went back outside, we introduced ourselves to the horses we were going to ride in the pen by grooming them a bit, and then it was time to mount up and head out. This ride marked a couple of firsts for me: the first time I’ve ever ridden in an English saddle, and the first time I was able to get up on a horse without standing on a box (especially impressive because with two pairs of pants on, my leg mobility was more than a little diminished). All of the horses in the group were named after Icelandic features, except for mine, Neo, who was named after The Matrix. I can be trusted to pick out the trenchcoat wearing goth in any given group. Small (even by Icelandic standards), dark, and oh-so-shaggy, I wanted to minify him even further, put him in my pocket, and steal him away.

hekla

Our tour was the afternoon Mjölnir tour, which is a one and a half hour ride through Hólmsheiði hill and around the Rauðhólar pseudocraters–the deep red iron-rich rocks in the lava fields outside of Reykjavík. It seemed to be a popular riding area, as we saw several single riders and one very large group. One of the single riders joined us briefly, riding one of the most strikingly beautiful black horses I’ve ever seen, and without thinking, I complimented him on his horse in English. He agreed with me in Icelandic, and as ridiculous as this sounds, it kind of made my day that he understood me and I understood him. Not that I would have known how to compliment him in Icelandic, anyway, because I am awful and learned about five words before I went and was reticent to use them in case I screwed up and insulted someone when I meant to thank them. It’s actually deeply embarrassing how well nearly everyone I encountered in Iceland speaks English, when I know that given my five years of Spanish classes, I could barely direct a Spanish-speaking tourist in Seattle to the baño if need be, much less educate them about the geographical history of the area.

 

riding icelandic horses

red rocks iceland

ride scenery

It was a gorgeously crisp day outside, and the snow crunched delightfully underfoot. On a clear day, you can can see a semicircle of mountains surrounding the area as well as Reykjavík city. It was a bit cloudy during my ride, so no mountains, but it was scenic nonetheless. I was able to pop out my phone on the ride for a few quick shots, but I was primarily concerned with keeping my seat, unlike Viggó who was able to whip around in his saddle and snap photos of the group. While it’s true that Icelandic horses are more comfortable and less bouncy to ride, a bit like a moving couch, when riding English style not only do you have no saddle horn to grab onto if things get hairy, you also have one fewer hand with which to grab since they’re both on the reins. And things indeed got a little hairy–one of the Brits and I were dawdling toward the back of the group, and I decided to try and catch up, which meant passing the other horse, Hekla, named after an Icelandic volcano, also known as “the gateway to hell”. Hekla decided this meant we were racing, and both horses broke out into a gallop and I lost a stirrup, at which point I fully resigned myself to the idea that I was going to go flying off Neo’s back. Somehow, that did not happen and I regained control just before I would have crashed into the rest of the horses, but the shame of doing pretty much everything wrong in those few seconds lingered with me, because shame never really leaves me, it just hangs out in the background waiting for a quiet moment to resurface. Maybe as late as 20 years later. Maybe longer.

neo

om nom nom

aww sweet face

grooming

they see me rollin they hatin

i whip my hair back and forth

sweet face

horse pats

After we got back to the stable, the horses were unsaddled and they promptly began to roll in the snow, groom one another, and shamelessly beg for human affection. After we’d had enough pats and hugs, we were invited inside for an Icelandic snack–thick skyr loaded with plump blueberries and fresh cream, Icelandic flatbread and cheese, hot coffee, tea, and a slice of dense chocolate cake. We all chatted a bit more and I did my best to not bring shame to America by inhaling everything on the table and making loud, obnoxious jokes…I made softer obnoxious jokes instead. The Brits were on the tail end of their holiday while we were still at the very start of ours, and they told us the trouble they’d had with their rental car; namely that they were unused to driving in snow and went offroad almost immediately, with nothing to dig themselves out. One mentioned her utter loathing of tea and her inability to make a decent cup of it, which surprised me because I thought that was the sort of attitude that got you personally booted out by the Queen while she splashes boiling water in your face and makes a suggestion not to let the door hit you in the arse on your way out, but I guess I was wrong. So far they’d struck out catching a glimpse of the northern lights, and were giving it one last go that night. I wished them luck (a bit selfish as I was also going aurora hunting that night so clear skies benefited me as well) and we went our separate ways, them driving off and Svava, the Viking Horses manager, giving us a lift back to our hotel, but not before recommending several different heated pools we could frequent on our trip.

viking horses base of operations

light lunch

viking horses instagramEvidently this is my horseback riding shirt.

piano skull

greatest picture frame

a little light readingA bit of light reading.

