Marie Laveau: Business Woman, Voodoo Queen

I have been to New Orleans before, and I’ve read a lot about it’s history and mystery on many occasions. This time around, we decided to take a walking cemetery tour to hear more stories and the history of one of the many fascinating cemeteries in the city.  

So we scored a good Groupon, and booked a tour with Witches Brew Tours (by the way, they are great, check them out if you are ever in NoLa! No problem redeeming the groupon).  

Armstrong Park

Armstrong Park

beautiful trees all around

beautiful trees all around

The stories were fascinating. Our tour guide, Andy was fantastic. He kept us entertained with a good mixture of humor, spookiness, and history. We toured Armstrong Park with its many gorgeous trees and sculptures, and we walked our way to the Saint Louis Cemetery number one built in 1789.  

Inside the cemetery

Inside the cemetery

 

There, we listened to his tales about a strict Catholic cemetery in a segregated society where skin color didn’t matter after death. As long as you died Catholic, you could be buried there. But, beware of vampires! Andy told us how it was a common practice to decapitate the body, placing the head at the feet facing down, and stabbing the heart with a wooden spear all to prevent anyone suspected to be a vampire to return as such.

Why?

Well, interestingly enough, another practice in New Orleans was to keep the deceased body inside a coffin that was placed in an above the ground tomb and bricked in for a year and one day. Because of the usually hot weather of the region, this tomb act as an oven and the body decomposes rapidly leaving only the bones behind.

This process takes approximately one year. On some occasions though, either because of the weather or because the person was really a vampire (maybe), some corpses remained, skin and all, but as the muscles atrophy, and the skin dries up, the gum line recedes, and the fingers look long and bony giving the impression of a very thin person with large canine teeth and long monster fingers… a vampire.    

In this cemetery we also saw other interesting tomb sites, including one of a person that hasn’t died yet. Yes, you guessed it (or maybe you are waiting on me to tell you), Nicolas Cage’s massive pyramid tomb is in this cemetery, next to one of a queen. A voodoo queen I should add.  

Nicolas cage's tomb

Nicolas cage's tomb

This is the real tomb of marie leveau... according to the guide.

This is the real tomb of marie leveau... according to the guide.

 

This is the story that fascinated me the most. Marie Laveau was a creole woman borne in the late 1700’s who worked as a hairdresser for the wealthy white women of the town. Due to carelessness or lack of a sense of prudence, these women would talk freely about their affairs and other ailments in front of her and all other house servers.   

Marie Laveau took this opportunity and created an empire. Have you heard the saying, knowledge is power? Well, she was a visionary that possessed and gained all the means necessary to build her metaphorical kingdom.  

She would gain information by paying the helpers of other wealthy households for details about their landlords. She kept promises to all the rich and powerful men that came to her for help. She would always keep their secrets and cater to their needs.

 

Here’s how she did it. She used the spectacle of magic and combined it with her catholic rituals and beliefs to create "Voodoo" rituals.  This way she presented to her customers her knowledge of secret desires and/or information she had (privately) gathered from her client’s servers without their knowledge. All the gullible rich ladies really thought she was magic and that she knew all these things about them by invoking the spirits. And since she kept secrets and catered to the men’s desires she was well respected by the male society of the town. Marie Laveau made her business by collecting information behind people’s backs and making strong symbiotic friendships with the right crowd.  Marie Laveau was powerful, she was a voodoo queen.  

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But she was also aging, and she saw the opportunity to continue her legacy with her daughter, also named Marie Laveau II. Her daughter assumed her role impersonating her in many instances, and her granddaughter after her, and as years passed, people started to believe that Marie Laveau was forever young and beautiful, immortal if you wish.  

Three women, one name. That’s why when you try to find a picture, or a portrait rather, of Marie Laveau, they all look different. No one really knows what she looked like (people didn’t walk around with their smartphones snapping pictures of celebrities back in the day) as she was one and three at the same time, a holy trinity made voodoo queen.  

Marie Laveau’s death was kept silent in order to keep her legacy and business going with her daughter. Her mausoleum at the Cemetery is said to be occupied by her granddaughter rather than her, but there are speculations that she was buried in a different tomb, the one next to Nicolas Cage’s pyramid.  Go figure.  

marie leveau's tomb after it was re-painted and repaired

marie leveau's tomb after it was re-painted and repaired

Marie Laveau’s influence can be felt all around New Orleans. Her tomb (which is, according to the guide, one of the most visited tombs in the US) has been vandalized (was completely painted bright pink), repainted, and repaired to conserve this popular landmark. Voodoo practitioners and other curious tourists leave offerings by the tomb and request a wish to be granted, they then mark the tomb with three X’s and walk around the mausoleum and knock on it three times. Don’t quote me on this one… I’m just repeating what Andy (our guide) said. Obviously, marking the tomb with an X is considered vandalism, so you better not get caught.

Her tomb before it was vandalized and repainted

Her tomb before it was vandalized and repainted

 As of April 2016 no one is allowed inside the cemetery unless they are accompanied by a certified tour guide, or unless they are visiting a family member’s tomb (and have proof of this). This strict measure might change in the future, but for now they want to prevent the tombs from being vandalized by uncaring people.  

