Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Queens Walk

About a month ago, my friends and I took a long, rambling walk through Queens to eventually eat lunch at the Goodfellas Diner. We stumbled upon a delightfully vintage Carvel ice cream shop and so many wonderful storefronts, signage and neighborhoods that we would have never known about had we taken the bus or train.

We made a slight detour to stop at Rudy's Pastry shop, a German-American bakery which has been in Ridgewood since 1934. It had been on my radar for a while, but it was a great place to stop halfway along our journey. We got some treats and admired their wooden display cases, beautiful handpainted signage and large spools of baker's twine hanging from the ceiling.

Ridgewood has been hailed as an "affordable alternative" to more trendy places like Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and I can definitely see why. We walked past some wonderful shops, cute single-family houses and a lot of Polish, German and other eastern-European restaurants. I love finding places in New York that really feel authentic, in a way that can only be created over time and with the right mix of people and ethnicities.

The Goodfellas Diner is located in Maspeth, which is more industrial than Ridgewood, and after lunch we continued north into Woodside where we eventually caught a train. Queens is home to so many excellent cemeteries (and World's Fair history!) that I was already destined to spend a great deal of time there, but this walk only strengthened my love for New York's largest—but often-underrated— borough.

Monday, May 30, 2016

New Orleans: St. Louis Cemetery No.1

St. Louis Cemetery No.1 is the oldest and most famous of the three St. Louis Roman Catholic cemeteries in New Orleans. It opened in 1798, also making it one of the oldest cemeteries I've ever toured. The cemetery is small and very compact, housing thousands of permanent residents in just one square block.

New Orleans is famous for its above-ground burials, and all of the Catholic tombs in St. Louis are above-ground. Most people think it's because of the high water table, which is only partially true. Vault and tomb burials are most likely traditions brought over from Spain, and most modern-day burials in New Orleans are done below ground.

In 2015, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was closed to visitors not accompanied by a tour guide, due to alleged vandalism. This means that you now have to pay to take a tour, which is kind of a bummer. We took a wonderful 3+ hour general tour of the French Quarter that included the cemetery, but no tour will never spend as much time in a cemetery as I would if I was on my own. I'm all for preserving the place, but I do wish I had been able to spend more time poking around.

Notable (alleged) residents include voodoo priestess Marie Laveau and notorious slave-torturer (and former resident of the now-haunted LaLaurie Mansion) Delphine LaLaurie. When the cemetery was open to the public, Marie Laveau's tomb used to be covered in offerings—which I would have loved to see—but when we went it was scrubbed clean.

Of course fact is always stranger than fiction, and it's hard not to love the fact that Nicholas Cage has already purchased a mausoleum for himself—a stark, white pyramid, that our tour guide said was frequently covered in lipstick kisses, but unfortunately it too had been recently cleaned.

I was really overwhelmed with my first foray into the New Orleans cemetery scene, and like I said, I just wish we had spent more time exploring. I had been looking forward to seeing the cemeteries and I knew they would be so unlike the ones we have up north, but they still managed to exceed my expectations. Later in the trip we stumbled upon another cemetery that we were free to roam and that satiated my cemetery obsession a bit better, but I'm hoping I have a chance to go back soon and explore them even further.