Monday, April 23, 2018

A Walk Around Lafayette Cemetery #1

I had been thinking about my most recent trip to New Orleans and had been lamenting all of the things that we did not get to do while we were there. Easter Weekend put a pretty big crimp in our plans with lots of places closing early on Holy Thursday, remaining closed on Good Friday and through Easter Sunday. I had hoped to do a tour of the Old Ursuline Convent, but it was closed on Easter Monday. We had to settle for the Beauregard-Keyes house across the street. We actually hadn't meant to get a tour, I just had gone up to the porch in order to get a better picture of the Old Ursuline Convent and somehow got driven like stray cattle into the tour of the Beauregard-Keyes house.

One of the other things I had hoped to do was take a walk around Lafayette Cemetery #1. I have visited the site a number of times over the years and have a great story about the first time I went there in 2010 that deserves its own video and would a great into to a video tour of Lafayette Cemetery #1. Unfortunately, the itinerary got switched around too much due to Easter closings and we weren't able to get out there. Yet, while going through a bunch of my old, unpublished Youtube videos, I ran into a walkthrough I did of Lafayette Cemetery #1 back in 2012 with my brother, ChrisMac. I don't know why I never published the walkthrough. If I had to guess, it was because the wind ruined what little narration I was providing.

Still, it's a nice video, and I think it shows some beautiful tombs, thus, it deserves its time to shine. So, here it is, with some new background music in order to mask the heavy winds:

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Quiet Place

I saw A Quiet Place is past weekend. It's a horror film directed by John Krasinski who also stars with his real-life wife Emily Blunt as parents who are trying to protect their family in a post-apocalyptic world where they must live in silence while hiding from creatures that hunt exclusively by sound. For such an intimate and simple story, this movie is really well crafted. Your experience in watching it is largely going to be dictated by your immediate environment in which your watching it. My daughter and I saw this in a packed theater on a Saturday night and the rattling of snack bags and the whispers of inconsiderate patrons and the occasional cell phone light really distracted from the experience. Still, I liked the movie overall and appreciated what it was trying to do and the message it was trying to convey (the importance of family, etc etc).

What I really liked about A Quiet Place was the amount of detail that has been put into executing the premise. That being said, the small touches that the movie uses makes it frustrating to think of the premise in a larger context. A Quiet Place starts out with everyone playing Monopoly using cloth tokens instead of the standard ones. Okay, so the fear is that monsters might hear the tokens being jaunted across the board and attack? If that's the case, then how does one handle snoring or farting which are noises that are certainly louder than token-skomping. And you can't tell me that the family can harvest the crops they are growing without making a sound greater than moving a Monopoly token, even if they do it by hand. If louder sounds in the vicinity mask the quieter sounds around them, then why not broadcast the sound of running water around the farm rather than worrying about running a lighting system?

There are a lot more nerdy nit-picks that I can make, and I'm sure that there are people out there more observant than me who can pick out even more than what I noticed. But, you can't let those nits take you out of the movie. So, turn off your brain, go to the theater when few people will be there, and go see A Quiet Place.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Tour Of A Toys R Us

Toys R Us is in the middle of closing all of their stores and liquidating all of their inventory. The thing about liquidation sales is that they don't automatically mean you'll be getting a super low price. At least, not right away. A liquidation sale means that merchandise that was marked down before the liquidation are no longer marked down. The original price of the merchandise goes back up to 100%, and then the price gradually falls. The liquidator will first mark items down to 10% off, then 20%, finally escalating to some actual deals that might even beat sale prices elsewhere.

