Friday, May 19, 2017

Who Needs History?

Lee Circle
New Orleans, LA 70130
GPS:29.943312, -90.072500

When you don't like history ...

Bamian, Afghanistan

... take over power and rewrite it.

Robert E. Lee Monument, Lee Circle, New Orleans, LA, USA

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Vieux Carré

The French Quarter, New Orleans, LA

You know you’re there by the smell. The French Quarter is a creature of the night. Her neon eyes shine bright after the sun goes down. Day people are gone and night revelers take ownership of the streets.

Night on Bourbon Street

I have been to New Orleans several times. The French Quarter has changed, so have I.
No more dixieland and jazz floating from open bars. It’s hard rock now. Money, not love of music, motivates bar owners. Hard Rock sells booze, jazz does not. The jazz scene has moved over to Frenchman Street between Royal and Decatur, just outside the French Quarter. The Maison, Blue Nile, Three Muses, The Spotted Cat Music Club, and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro are places to go for good jazz along with good food. Tickets are required.

But deep inside the French Quarter, one location, 726 St Peter Street, keeps the old tradition alive. Preservation Hall still offers four shows nightly in a simple unadorned venue with no food or liquor — just jazz. They are the “preservation” hall. Tickets are required there too.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

There are elegant restaurants in the French Quarter. Places such as Antoine’s, Tujague's, Arnaud's, Galatoire's, Broussard's, and Brennan's with tablecloths, napkins, and nice silverware are world famous. Behind the windows, fancy meals concocted by talented chefs are served by well dressed waiters to well healed patrons. Outside, it’s junk food and alcohol.
Antoine’s; since 1840

At night, steel posts mounted in the streets keep vehicles out and turn the streets into pedestrian malls. The cacophony of hard rock from many places, all with doors and windows open is deafening. Each bar claiming greatness by trying to be the loudest.

Visitors hit the streets intent on a night of wild revelry. Most drink too much, too fast, and too soon crawl back to their hotel to face the hangover that awaits. In the wee hours, waiters, waitresses, bartenders, hookers, and pickpockets disappear to count their loot, sleep, and wait for twilight again.

Morning brings sunlight and the unique smell of the French Quarter — stale beer from the night just past. The steel posts are removed to allow entry to the delivery trucks replenishing the libations for the night to come and carrying off empty kegs and trash trucks hauling away the debris generated by the partyers. Sometime during the day the streets may be washed, taking away some of the smell.

Jackson Square comes awake in the morning. Street people rise from the park benches and melt into somewhere, like the ghosts on Bald Mountain. Artists arrive and set up their tables, easels, and tents to sell their creations. They take command of the square. Where do they come from? … the same places the street people disappear too?
Jackson Square

Walking along Bourbon Street, one would think the Quarter is nothing but restaurants and bars. Not so. What is now the French Quarter was originally the entire city of New Orleans.
Now the French Quarter, originally the city of New Orleans

Many of the streets are lined with private residences. Creole townhouses are perhaps the most iconic pieces of architecture in the city, comprising much of the French Quarter and the neighboring Faubourg Marigny. Creole townhouses were built after the Great New Orleans Fire in 1788, until the mid-19th century. These structures with courtyards, thick walls, arcades, and cast-iron balconies dominate. The facade of the buildings sit on the property line, with an asymmetrical arrangement of arched openings. Creole townhouses have a steeply-pitched roof with parapets, side-gabled, with several roof dormers and strongly show their French and Spanish influence. The exterior is made of brick or stucco.
A Creole Townhouse

Urban living anywhere is living in close quarters. The Creole townhouses were built as fortresses to “shut out” the street. Consider a city street during the early 1800s. Narrow streets with narrow sidewalks — maybe cobblestones, maybe mud. Traffic was horses and carriages – four-legged manure machines freely dumping solid and liquid waste on the street. (Cowboy movies never show that part). Add physical and human trash, and you have a noisy, smelly brew that every resident wanted to shut out. Thus houses had an internal courtyard that was the focus of family living and heavy shutters on the street side windows and doors. Remember that New Orleans is a southern city – hot and humid.
Creole Townhouse Floor Plan

