When I was sitting on my couch in L.A. planning to move to New Orleans, I was open to many experiences of this city. I looked at a home in Mid-City, a neighborhood shifting identities in the last few years. I liked the idea of living across the street from City Park, home to an art museum, botanical garden, sculpture garden, a golf course and on and on and one of my favorite places in the city, the Singing Oak (which I call the Bing Bong Tree).
To experience it from afar:
I looked at the Irish Channel, the CBD (Central Business District), and many others before concentrating my focus on Uptown and the Garden District. But secretly, I wanted to live in the French Quarter. I’d lived in Georgetown D.C., NYC, and L.A. If I’d been moving here in my 20’s, the call of living in the thick of things, in the seat of the history and story and heartbeat of the city would have pulled me into some tiny overpriced place with no parking as it always had. But, I’m grown now and the idea of drunken revelers wandering past my windows in a town that doesn’t have a last call was just too much.
So, I was delighted to live vicariously last weekend when someone dear to me went shopping for an apartment in the French Quarter. The whole day was an education in architecture and history and a way of life.
The first place was down a long, long narrow pathway then up a rickety flight of stairs, then down a long wooden balcony, slanted to keep rain from collecting. The space was too tiny and we couldn’t imagine any drunk person surviving that entrance, but we politely followed the kind older woman to the 2 patios. The second patio was idyllic, shaded by giant tropical fronds. But, 3 un-collared, unkempt cats wandered lazily on tables or sunned themselves on chaises. The woman explained that the cats belonged to everyone and everyone fed them. My friend is no fan of cats, but full-on loathes alley cats. Next.
We met a man who took us up another long flight of stairs, indoors this time. I should perhaps now mention that I’d smashed my knee the day before in my wrought iron fence so stairs were problematic (and prevalent). We reached the landing and the man put key after key into the lock to no avail. It did occur to me that there was another door, but we waited. Until finally, the door opened and an irritated tenant asked us what we wanted.
So, the landlord tried the other door and we entered the land of Lilliput. Okay, not really, but I’ll sum up the experience by saying that in a city chock-full of 12 to 20 foot ceilings, the shower was 5’9″. My friend is quite a bit taller. Next.
We spotted a For Rent sign outside a VooDoo shop and museum and went in to inquire. John, the big man behind the desk, told us about the place and it sounded pretty good. He said he could show it to us later in the day. Then, as we were leaving, he warned, “The building has snakes.” I’ve been around too long to bite right away. So, he elaborated that there were a couple of snakes around and he hoped we weren’t afraid of snakes. My friend smiled and said, “I gotta tell you, you really don’t know how to sell.” John pulled a crease-worn paper bag from a shelf and pulled out some photos. The first few were of John with a giant yellow snake laying across his shoulders like a… boa (ah, so that’s where those feathery confections got their name). He pulled out more of him with a big brown Boa while I tried to remember aloud the name of the snake the yellow one resembled from From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (Bananas? Lemon?). John said that was his snake in the movie, that his snake had danced with Salma Hayek. Maybe so and it was more fun to just go with any story he spun.
We took a beverage break, then walked to an old school barber shop, Ernie’s. Two older men, one with a truly fabulous head of well-coifed hair, were watching TV as we entered. After nearly 2 decades of salons in L.A., I have to admit I liked the masculine charm of the whole experience. Nothing fancy, just good grooming.
A quick lunch at the Palace Cafe, where I had a giant tender hunk of tuna on a bed of capers, Kalamata olives and lettuce, etc. It was my second time having a piece of fish there and I have to say I’m a fan. No big surprise that it’s good, it’s a Brennan family restaurant. The Brennans are to food what the Nevilles are to music, full of the flavor of this city and consistently great. For the menu and more:
And I love knowing that I can get beignets, but I hardly ever do, so we went for beignets at Cafe du Monde. The place was absolutely packed. A tuba player sang and accompanied himself just outside the short fence surrounding the patio. I can’t say that I really go in for tuba with no band, but I admired his effort. I can’t think of other times I’ve craved fried dough and hot chocolate on a 93 degree day, but it always makes perfect sense at Cafe du Monde.
On our way to finally meet John at the VooDoo museum, we stopped into a friend’s jewelry store, a robust man named Poncho. We were looking around and visiting when John wandered past the door. We got his attention and he yelled out, “Be back in half an hour.” Okay.
So, we wandered to Photo Works, a photography gallery I frequent on Jackson Square. They have a photo of Dennis Hopper, not for sale, that I absolutely love to visit.
I recommend you click around and see some of the beautiful art work they have there. I’m especially a fan of The Memories of Margie and Joe series. And I poked around Trashy Diva, an adorable dress shop specializing in flirty feminine dresses, some in fleur de lis prints.
I’m not much of a shopper, but I love wandering into the location near my home. The timeless silhouettes and fun, funky prints seem like a celebration of women.
Despite the heat, the street performers were out in full force. Kids with smashed soda cans on the bottoms of their sneakers tapped and sang next to a cardboard box for money. A crowd gathered around a child dancing like Usher, covered entirely in silver paint. And painters and Jazz bands were scattered throughout the area. Lots of cities have a street performer here and there but in the French Quarter, you can hardly walk a block without someone using their talents to cash in on the tourists.
We returned to the Voodoo Museum and a woman was seated behind the small desk where we’d first met John. She said to have a seat and he’d be ready in 5. We took in the small cloth dolls, colorful hand poured candles and images of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen who passed in 1881 but whose face adorns many walls in town. We commented that they ought to have 49er’s dolls (who the Saints were set to play, and beat, the following Monday) and the woman said, yes, but not to injure anyone, only to win through domination. Wish the 49’ers had gotten that memo before they broke Reggie Bush’s leg.
As we waited, 4 tourists payed the $5 fee to enter a curtained door that I’d originally thought led to a small photo booth. Turns out it leads to the fairly roomy museum and we were lucky enough to tour it for free when John asked us to cut through it to see the apartment. The light was a dim green-blue and the walls and cabinets were packed with gris gris, paintings and bones, both human and animal.
The apartment was at the end of a beautiful courtyard. The floors were super wonky, the deconstructed private patio was filled with construction materials and the bedroom was impractically laid out, but it had charm. No closets, but charm. Because of the codes in place when most of the Quarter was built, closets were considered rooms and were taxed as such. Finding a closet in the French Quarter is as rare than finding a Voodoo museum with a giant yellow snake in it. But, we agreed the place had its charms and that stories would abound.
The last place was in the “boys town” section. We were early so we wandered into a bar where absolutely no one cared to hit on me. The archway of Armstrong Park was at the end of the street and I reminded myself that I keep meaning to go to the drum circle. Most masters gave their slaves Sunday off and people have been playing drums in Congo Square every Sunday since. It is the birthplace of Jazz.
As we walked to the last home on the list, a street poet regaled us with a long, sing-songy rhyme that worked in local buzzwords like Abita (a local favorite beer). The landlord showed us around the place, explaining that the current tenant would be moving out at the end of the month. The tenant jangled keys as we were in the back of the house so I yelled out, “We’re in your house! We’re in your house!” Not sure why I thought that would comfort him but it did the trick. The many paintings on the walls had tiny orange dots next to them with prices. Because my neighbor is an artist, my entrance hallway is also packed with paintings for sale. The ceilings were high, the floors were beautiful dark wood and the shower was tall enough for anyone to stand. Ding, ding, ding, I think we have a winner.
Which means I’ll be blogging about Congo Square soon enough.