Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Basin Street Blues

Wednesday was the day for our 4 hour Voodoo Walking Tour of New Orleans. We met our guide Tree by the Civil War cannon in the Washington Artillery Park overlooking Jackson Square. He turned out to be a brilliant guide with a deep knowledge of the history of New Orleans. Voodoo is an intrinsic part of this history, it came to New Orleans along with African slaves and also with exiles from Haiti. From 1719 to 1731, the majority of African captives came directly from what is now Benin, West Africa, bringing with them their cultural practices, languages, and religious beliefs which are rooted in spirit and ancestor worship. Their knowledge of herbs, poisons, and the ritual creation of charms and amulets, intended to protect oneself or harm others, became key elements of Louisiana Voodoo. The people from the area which is now Benin were called the Fon and their word for spirits is Vodoun.

We visited the Historic Voodoo Museum which was founded by Charles Massicot Gandolfo in 1972. His fascination with Voodoo was inspired by the stories told to him by his grandmother who claimed that her great grandfather had been raised in New Orleans by a Voodoo Queen.

The African influence is very obvious in these carved wooden figures.

I confess that I found the interior of the Museum both fascinating and unsettling. This Voodoo altar has both Roman Catholic and Voodoo aspects - the beads that are draped everywhere as offerings are Mardi Gras beads.

A sequinned banner which is symbolic of Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte, two Haitian Voodoo Loa or spirits who are connected with death.

Congo Square is in the vicinity of the area once used by the Houmas Indians, before the arrival of the French colonists, to celebrate their corn harvest. It is most famous however for being the place where the slaves and free people of colour gathered on Sundays to dance,drum,socialize and generally have a good time. It also served as a market place for these people and the slaves could sell goods and crafts here. This enabled many of them to eventually save enough money to buy their freedom.The French and Spanish slave owners had a much more relaxed attitude to their slaves than the British/United States owners did and they were allowed to keep their own beliefs and customs rather than being forced to convert to Christianity. Congo Square lies in the Tremé district of New Orleans just north of the French Quarter. To reach it you have to cross Rampart Street which is divided into North Rampart Street(which divides the Tremé and French Quarter districts)and South Rampart Street. The jazz classic South Rampart Street Parade was named after a real place!

Tree showed us examples of the different styles of architecture in New Orleans. This simple house is on Dumaine Street and is one of the oldest in New Orleans. It was built in 1788/89 in the French Colonial style. The family would live on the upper floor which would be safe from flooding and the wide balcony gave protection from both sun and rain.

Right next door stands this more typical Creole style house.

To the right is the home of the slave owner and his family, to the left across the courtyard are the slave quarters. I think they've now been converted to apartments and wouldn't have looked quite so smart when the slaves lived there!

Our walk then took us down towards Basin St and the St Louis Cemetery No 1 which is the oldest cemetery still in existence in New Orleans. The first burials there were in the late 1700s and all the vaults are above ground. This is because it was built on a swamp and has always been vulnerable to flooding. It is incredibly small, claustrophobic and decrepit as these photos show. Attempts are now being made to preserve and restore it but it will be a long and extremely expensive project.This site gives more information about both the cemetery and the organization that is working to preserve this and other old cemeteries in New Orleans. The famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is supposedly buried here, we saw her tomb but there seems to be some doubt as to whether she's actually in there! For some reason I didn't take any photos in the cemetery so I've had to borrow a couple from the internet. I had a new camera and had problems with it throughout the trip hence so many poor photos.

Our last port of call was the former Southern Railway Station on Basin Street which is now a Visitor Centre. I've borrowed the black and white photo from the internet to show how it looked in the early years of the 20th century. This was the area of New Orleans where jazz first flourished. Jelly Roll Morton and many other famous jazz musicians began their careers in the clubs and bars around here. It was also the red light district of New Orleans for many years! Here's the great Ella Fitzgerald singing Basin Street Blues

By the time the tour finished it was mid afternoon so we decided to walk slowly back towards Jackson Square exploring some more of the French Quarter as we went. This is Royal Street one of the oldest streets in New Orleans dating back to the French Colonial period. We spent quite a while wandering along here, it's full of lovely antique shops and art galleries as well as being beautiful in itself with all the gorgeous Creole architecture.