I researched a lot of different horseback riding companies in Iceland before settling on Viking Horses for a few different reasons–I liked their Sleipnir logo which indicated to me that they embraced their cultural history, their commitment to small group riding (immeasurably better than huge nose-to-tail groups), from stalking a number of website photos their horses appeared to be the cutest (an important consideration), and far be it for me to say no to free lunch. I was ultimately thrilled with my decision to book with them. They responded to my messages quickly, they were so warm and inviting, and it was the perfect start to my time in Iceland. Takk!

Goofing Off On the Lewis & Clark Trail

commemoration stone

curious flat fish

quote rock

whale skeleton long beach

whale skeleton

whale wood sculpture

whale barnacles

sturgeon statue

forward

lewis and clark sturgeon

sturgeon rider

sturgeon riding

oh hello there

In Long Beach, nestled between the beach on one side and the shop on the other is the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail, loaded with statues and other items (including a gray whale skeleton!) commemorating their first contact with the Pacific Ocean. The trail connects nearby Ilwaco (home of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center) and Long Beach, a place in which I’ve engaged in many shenanigans but somehow had never seen this before, maybe because it didn’t involve riding down flights of stairs on an air mattress or shooting unsuspecting friends with a marshmallow gun. The trail itself is 8.5 miles long, but owing to having just hiked a bunch at Cape Disappointment, I wasn’t ready to dedicate myself to the entire thing. I’m thinking this summer, I’ll strap my bike to the back of the car and bike it. For now, just goofing around on a sturgeon will have to suffice.

A Cruise to Tillicum Village

 

Leave it to me to book a trip to Tillicum Village on a date when an enormous windstorm hits the city. The water seemed pretty choppy on the ride over to Blake Island, but not insane storm worthy, so I was surprised when the Argosy crew announced that the island had lost power and everyone was going to try and make do by candlelight as the food was already cooked. Uh oh.

Given the aforementioned “make do” information, I was all set to have this be a sort of medicore experience, a half-assed version of the full-priced experience I’d paid for, AAA discount nonwithstanding. It was actually intimate and charming. We were still greeted with a mug of piping hot steamed clams in nectar upon our arrival, the shells of which we crunched underfoot to add to the pathway to the longhouse. We were seated right by the stage, next to an elderly couple who split their wine flight with us as the wife insisted the husband couldn’t handle all of it himself. The food was all delicious–the salmon (sustainable), the stew, the rice, the bread, the blackberry cobbler made with locally sourced berries–we stuffed ourselves.

The performances were likely quieter than normal, and with no light effects or other distractions, I could really focus on how special it was to be there in that moment. I’m glad that it seems like everything done as part of Tillicum Village is executed with respect and care. The native stories were told by Roger Fernandes, a member and storyteller of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. The songs and dances were used with the permission of the native familes to whom they belong, which is really important–it’s why I took no photos, because they’re not mine to share with you. They also made sure to note that while you see totems on the property, they are actually not part of the traditions of the coast Salish people of Puget Sound and are actually sourced from the coastal tribes of British Columbia and Alaska. My expectations of the day were defied in every way, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

On our way back from the island, I checked my phone and saw that my area was entirely without power as well, a friend had lost a good portion of her roof, and she was driving over to my place to make sure a tree hadn’t crushed my dog (for the record, he remains uncrushed). The power was out for the remainder of the day, and I was grateful I’d stuffed myself on salmon earlier because even after spending 11 days in a blackout, I’m still terrible at stocking food you can eat straight from the pantry. Thank you, Tillicum Village.

It’s OK I guess: A trip to Cape Disappointment

cape disappointment

fogI thought it was pretty funny that they printed a sign for fog.

dense fogBut by gum, they were right, that fog was front and center. Evidently, it’s one of the foggiest places in the United States. Take that, San Francisco, and eat it with your regional treat!

dragonfly

lewis and clark interpretive center

use a dogs nose

dead mans cove

 

jason at dead mans cove

lighthouse at cape disappointment

lighthouse

jason lighthouse

mossy building

jason mossy building

lewis and clark cliff

poop rockPossibly the poopiest rock of all time.

