“This can’t be it—” I shook my head slowly, staring at the dilapidated double shotgun style house in front of us. “Can it?”
My husband, Steve, came around from the driver’s side while our friends Kevin, Nina, Scott, and Natalie retreated from their cars to join us on the street. No one knew what to say, so I double-checked the address on the print-out in my hands. I looked at the street sign— yes, Marais. My eyes took a quick glimpse down the block, and then joined the rest of the eyes back on the house. A rooster casually crossed the road.
“What are we going to do? We can’t stay here!” I exclaimed, feeling awful for taking charge of, and failing, this trip. It was absolutely one of those ‘it didn’t look that way in the pictures’ situations.
“What do you mean?” Steve reasoned. “It’s paid for and there’s no way we will find something else now.”
“Let’s just go inside and check it out…” Scott offered.
I assumed they were just pitying me. “But—there’s graffiti right there!” I pointed out, motioning between the two front doors.
“Actually,” Nina said. “that is a mark by the National Guard, from during Katrina. They would code what state the house was in and how many bodies were inside—”
“Oh God.” Natalie said, reading my mind. “Do you think people died in there?”
This is how our trip to New Orleans began.
We soon realized that we were staying in the ninth ward, the section of New Orleans that was most devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Being that it was the week of New Year’s Eve, hotels were booked solid and the ones still available charged a small fortune. This quaint place (only a mile from Bourbon Street- oh boy!) was less than half the price, and apparently for good reason.
After making a call to the homeowner and asking some relevant questions, we learned that no one had, in fact, died in the house. This was the determining factor (for me, at least) to stay. The interior was remodeled, clean, and had a whole-lot of NOLA character. However, the layout was an odd and narrow straight-shot of (in this order): a living room with two roll-away beds, then a bedroom with bathroom, and finally a small square kitchen and “dining room,” with only sliding doors between each section to shield any privacy. Although we didn’t have access to it, we assumed the other side of the duplex was our side’s twin, with perhaps some minor décor differences. Hence, a double shotgun home. Apparently, this popular design was created so that a bullet could travel “safely” from the front of the house through to the back.
New Orleans itself was unlike any other American town I’ve ever visited. Delicious Cajun food, jazz bands in the streets, old-world port town architecture, voodoo shops, psychic readings, intricate art, above ground cemeteries, and an overall rich history make New Orleans incredibly unique. During our week there, we explored Bourbon and Frenchman Street’s nightlife, the Garden District’s celebrity mansions (including Mark Twain, Sandra Bullock, Anne Rice, and John Goodman) Lafayette Cemetery’s hauntings, the French Market’s exclusive items, Jackson Square’s folk art, Marie Laveau’s voodoo, and so much more. That New Year’s Eve was one for the books; we ate the most amazing meal at Adolfo’s on Frenchmen Street and then rang in the New Year with the sounds of strings at The Spotted Cat Jazz Club.
The next morning, with the remains of celebration still settled in our eyes, we awoke to a rooster crowing through the bars of an open window. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an animal lover as much as the next person, but if I had a gun I probably would have shot this sucker. And yet, looking back, this lovely wake-up call just added to the charm of New Orleans.
Throughout our stay, it became apparent that the people are the soul of the city. There is something to say about a population that can rebuild and reenergize, laugh and sing, create and celebrate despite the awful tragedies that have befallen them. The essence of the people are what make “NawO’leans” a place of spiritual awakening.
Speaking of spiritual awakenings— after about three days of piecing strange occurrences together, we discovered that our house was not exactly vacant. A rambunctious ghost definitely made itself known many times throughout our stay.
But that’s another story altogether…
Updated: August 25, 2015