Many of the old Creole buildings have the most beautiful wrought ironwork balconies. This is a section of the Upper Pontalba Building on Jackson Square. You can also see one of the old gas lamps which are all over the French Quarter, I believe they are still lit by gas rather than being converted to electricity.

The statue of General Andrew Jackson stands in the centre of the square which bears his name. As I mentioned in an earlier post he was the General who defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He later became the seventh President of the United States serving from 1829 to 1837.

Finally another look at Royal Street. If you enlarge the photo you will see on the wall to the right the sign showing its name in Spanish - Calle Real. And have you spotted the Mardi Gras beads hanging over the gas lamp? From here we headed back to the hotel to put our feet up for an hour before getting ready for another night out on the town again:)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Way Down Yonder In New Orleans!

We arrived in New Orleans at lunchtime which gave us the whole afternoon to explore. It was immediately obvious that it was a totally different kind of city to Savannah with a much faster pace of life. To begin with we weren't sure that we were going to like it but New Orleans is a city that grows on you. Above is St Louis Cathedral which is of course in the French Quarter. A Roman Catholic church has stood on this site since 1718 but the present building dates from 1850. The church became a cathedral in 1793 and is the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States.

New Orleans is full of street performers so we stopped to watch one group from the plaza which overlooks Jackson Square and Decateur Street. As we watched them we heard the sound of a brass band in the distance playing 'When The Saints Go Marching In'. It got closer and closer and then we saw that it was leading a wedding party down the street - I just managed to get a couple of quick photos before they passed out of sight. If you click on the photo you'll be able to see the bride more clearly. I love her parasol. Later in the afternoon we walked down the famous Bourbon Street just so that we could say we'd been there - and what a letdown that was! It was dirty, squalid and smelt to high heaven. We'd already decided that our night time excursions would be to Frenchman Street and it was immediately obvious that we'd got that one right!

Frenchman Street is filled with clubs all with live music, in some you just had to buy a drink in others you had to buy tickets for performances. Snug Harbour was one of the latter and we saw this great jazz band there. Some of the other clubs we went in were D.B.A., The Spotted Cat (great name!) and The Three Muses. If you are ever in New Orleans go and eat at The Three Muses, the food is fabulous and its always crowded.

Since we only had three full days in New Orleans we decided that we needed to have a plan rather than just ambling around. Both of us came up with things we wanted to do and one of mine was to sail on a paddle steamer on the Mississipi River. This the Natchez, she is one of only two steam-powered stern wheelers still sailing on the Mississipi so on Tuesday morning we made our way down to Toulouse St Wharf and bought our tickets for the 2 hour Jazz Cruise.

This is the paddle wheel churning away, it was quite exciting to be able to get so close to it.

As we sailed down the river we were given a commentary about the places we were passing, this obelisk marks the scene of the Battle of New Orleans where I regret to say that the British were soundly beaten by the Americans led by General Andrew Jackson in the final battle of the Revolutionary War! I believe that the site is about 6 miles out of New Orleans at a place called Chalmette.

Sadly the sail down the Mississipi while interesting is definitely not filled with pretty scenery, it's a heavily industrial landscape as this photo shows.This is an oil refinery I think and we also passed the Domino Sugar Refinery which has been there for over 100 years but isn't an especially inspiring subject for a photograph! The Port of New Orleans and The Port of South Louisiana combine to make one of the largest port systems in the world handling both cargo and passenger traffic.
The Mississipi is 2,320 miles long, the fourth longest and the tenth widest river in the world. The river's name is a derivation of Misiziibi the name given to the river by the First Nations people who lived alongside it. Misiziibi means Great River.

This is the engine room of the Natchez - not being of a mechanical turn of mind I don't find this all that exciting but possibly some of my readers will find it interesting:)

As we approached the Wharf at the end of our trip we got a good view of the Jax Brewery buildings which now contains shops and restaurants.

Our next stop was Juliette's choice, we spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the Aquarium. Inside was a good place to be and we were glad we'd been on the river in the morning as the temperature really started to drop later in the day and it was cold for the rest of our stay.

I think these jellyfish are beautiful though I've no idea what kind they are.

