Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 21: The Big Easy AKA New Orleans

Where to Begin?

Think about where you live. What makes it special? What kinds of foods are popular? Are there monuments in your town? If so, what do they signify? In other words, what people and events are remembered and honored? How did those who lived long ago affect how you live today? These are all questions I pondered as I walked around New Orleans. And did I walk! I am certain if I had worn a pedometer, it would have registered more than five miles. I began walking about 8:00 a.m. and pretty much walked continuously until almost 4:00 p.m. with a quick stop for breakfast and a half hour respite for lunch. My feet tell me they visited many sites and my brain is filled with rich memories of aromas, tastes, sounds, and sights. I had no way to capture the aromas, tastes, and sounds, but I took more than 200 photographs.

After thinking it over, I’ve decided to post the pictures over the next few days (after I sort through them and select the best ones). So far, I’ve come up with these categories:
·      Signs and advertising
·      Monuments and statues
·      Street artists, musicians, entertainers, etc.
·      Architecture
·      Graves
·      Climate
·      French Market
There is overlap, so my organizational scheme will be arbitrary.

By American standards, New Orleans is old, and it is reflected in much of what you see. The French and Spanish influenced the architecture and it is evident in the French Quarter with all of the wrought iron balconies, hidden courtyards, wraparound porches, and humble stoops. You can almost believe you have stepped back in time as you wander about the narrow streets.

New Orleans is unlike any place on Earth. There is so much to see and do here, that you can pick any block in the area of town where I am staying and walk about slowly taking it all in. If you observe carefully, you will experience things you most likely would not see or hear in your hometown. My hotel is about two blocks from the Mississippi River, half a block from the famous Canal Street, and a hop or two from the French Quarter, New Orleans’ most famous neighborhood. Influences of the French and Spanish are both evident, and the entire place reeks with history. I’ve seen many ads for ghost walks and ghost tours. Do you think this place is really haunted? And what about voodoo? This is the home of Marie Laveau, after all. You don’t know who Marie Laveau is? For starters, she was the mother of 19 children. But Marie was much more than that. She is well worth finding out more about.

For what is New Orleans famous? The list is a long one—food, music, architecture, football, Mardi Gras, Cajun and Creole influences, French and Spanish influences, voodoo, street performers, above-ground cemeteries, and much, much more. Trying to see it all in three days is not easy, and it requires making choices. So, I’ve decided to focus my sightseeing on the area of town where I’m staying, the most famous part of New Orleans. This section of the city was largely spared when Hurricane Katrina struck five years ago so the many old buildings are still standing, though some could use a coat of paint.

Human beings like to honor those who have done great things, and New Orleans is no exception. Because a lot of notable people are from New Orleans, there is evidence of their being remembered and honored everywhere. Sometimes it is as a statue or simply a picture in a window. But they are ubiquitous! In New Orleans I found only two statues dedicated to women--Jean D'Arc and Molly Marine (purportedly the first statue to a woman in a military service uniform)--but statues memorializing men are common. Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?

As I walked through Jackson Square—in honor of the man on our twenty-dollar bill (President Andrew Jackson)—and along the Mississippi River, I was reminded of a song. Long ago, a middle school history teacher wanted his students to remember what he’d taught them about a battle that was fought after the war had ended and the treaty signed. His song, “The Battle of New Orleans” tells the story of Colonel Jackson and his army as they fought the Brtitish. You can listen to the song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxB42cjHTGg Then, as I took a photograph of a bird common to my childhood, the massive brown pelican, a poem my father used to recite when I was a preschooler came to mind:
“A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.” I know there is more to the poem, but I cannot remember it.

I asked a local man at a tourist information center for a lunch recommendation. “I want Gulf shrimp, not farm-raised,” I told him. “Aw, you won’t find any farm-raised seafood in N’awlins. We’ll have none of that here,” he assured me. “For lunch try “Palace Café, up Canal Street a few blocks.” He gave good advice for the food was excellent though it’s the first time I’ve been served salad with shrimp with the heads still on the shrimp, something apparently common to New Orleans. The waiter told me to suck the insides out "like you do a crawfish" ... but I declined. 

I had to chuckle when I glanced at the back wall of the restaurant because there were four clocks, each showing a different time. Yesterday, I mentioned time zones and there it was in front of me. The clocks were labeled San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, and Paris. As I ate lunch, it was 10:40 am in San Francisco, but already 7:40 pm in Paris. I concluded that there must be nine lines of longitude between San Francisco and Paris considering there is nine hours difference in time.

To provide you with an overall flavor of what the most popular part of New Orleans is like, I’ll begin by posting photographs of signs I saw today that captured my fancy. These are but a few. There were many, many more. What can you learn about New Orleans by looking at the photos? Can you put them into categories? If so, what categories would you use? Note: You can click on any photo to enlarge it. As an example, the "House of Blues" photo has a sign in the back that says "Voodoo Garden". If you click on the picture, you can make it bigger and see the details.

 I included this photo because the hotel where I am staying is on this corner.

 Ah, yes. Cafe Du Monde. I had cafe au lait and beignets (pronounced "ben-yay") for breakfast this morning. They've been serving beignets and coffee here since 1862! What important American event was going on during that time?

 A long time ago, the French had a sweet they made by sugaring almonds. In New Orleans someone gave this recipe a twist by using pecans instead of almonds and both brown and white sugar. Yum!

 Every now and then you see a sign for food other than French or Spanish (from Spain), but not too often.

 For many years the American alligator was on the endangered species list because they were hunted almost to extinction. The alligator's hide was used to make purses and belts. Once the government protected them, the gators came back in large enough numbers so that it is now okay to kill them for food.

 You see a lot of signs like this. I suppose people who live in New Orleans are superstitious or else they cleverly know how to get tourists to part with their money.

 This is probably the most famous street in all of New Orleans. In French, "rue" means street.

 You see signs for Marie Laveau everywhere. Today I took a picture of what many people think is her grave. It was surrounded with coins, candles, magic spell potions and other things people who visited the grave have left for her. Considering Ms. Laveau has been dead for for 120 years, it is unlikely she has any use for them.

 A lot of houses in the French Quarter have signs saying how old they are.

 This gambling casino opened in 1999, but New Orleans' first gambling casino dates back to about 1822.

 There are three stories of shops in a long building that stretches alongside the Mississippi River.

 This Canal Street sign is actually in the sidewalk. Canal Street is also famous.

 Tourists must like ghost stories because there are lots of signs for ghost tours. Some people believe ghosts are real, but I suspect the residents of New Orleans believe that tourists' money is even more real.

 Considering the severity of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I have been pleasantly surprised by the availability of Gulf seafood.

What, about New Orleans' history, can you infer from this sign? What did Thomas Jefferson do in 1803 that changed who controlled New Orleans?

Tomorrow and the day after I will post more pictures of New Orleans. I plan to take a river cruise if the weather is as lovely as it was today. 74 degrees! You can't beat that.


joy said...

I absolutely adore the signs! I want one for my wall!

Rach said...

I'm swooning with the glut of history here. Well, that and the food. :swoon: Ooooooh, the food! Have a catfish po'boy for me, please? And, if you wanted to bring home some pralines, I wouldn't complain. ;o)

I love all the signs, but I think my favorite is the calendar in the big window.

I WILL get to N'awlin's...someday...