Dads' continuing generosity gave us our start on Valentine's Day, as he sent us to breakfast at Brennan's as a Valentine's Day gift to the two of us after learning that our budget would prevent us from going on our own. Apparently, in his eyes, breakfast at Brennan's is a must while you're in New Orleans, and far be it from us to turn down a free meal, especially one as fine as that.
Our meal was indeed epic: Brennan's offers a three-course breakfast and highly recommends you start the meal with an "eye-opener," or cocktail. Mine was a delightful concoction known as the "Mr. Funk of New Orleans," named after one of Brennan's longtime bartenders, which contained champagne, cranberry juice, and peach schnapps (which I must shamefully admit, might be the only type of alcohol of which I am fond.)
For my meal, I opted for a bowl of Creole Onion Soup, which was thicker and creamier than regular French Onion Soup, Eggs Bayou Lafourche, a sort of Cajun spin on Eggs Benedict with andouille sausage instead of the traditional Canadian bacon, and another helping of bananas foster. At Arnaud's we hadn't been aware that bananas foster was invented at Brennan's, so I felt compelled to try it from the masters. Although they didn't flambe it tableside, but rather at a safe distance, it tasted far better than the night before, and was absolutely excellent. I'm glad I gave it a second try.
The problem with starting the day with all that food, however, was that we ended the meal badly in need of a nap. We were so wiped out that we ended up going back to the hotel to sleep off the food coma for the rest of the morning, and only dragged ourselves out of bed to go out for the cemetery tour we'd pre-booked through Haunted History Tours -- the only activity for the entire trip that we'd managed to plan in advance. I realize that some people might think it's a little strange to go visit a cemetery with their significant other on Valentine's Day, but I guess we're not your average couple. I love cemeteries, history, and architecture, and Justin loves learning new things and a good photo op, so for us, this was a perfect afternoon.
I was a little bummed when I booked the tour that I would not be able to give my business to Save Our Cemeteries, a non-profit organization in New Orleans that offers tours as a means of supporting their efforts to restore and care for the city's historic necropolises. Sadly, they didn't have a tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (the one I was most interested in seeing) while we were going to be in town. The majority of other tour operators in the city seemed to be primarily focused on ghost lore and the mysteries of voodoo, which didn't really appeal to me, and the name and website of the company I ultimately went with didn't inspire much confidence. I picked it because they said that this particular tour focused on historical information and was very accurate, and I ended up being very pleased with it. As it turned out, our guide is a volunteer for Save Our Cemeteries, and Haunted History Tours is just her paying gig.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest surviving Catholic cemetery in the city, dating back to 1789. Contrary to popular belief, the predominately above-ground burial methods employed at St. Louis Cemetery are a combination of form and function. Yes, they keep the dead from rising back to the surface given the low elevation of the area, but the cemetery's builders were heavily influenced by the growing trend in France toward vaulted burials. As a result, a few different styles of burial were developed and can still be observed today in the cemetery.
The first technique, wall vaults, can be immediately noticed as you enter the cemetery. The exterior walls of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 consist of rows of stacked tombs where bodies were interred for a period of a year and a day. Given the intense heat and humidity in the city, bodies would decay rapidly, and after this initial period, the simple casket that had been used could be discarded, the bones would be pushed to the back of the tomb, and it could be reused by another person in the same family. A similar method was used in the family vaults, those these structures are free-standing and resemble modern day mausoleums.
For those individuals whose families could not afford a vault, they had the option of joining a society with burial privileges. Men could avail themselves of the facilities of military groups or fraternal organizations, while women could join a society based on religion or other mutual interests. On the other end of the spectrum were copings, or tombs made of raised dirt, enclosed in a retaining wall. Since these could only be used once and land was at a premium, these tended to be reserved for the wealthy.
I was excited to see the cemetery not only because of my preexisting interest and the fact that it's incredibly picturesque, but because it was used as a location for Easy Rider, a film that I watched numerous times in college while I was studying the counterculture of the 1960s. In the film, the main characters take a road trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and cavort through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 with prostitutes while under the influence of various psychedelic drugs. Legend has it that nobody was, in fact, acting during that scene. After witnessing the debauchery they captured on screen, the Catholic Church forbade any other filmmakers from filming there.
|Justin and I in the French Quarter. Apparently, we both decided to go the polo shirt route for Valentine's Day.|
After a few hours spent walking in the hot sun, we found ourselves more informed about New Orleans' burial practices, and in possession of memory cards full of fantastic images. I seriously can't recommend an official cemetery tour enough if you find yourself in the city. The tour deposited us back in the French Quarter, and we spent some more time wandering around, searching for streets we hadn't yet seen, and plotting a course in the general direction of the Central Grocery.
Justin and I decided to take one to go (one is easily enough to feed two people), and picked up some sodas from Walgreens -- the cheapest option in the area -- and took our haul back to our hotel, where we sat cross-legged on the bed and had an impromptu picnic. It may not be the fanciest meal that was ever eaten to commemorate Valentine's Day, but it was, in its own way, very romantic.