I liked this albino alligator, I think he looks rather sweet and friendly but I wouldn't be volunteering to join him in his enclosure to test my theory:)

This was the best bit of all - we were there when they fed the stingrays and you could pay extra and go and feed them if you felt brave. We did! You had to pick up a small fish and put it flat on your hand in the water and the stingrays just kind of vacuumed it up. It was a really fun experience.

Our final visit of the day was also Juliette's choice and I wasn't that bothered beforehand but the Mardi Gras Museum turned out to be fascinating. It's in a huge warehouse and they give you a guided tour beginning with dressing up in distinctly unflattering costumes and, even less flattering in my case, hats. They were one size fits all and 'all' obviously included some very large people! We were shown a 15 minute video explaining the history of Mardi Gras and showing past parades and were then taken through into the area where floats and figures from past Mardi Gras parades are kept. Even more interesting was that this is where they were working on the floats for 2014. The whole thing is a year round process, as soon as one Mardi Gras is over preparations begin for the next year.

This head of Medusa destined for a 2014 float was waiting its turn to be painted.

Designs for some of the floats for 2014. Something that I didn't realise is that Mardi Gras isn't just one big parade on one day. It lasts over two weeks and there are parades in many different areas of New Orleans often four or five on any one day.

Floats from last year, components of floats are often re-used, some of them are absolutely enormous. It must be fun to see one of the parades for real.

I was quite surprised to find this gentleman in the Mardi Gras Museum! It wasn't the first time I'd seen Winston Churchill in New Orleans either. Every night when we walked to the trolley stop to go down to Frenchman Street we passed a statue of him in the middle of the traffic circle on Poydras Street.

This is one of the areas where they are making the figures for the floats, some are carved out of blocks of styrofoam, some made from fibreglass and others from papier mache. It's quite incredible really.

There are artists working on the painting of the completed items - here a huge crown which looks as though it's been left to dry and some urns which are awaiting their turn.

Not sure whether these are past or future but it does give an idea of the scale of some of the pieces. It was the end of a busy but really enjoyable day. Next we're off on a Voodoo Tour!

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Comment about Tideswell

I have received a comment via email about a post I did on the village of Tideswell in May 2010. I have added it to the comments but thought I would also put it here with a link to the original post for anyone who is interested. The photo above is of a carving in the church done by Advent Hunstone the great great uncle of Mr Bagshawe.

" Hello Rowan, What a wonderful demonstration and wonderful photos on your website. My name is Mark
Hunstone Bagshaw b Buxton. I lived in Tideswell for 16 years at Velvet Mill. We ran a family business - Chapmans - so called under our ownership because Chapmans had previously run the business going back over 100 years. 

 Brenda lived in Tideswell [ Tidza } for two years and always said that it had an atmosphere not many places have. The depth of history you portray previously unknown to us, little wonder!! Thanks for your lovely comments and research. I am the great great nephew of Advent Hunstone - his brother Robert m Mary Lyon and one of their daughters Janet m William Bagshaw - my grandparents. 

 Would love my comments to go on your Blog/website - most enjoyable. 

 Kind regards Mark"

I found it really interesting to be contacted by a descendent of one of the people from the past that I've written about. Thank you Mark:)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Savannah - Part Two

Savannah is close to the Georgia coast and we discovered that we could catch a little local bus to Tybee Island so on Wednesday that's what we did. It was an interesting ride as all the other passengers were locals and obviously knew both each other and the bus driver. They were very friendly and we were soon chatting away. The friendliness of the people in the South was one of the most memorable aspects of our stay, everyone was so pleasant and helpful. The photo shows the beach at Tybee Island, the sky looks grey here but it was warm and gradually became sunny as well. The beach stretches for miles and we were able to walk and paddle in the sea for a couple of hours and then we had a lovely picnic lunch. We did very little but it was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable days of our holiday.

The beach was full of birds who were quite tame and allowed us to get quite close to them. Not sure what these are - knot maybe?

We booked ourselves onto a bus tour to Bon Aventure cemetery on Thursday and it proved to be very interesting. It's a beautiful place covering about 100 acres and filled with tree lined avenues. Many of the trees are live oaks positively dripping with Spanish Moss - this does not mean live oaks as opposed to dead oaks! It's a term for a group of related evergreen oaks:) The cemetery was originally the Bonaventure Plantation which was owned by John Mullryne and his descendents. The plantation was sold in 1846 and became a private cemetery. The City of Savannah purchased it in 1907 and it then became a public cemetery which is still in use today.

