“The peculiar virtue of New Orleans, like St. Theresa, may be that of the Little Way, a talent for everyday life rather than the heroic deed.  If in its two hundred and fifty years of history it has produced no giants, no Lincolns, no Lees, no Faulkners, no Thoreaus, it has nurtured a great many people who live tolerably, like to talk and eat, laugh a good deal, manage generally to be civil and at the same time minding their own business.”
— Walker Percy, “New Orleans Mon Amour,” Harpers, 1968

Resident relaxing on his balcony in the French Quarter

Resident relaxing on his balcony in the French Quarter

I loved the warmth and friendliness of the people of New Orleans.  They were welcoming, unhurried, had time to chat, yet were hardworking and industrious.  I loved the diversity.  People-watching was one of my favorite things to do there.

I saw more women smokers in New Orleans than anywhere else I have traveled.

I saw more women smokers in New Orleans than anywhere else I have traveled.

“More than anything, the warmth and cordiality and the capacity for joy and celebration got me. . . . in New Orleans, people live in public.”
— Rebecca Solnit, Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas

Celebrating in the French Quarter

Celebrating in the French Quarter

“The flip side of this religious adherence to the old habits is that a big segment of the city’s population has turned living for the moment into an art form.”
— Julia Reed, The House on First Street

Artist at work in the street

Artist at work in the street

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Mickey Asche, another working artist

Mickey Asche, another working artist

“Who cares that the city is slowly falling into the Gulf of Mexico, that you know that the gunshots you hear at night are not fireworks because they are followed by sirens, that you no longer bother calling the city about the sinkhole that is consuming your street because it is clear that no one will fix it?  Such concerns fade when you can sit on your porch and watch the world’s most amazing theater of people talking, yelling, dancing, and eating, set out against our amazing vernacular buildings and among our magnolias, crepe myrtles, swamp lilacs, and Louisiana irises.  You are part of that theater, and you talk to people as they  pass, smell the jasmine and sweet olive in the air, and hear trains and boats from the river.  You do not need to leave your porch to find treasures here.”
— Billy Southern, “On a Strange Island,” from Unfathomable City

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Vendors chat at the French Market

Vendors chat at the French Market

“That’s what’s so wonderful about New Orleans.  You can masquerade and Mardi Gras all year round if you want to.  Really, sometimes the Quarter is like one big costume ball.”
— John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

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“I sold the [Florida] house and left there for New Orleans, which is where a lot of people go when they need a new future.

New Orleans is forgiving, and lets a man pick a future — sometimes even a new identity.”
— Rick Bragg, My Southern Journey:  True Stories from the Heart of the South

Street performer ner Jackson Square

Street performer ner Jackson Square

Another street performer in Jackson Square

Another street performer in Jackson Square

 

 

French Quarter architecture

French Quarter architecture

Storefront in the Warehouse District

Storefront in the Warehouse District

Another covered sidewalk

Another covered sidewalk

New Orleans has its own special look and feel, and I attribute this to the architecture.  It’s a city that has held on to its traditional or landmark features, such as wrought-iron balconies, porches, covered sidewalks, shutters.  Even the new construction going on in the residential areas had not succumbed to the sleek, boxy, unadorned modern designs that are trending in Seattle.  It’s refreshing to visit someplace that does not look like every other destination.

“I alight at Esplanade in a smell of roasting coffee and creosote and walk up Royal Street.  The lower Quarter is the best part.  The ironwork on the balconies sags like rotten lace.   Little French cottages hide behind high walls.  through deep sweating carriageways one catches glimpses of courtyards gone to jungle.”
— Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

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We spent a memorable couple of hours just wandering the streets of the Garden District, looking at the lovely houses behind iron fences.

“I turned onto Prytania, a lovely old street with melancholy mansions dripping with whispered dramas from another time.”
— Andrei Codrescu, New Orleans Mon Amour

The Anne Rice house

The Anne Rice house

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“They say a kitchen is the heart of a house, but I believe the porch is its soul.”
— Rick Bragg, My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South

Lafayette Cemetery

Lafayette Cemetery

While the houses of the living were charming, New Orleans is also known for its cemeteries, those above-ground resting places of the dead.

“This may be the one place on earth in which the dead do not every, really, completely, lie still.”
–Rick Bragg, My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South

“New Orleans cemeteries are like New Orleans.  They swing between destitution and opulence but always with style.”
— Andrei Codrescu,  New Orleans Mon Amour

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“New Orleans cemeteries look like vast bakeries quietly holding ancestral loaves.”
–Andrei Codrescu, New Orleans Mon Amour

 

 

Mini-parade in the French Quarter

Mini-parade in the French Quarter

Music was one of my favorite things about New Orleans.  I liked that so much music enlivened the streets — you did not have to pay to attend a concert or even sit down for a live show.  The music wafted from open doors and street musicians sent their sounds into the world for passersby to enjoy.  When we walked down Frenchman’s Street in the middle of the day, musicians and small bands were performing at virtually every restaurant, even when there was only a handful of patrons at the tables.

Second line in the French Quarter

Second line in the French Quarter

The group invited passersby to join in the revelry.

The group invited passersby to join in the revelry.