Besides her tomb, the New Orleans Historic Voodoo museum on Dumaine St, established in 1972, is the oldest authentic voodoo artifact museum in the city. It has many of Marie Laveau’s belongings. Around the city it is easy to find plaques of the places where she used to frequent and live with her daughters.  

House where she lived with her daughters

House where she lived with her daughters

Being a creole woman in a segregated society didn’t impede Marie Laveau from being powerful and having a legacy that carried for over a century. She found ways to play with people’s minds, making them believe she was a powerful priestess. As far as actual magical power, no one knows to what point this is true, but one thing is certain; she was powerful in the way she arranged her business, to the point that she was  recognized and remembered as the Voodoo Queen now and for generations to come.  

**** Read other articles about New Orleans here****

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Best Booze List: Top 3 spots for booze in NoLa

It shouldn't come as any big surprise that we had to give you a separate top three list of the best places for booze in NoLa.(Read: Foodie Love: NoLa Edition here) Our husbands are members of a beer club, our friends own a craft beer store, our best friend is a former bartender, and we have been known to drink mixed drinks from princess cups for game nights. 

So without further ado: our top three list of booze spots in NoLa:

1) Lafitte's

Said to be the oldest bar in the United States is conveniently situated on Bourbon Street. This bar is an old pirate bar, and boasts only the use of candle light, no modern day convinces here (well they do have a bathroom- but c'mon it's a bar!) Lafitte's has the BEST hurricane (and trust me, we tried alot) in NoLa. Made to order, no pre-made mixes, this drink is made with real juices and lots of the good stuff. Not only are the hurricanes out of this world, but the bar itself is just awesome. It's old and dark, lit by candlelight and housing a piano in the back where every evening someone is pounding the ivory and crooning out good jams. It really is a great place to hang and soak in all that NoLa has to offer. This place was always packed, and we didn't always get a seat (we may or may not have frequented this place many times over our five day trip- don't judge- it was research!), so be prepared to take it to go (yes did I mention, open container city?!), or stand outside. However you do it, get a hurricane at LaFitte's!

2) The Carousel Bar.

Located at the Hotel Monteleone (off Royal Street) is probably one of the neatest actual bar set-ups I've seen. The bar is a slowly revolving carousel seating only 25. It opens at 11am so be sure to get there when it opens otherwise you won't be able to get a seat. We were lucky enough to arrive fairly early and snagged one seat. We rode once around and shared the love with another soul who was waiting for a spin around. This bar has all the enchanting, bright, giddiness of a real carousel plus the best Bloody Mary I've ever had. I'm not a fan of Bloody Marys but it was 11AM so it only seemed appropriate to order one. I'm glad I did because this thing was killer. Not only did it taste great, but it looked like a piece of art. (I could have eaten a whole jar of just those pickled green beans by themselves). 

Of course, I also had to try a sazerac while we were there too, after all, it is a New Orleans specialty. A sazerac is typically made with whisky, absinthe (yikes!), bitters, and a sugar cube. I'm not a huge whisky fan so it was a tad strong for me, but if you are in NoLa, you have to try one. My husband loves whisky so this drink was right up his ally. Perfect to sit and sip on. 

3)Tropical Isle

Next on our stop of must-go places for a drink is right on Bourbon Street (shocker I know), Tropical Isle, home of the famous hand grenade which boasts the title of "New Orleans Most Powerful Drink". Now I have no idea what's in this fluorescent green concoction, and I'm sure I could google it, but what's the point, this drink is famous on Bourbon Street so just jump right in and give it a try. I mean really, they have a to-go window in the wall so you don't even have to go in, grab one on the way to wherever you're going (cash only though at to-go just FYI).

They come served in an obnoxiously large and ridiculous cup which I feel are part of the fun of them, bright green straw and everything. They are even topped with a tiny, plastic grenade. You can either order on the rocks or blended (we opted for blended). 

I wouldn't say that I would want to drink a ton of these bad boys, they are pretty sweet and pretty potent, but if you are in NoLa, you most definitely have to stop by and try one (you can even bring home your cup as a souvenir!).

*** Read these related articles about NoLa Food, drinks, and places!

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Foodie love - NoLa edition

So everyone with half a brain knows that New Orleans is famous for it's food. Throw a rock in any direction and I guarantee you'll hit at least six places worth eating at, so I'm gonna give you my top three picks for good eats. (Trust- this was HARD to narrow it down to only three).

1. RED FISH GRILL

The first stop once we landed and checked into the hotel was to Red Fish Grill (thank you airport shuttle man for the recommendation). The restaurant itself is gorgeous from the decor, to it's prime location on Bourbon Street, this place has more than just good food, it has great ambiance.  

Now, I know I'm a Southern Girl from the Carolinas and all but I have never been a big grits eater (I'll tear up some cream of wheat though). Despite my lack of love for the grit family, I always like to try new dishes (especially when traveling) so I thought "when in Rome!" and ordered the shrimp and grits. Take a look at this divine concoction: 

These Parmesan cheese grits were like puffs of clouds from the heavens, so light and airy. And as if they weren't good enough on their own, they were topped with roasted tomatoes, fried okra, jalapeno buttermilk ranch, prosciutto cracklin', and of course, shrimp. Everything was cooked to perfection, and the unique combination of flavors and ingredients was like sensation overload in my mouth. 