I found taking photos here very difficult as the trees cast so much shadow.We had an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide but there wasn't much time for lingering and taking several shots as I usually do:) It's one of the disadvantages of being in a tour group. I've included this photo because of the iron cross that stands at the foot of the grave. These stand in front of many of the graves and signify that one of the occupants was a Confederate soldier who served during the American Civil War. The letters C S A stand for Confederate States of America.

This is probably the most well known grave in Bon Aventure, it is that of a little girl called Gracie Watson.

This is her story - you will need to click on the photo to read it.

A close up of the statue - such a sad story.

I mentioned in the previous post that the famous songwriter Johnny Mercer was a native of Savannah and he and several members of his family are buried in this grave plot in Bon Aventure - the two graves at the back right are those of Johnny and his wife.

This memorial bench in the front corner of the plot has a caricature of Johhny Mercer's head in the centre and the titles of some of his most famous songs engraved around the edges.

Bon Aventure is built on a bluff of the Wilmington River which eventually flows into the Savannah River. I'm sure we were told about this impressive arched memorial but I can't remember anything about it - I should have taken notes!
 There is one statue that used to be in Bon Aventure which, like the Mercer-Williams House, became famous through the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

The bronze Bird Girl was removed to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah in 1997 because of the amount of attention it was attracting. We saw it earlier in the week when we spent a couple of hours exploring the Museum.

We had to move back to the Embassy Suites at the airport for the weekend as the Rock'n'Roll Marathon was on in the city and Marshall House was already fully booked when we made our reservations. As a result we needed our own transport so over the weekend we rented a car - a brand new Chrysler 300C. Juliette had never driven an automatic before nor had she ever driven anywhere but the UK, not to mention that it was dark when we left Savannah and her own car is a little VW Polo! How she managed the 45 minute drive to the airport I shall never know and I don't think she does either:) We would still be driving round Georgia and possibly several other states as well without the satnav - we certainly would never have found the hotel. However it was a good thing in a way because the next day driving in daylight was a breeze. I gather that the car was lovely to drive and it was certainly very comfortable.

On Saturday we drove out to the ruined plantation at Wormsloe. It was a fortified house built in 1736 by Noble Jones, one of the founders of the colonial state of Georgia. The fortifications were there because of possible attacks by the Spanish who had colonized what is now the state of Florida and also claimed the coastal areas of Georgia.

The house was built of wood and tabby which is a sort of cement made from oyster shells and lime. You can see the oyster shells quite clearly in the photo. In 1828 a new plantation house was built and the original gradually fell into ruin.

There are walking trails around the estate so we decided to do the long one which took us a couple of hours. Wormsloe is built on the tip of the Isle of Hope - actually it's sometimes an island and sometimes a peninsular depending on the marsh water levels. It's a lovely and tranquil place to walk in and we had it entirely to ourselves although there were plenty of people at the site - apparently nobody else was prepared to walk very far:)

This for you Diane:) I spotted this heart-shaped hole in the old tree trunk and couldn't resist taking a photo.

There is a very small colonial life demonstration area which included this blacksmith's forge

There were only two reenactors on the site - I suppose it was late in the season and there's probably more going on in the summertime.

I think this was a replica of the area where the slaves lived but I could be wrong about this. There was really very little information about the site as a whole, just a little leaflet with a map - no guide book because I asked.

This is Jones Marsh formerly called the Skiddaway Narrows. The thing I found really strange about this walk is that there were no birds of any description on the marsh or in the trees and the only animal we saw was a single deer. I wouldn't have been surprised to see snakes or alligators but not a sign of either - probably just as well really:)

Wormsloe is famous for the mile and a half long avenue of oaks draped with the ever present Spanish Moss. This was taken late in the afternoon when the light was beginning to fade.

On Sunday we ventured further afield and crossed the Savannah River into South Carolina and drove up to Hilton Head for a relaxing day on the beach. It's a really pleasant place though I imagine that it gets very busy indeed in the summer. It's quite a historic place I think and it would have been interesting to spend more time there.

Here I am paddling in the ocean and looking as though I have the beach to myself.

There were plenty of other people there enjoying the sunshine as well though. It was a lovely relaxing day and set us up nicely for the next part of our trip - New Orleans!