“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

 

 

Blue Dog art by George Rodrigue

Blue Dog art by George Rodrigue

We saw some interesting and unusual art in New Orleans, notwithstanding the ubiquitous Blue Dog, an iconic image created by George Rodrigue, which the city seems to have adopted.  There was a sculpture of the Blue Dog in The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park.

This was not my favorite sculpture in the outdoor garden.  This sculpture park is free to the public, and it holds some wonderful pieces, like these, for example:

Henry Moore sculpture

Henry Moore sculpture

Rodin

Rodin

Robert Indiana

Robert Indiana “Love, Red Blue”

Do-ho Suh "Karma"

Do-ho Suh “Karma”

We also visited the New Orleans Museum of Art adjacent to the sculpture park.  There I saw two things that were especially unusual and clever and unique.

Bidou Yamaguchi made mask portraits in the Noh tradition of famous faces in art, such as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

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"Kiss 2007" inspired by Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss"

“Kiss 2007” inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”

The museum also displayed pages from Tim Youd’s “100 Novels Project.”  This artist retyped 100 literary works, each on a single sheet of paper (with another sheet for backing) using the same model of typewriter that the book’s author used.  There was an aspect of performance with this art, as he sometimes typed in a setting appropriate to the books. The museum displayed only the finished one-page manuscripts and backing page.

This was "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman"

This was “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”

And perhaps my most favorite art piece of all was one we stumbled across as we meandered through New Orleans’ City Park — “The Singing Oak” by Jim Hart.  What first caught our attention was the sound of wind chimes.  Hart installed seven wind chimes of various sizes (some were taller than my husband) in a lovely old live oak.  But what was most remarkable was that the chimes were tuned to the pentatonic scale, so the sound was very harmonious.  It was enchanting to stand and sit beneath the tree and listen to a symphony wrought by the gentle wind through the tree.

"The Singing Oak" in city Park

“The Singing Oak” in city Park

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Sidewalk seating

Sidewalk seating

“Living in New Orleans is like drinking blubber through a straw.  Even the air is calories.  The atmosphere is permeated by rays of roux and bubbles of cornbread.  Gumbo gives off a cloud of cayenne-flavored fat that envelops the passerby.  Fish fries and shrimp are breaded all around the innocent.”
— Andrei Codrescu, “Fantastic Feast,” from New Orleans Mon Amour

Our last meal in New Orleans was lunch at the Ruby Slipper -- I ordered a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw.

Our last meal in New Orleans was lunch at the Ruby Slipper — I ordered a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw.

“This was the New Orleans we all knew and loved — the place where you talk about food in the rare moments when you don’t happen to be eating any.”
—  Julia Reed, The House on First Street

“Be a castaway in New Orleans.  Smell the coffee and creosote.  Do not sink into the everydayness of your life.  Fight despair.  Find treasure.”
— Billy Southern, “On a Strange Island,” from Unfathomable City

Finding treasure on your plate is easy in New Orleans.  Needless to say, the food was one of my favorite things about the city.  I came armed with a long list of iconic Southern foods I wanted to taste, and I managed to make quite a dent in my list before it was time to go:  po’ boy sandwich, muffuletta, grits, catfish, shrimp, barbecue, gumbo, pralines, chicory coffee, beignets, and even oysters (I ate one, and I learned I still don’t like them!).

“It had to be New Orleans, I believed.  In New Orleans, you walk on roads flecked with crushed oyster shells, and there is a whole culture of oysters, a mystique. . . . In New Orleans, oysters are almost an art form.  You eat them covered in spinach and garlic and bacon and cheese, eat them roasted, baked, even grilled over an open flame in their shells. . . . And, of course, all over town, I ate them in po’ boys and oyster loaves, dripping with hot sauce and tartar sauce, with cold root beer on the side.  I was not just eating food.  I was consuming culture, and as I came to love the city, I came to love its oysters.”
— Rick Bragg, My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South

Cochon Butcher, where we picked up muffulettas to go

Cochon Butcher, where we picked up muffulettas to go

Yes, they were carving/butchering actual pigs behind the counter

Yes, they were carving/butchering actual pigs behind the counter

Muffuletta

Muffuletta

New Orleans offers the hungry traveler a wide array of places to satisfy hunger — from the Lucky Dog street cart to the white-tableclothed fancy restaurant, like Antoine’s.

“There can be only one Antoine’s.”
— Frances Parkinson Keyes, Dinner at Antoine’s

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A peek into the window at Antoine's

A peek into the window at Antoine’s

Lucky Dog vendor, with flashbacks to A Confederacy of Dunces

Lucky Dog vendor, with flashbacks to A Confederacy of Dunces

We couldn’t leave New Orleans without tasting the beignets and chicory coffee at the Cafe du Monde.

“This Cafe du Monde couldn’t be anywhere except in New Orleans, like Antoine’s and Mardi Gras.  And it isn’t only unique.  It’s — it’s real.”
— Frances Parkinson Keyes, Dinner at Antoine’s

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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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A cathedral-like tunnel of live oaks lining a New Orleans street

A cathedral-like tunnel of live oaks lining a New Orleans street

“Massive branches hover and street overhead, weaving between neighboring trees and electrical lines, bending and dipping, forming an airy roof over asphalt, concrete, parked and moving cars.  The light darkens, filters through the limbs, and descends in lacy patterns on the sidewalk.  Below the earth, roots reach for one another, as if to hold hands, and interlock, stabilizing the entire corridor.”
— Eve Abrams, “Sentinels and Celebrants,” from Unfathomable City

I was looking forward to seeing southern live oaks, trees I had read about, and which Abrams calls “the grand cultural and ecological icons of the South.”  And I was not disappointed by their beauty.  In fact, the many live oaks were one of my favorite things about New Orleans.

Leaves of the live oak

Leaves of the live oak

I knew that live oaks are like evergreens in that they do not lose their leaves in autumn, but at first I was not quite sure that the massive trees I was seeing everywhere were the live oaks I was looking for.  Their leaves were not anything like the leaves of the oak trees I am familiar with.  The dark, shiny leaves looked more like rhododendron leaves.

Roots of live oak

Roots of live oak

The roots wreak havoc with sidewalks

The roots wreak havoc with sidewalks

“Live oaks are massive, horizontally, with their roots below the earth as wide as their branches above.  The canopy of a single mature tree easily spans 100 feet.  More than one tree, and you have a corridor . . .”
— Eve Abrams, “Sentinels and Celebrants,” from Unfathomable City

Beads left over from Mardi Gras hang, out of reach, on the branches of the live oaks lining the parade routes

Beads left over from Mardi Gras hang, out of reach, on the branches of the live oaks lining the parade routes

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Tree-lined path in Audubon Park

Tree-lined path in Audubon Park

And when I saw live oaks draped with Spanish moss, I knew I was in the South.  The moss hung like tinsel and wafted in the breeze.

Live oaks draped in Spanish moss

Live oaks draped in Spanish moss

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It was amazing to me to see the long, long horizontal limbs nearly touching the ground and I wondered how that could be.  Imagine holding your arms out horizontally from your body — it takes great strength to sustain that pose.  How do these trees do it?

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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.