(This title is Jacob’s responsibility.)
(Don’t forget to hover over the pictures to see captions.)
I’m so tired that only my sense of duty and Jacob’s nagging is keeping me at the keyboard right now. We managed to go a lot longer today together than I have all week alone, with careful planning and a lot of cold water, but it was still a lot of walking. I had Jacob plot out our route and we walked at least 2.5 miles.
We had a late start, mainly because I had trouble sleeping last night but also because, in this city, there’s really no incentive to get started early; most places open at 10 and by then the streets are steaming like an oyster on the half-shell. Unfortunately we had to skip lunch at Mena’s because an awful lot of tourists were there before us. Stupid tourists. We turned around and crossed Canal Street to find the UPS Store (Note to everyone: UPS is way better than FedEx in almost every way and very helpful to out-of-towners with a book-buying compulsion) and ended up getting lunch at a sports-themed po-boy place whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. Their roast beef is divine and the ambience very cheering. I’m not a huge sports fan myself, but I enjoy being around fans who really embrace their fandom. It’s probably going to turn out that the owner was a college football star and I had no idea how cool it was for him to hand us our change; we only realized he’d been an athlete when we saw two photos of a marathon runner, the same man ten years apart, and recognized in him our cashier.
I was beginning to worry that the Pharmacy Museum would suck after how hard I’d tried to get in there. No worries. It’s a small place on Chartres just a couple blocks from Jackson Square, and you know you’re there because the windows have several enormous show globes filled with different-colored liquids. Nowadays they probably just put food coloring in; I can’t imagine what they used to do to get those colors. The globes used to be how you identified a place to get medicine, but there’s a difference of opinion as to how they came about or what exactly the signified. Red was supposed to mean an epidemic, but aside from that it’s less certain.
We paid our money and got a couple of binders with information about everything they have. I love self-guided tours. The soda
fountain on the front floor is of cherrywood and real marble and, except for not being hooked up to anything, still works. I’m just old enough to remember the pharmacy on Provo’s Center Street and its soda fountain, which to me was about the coolest thing ever. The guidebook said that soda fountains were installed originally to make medicine taste better so kids would take it (and adults too, let’s not kid ourselves. “Kid” ourselves—hah! I crack myself up sometimes).
As you’d expect, most of the displays were antique bottles of every possible shape. One whole row had those beautiful deep-blue glass bottles…all of them marked POISON. It seems some pharmacies would use that color to quickly identify substances that could kill. Puts a whole new complexion on those innocent bottles, huh? Another thing they did was to use obscure names and abbreviations so slightly smarter people wouldn’t know how to find the silver nitrate or belladonna. Some of those bottles still had powders in them. I wouldn’t want to find out how efficacious they still are.
The first floor also had a lot of medical tools, some of which we still use (in very much more advanced forms) and some of which are thankfully outdated. I’d heard of a fleam before, but never seen one—it’s a short blade attached to the end of a metal rod that the doctor would press into the patient’s vein to make a deep cut that could be closed and reopened for multiple bleedings. There were several old stethoscopes, a “sugar scale” in its own glass cabinet that looked like something out of a mad scientist’s lair (duh, of course I wanted it for myself!) and many other tools of the pharmacist’s trade. There was even a set of trepanning saws; I didn’t realize that those were in use as recently as the Civil War, not to let out the evil spirits, but to relieve pressure from cranial injuries or remove shattered bone from the skull. I told Jacob I needed a set of these so I could threaten the kids with releasing their evil spirits. He said I’d need a bigger set. I was geeking out the whole time, all that nineteenth-century paraphernalia, but I’m pretty sure my favorite was a little pouch of glass ampoules, each of which would contain a single dose of medicine. They were common before pill-making became the preferred method of dosing. Gosh, they were cute.