When I visited the Toys R Us in Orland Park, IL, there liquidation sale was still at the 10% phase. A lot of merchandise was still on the shelves. The place was pretty active for an early Saturday night. Follow along with me as I take a quick tour of the Toys R Us in Orland Park, IL.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Lost In Space

I binge watched the new Netflix original series, Lost In Space, this weekend. It's based upon the television series from the '60s that follows the adventures of the Robinson family, stow-away Dr. Smith and The Robot aboard their ship, Jupiter 2, as they try to find their way to their colony in the Alpha Centauri system. The 2018 update has the family assigned to a colonial group with several other colonists and Jupiter vessels aboard a mothership named Resolute. Overall, the 2018 reboot series is pretty good and evokes some nice callbacks to the original Lost in Space series, including Billy Mummy, who played Will Robinson in the original series, playing the "real" Dr. Smith in the reboot.

I have to admit that I almost stopped watching the show during the pilot. The science was so far off, that I was finding it hard to suspend disbelief. For example:

  • Temperatures in the area that the Robinsons landed are stated to be -60 C. I can buy that their suits would keep them warm, but, I find it hard to believe that they could remove their helmets and not have the urge to at least cover their ears or the top of their heads somehow. 

  • Judy Robinson becomes trapped in a glacial lake that is rapidly freezing. In the show, the lake freezes from the bottom up. In actuality, water freezes from the top down. The lake she's in can't be liquid carbon dioxide because carbon dioxide can't exist in that state under standard Earth pressure/temperature. You'd need an atmospheric pressure of 5 times that of Earth's in order to get carbon dioxide to a liquid state. 

  • Will Robinson has the brilliant idea to ignite some magnesium to use as a heat source to melt the ice and free his sister. He says something along the lines of "Do you know what happens when magnesium meets ice? It burns even hotter". Problem is, that only happens with dry ice, which is frozen carbon dioxide (2Mg + CO2 -> 2MgO + C). 
Once you get past the pilot episode, the subsequent episodes are pretty good. I like the dysfunctional family dynamic, I like the slow reveal of what happened to Earth and the nature of the aliens. And I hate Dr. Smith in a way that I haven't hated a villain since Gaius Baltar on the Battlestar Galactica reboot or Kai Winn on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I found the ending of the season finale to be a little bland and predictable, and I found the back and forth with the robot (He's he's he's gone he's back again..aaaaaaand GONE! For now!) to be a bit much. 

Overall, I think you'll enjoy Lost In Space if you can take the time to binge watch it and turn off your brain a little. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Car Warranty Scammer Calls Me

A rep from one of those fly-by-night car warranty companies called me. They call me about once a week and usually hang up once I start going into one of my characters. This time, however, the rep took the bait.

The rep asked for Thomas Mac and I then came on trying to sound like a crazy, doddering old man. She asks me about my Mustang and I start going on about the joys of driving a convertible. She asked how many miles I had on the Mustang and I tried to wax philosophical. I spent a good 10 minutes going off on tangents, the funniest being when I kept trying to figure the origin of her first name.  Whenever she'd try to connect me with a specialist, I'd misunderstand and start complaining about my medical problems.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Top 5 Eggs Benedict In New Orleans

The dish known as Eggs Benedict, a breakfast dish consisting of two halves of an English muffin each topped with Canadian bacon or ham, a poached egg, and hollandaise sauce, was first popularized in New York City around the late 1800s. Several restaurants in New Orleans have their own take on the dish, and I have sampled many of them over the years. If you're as big of an Eggs Benedict fan as I am, then you might want to know where to find the best Eggs Benedict in New Orleans. The following list is my own opinion:

TommyMac's Best Eggs Benedict In New Orleans:

  1. Cafe Fleur-De-Lis: Hands down, the best Eggs Benedict in New Orleans. The spicy hollandaise sauce gives this take on the dish a good kick without being overwhelming and without significantly changing the nature of the dish. 

  2. The Old Coffee Pot: Their Chicken Benedict is a welcome deviation from the original. They replace the Canadian bacon with buttermilk chicken and the hollandaise sauce with biscuit gravy. 