Nights of revelry are ancient memories for these four old cronies. We’re now the day people doing walking tours of a town that sleeps all day. Bars are silent and almost empty, but still, there are hustlers standing in the doorways trying to get you to enter and taste their fine dining or have a drink. The street noise usually comes from trash trucks, but this time the din was from street repairs/construction. In April 2017, the 100 block of Bourbon Street was closed off for reconstruction of the street and its underground utilities as part of the city's $6 million French Quarter infrastructure project. Walking is now through tunnels of scaffolding covered with tarps and construction barriers. The scene loses much of its appeal.

It was 1862. The country was in the throes of the Civil War. The Union troops had captured New Orleans, President Lincoln had just signed the Homestead Act and was preparing to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, and in the midst of all this turmoil, a tiny coffee shop opened in the picturesque New Orleans French Market. Named Café Du Monde, the stalwart little shop became known for three things. First, they only close on Christmas Day and when the occasional hurricane passes a little too close for comfort. Second, they specialize in the gorgeously rich, dark roasted coffee served, New Orleans-style, with a dash of chicory. And, third, they are famous for beignets, the plump, hot, sugared French-style doughnuts whose siren song entices both New Orleans natives and visitors.
Michelle is the one of our group who knows about beignets. She led the way to this very busy morning place. It was our first stop this morning – straight from the Ferry.
Café du Monde

Café du Monde famous Beignets

A few days ago when we entered Louisiana, I met David Hedges at the Sidell I-10 Rest Area and Visitor's Center near the Louisiana border.
David Hedges, Nola Tour Guy

I was impressed that a young man from New Orleans would travel fifty miles to market his tour guide services. I took his card and resolved to give him our business. David is a Chicago native who considers New Orleans his home. At the age of 19, he traveled to New Orleans and quickly became enamored with the city. After finishing college in Chicago he moved here permanently. In 2011, David obtained his tour guide license so he could share his passion for the city with others, but found that many existing tour companies were based out of state and offered only a cookie cutter, watered-down version of New Orleans’ unique history. So David started his own company, Nola Tour Guy.

Today we let him give us a two-hour walking tour of the French Quarter. We joined up with him at the La Divina Cafe e Gelateria at the corner of St Peter Street and Cabildo Alley, where we became part of a larger tour group.
Our tour group for today

David did a good job. Our walking tour was two hours of city history with emphasis on particular buildings and people that played a big part in the development of the city. Our route began at St Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square and finished at St Louis Cemetery No 1 at St Louis and Basin Streets. This is the burial site of voodoo queen Marie Laveau and other historic notables in the 18th and 19th century. There is a lot of St Louis in this paragraph.

I can not and will not recount everything we saw and heard in those two hours – except for two places that sparked my interest. 624 Pirate's Alley (love that name) is the house where William Faulkner penned his first novel. It is now home to Faulkner House Books, a full-service new and used bookstore. The store specializes in literature unique to the city and by authors who lived or wrote here. It's a great place for new and experienced collectors to find limited and first edition prints of books by Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and other classics. Manager Miss Joanne is supremely knowledgeable and can match you with a satisfyingly good read. Sifting through the dusty classics and finding a signed first edition has been known to happen here.
Faulkner House Books

One block away from the Faulkner house is 722 Toulouse Street. Tennessee Williams lived in an upstairs apartment at this address early in his career, and it is now part of The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC). In this apartment, he wrote his short story "The Angel in the Alcove," and it is where he found inspiration for his play Vieux Carré and other works. Under the care of The Historic New Orleans Collection, it looks a lot better than when Williams lived here.
722 Toulouse Street

Williams used this home address in his play Vieux Carré. This highly autobiographical work is set in a dilapidated boarding house at 722 Toulouse Street in the late 1930s. It focuses on a nameless, newly transplanted, innocent, aspiring St. Louis writer who is struggling with his literary career, poverty, loneliness, homosexuality, and a cataract. Although Williams began writing it shortly after moving to New Orleans in 1938, he didn't finish it until nearly forty years later. I never heard of this play. I think I know why. This doesn’t strike me as an uplifting experience. That subject matter could not be discussed back then. How things do change.