To get to the second floor, you have to go outside and up through the loggia, which is a covered staircase usually at the back or side of the house. There was a pretty courtyard and a plaque indicating that Walgreens had contributed to keeping the museum going. That’s a weird thought. The Pharmacy Museum’s displays have about as much in common with Walgreens’ clean and sanitized stores as a child’s scribble has with War and Peace. And yet…they are the same. Looking at all those rows of bottles, all I could think was that those people really cared about helping people get well. All those different remedies, all those tools—they were doing the absolute best they knew how. For example, the first floor had laminated cards here and there with quotes from contemporary doctors and writers and other prominent people, and one of them was by an eminent physician of the day. He was talking about the controversy over “bleeding” a patient (that’s right, even back then there were sane people who questioned the value of inflicting wounds to help someone heal). This guy was absolutely sincere in his belief that it was the best treatment medicine could offer, because he had seen the results—immediate results—first-hand. Sure, I read that and think “dude, have you never heard of a controlled experiment or the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc?” (This is because I am a hopeless intellectual snob who thinks in Latin phrases.) But you’ve got to admit that it’s not that unreasonable to believe the things you experience are true, because most of the time, they are. Still, I can’t believe we didn’t take a picture of the jar of leeches. Not the pretty ceramic jar, the ugly glass cylinder full of dirty water and actual leeches. Ladies and gentlemen, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum! Bring the kids!
Upstairs is where they keep the smaller exhibits, like the old eyeglasses or the obstetrical gear. One of the rooms is set up like a nineteenth-century bedroom so you can get the full effect of imagining what it would have been like to give birth back then. I won’t describe some of the equipment on display, but the whole thing made me glad that a) I live in modern times and b) I am never ever going to have children again. The eyeglasses were really cool, though. There were a couple of pairs of Chinese glasses with huge round thick lenses; the guidebook said that the Chinese made them this way on purpose to indicate dignity and wisdom. So those old caricatures of Chinese people with huge glasses—those were based on reality.
Our itinerary for the day was to go from the museum to a bookstore supposedly just northeast of Jackson Square, then to the flea market to see if we could buy a third suitcase and whatever else seemed good. But this route took us past the St. Louis Cathedral, and we decided to stop here for a while.
The Cathedral is a beautiful, peaceful place. There is a leaflet just inside the door that has a map of the interior with a guide to all the statues and windows. The stained glass windows show important events in the life of Louis IX of France, crusader and champion of the Church. The stained glass is almost 100 years old, as far as we could tell, and the colors are just extraordinary. I can’t imagine what the people who were there to pray were thinking; there weren’t many tourists, and we were all very quiet, but I wonder if it’s distracting at all.
I had to do a little asking around to find the statue of St. Therese of Lisieux, someone I’ve long admired. In 1888 she entered a Carmelite convent at age 15 and was there until her death at age 24. She never did anything obviously great, never made a big splash in the world, but she had great faith in God and in His work. I’m not Catholic, but the idea of making a difference in the world without following the world’s ways is profoundly moving to me.
After a relatively unproductive visit to the bookstore, we strolled along to the flea market. Jacob found a nice suitcase, one of those ones on rollers with a telescoping handle, and then the vendor recognized me from when I’d bought my new wallet from her! I got a few compliments on my aragonite and goldstone pendant and tried to control my urge to just buy everything I saw. One interaction was a little embarrassing: I was looking for a gift for <unnamed female friend> and stopped at a stall to look over the jewelry. I was admiring a fleur-de-lis pendant with red crystals when the stall owner started aggressively trying to make a deal. “It’s got earrings to match, make me an offer, etc.” I decided that it just wasn’t what I was looking for, but they insisted I make an offer. So I said I wasn’t planning to spend more than $15, but it just wasn’t what I wanted. Even as we were walking away, they were saying “$10? How about $5, you want it for $5?” This confirmed my guess that the “crystals” were just cut plastic, but at $5 I might have bought the set if I hadn’t felt so awkward about their urgency. We did get some very nice things, including a skirt for me and a watch for Jacob.
It was about 4:30 when we realized that there was another store we needed to visit over on Royal that would almost certainly close at 5. We went as fast as we could, but it was already closed (and had been so long before 5, bah). But that was the end of our energy. We collapsed in the glorious room until almost 8, then went across the street to Daisy Duke’s for dinner. This was not at all what I expected; it was a step or two up, ambience-wise, from the bar/restaurant we thought it was. It also serves breakfast 24 hours a day. You could think of it as a Southern-fried version of Denny’s but with better food. I got red beans and rice with a very nice slow burn to the palate and some excellent cornbread. Many people don’t realize that good cornbread is just the slightest bit sweet, not salty, and this had good texture as well as flavor. Jacob had an omelet and grits (of course).
We haven’t made plans for tomorrow. To tell the truth, we aren’t that thrilled about any of the haunted tours we’ve looked into. So far, it’s just breakfast at Mena’s and then…who knows!