Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Next Stop: Montreal


I love Montreal. And the proof of that love is reflected in the fact that I am visiting this exciting city in the middle of the winter. I love Montreal in the summer, when the port of Old Montreal is filled with activity and outdoor fests energize every other weekend. I love Montreal in the fall when the ice wineries feature non-stop tastings and restaurants host pop ups and tours. I love Montreal in the spring when locals dance in the parks and Jean Talon market  smells like fresh cannolis. But I don't know Montreal in winter. I've never been brave enough to subject myself to a winter more frigid than Chicago but when I was invited by Tourism Montreal to snow shoe in Mount Royal Park  (shown above) and to try fat biking and kick sledding in the Eastern township of Magog, I couldn't resist. I love snow shoeing , biking and sledding. So stay tuned for my inaugural winter adventures in Montreal. I'll also visit the  Lumiere winter festival of performing arts, gastronomy and outdoor activities so please keep a look out for updates!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Honoring Madam Marie Laveau in NOLA



On Tuesday, New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras with the traditional parades, parties and wild revelry that has made the Crescent City famous. I didn't attend this year's celebration but I always like to honor the tradition in some way, whether with a king's cake, pralines or listening to brass band music.This year, I munched on my last batch of pralines and recalled my visit to Marie Laveau's house on the edge of the French Quarter.



To natives of NOLA, Marie Laveau represents much more than the touristy shops and gimmicky tales associated with her role as a voudou priestess. She was highly regarded for her healing powers and her pride and knowledge of African rituals. She held her famous ceremonies right down the street from her house, in Congo Square. To visit New Orleans without paying homage to Madam Laveau is like going into someone's house without greeting the host. I sat on the stoop of the old building and offered my respects when a man came out of the house next door and set down a beautiful second line umbrella.  The second line tradition sprang from jazz funerals, which are also traced to African rituals. In a jazz funeral, the first line of people are the close relatives of the deceased and the second line are the people who join the procession and help brush away the sadness by dancing to the brass band and waving white handkerchiefs and umbrellas to shade them from the sun.



I stared at the umbrella, intricately decorated with feathers, sequins and golden fleur de lis. "You can have it if you want, we're moving," he said as he went back inside his house to retrieve more stuff. I picked up the umbrella and noted the feathers (a symbol Marie Laveau  often used). Smiling incredulously,  I thanked Marie as I left with my special gift.