Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Corner Washington Ave & Prytania St, New Orleans
http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/lafayette-cemetery-no-1/

 

In stark comparison to the clean lines of the mostly shiny white marble of the St Louis Cemetery No. 3 and a little closer to the beautifully dilapidated St Louis Cemetery No. 1, Lafayette No. 1 is surrounded by the most beautiful trees (as one might expect for a cemetery located in the middle of the Garden District). We visited in winter, and most of those trees had shed their leaves onto the tombs below. It gave the impression that the elements were somehow protecting their residents.

This cemetery is not only the oldest of the seven city-operated cemeteries in the city, but it’s also a non-denominational and non-segregated resting place for not only natives, but also immigrants from 25-odd other countries . Over 7, 000 souls in total are entombed in the cemetery.

IMG_6768

IMG_6771

IMG_6779   IMG_6782

Finding myself in St Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans

St Louis Cemetery No. 1
425 Basin St. New Orleans
http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/st-louis-cemetery-no-1/


I wrapped my oversized cardigan around me a little tighter as my feet crunched over the leaves that peppered the footpath, and the early morning wind blew as if it were trying to pass right through me. I’d woken up that morning in New Orleans, the city I’d been inexplicably drawn to, and a long way from home back in Australia.

 

It was with some trepidation that I passed through the entrance of the St Louis Cemetery No. 1. It wasn’t the whole being in a cemetery thing that had me unnerved; I’m oddly at ease among the graves and stories of the past. What I wasn’t at ease with at that time was myself. I arrived in New Orleans with this feeling I couldn’t shake, like I didn’t fit in anywhere, like I didn’t belong. On that thought, the wind blew through me once more, as if urging me on through the front gate, as if pushing me toward answers.

IMG_6739
I moved silently through the decaying tombs, many dating back to the 1700s. Generations were contained within single crumbling structures; how many were truly remembered? What were their stories? The tombs would have been beautiful originally, but the deterioration they faced over the centuries only made them even more striking. Intricate wrought iron crosses and arrows decorated gates encircling tombs, while large stone and marble placards listing the names of the souls resting within lay on the floor beside many of tombs, gently pieced back together, having fallen from the places they’d originally occupied.

IMG_6730
Looking out over the praying angels perched on top of mausoleums, eyes turned to the heavens, I could see Treme Street and the housing projects beyond. Arriving just as the gates were unlocked for the day proved to be the perfect time to visit, with no one else around. I was a long way from the mayhem and commercialism of the tourist hub that is Bourbon Street; I was, proverbially, definitely not in Kansas anymore.

 

I guess travel is the ultimate opportunity to reflect and recharge; we all know the cliché of people “finding themselves” while travelling. New Orleans was so different to anywhere else I’d been. The people there seemed to live authentically, fearlessly. Free. As someone who’s spent the best part of her life held back by fear, I was hypnotised by that thought, ready to start my own new chapter. And, as if the spirits had me in their hands, the last thing I saw before I left the cemetery was an old book, the pages browned and torn, sitting on top of a tomb; as I walked past, the wind blew the open pages shut.

IMG_6742

Cook this: Nonna Gemma’s buttery, salty French toast

IMG_2265

I miss my grandmother. It still feels weird to talk about her in the past tense, that she doesn’t “exist” anymore. I don’t like writing that she “was” a big part of my life; she still is. She helped raise me. She taught me to knit and hand stitch in her sewing room. She taught me to pick out good produce at the market, and cook it like a pro. She made outfit after outfit for me, including the veil I wore on my wedding day. She gave me crap for my ripped jeans, asking if they needed mending, and telling me I looked ridiculous. She always started phone conversations by asking if I’d eaten (no, it’s not some Italian joke, she legit asked every time), and how Marley, my dog, was going. After she’d told me off for not answering my phone earlier in the day (sorry Nonna, I’ve been at work. “Why?!” was her response, most of the time – I could never tell if she was serious or not).

Anyway, I married a teacher, so I observe the comings and goings of the school terms. With the mention of the school term about to end, a memory filled my head and took over for a second, like one of those crazy movie flashbacks… I was a primary school aged kid again, at Nonna’s house. I’d usually stay at her house a few nights every school holidays, so we could just hang out together and do stuff that mum wouldn’t let me do. I was sitting at the bench in the kitchen, on the wooden stool you can see in the picture below, where we had breakfast together, watching her cook French toast for us. And I felt my soul crack a little. It’s cracking again right now, as I type this.

Nonna would work SO intently at her little stove top, making sure our breakfast was just right. Everything had to be perfect for her grand children, especially the food. Our favourite breakfast was French toast, made with thick, fresh Italian bread, cooked in an absolutely ludicrous amount of butter, with more than a sprinkle of salt. It was always perfectly crispy and golden without ever burning. She was a master, really.

Yes, it’s indulgent, and no, it’s not going to benefit your health to eat this regularly. But sometimes when your soul is crying out for a hug, comfort food is where it’s at. Here’s my best attempt to re-create Nonna’s French toast.

IMG_3139.JPG

It was pretty simple – a few eggs and milk whisked together, dip the bread in (I went a la Nonna and used a loaf of Italian bread, bought from the Preston market, sliced myself with the crusts removed) and fry up on a non-stick pan containing a small ocean of butter. And yes, I added some fruit to try to justify all of the butter and carbs. If you need a pick me up too this weekend, whip yourself up a plate of this buttery deliciousness this weekend – trust Nonna Gemma, it’ll make you happy!

IMG_2668.JPG