  3. Cafe Pontabla: Their Cajun Benedict replaces the traditional Canadian bacon with spicy cajun sausage. 

  4. Stanley: Their Breaux Bridge Benedict features boudin, ham, American cheese, poached eggs, and Hollandaise on French bread.

  5. Court Of The Two Sisters: They use the classic recipe and they do it very well. Why try to improve upon perfection?

Friday, April 6, 2018

Yet Another Insurance Scammer Calls Me

I got a call from some rep pushing a "new, state of the art, pain relieving technology" sling to help relieve shoulder pain. She asked for "Thomas Mac" and I begged off and pushed her off to my "dad" who was the one with shoulder pain, Diksmash. Diksmash was all too happy to tell the rep about his shoulder pain. She asked if his pain was in his left or his right. Diksmash said it was in his shoulder. She attempted to clarify. He attempted to remember which bone his shoulder was connected to. She eventually gave up and asked about his insurance. She asked Diksmash if he was with Aetna. Diksmash said he once had a girlfriend named Edna, but that was years ago and he figured she was dead by now. The rep said "No...." and Diksmash jumped to the conclusion that she was saying that his girlfriend was alive! He was so excited, he had to tell his son right away that his girlfriend was alive! The rep said she didn't know Diksmash's girlfriend which made him very mad. The rep muttered something and hung up.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Best Bread Puddings In New Orleans

Among other things, New Orleans is famous for its bread pudding. Nearly every restaurant in town offers some variation on it. And, I'm a huge fan of it. Over the years, and over this specific trip, I've sampled a lot of bread pudding in New Orleans. Who has the best bread pudding in New Orleans? Well, that's subjective. But, for my money, the best bread pudding in New Orleans comes down to five places:

TommyMac's Top 5 Bread Puddings in New Orleans:

1) Commander's Palace
2) Red Fish Grill
3) Bon Ton Cafe
4) Muriel's
5) Napoleon House

Now, hands down, the bread pudding at the Commander's Palace is the best bread pudding in New Orleans. At $25 a serving, it's rather pricey for what you get. So, when considering the dollars to deliciousness ratio, the bread pudding at Red Fish Grill is probably your best bet. 

I'm told that I also need to try the bread pudding at Copeland's, Mother's and Dookey Chase's. We'll save those for next time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Sights And Sounds Of Jackson Square

I have to admit, Jackson Square is one of my favorite places in all of New Orleans. French colonists originally created the area as Place D'Armes (Weapon's Square). When the Spanish took over New Orleans, they called it Plaza De Armas. After the Great New Orleans Fire in 1788, the Spanish rebuilt the adjoining St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo (where the Louisiana Purchase was signed). In 1815, to honor Colonel Andrew Jackson's victory in the Battle Of New Orleans, the area was re-named to Jackson Square and statue representing Colonel Jackson was erected in the middle of the square.

The area regularly plays host to a number of painters, musicians, psychics and other artistic individuals at any given time. My daughter and I grabbed some sandwiches from Nola Po'Boys on Bourbon Street and headed over to Jackson Square to eat them and people watch. The video I took should give you a good idea of what Jackson Square is like.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Tour Of St. Louis Cemetery #2

St. Louis Cemetery No 2 is located on Claiborne Ave,  just a few blocks from St. Louis Cemetery No 1 between St. Louis Street and Iberville Street. It's divided into two sections due to Bienville Street  being run through it later in its existence. Some famous people interred here include: The Venerable Mother Henriette DeLille (a current candidate for Sainthood with one officially recognized miracle credited to her), Oscar Dunn (Louisiana's first African American Lt. Governor) as well as a number of politicians and soldiers.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Walking Down Bourbon Street

Most of the streets in the New Orleans French Quarter are named after French royal houses and Catholic saints. Of course, the most recognizable and famous street in all of New Orleans is Bourbon Street. Named for the ruling house of France at the time, The Bourbons, Bourbon Street quickly became notorious for its brothels, saloons and gambling parlors. After WWII, efforts to clean up Bourbon Street started to mount, culminating in the 1970s when Mayor Landrieu turned it into a pedestrian mall in order to stimulate tourism. The next 20 years saw Bourbon Street turned into a tourist trap nicknamed Creole Disney with the proliferation of souvenir shops and corporate ventures. There's still a bit of a seedy side to Bourbon Street these days. There are some strip clubs and adult stores among all the restaurants, bars and shops lining the streets. And, on any given night, you never know what you'll see from one of the balconies along the route. But, on a Monday night at 8am, I figured it would be tame enough to bring my daughter along for a video walking tour.