As with a number of things on my 33 list, I didn’t have a big pressing reason to add visiting Cape Disappointment to its number. I’d never been, it sounded scenic, it was within a reasonable driving distance, hey, let’s go. It’s actually not a disappointment at all, between the superb Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and the miles of hiking trails in Cape Disappointment State Park. We hiked from the interpretive center to the lighthouse which took us past the picturesque Dead Man’s Cove (man, everything here has such a cheery name, I can’t wait to visit Butt Rot Park and Misery Peak, maybe Mediocre Cliffs if there’s time). The lighthouse is a working lighthouse as the nearby Columbia River bar is extremely hazardous, so a sign sternly informed us to leave the coast guard the fuck alone and get the hell out of the way of any cars driving up and down the path.

I thought it was funny that in the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, there was a “lighthouse passport” with insane levels of achievement for collecting lighthouse stamps (seriously, I could spend the rest of my life’s vacations solely visiting lighthouses and I don’t think it would be possible to collect 420 unique lighthouse stamps…shit, I’m struggling with 33 activities in a year!)  and then when we got to the lighthouse, there was no actual stamper on site and I didn’t want to distract the coast guard for something as frivolous as a stamp for a book that I didn’t even buy. It turns out that a lot of the stamps for visiting the lighthouses are at locations other than the lighthouse, which means that you have to visit two places for every one stamp, and that half the achievement is just figuring out where in the hell you’re supposed to go for your stamp. What I’m saying is, filling a lighthouse passport will not be on my 34 list.

This didn’t deserve its own post: New Orleans

 

When I take a trip somewhere, if I don’t do a day-by-day recounting, there’s usually a bunch of tidbits left over that I either couldn’t write more than a few sentences about or don’t have any photos for or would drag out the series far beyond what any human could be expected to tolerate or that would involve telling more personal stories about people who haven’t necessarily agreed to have their lives permanently archived on my blog just because we’re friends. All combined, however, they make for something a little more substantial, so here’s yet another one, this time about New Orleans.

tom cruise movie set

street decorations

I arrived in New Orleans after sunset and ravenous. I immediately headed out to get dinner at Muriel’s, and since I had a little time to kill before my reservation, I wandered around the area and saw that the next street over was closed off for filming. A crew member told me they were working on a new Tom Cruise film with a Halloween parade, and while that he personally was not allowed to take pictures, I could be as nosy as I wanted to be as long as I didn’t cross the street barriers.  The next day, I noted that entire area was decked out for Halloween, so I’m glad I was a little nosy and asked questions otherwise I would have been wondering what was up with all of the cobwebs, pumpkins, and skeletons in mid-December.

view of jackson square from artillery park

st louis cathedral

bird bath

mississippi sunset

Every list of New Orleans must-dos includes a visit to Cafe du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee. I’m nearly convinced that all of these publishers must be getting kickbacks from Cafe du Monde as neither thing is all that great…and that’s being charitable. It’s an overly powdered sugared sorta soggy doughnut with mediocre coffee from a shop where the service blows ass and you can either battle people at the shop for a powdered sugar covered seat or you can do like we did and find a bench along the Mississippi and be hassled by people who would like nothing better than an opportunity to tell you where you got dem shoes because your powdered sugar covered face points you out as an easy target. I think some tourist things become staples for a reason and that no one should be ashamed of doing touristy stuff on their trips, but I also think you could safely cross this one off your list and find a better beignet within easy walking distance. The sweet potato beignets at SoBou, for instance, which have a chicory glaze and are to-die for, which you can pair with a twenty five cent martini at lunch and live like a drunken lunch king.

You can also pass on the flea market down the street, which is essentially tables and tables full of the same stuff over and over again. One person near the entrance was working us hard on a stone tea set, saying how rare it was and that we’d never again see its like…so it must have just been intense deja vu when we saw the exact same set at the other end of the market. Everywhere there are signs insisting you don’t take photos, and I have to assume it’s because they don’t want people to see how crappy their wares are and just how much of it you could find on alibaba if you were motivated.

muffuletta

For a great non-drunken lunch, I really enjoyed the central grocery muffuletta. It’s a little different (and spelled differently) from the muffo-lotta sandwich of the italian deli of my youth, but still rich, meaty, and delicious, with the world’s best sandwich bread. And sizable at that, we split a half sandwich between three people and were good until dinner. I’m not typically an olive lover, but this sandwich is an exception.

battle of new orleans photo op

I wasn’t as taken with the Cabildo museum as I was the Presbytere. I think mainly I just wasn’t in the mood for it–a combination of being hot and tired and full and wanting a nap which didn’t play well with enthusiasm for learning. They did have one of Andrew Jackson’s coats on display which was pretty cool, and a video about the various presentations of The Buccaneer and how it contrasted with the real Jean Lafitte. I’m also glad they didn’t shy away from the history of slavery in the state–it would have been so easy to just conveniently ignore how the state and the wealth in it was actually built. History can be so ugly and cruel and it’s important that we acknowledge it.