This was hands down my favorite meal of the trip (and I don't even like grits!)

2) REMOULADE

We found this gem really by accident because the place we had intended to eat at had a line out the door and we were hungry. The menu looked tasty so in we went. Remoulade is also on Bourborn Street and has a sort of classic diner, soda shop feel. Checkered floors and retro -looking bar really cemented the look. The menu had some pretty cool items, which being foodies and all, we had to try (duh). Crawfish pies and turtle soup for me, and classic jambalaya for Mia. So check out this crawfish pie:

Crawfish pattie

Crawfish pattie

Louisiana crawfish tails, jasmine rice, veggies, herbs and seasonings all fried in a delectable little pie. (Reminds me of an empanada or mini shepherds pie). They came out nice and hot, flaky pastry outside and steaming goodness inside. These are definitely worth a taste if you are in the area. 

The turtle soup was awesome, great combination of flavors. Even you non adventurous eaters would enjoy this, no weird textures or flavors. 

Turtle soup

Turtle soup

Mia tried the jambalaya (which  means of course I sampled hers too- that's how we do). And in our opinions, this was the best jamablya we sampled during the whole trip.

Jambalaya

Jambalaya

 

3) NEW ORLEANS SCHOOL OF COOKING

The third and finale must eat stop on our trip was at the New Orleans School of Cooking (check out our blog post about the cooking demonstrations offered here). Not only was it awesome to watch our food being prepared and cooked right in front of us, but we were given the recipe to duplicate at home! This gumbo was the BEST we encountered on our five day trip.

 

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It was so light and airy. Great combination of spices and flavors. Each table had an array of hot sauces which could be added depending on each persons personal hottness preference (sidenote: I like it HOT). But even if you don't add any additional kick- it was by far the best gumbo I ate. 

 

I know I said I was narrowing down my list to top THREE spots to eat but c'mon, can you really visit New Orleans and not stop by Cafe du Monde for beignets? Established in 1862 in the French Market it is world famous for their beignets. Be prepared for standing room only, this 24 hour coffee shop is ALWAYS packed. We got super lucky and snagged a table on a Thursday afternoon and man were they worth it. They came out hot, piled with powered sugar. We left with powdery hands and shirts, but with happy stomachs.  

 

Have you visited New Orleans? What is your favorite spot to eat?

*** Read these related articles about Food, Drinks, and places in New Orleans

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New Orleans School of Cooking

If you are looking for a fun, interactive way to learn a little (and eat a lot) of authentic Cajun cookin', look no further than New Orleans School of Cooking demonstration classes. Located right on St. Louis Street, The New Orleans School of Cooking offers classes, that typically last two hours, in which time a professional chef will cook a three course meal in front of an audience of roughly 60 guests and then, you guessed it, everyone chows down!

When we visited New Orleans, we needed a good rainy day activity (since Friday was POURING pretty much all day) and this seemed like a good way to pass some time (eating is always a good way to pass the time in my book). We signed up for the class which demonstrated gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines and served water, lemonade, and beer from a local brewery, Abita. 

Our chef for the class was Ms. Anne, an adorably witty lady with 20+ years experience in the kitchen. She loves to cook, and you can tell. She was fun, hilarious, and knowledgeable without being boring, keeping the entire class engaged as she mixed, stirred, simmered, and boiled her way to a meal fit for a queen.

The dining area was smallish- eight tables which could seat eight people a piece. The kitchen area had a large mirror overhead which enabled the entire room to watch the meal being prepared. Ms. Anne walked the entire group through the prepping and cooking of all three dishes interjecting her witty commentary along the way (seriously this lady was a hoot).

I gotta say, we tried a lot of gumbo in our 5 days in NoLa and this was by far THE BEST, hands down, of any restaurant we tried. It was light and filling, PACKED with flavor (I'm not saying I did, but I may have had seconds).

TRY MY RECIPE!!!!  RELATED: GUMBO a la Mia

While the jambalaya wasn't as earth shattering as the gumbo- it was still pretty darn good. Fresh andouille sausage? Yes please! Guests were encouraged to come up for seconds, we definitely didn't leave hungry. 

While we munch on our gumbo and jambalaya, Ms. Anne prepped some pralines for dessert. I love me a praline, and was surprised to see how easy they seemed to whip up (Mia promised to make some when we got home- I'll let you know if she delivers).

After the meal we were encouraged to look around the little country shop, which is actually the entrance to the facility. It was filled with various local sellers of spice mixtures, hot sauces, cooking implements, and general kitchen-y wares.

Overall this was a really fun way to spend a rainy afternoon, we ate a great home cooked meal, came away with a couple recipes, and had fun chatting with the couples seated at our table who were also vacationing in NoLa.

If you are interested in booking a class while you are on vacation, you can visit the link www.neworleansschoolofcooking.com for more information!  

**Read more about New Orleans food, drinks and places HERE!

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