A couple of highlights of the walking tour include me catching some beads at around 5:34 and me holding the sign for Huge Ass Beers at about 10:10

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Tour Of St. Louis Cemetery #3

We took a trek out to New Orleans City Park today. On our way, we stopped at St. Louis Cemetery #3 and did a quick video tour. Opened in 1894, St. Louis Cemetery #3 is much better organized than its counterparts. It was flooded during Hurricane Katrina but most of the tombs sustained only minor damage. Famous people entombed here include ragtime composer Paul Sarebresole, photographer E. J. Bellocq, and painter Ralston Crawford.

If you're in the vicinity, make sure to also stop by The Luling Mansion and Pitot House.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Afternoon Tea at Le Salon

When I was very young, I had a fat old Irish nanny who helped take care of me and my siblings. My father worked a lot and my mom was both working and going to school. That, and the fact that we were all little monsters made it necessary for some extra help to be brought in. This lady doted on me and every afternoon we would have tea and snacks. With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to take my daughter to an "offical" afternoon tea. The Windsor Court Hotel hosts one every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Le Salon.

There's a difference between afternoon tea and high tea. Afternoon tea is, of course, served in the afternoon and acts like a small meal between lunch and dinner. Tea is typically served with small finger sandwiches and snack sized pastries. Whereas afternoon tea is seen as a social occasion, high tea is a meal itself and replaces dinner. Meats, breads and pies are generally served at high tea.

Le Salon has over two dozen different teas to choose from. Pick your favorite and a pot will be brewed for you. While you're waiting for your tea, you choose a refreshing cocktail (non-alcoholic versions are available). And while you drink your tea, small sandwiches are served. The pastries are sent near the end. With a professional harp player adding to the ambiance, it's a good environment to have a small social occasion with friends and family.

I had thought it was a pretty novel idea, and my daughter and I had a pretty good time. The last time we had tea together, she was a toddler and her stuffed animals were invited.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Tour Of St. Louis Cemetery #1

New Orleans is famous for its cemeteries with above-ground burial plots. Having plot after plot of stone crypts and mausoleums have an effect of creating cities of the dead, and, as such, make for unique tourist attractions. New Orleans was built on swamp land, and much of it is below sea level, which meant that if you dig just a few feet down, you'll end up striking water. And nobody wants a to be buried in a watery grave. So, the only solution was to build up.

St. Louis Cemetery #1 is located just outside of the French Quarter on Basin Street between St. Louis and Treme Streets. It's the final resting place of many famous New Orleans citizens like Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen. History records that the Laveau was buried somewhere in St. Louis Cemetery #1, but the exact location is disputed. Most sources say that she was buried in the Glapion family crypt, plot 347. Visitors to her tomb who seek her favor from beyond the grave draw an "X" on the tomb, turn around three times, knock on the tomb, yell out their wish, and if it was granted, come back and circle their "X," and then leave Laveau an offering.

Other famous New Orleans citizens who are buried in St. Louis Cemetery #1 include chess champion Paul Morphy, Homer Plessy of the landmark Supreme Court segregation decision Plessy vs. Ferguson and Ernest "Dutch" Morial, the first African American mayor of New Orleans (although he was moved to a family plot in St. Louis Cemetery #3 in 2014). It is also the future resting place of actor Nicholas Cage.