After I went to the Cabildo, I went into some antique shops along Royal Street, which are absolutely nothing like any antique store I’ve ever been in anywhere else in my life. All of the antique shops I’d been to prior to this were like upscale Goodwills–in exchange for being pretty sure you wouldn’t find poop crusted on anything, you’re charged a higher price for the same items you could probably find at a regular Goodwill if you weren’t all that concerned about maybe running into a rogue poo. I’m not actually certain I could afford anything in any of the antique shops on Royal Street. Following the adage of “if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it”, I didn’t bother to inquire. What I did ask, however, was to see the secret room at M.S. Rau Antiques. Everything in the store was already so elaborate and magnificent–furniture owned by flipping kings, jewelry owned by popes–that I  wondered what they would even bother to put in a secret room…the dregs, surely, and then somehow things got even more amazing and beautiful and rare. Marble sculpture. Alabaster sculpture–I’m not sure I’d ever even seen alabaster before that day. Multiple Monets. Their secret room is actually three floors of multimillion dollar art and furniture, like a museum you can buy and then have in your house and look at and touch whenever you want to. I wanted to touch everything. I’m sure I looked like a drooling yokel, but at least I managed to keep my arms pinned to my sides and not put my greasy powdered sugar monkey mitts on anything, though some paintings I did look at very closely. I’m so glad they did take me back there, as they could certainly tell by looking at me and my clothes that there was no way I was going to pull out a black card and tell them I’d take the lot.

sun and moon tray

I did consider pulling out the credit card for this sun and moon tray from Venice, but figure I’ll save that purchase for when I’m actually, you know, in Venice. Also it doesn’t go with anything in my house, but that’s a problem for post-Venice. A more New Orleans-based souvenir I did splash out for, however, was an old cast iron horse head hitching post topper that I found in the sort of antique shop I’m more accustomed to in the garden district. I didn’t find its match in the french quarter (the horses are different from street to street or even on the same block–some of them aren’t even metal anymore) and I can’t be sure it was ever out on a New Orleans street, but it reminds me of the lovely time I had there, and if it came down to brass tacks, I could probably kill a man with it if I had to, which can’t be said of most souvenirs.

wanted yelping butthead

Also in the garden district: H. Rault Locksmith, full of awesome hardware for the home, some new, some restored vintage, and a really cool unique selection of locking jewelry. The owner also has a very public dispute with some douchebag on Yelp, which I personally found delightful because I have some issues with Yelp myself. If I had more bag space or a clear idea of exactly how much hardware I needed, I would have totally invested in some cool vintage hardware for my house…I just may make a list before the next time I go to New Orleans and make this love affair official.

sucre desserts

Also ALSO in the garden district is Sucre, which I read has possibly the best macarons in the United States. I wouldn’t go that far, I actually prefer the ones at Mon Amie, but what was thrilling and kind of shocking was that I asked what flavor a macaron was as it wasn’t labeled, and they not only told me, but popped one over the counter for me to try. Seriously, free macaron, which probably cost them two cents in materials but it made my damn day. By the way, it was absinthe flavored and it was delicious. They had a number of really beautiful treats in their cases but I was already full and kind of on sugar overload from my earlier visit to District.  I ended up buying a variety pack of their NOLA inspired macaron flavors: bananas foster, chicory, pecan, and salted caramel and ate them all in the hotel bed, because I am a little piggy.