Earlier I mentioned Antonine’s as one of the upscale restaurants. They have an annex at 513 Royal Street featuring daily fresh baked pastries, sandwiches, salads, gelato, and coffee. We needed a rest and some refreshment, so we stopped there and enjoyed some gelato.
Antoines Annex

Next to the Annex was our next stop, the Historic New Orleans Collection. In this complex of historic French Quarter buildings at 533 Royal Street, The Collection operates a museum, which includes the Williams Gallery for changing exhibitions and the Louisiana History Galleries tracing Louisiana’s multifaceted past; the Williams Residence (a house museum); a museum shop; and administrative offices.This place celebrates city's history and culture with guided tours and free exhibitions. Their museum shop carries works by independent artists. What caught my eye was the big poster for the Great River Road.
Historic New Orleans Collection

During our morning walking tour, we did not go inside St Louis Cathederal. The cathederal is a ‘must visit’ so we headed that way. On the way to the cathederal, we took a slight detour on St Peter St (between Bourbon and Royal) to Preservation Hall. I wanted Bonnie and Jim to see this place even though it was not show time. The last time we were here, getting in for a show was first come, first served, and the line began forming early in the afternoon. They now sell tickets for specific shows, and they sell memorabilia in the alley beside the hall. Michelle found a patch for our travel quilt.
Preservation Hall

The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and is the oldest cathedral in the United States. Regardless of your faith, this building is impressive both outside and inside. Enter just for a short respite from the heat. Sit in a pew and take it all in. You cannot walk out unaffected. You can take a tour of the building.
The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis

By now, the afternoon was waning and these old birds were getting hungry and feeling the need to get back to our roost. Restaurant shopping was not appealing, so we decided to repeat last night’s favorable experience at Oceana at the corner of Bourbon and Conti Streets -- just inside the French Quarter. Our waitress last night told us to return and show our receipt for a discount. That made the decision even easier.
Oceana Seafood and Grill

Tonight I enjoyed Seafood Gumbo and Alligator sausage (Atchafalaya).

Seafood Gumbo


Michelle had Crab Cakes and we couldn't resist another Bread Pudding for dessert.
Oceana's Bread Pudding

We have mastered the trolley/ferry routine, so ending our day in The French Quarter and getting back across the river to our campground was an easy task. It was a good day – long and tiring but good.

Thanks to Jim Spain for some of these photographs


Bayou Segnette State Park
7777 Westbank Expressway
Westwego, LA 70094
GPS: 29.88990o, -090.16239o


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The New Orleans Garden District

Bayou Segnette State Park
7777 Westbank Expressway
Westwego, LA 70094
GPS: 29.88990o, -090.16239o

Our instructions for today were "Take the Canal Street trolley north to Carondelet, get a transfer, get on the St Charles trolley, ride to the Garden District, and get off wherever you like."

Canal and St Charles Trollies

If Blanche could do it so can we. Today we were determined to see the famed "Garden District".

From the ferry, we boarded the Canal Street trolley north for a very short ride to Carondelet.

The St Charles trolley gave us an interesting view, so we chose to ride to the end of the line and back, then get off in the middle of the Garden District. It has been ages since I rode a trolley. The ride recalled memories from my ‘kid’ days, although my trolley rides didn’t go through neighborhoods like this.

The Garden District is famous for the mansions along St Charles Avenue for much of the uptown section. Click here for more detail on some of those mansions. St. Charles Avenue is one of the chief Mardi Gras parade routes.

I've never been much for walking around adoring the homes of rich people I don't know, but it must appeal to some. There were several "rickshaw" type bicycle carriages successfully hawking tours.

A few old houses on St Charles Avenue
photographed by Jim Spain

We walked about with no particular destination or plan and found ourselves at "Lafayette Cemetery No 1", a tourist attraction of some fame. It is falling into disrepair and obviously not being maintained by anyone. I suspect the tenants are not very happy with the situation. Now there is one spooky place -- even in daylight. If I was into writing scary stuff, I would park myself there for a night for inspiration. I settled for taking a few photos.

