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N’Awlins New Year – A Photo Essay

January 8, 2013

Hot and Cold in the Big Easy

A little girl tries on a Mardi Gras mask in New Orleans’s French Market.

After making Down by Law, film director Jim Jarmusch said New Orleans was a nation in itself , and after a Christmas week of exploring I tend to agree. N’Awlins aka Crescent City aka the Big Easy is like no other American city I’ve ever visited.

A few observations about what makes it different: 1) they bury their dead above ground in the St. Louis and Layfayette cemeteries and elsewhere, 2) there is a substantial Sicilian population here amidst the Cajuns, Creoles and people once called free slaves, 3) African metallurgists from Senegal and Ghana introduced the fine wrought-iron work seen on many porches, and 4) they are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.

Then there is the food: muffeletta sandwiches from Central Grocery on Decatur Street; creole and cajun restaurants everywhere (gumbo and jambalaya are standard fare); beignets at Cafe du Monde, Cafe Beignets and Morning Call out in City Park; and Po-Boys from Napoleon House on Chartres Street (pronounced Charters). By the way, poor-boy sandwiches were invented by a pair of brothers who ran a bakery back in the 1920s. When the streetcar workers went on strike in 1929, the brothers pledged to feed them as long as it took to win.

And with the food comes the drink: coffee is often served with chicory giving it a softer, mellower flavour; sazeracs, the famed NO whiskey cocktail, can be had everywhere but the quiet little bar at Arnaud’s restaurant is recommended; hand grenades and hurricanes are also available for those who want to paralyze themselves.

Sordid cultural life: a walk along Bourbon Street will get you invited into at least three Larry Flynt establishments; the plethora of neon will also encourage you to step into the dozens of bars offering $2 beer and plenty of loud rock ‘n’ roll.

For less sordid pleasures there are the jazz clubs like Snug Harbour along Frenchmen Street in the Marigny and the street bands playing non-stop around Jackson Square. They’re joined by clowns, human statues, hucksters, fast-sketch artists, boot shiners and a seemingly endless stream of fortune tellers, tarot card readers and predictors of the future.

Intellectual pleasures include  the city’s half dozen or more bookstores offering used and new editions but don’t try to find a used copy of William Faulkner’s short stories. At Christmastime there won’t be any left. The fine little bookshop at Faulkner’s old house in Pirate’s Alley had only new editions. Even the marvelously quaint Maple Book Stores (new and used each housed in separate cottages) out past the opulent mansions of the Garden District did not have a copy. But there is added pleasure in taking a historic streetcar along St. Charles Street to get there.

Still on intellectual pleasures, a visit to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art is a must with its displays of quirky art such as Sharon Kopriva’s Catholic-inspired “From Terre to Verde” and the exquisite black and white photography of Shelby Lee Adams capturing life in the “Hollers.”

A walk almost anywhere and anytime in the French Quarter will bring music from the streets and doorways of this amazing multicultural place. Mix the bup-bup of a white tuba, the pong-pong of a bass fiddle and a screaming clarinet with the clippety clop of the many horse-drawn buggies and  you hear the cacophony of N’Awlins morning, noon and night.

A ride through the Lower Ninth Ward, the area most devastated by Katrina. will still shock the visitor unconvinced of the damage done by the storm. The construction of new environmentally sound homes, thanks to Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” campaign, will replace some of the old shotgun-style residences that are now washed away.

But there are those who say the money should go to repairing the houses that are still standing in the Ninth Ward. Leave the bathtub bowl Lower Ninth to return to nature, they say, because sooner or later Lake Pontchartrain may again burst through the levies. But slowly the area is showing new signs of life among the overgrown patches of weed and the remaining piles of debris.

Back in the Quarter the music keeps playing, the Cafe du Monde never stops, and the joints on Bourbon Street rock on in the city of New Orleans. Here are some images to prove it.


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