Speaking of the hotel, I stayed at the Hampton Inn New Orleans. The room was fine, the free wifi was a nice touch, I appreciated that the fridge was there for my use instead of crammed full of things to purchase, and my only complaint was something that I mocked as being ridiculous when I was searching for hotels to book. “Look at this guy, he’s complaining about the water pressure in the shower, what a manbaby.”  No, the babyman was correct, the water pressure in the shower was beyond terrible. It was like standing under a giant’s mouth, waiting for him to slowly dribble lukewarm spit on your head. I felt dirty the entire week. I probably stank. Sorry everyone. Sorry for judging you, babyman. Sorry for still calling you babyman even though you were completely correct, it’s the only name I know you by.

wino bar

At W.I.N.O., where you pay for wine by the ounce, we learned that Jason has a knack for picking out the least mouth pleasing wine at any given price point. My favorite wine of the evening was one that they said tasted like an Italian grandma’s hug. An expensive Italian grandma’s hug. Only cashmere for this granny, watch your saucy mouth before she goes in for a hug.

giant jenga

If you’ve been to a game bar, you basically know what Barcadia is like–I appreciated that they’re less slickly corporate than a Dave & Busters or Gameworks so you can have fun without feeling a vampiric drain on your wallet and you don’t need to load a card to play. It’s all quarters, like it should be.  I had so much fun hanging out with Carrie there, playing giant connect 4 and jenga, putting down a couple of deceptively delicious not-your-father’s root beers, getting ripped off on skee ball, and learning that we can both kick over our heads but that Carrie, being taller, could straight kick me in the face if she wanted to so I’d better watch my mouth. So I guess we’re still a little rock ‘n’ roll.

carousel bar  

A bar at which I sincerely hoped I would have fun but did not is the Carousel bar in the hotel Monteleone. I don’t know what fricking hour of what fricking day you need to go in order to get a seat at the actual rotating portion of the bar, but I can tell you it’s not worth the effort. I tried on at least three separate occasions, finally got a seat in the bar if not at the bar, got a mediocre sazerac which I paid out the wazoo for, and it was so loud inside that you couldn’t really have a conversation even if you wanted to. Blech. It was hyped as one of the top twenty bars in the world, which I guess means I’m not all that interested in checking out the other nineteen if this is the standard. You know where the best bar is–it’s the place that makes those drinks you like in comfortable surroundings with people whose company you enjoy. Before she ran away and joined the office and got promoted sixty times, the best bar for me was Pegasus because Carrie was there, mixing up grey. Now, the best bar is wherever we can hang out and be ourselves. Carousel is not that place.

bacon sundae       

Hidden down an alleyway in the French Quarter is Green Goddess. Unless you knew it was there, you could easily walk right past it. You shouldn’t, though. The dinner I had there was superb, but the best part was the bacon sundae. Oh my. Praise the lord and pass the caramel sauce.

lol

I laughed until I almost peed a little when I saw this sign at the Audubon Aquarium. The gulf of mexico, sponsored by the corporations who are actively destroying it! How about a healthy living exhibit, brought to you by Cheetos? This cancer ward sponsored by: lead paint! The last remaining ice floe, also brought to you by Exxon! This abomination against language, brought to you by me!

A stroll through Audubon Park

 

audubon bridge

american white ibis

audubon park

ducks

gnarled trees

audubon park sunset

 

It’s an easy ride on the green streetcar from canal street to Audubon park, across the street from Loyola and Tulane Universities. Our group started off in the late afternoon in search of the labyrinth and arrived at the park just as the sun was beginning to set, giving us gorgeous light to walk the 1.8 mile paved path around the park. Not many other people were out walking during that hour, which gave me leave to imagine that the park and its riot of birdsong was for us alone. We never found the labyrinth; it would have been too dark to navigate even if we had, but none of us minded. Around us we could see the warm flickering glow of the gas lamps outside of the garden district mansions and the brighter twinking of the christmas lights bedecking the same. It’s funny that I have so little to say about what was actually one of my favorite places in the city. I suppose sometimes words just aren’t necessary.

 

The voodoo that you do

le grande zombie

a gris gris for love

black cat juju

gator man

horse skull

human skulls

 

 

masks

papa la bas altar

rougarou

statue with mardi gras beads

statue with offerings

voodoo doll instructions

voodoo mask

voodoo museum

voodoo wishing stump

zombie whip

The Voodoo Museum was my consolation prize on my last day in New Orleans. I’d first and foremost planned to visit the Musee Conti Wax Museum before it permanently closed at the end of December, but the timing simply did not work out–we were either doing something else or there wasn’t enough time left in the day for a proper visit. So here it was, the last day of my trip, my very last opportunity, the museum was supposed to be open, and I waited outside. And waited. And waited. And tried to call. And waited. Eventually, someone came to the door and said that the museum probably wouldn’t be opening that day as they were having problems with their electricity. So I suppose it just wasn’t meant to be, although I can’t help but be a bit disappointed about it.

