New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Blog

Tuesday, May 1

By Alicia

St. Roch Cemetery
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Release the money.  So says New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.  I was getting coffee on Tuesday morning at the C.C.’s shop on Esplanade Ave. in Mid-City on Tuesday morning and managed to find myself in line just behind the Mayor.  He ordered a decaf au lait and I ordered a decaf latte.  While we both waited for our drinks – and waiting is something you get used to in New Orleans – I told him I was from DC and asked if he had a message for me to take back.  He gagged on the bagel he had taken a bite out of, and I apologized and said I hadn’t meant to make him choke.

He laughed and then said in all seriousness that he wanted the politicians to stop holding up the federal money due to the city.  While the House has passed multiple hurricane relief bills, the Senate continues to stall.  There is evidence of rebuilding, but there are still entire neighborhoods of empty and abandoned houses.  Meanwhile, also in the news here – aside from the continuing crime wave – Louisiana State University is STILL trying to build a new $1 billion hospital to replace Charity Hospital, which stands like a mausoleum on Tulane Ave.

Mayor Nagin also gave me the locations of other coffee shops around town (to avoid the wait next time) and told me that it was going to be 90 degrees this weekend during the Festival.  It was like having my own personal information booth.  But when I told my friend Marianne (a local) about my conversation, she said he appeared to know more about the weather than the state of the city.

We had an interesting education later that day at St. Roch cemetery, on St. Roch Ave. in the Upper 9th Ward.  St. Roch was the patron saint of miraculous cures.  There’s a chapel with a small side shrine to lost limbs.  The grotto-like area was covered with plaster casts of feet, discarded prostheses and orthotic braces.  It was very eery.

St. Roch CemeteryThe cemetery itself was clean and well-kept, despite being a block from a FEMA trailer park and in the middle of a largely-abandoned neighborhood.  I asked a caretaker on the way out whether they’d had any of the floodwaters and he told me about 4 feet and offered to show me a picture.  The cemetery actually looked almost more beautiful in the picture, despite being under a few feet of slop from Lake Ponchartrain and the Industrial Canal.  The caretaker said they’d only lost 2 bodies out of the crypts, but they actually only floated around within the cemetery walls, so they were recovered after the waters receded and were put back in their rightful tombs.

Stories like these sound impossible, but they exist in spades in New Orleans.  A place that was already mystical and surreal has now been made permanently more fantastical by an event that most of us still can’t fathom.

Chapel of the Lost Limbs
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Chapel of the Lost Limbs

We took a side trip later that day to a swamp at Jean Laffitte/Barataria National Preserve.  On the way we made a stop in Gretna to get beer and picnic items at a grocery store called Casey Jones.  There were stuffed animal heads on the walls.  And one of the aisles had its own sign for Snowball Syrup.  An important staple in anyone’s diet. The Preserve is about 45 minutes south of the city.  Saw plenty of alligators.  And we drank Budweiser on National Park property, just like a bunch of rednecks.  Had to stop on the way back for Kay’s Cherry Limeade.

Bayou - Jean Lafitte
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Bullet's Sports Bar
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