The first time we walked through the French Quarter, we happened upon a small group celebrating with a private parade.  While this seemed impromptu to us, they must have planned and secured a permit, because the parade was accompanied by policemen on motorcycles who cleared a safe passage on the street.  I don’t know whether this was one of those second-line parades I had read about.  I know that there is a more formal calendar of second line parades hosted by social clubs in the city.   Regardless, this seemed like a quintessential New Orleans moment — the brassy sounds, the dancing in the streets, and the drinking from plastic glasses.

“In New Orleans, second lining is a noun, a verb, and a cultural institution: it is a parade, a cultural practice, and a way of dancing in the streets. . . . A second-line parade is an annual house party that moves lightly like the feathers on our faces yet inexorably like a tank through the streets.
— Eve Abrams, “Sentinels and Celebrants,” from Unfathomable City

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There were street musicians making music on street corners and in parks.  In Jackson Square, the various groups vied for the attention of the crowds — a cacophony with a jazz music on one side and a marching band sound on another.  New Orleans seems like a land of opportunity for musicians.

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New Orleans: A Walkable City

December 15, 2015

Crossing into Louisiana on I-10

Crossing into Louisiana on I-10

Long bridge over Lake Ponchartrain near New Orleans

Long bridge over Lake Ponchartrain near New Orleans

Paddleboat on the Mississippi River in New Orleans

Paddleboat on the Mississippi River in New Orleans

New Orleans offers a varied menu of attractions for visitors — live music, food, sports, art, festivals — and after my first trip to the city, I have my own list of favorite things.  I’ll be sharing them with you over the next few days.

Ship in the Mississippi River

Ship in the Mississippi River

I was happy to discover how easy it is to navigate; it’s a very walkable city.  We turned in our rental car upon arrival, and spent four days on foot.  New Orleans is very flat, and the weather was in the high 70s (no rain), and both of these factors contributed to the ease of getting around.

“. . . cardinal directions are of limited use here.  The river that borders the city meanders in many directions; many long streets follow the bends of the river and change directions themselves; the long cross-streets radiate; the city is low, with no hills and few tall buildings, so low that ships going by on the Mississippi River appear to be above you, and the river itself is invisible behind levees.

The compass that orients the world makes little sense here and is not much used.  Instead . . . people define direction by the bodies of water.  In place of north there is lakeside, for Lake Ponchartrain; in place of south there is the river; upriver and uptown are west; downriver is east.  These directions are also reminders that the place is very nearly surrounded by water, an enchanted isle with its own rules.”
— Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker, Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas

Horse-drawn carriage in the French Quarter

Horse-drawn carriage in the French Quarter

French Quarter, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans

“Only in the old cities — like New Orleans — built long before cars, do walking humans still feel at home. . . . People navigate their streets like fish:  the streets are our medium, a fluid and changing spectacle that is also the stuff we breathe in and out.  It’s a city for watching and being watched, a voyeur-voyee paradise . . .:
— Andrei Codrescu, “Moving Faster Than My Body,” from New Orleans Mon Amour

Pedestrian on Canal Street passing images of the ubiquitous blue dog (art by George Rodrigue)

Pedestrian on Canal Street passing images of the ubiquitous blue dog (art by George Rodrigue)

“On New Orleans’ ordinary streets one savors a sense both of easement and of unspecified possibilities . . .”

St. Louis Cathedral at the end of Jackson Square

St. Louis Cathedral at the end of Jackson Square

Jackson Square

Jackson Square

“I like the feeling of living in day-before-yesterday and day-after-tomorrow at the same time.  Nothing could be more modern than those neon signs just outside on Decatur Street, or the traffic tearing past between us and Jackson Square.  But the little square itself must look exactly the same tonight as it did a hundred years ago and, while we were passing it, I could imagine all sorts of ghosts wandering around, under the palm trees.”
— Frances Parkinson Keyes, from Dinner at Antoine’s

Streetcar on Canal Street

Streetcar on Canal Street

Map of streetcar lines in New Orleans

Map of streetcar lines in New Orleans

New Orleans’ historic streetcars make outlying parts of the city very accessible.  The $3 all-day pass is affordable, and allows you to hop on and off the streetcars and buses at will.  We loved exploring the city this way, and over the course of our stay, we rode all four main lines from end to end.

“The New Orleans dividing line that used to be all important is Canal Street . . . it formed a porous boundary between Downtown and Uptown, downriver and upriver, between the French — or more appropriately, the Creole — section and the ‘American Sector’ . . .”
— Lolis Eric Elie, “Here They Come, There They Go,” from Unfathomable City

Interior, New Orleans streetcar

Interior, New Orleans streetcar

Mardi Gras beads hanging from Canal Street sign

Mardi Gras beads hanging from Canal Street sign

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The seats of the streetcars had backs that you could move forward or backward, a clever way to change the seating so that you faced forward regardless of the direction you were traveling.  You definitely wanted to heed the signs not to stick head or arms out the windows because at times we passed within 6 inches of trees and signposts!

“Patrolman Mancuso inhaled the moldy scent of the oaks and thought, in a romantic aside, that St. Charles Avenue must be the loveliest place in the world.  From time to time he passed the slowly rocking streetcars that seemed to be leisurely moving toward no special destination, following their route through the old mansions on either side of the avenue.  Everything looked so calm, so prosperous, so unsuspicious.”
— John Kennedy Toole, from A Confederacy of Dunces

The green streetcars moved through the Garden District

The green streetcars moved through the Garden District on St. Charles Avenue

Walking and riding the streetcars were our favorite ways of exploring New Orleans.  The city gets high marks for walkability.