Instead, I set my sights on the Voodoo Museum, a three room museum packed to the gills with altars, gris gris, and just enough information about each thing to pique your curiosity. For $5, we had the run of the place, learning about the difference between Voodoo and Hoodoo (in essence quite similar with some differences–the former led by a voodoo queen and associated with the catholic church, the latter led by a spiritualist bishop in a separate church). That’s right–you read Catholic church. Voodoo as a spiritual practice is often associated with paganism and witchcraft especially as contrasted with white christianity, but Marie Laveau herself was a devout Catholic, ministering to the sick and dying of yellow fever, which plagued the city over the course of her lifetime.

As with all of these niche museums, it’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s bunk. For instance, in one section, they claimed that voodoo was a dancing religion, the purpose of which is to become possessed by the spirits via the transforming ecstasy of dancing, and that the musical rhythms call the spirits down which cause the dancers to eat, drink, sing, dance, smoke, and engage in sexual relations, and that a West African word for sex, jass, is the etymology behind “jazz”, which doesn’t actually seem to be true. So does that make the whole thing about voodoo being the “do it if it feels good, the spirits made me do it” religion suspect, or just the last bit? And that thing about Voodoo being Catholic and Hoodoo not…is that applicable to voodoo in general or just Louisiana voodoo or just Louisiana voodoo post Marie Laveau? Based on my limited internet research, it would seem that it was Marie Laveau who intermingled Catholicism and Voodoo and that people have carried on in her stead since, keeping and discarding the aspects that they personally believe properly align with the faith, which would make my previous statement about the difference between Hoodoo and Voodoo also suspect. I would have to do a lot more in-depth reading to make any definitive claims one way or another about the veracity of any information in the museum. The important thing is that now I know where to buy a zombie whip and how to make a proper voodoo doll.

Ahh, New Orleans. The Big Cheezy. Sweet Lady Gumbo. Old….Swampy.

the big cheezy

I love a good pun. And bad ones, too. So when I spotted The Big Cheezy on Google Maps as I was plotting out places that I wanted to visit on my trip, it immediately got added to the list. What’s not to love about grilled cheese sandwiches?

It was actually a bit of a struggle to get to the shop–I intended to take the streetcar the majority of the way there and walk the remaining few blocks, but literally two blocks into my ride, a truck tried to make a left turn in front of it, the streetcar couldn’t stop in time, and t-boned the truck pretty badly, really crunching the rear quarter. The driver of the truck just drove away, she didn’t even look back. Even though everyone seemed fine and the streetcar itself had very little damage, we had to wait for the transportation authorities to arrive, and then fill out paperwork, and everyone was deboarded as that car had to be put out of commission for the investigation. The distance between me and lunch never felt longer.  I eventually called for an uber driver to pick us up and take us the rest of the way as the next car was jam packed and I was starting to get hangry.

red streetcar

grilled cheezes here

big cheezy menu

The grilled cheeses were completely worth every second of hassle, however. We went splitsies on two sandwiches–The Juice (cheddar & pepper jack on sourdough, roast beef w/ debris gravy and grilled green peppers) and Crawgator (cheddar, pepper jack on sourdough w/alligator and crawfish sausages, caramelized onions and grilled green peppers)–so basically, the difference between them was some onions and the type of meat. My standout favorite was the Crawgator. The Juice was good, but a bit wet, and the beef gravy tended to overpower the cheese. The crawgator sausage added heat and complexity without overwhelming the cheese–because after all, a grilled cheese is first and foremost a cheese sandwich.

crawgator

 

the juice

The streetcars were still borked from earlier. I should’ve grabbed a third sandwich for the long walk back.

City of the Dead: St Louis Cemetery No 1

rev zombies house of voodoo

rev zombies voodoo shop

The above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans have long-fascinated visitors to the area. Mark Twain famously said that the city of New Orleans has no architecture, save for its cemeteries. Nicolas Cage even bought space for and constructed an enormous whitewashed pyramid for his eventual interment. Thanks to vandals, disrespectful tourists, and ne’er do wells, you actually can no longer visit St Louis Cemetery No. 1 if you don’t have relatives interred there unless you are accompanied by a licensed tour group. I selected Haunted History Tours at random (all the tour groups advertise that they’re the number one tour group, and they all pretty much depart from one voodoo shop or another so it’s impossible to differentiate between them from afar), and fairly shortly into the tour I was sure I had made the correct choice. I’d seen a number of tour groups wandering through the french quarter, and some of them were so large that I’m not certain the people in the back knew what was going on or could even see the thing they were there to hear about before the group made it to the next thing on the list. Our tour group was seven people plus the tour guide, which made it easy to hear and ask questions and get a more personal tour experience. 