Lafayette Cemetery No 1

I know of Tulane University and I know of Loyola University. I know that they are both in New Orleans. What I didn't know until today is that they are both in the Garden District and side by side. You can't get a coat of paint between them. So I learned something today.

Tulane and Loyola -- side by side

After walking the Garden District for a while, thoughts of food became a recurring theme. We reboarded the trolley and headed back to Canal Street where we met Dave.

This is Dave. That’s all I know about him.

Like most people, I try to avoid street people. But Dave wasn’t ‘street people’. He quickly gained my confidence, then took out a map of the French Quarter and marked good places to eat. I asked about places to hear good jazz. His response surprised me. “Good jazz and Dixieland have moved out of the Quarter. It takes hard rock to sell liquor and that is what the French Quarter is all about. For good jazz, you have to go to Frenchman Street. Places like The Maison, Blue Nile, Three Muses, The Spotted Cat Music Club, and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro.

For dinner at a reasonable price and within an easy walk, he pointed us to Oceana at the corner of Bourbon and Conti Streets -- just inside French Quarter.

Everything on their sign sounded good to us.

Oceana has a lot of character

Oysters on the half shell. Michelle’s favorite.

My Taste of New Orleans included
Creole jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, red beans and
rice with smoked sausage.

Jim and Bonnie split a Shrimp Poboy.

Shrimp Poboy

We split a very large portion of Bread Pudding for dessert.

We ran out of energy before we ran out of daylight. Time to head for the ferry and back to the campground. At our age we need to be home before dark. Seems like that was the way it was when I was a little kid.

Thanks to Jim Spain for many of these pictures


Sixteen Billion Gallons and a Streetcar Named Desire

Bayou Segnette State Park
7777 Westbank Expressway
Westwego, LA 70094
GPS: 29.88990o, -090.16239o

Today was all New Orleans -- mostly getting acquainted with their public transit system.

The Mississippi River flows north to south, as everyone knows. A careful look shows that the river travels mostly west to east and east to west as it whipsaws back and forth working its way from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. So as the river passes through New Orleans, it is traveling west to east in a crescent shape (hence the nickname Crescent City). The bulk of the city lies on the East Bank (north shore) but a substantial chunk of the metropolitan area lies on the West Bank (south shore).

Why New Orleans is nicknamed "The Crescent City"

Bayou Segnette State Park, our campground, is on the West Bank (south shore). So our first encounter with New Orleans public transit was with the Canal Street / Algiers Point Ferry to carry us over those sixteen billion gallons per hour I mentioned previously.

Algiers is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans and, the only Orleans Parish community located on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. Algiers is also known as the 15th Ward, one of the seventeen wards of New Orleans. Algiers Point was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and designated a local historic district in 1994.

In river pilotage, Algiers Point is simply one of the many points of land around which the river flows—albeit a significant one. Since the 1970s, the name Algiers Point has also referred to the neighborhood in the immediate vicinity of that point.

The course of the Mississippi River passing through New Orleans is in the shape of a crescent. As the river reaches the downriver end of that crescent, flowing by then in a northerly direction, it makes a sharp "right-hand" turn to the east. The French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and Bywater lie on the outside of the bend on the river's left descending bank. The point of land on the river's right descending bank is, and has historically been, called Algiers Point.

Just off this point is where the Mississippi River is at its deepest, approximately 200 feet deep. This depth varies from year to year as the river alternately scours and deposits silt. A U.S. Coast Guard aid to navigation, Algiers Point Light "95," marks the point.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' linear description of the location is mile 94.6 AHP (above Head of Passes) on the Lower Mississippi River. We located "Head of Passes" in yesterday's post

So this is where we went to board the ferry boat to New Orleans.

