The City that Care Forgot
Just spent some time in New Orleans and how I love that place. For me, that’s mostly the French Quarter, and it hasn’t changed much since the last time I was there, twenty years ago, but then that’s the Vieux Carre’s claim to fame: it’s old, venerable, historic and going to stay that way. Wars, hurricanes, politics, tourists – it takes it all in stride.
The Tennessee Williams literary festival was in full swing when I was there, replete with plays, lectures and the Stella screaming contest in Jackson Square. I paid homage by going to Faulkner House Books in Pirate’s Alley, owned by Joe DeSalvo. If I could own a bookshop, this would be the one because it’s unique (Faulkner actually stayed in the building and wrote) and I was told the philosophy of the owner is that a good bookshop is one where you could close your eyes, choose a book from the shelf, and be delighted. He’s right. The small store houses wonderful choices, and usually only one of each title. He’s a man after my own heart: so many great books, so little time. Joe, if you ever decide to sell, I'm your buyer.
Walking through the streets of the Quarter can pay dividends you never expected if you take the time to investigate. Royal Treasures is a case in point. The charming Damon closes the shop on weekends to avoid raucous tourists, but it’s a treasure house of handmade jewelry, gifts and artisan fairies, dancing on their gilded hooks. Hove Perfumuer Ltd. on Chartres is another wonder: original hand-blended fragrances available in scents, soaps and lotions, many with that special New Orleans essence of southern flowers and plants found nowhere else in the world.
Art galleries are everywhere, many full of old masters and very expensive, but there are unusual ones with new artists if you stop in and find out, and one I especially loved was Red Truck Gallery, featuring artists with unusual ideas and found treasures. If you choose to not purchase a work of art, they even have t-shirts available if you’re so inclined. For art of another kind, Trashy Diva’s one of a kind lingerie shop is delightful. I’m still thinking about the pink and black striped silk collection… You can’t miss it – there’s generally a tourist or two standing in front of the window with their mouths open, maybe in shock, maybe in anticipation. I don't judge.
Culinary delights abound. The Brennan family seem to have a lock on New Orleans eateries, with good and bad results, from Tableau to the newly re-opened Brennan’s, with quite a few in between – Commander’s Palace, etc. I wasn’t impressed with most of them. What did impress me, though, was K-Paul’s, absolutely the best food I ate in New Orleans, or maybe anywhere, along with gracious service and ambience. NOLA, and Emeril’s other restaurants, left me cold, oddly enough. I was expecting much more but got very so-so food and service, even though I kept hoping. One night we opted for the venerable Galatoire’s, and found mostly a locals crowd, enjoying great martinis, superb steaks and sides, all with a southern touch.
Bars and clubs are everywhere, music spilling out as you pass, and not just on Bourbon Street. My favorite place is Napoleon House, actually built as a sanctuary for Napoleon himself , but Elba, sadly, happened first. Quarterites favor the place, and the signature drink is a Pimm’s cup. It’s old, the walls covered with antique photographs and art, the ceilings high, and the music here is classical, a nice change from the ubiquitous blues and rock everywhere else.
The Vieux Carre is a magical place, like Disneyland for adults. You walk, you drink, you eat, you dance, you listen, and late at night, you call a pedicab and tip heavily. After a few days, though, you rather long for reality. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live here. I met a writer named Michelle who does and she loves it, but admits it won’t be forever. Others I talked with live outside the quarter as it became just too much, living and working in this relatively small area. It’s crowded - filled with tourists, some of whom are respectful of the place and eager to soak up its history, others who come here just for a good time, spiked with plenty of alcohol, drugs and sex, and don’t care if the building they’re in once housed Jean LaFitte or somebody threw it together yesterday.
It’s of no matter. Laissez le bon temps rouler… street musicians, artists, music, food, hurricanes, voodoo, absinthe, friendliness, joy and life – spilling out everywhere. Yep, I love the place. I’ll be back, and it’ll be sooner than twenty years this time. Make me a Pimm's cup, will you, Jason? I'll be around a while.