We departed from Rev. Zombie’s House of Voodoo (meh, I’ve seriously seen some of the candles for sale in there at Urban Outfitters), and walked up the street toward the cemetery, learning the original sites of the graves so none of us invest in potentially haunted property, and taking a couple of quick detours at Louis Armstrong Park and Basin St. Station to talk about the history of the area, learn about why people and GPS devices get so confused when talking about directions in New Orleans (you’re not going north, south, east, and west in the crescent city–you’re going lakeside, riverside, uptown and downtown), and take one last opportunity to use a restroom since (surprise!) there aren’t any in the cemetery. While we were in Basin St. Station, our tour guide recommended a book, Frenchmen Desire Good Children, about the history of New Orleans and its interesting street naming conventions. Somehow, I got the title mixed up in my head and went back to Basin St. Station later and requested to buy a copy of City of Saints and Bastards, to which the people working there looked quite perplexed and asked me which tour guide recommended that book, again? It turns out once they figured out which book I was actually after, that they were sold out, but they also enthusiastically praised it, and said it’s the book that all New Orleans tour guides study before they take their examinations. I bought it later on Amazon and just very recently started to read it, which I wholeheartedly recommend you not do, because it is the single most racist piece of shit I’ve ever read. I said “What the fuck?!?” more times in the first ten pages than I did throughout the entirety of the series of Twin Peaks, and it wasn’t a perplexed kind of Twin Peaks-y “What the fuck?” but a truly horrified, can’t believe this book came highly recommended, really can’t believe that the author just compared native americans to dogs sort of “WHAT. THE. FUCK.”. I think I would have preferred City of Saints and Bastards to this hot garbage.

tomb of marie laveau

marie laveau tomb

xes on tomb

a cemetery for all

brick tombs

bricked up tomb

broken nameplate

 

But back to the tour. It was interesting to see how differently the city of New Orleans handles burials. We learned that because of the heat inside the tombs, in about a year’s time, there are only bones left in the tomb, which means that they can be reused over and over again, adding more names to the plaque on the front, while the bones intermingle in an area at the bottom. This is why you see double-decker tombs in the cemetery, because if you had multiple family members die less than a year apart, you wouldn’t want to open the tomb until the decomposition process had ended. With two, unless your family was having a really bad year, it’s unlikely you’d have to worry about opening up a tomb that wasn’t…uh…fully baked. We also learned that tomb maintenance is handled by the family or by a trust left by a family for said purpose, which is why some tombs look pristine and others are crumbling. 

Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen of New Orleans, is interred at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, and even though maintenance people keep whitewashing away the Xes people scratch on the sides of the tomb, hoping for her favors even in death, more keep appearing. Evidently, if your wish is granted, you’re supposed to return and circle your Xes and leave her a gift in accordance with the size of the favor–although her tomb has been cleaned, it’s plain to see that not many favors are granted. Some people also believe that Marie Laveau’s bones are not interred within that tomb but are instead elsewhere in the cemetery out of fear of them being stolen, which is why triple Xes are found all over various tombs in the cemetery from people hedging their bets.

 

burial table

city of the dead

crumbling brick tomb

crumbling tomb

escapee

grout

growing its own flowers

homer plessy

life finds a way

lion drawer handle

marble sculpture

marble tomb

 

nicolas cage tomb

 

pink tomb

plant life

 

row of tombs

rusty gate

st louis cemetery

st louis

Visiting this cemetery made me think a bit more about what I’d want for my own body when I die. I’ve joked about being packed into a lipstick tube and launched into space, I’ve suggested that it would be totally fine if I was just tossed into a dumpster, but it is important to really consider the impact not only our lives have on the planet, but also our deaths. The single coffin below ground has to be a thing of the past, as our world population has exploded and there just simply isn’t room. Family crypts are an interesting solution. Maybe I can get in on Nic Cage’s badass pyramid. Either way, right now, I’m seriously in the mood for some brick oven pizza.