These days, due primarily to the desecration of the alleged Marie Laveau tomb, the cemetery has been closed to the public. The only way in is to pay for a tour, which usually costs around $20. However, if you are a genealogist or have family buried in St. Louis Cemetery #1, you can get a pass from the New Orleans Archdiocese and get in for free. Since I've written a fair amount of genealogy articles for various publications, I qualified.

I decided to do a video tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1, so, with my daughter in tow and with two passes in our hands, we trekked out to the cemetery. Immediately, I was struck with the large number of tour groups. I would also discover soon that those tour guides don't like it when someone gets in for free. Can't have someone horning in on their meal ticket. At about 9:32 into the video, I bump into a tour guide who asks me if I had lost my group. "I am the group", I replied. She then asks if I am taking video, and, of course, I lied and said that I wasn't. She then threatens to call someone and actually gets on her cell phone in the middle of her tour to try and get me busted. From that point on, I start trying to avoid the tour groups in the cemetery, which was not an easy feat, given that there were so many of them.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Paranormal Investigation at St. Vincent Infant Asylum

My daughter and I signed up for a ghost investigation run by French Quarter Phantoms. Now, I'm not exactly what you would call a believer. At best, you could call me an open-minded skeptic. I've had some weird paranormal type things happen to me a few times over the years, but most of what I have encountered could be explained away via various means. Still, a ghost hunt in a "haunted" area in the most haunted city in America sounded like an opportunity that we couldn't pass up.

St. Vincent's Asylum is located on the corner of Race and Magazine street just a few blocks East of the Garden District. It was originally built in 1861 as an orphanage for children whose parents were killed in the Civil War or by the Yellow Fever epidemic that ran through the city. It was run by the Sisters of Charity and heavily funded by Margaret Haughery. She was widely known throughout New Orleans as "Our Margaret," “The Bread Woman of New Orleans", "Mother of Orphans" and "Saint Margaret". She devoted her life to the care and feeding of the poor and hungry, and to fund and build orphanages throughout the city. St. Vincent's Asylum was home to a number of colorful figures throughout its operation including priests, nuns, children of various ages, and a sadistic doctor. St. Vincent's has been converted into a hostel where people on a budget can stay. Guests report seeing ghostly children playing in the rooms and common areas as well as hearing their eerie laughter throughout the hallways. The apparition of a Nun ascending the front stairway has also been reported. Before we were there tonight, we heard it told that a guest in Room 26 awoke this morning to the feeling of someone sitting on his feet at the edge of the bed.

We went in to Room 26 to try to make contact with whatever spirit may be lurking there. As part of the investigation, the lead investigator from French Quarter Phantoms used some proximity detectors and a tool called an echo vox which, in this case, uses brief snippets of sounds coming from random FM stations. Don't ask me how a ghost would use these tool to communicate with the living, because I don't know. And, to be honest, I feel that the human brain's tendency towards pattern recognition makes it likely that anyone using the tool would unintentionally recognize many of the FM snippets as actual words. So, straight away, I didn't think that it was a good tool to use for the investigation. The proximity detectors, however, did show some interesting results that are more difficult for me to explain. Go ahead and watch the video I took in Room 26 of St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum for yourself. It's dark in there, but you can see the lights of the proximity detectors that have been placed on the bed.

After we finished our investigation in Room 26, we ventured down to the common room of St. Vincent's Guest House which used to be the library of St. Vincent's Infant Asylum. Here, the investigation centered on using dousing rods as a sort-of poor man's Ouija board. In theory, you ask a spirit yes/no questions. The spirit is asked to cross the dousing rods for "NO" and uncross them for "YES" or vice versa. After a little bit of coaxing, my daughter got up to make a run with the dousing rods.

After the library, we all moved on to the dormitory. This part of the investigation was much like the one in Room 26. In my opinion, not much of note happened during this part of the investigation. However, one of the lead investigators does give a pretty good explanation of how the echo vox works.