The Algiers Point Ferry Terminal is surprising in its simplicity. There is no parking lot. Only on-street parking in the residential neighborhood which comes right up to the terminal. The structure is typical tasteless government concrete with no signage visible as you approach. After two flights of stairs to get above the levee, you can see the river and realize you are in a ferry terminal. I guess part of my confusion came from the fact that this ferry carries no vehicles, only passengers and bicycles. Thus there is no need for a vehicle staging area. That reduces the real estate requirement to almost nothing.

Our ferry boat was the Col Frank X. Armiger, a 268-ton diesel, twin screw craft able to carry 351 passengers. It makes the crossing every thirty minutes.

The Col Frank X. Armiger

I've crossed rivers on ferry boats before. But I must admit I've never sat on top of sixteen billion gallons per hour. This is "Ole Man River". In the few minutes it took to cross the river, we encountered

sixteen billion gallons

St Louis Cathederal

Barges and Towboats

River boats

All comfortable sharing this waterway. I can see how this river has captured the imagination of so many people for so long.

The river's length is a gee-whiz statistic used to impress folks. For the Mississippi, that number is 2,348 miles. But the volume of water is determined more by the size of the drainage basin. On this score, I get conflicting information. One source says the Mississippi River is the third largest drainage basin in the world, after the Amazon and the Congo. Another source states that the Mississippi River is the chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. I'll leave that argument for other people on another day. I'm impressed with the fact that every drop of rain that falls between the Appalachians and the Rockies becomes part of the sixteen billion gallons passing this point every hour and that The Col Frank X. Armiger whisked us over it in less than half an hour.

Michelle and Bonnie just enjoyed the ride.
Jim and I took pictures.

Through all that river traffic, with no whistles or horns, the crossing took less than half an hour.

Approaching Canal Street Ferry Terminal

Though brightly decorated with the Mardi Gras spirit, the terminal still needs a paint job.

The Canal Street Ferry Terminal

Canal Street Ferry Terminal / Canal Street Station
where the river meets the road

Leaving the ferry put us at the foot of Canal Street, the hub of the New Orleans trolley system. We were four yokels in the big city, not knowing where we were, where we wanted to go, or how to get there. Today we were headed for the "Garden District". A kind soul told us to "Take the Canal Street trolley north to Carondelet, get a transfer, get on the St Charles trolley, ride to the Garden District, and get off wherever you like."

Of the four of us, I was the only one with big city trolley experience, and I was confused. Where I came from, you "took the G Bus or the 13 trolley". The only transit lines with street names were the two subway lines; the Broad Street subway, which traversed the entire city from north to south, or the Market Street subway, handling the job from east to west. In New Orleans, the trolley and bus lines are named after the street that dominates the route. There are five streetcar routes: Canal - Cemeteries, St Charles, Riverfront, Rampart, and Canal-City Park. All of the streetcars on each route carry the name of the route. Although confusing to me, I think the naming is much more romantic and classy than "13 trolley". Especially if one is called "The Streetcar Named Desire."

A Streetcar Named Desire

So where is "The Streetcar Named Desire"? Alas, it is no more -- since 1948 in fact. There was, and still is, a Desire Street in New Orleans and from 1920 to 1948, at the height of streetcar use in New Orleans, there was a streetcar route called "Desire". It ran through the French Quarter and on out east to the Marigny, Bywater, and Upper Ninth Ward neighborhoods where it ran on Desire Street for several miles. During that time every streetcar on that route carried the name Desire.

The "Desire" Streetcar Route

Tennessee Williams lived in The French Quarter (722 Toulouse Street) before he got rich and famous. So did William Faulkner (624 Pirate's Alley). I'm sure they each rode the Desire streetcar line often. What a master stroke for Williams to pick up the name "Streetcar Named Desire" for the title of the play that made him rich and famous. The name was taken from the line in the play where Blanche DuBois describes how she reached the Kowalski residence —"They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!"

"They told me to take a streetcar named Desire ..."

Our instructions for today were "Take the Canal Street trolley north to Carondelet, get a transfer, get on the St Charles trolley, ride to the Garden District, and get off wherever you like."

Canal and St Charles Trollies

If Blanche could do it so can we.

Thanks to Jim Spain for many of these pictures