Typical French Quarter street with the signature
cast iron decorated balconies
These days you’d have to be living under a rock not to know about the various environmental devastations that have hit New Orleans. But ‘the Big Easy’ has bounced back enough so that it hasn’t hampered most of the great elements which have made this US port a great city to visit. Certainly there’s no obvious difficulty for the tourist in a city with a population of just under 500,000 where tourism is one of the major industries and the friendly welcome mat is there.
Cafe Adelaide’s beautiful restaurant
Commander’s Palace Restaurant
Historically, there has always been a concern about the vulnerability and weakness of the pumping system and then in 2005 the levee system finally failed when Hurricane Katrina hit and razed much of the city. It’s considered the worst civil engineering disasters in the American history. Since the average elevation is now between 1 and 2 feet (.5 meters) below sea level, it makes one wonder how they managed to stay afloat for so long. As of this article, the oil is still spilling in the Gulf although it hasn’t yet affected New Orleans.
After renting a car, a necessity if you intend to see much of New Orleans, driving through some of the most damaged areas are haunting since many of the houses are irreparable, some with wood covered windows beside those which were successfully renovated. Others are seemingly beyond salvaging. There’s a small area within this district with a surprising new housing project that has a most architecturally un-New Orleans but new age look and oh so great . The 21st century architecture with eco friendly installation and pastel coloration takes the edge off the gloom of the nearby area. And actor Brad Pitt’s name is attached to this amazing district for his undertaking and overseeing this development, as I was told by several locals and taxi drivers who are the city’s best spokespeople. And in this area, there is actually a street called Desire. Although, when Tennessee Williams wrote the play- turned- film, ‘A streetcar named Desire’, it was what it says but in the late nineties became a bus line.
Meanwhile in the French Quarter, miles away from the above, jazz is still the draw although Preservation Hall with its age old reputation, seemed awfully gimmicky. Besides waiting in the hot early evening queue for 45 minutes, then having to stand in a very humid, sticky room, this now seems to be quintessential a touristy destination. “It’s just okay music,” said a self confessed Dixieland connoisseur/visitor, “but it’s not like the old days. Sure it’s jazz a beat but it doesn’t have soul or that old passion.”
And surprisingly if you want good jazz, it’s in a most unlikely spot and it’s not the notorious night life on Bourbon Street . Here on Decatur Street at a few open air restaurants, (one is The French Market), the Dixieland jazz group is terrific and you could sit, eat a fine and inexpensive lunch and a cool drink before heading to the nearby renowned Café du Monde for their famed beignets and café au lait. (Beignets, I dare say, are deep fried, piled high with icing sugar, New Orleans version of a doughnut, but not as sweet.)
And if you consider yourself to be a foodie than you already know about extraordinary cuisine at such restaurants as Café Adelaide on Poydras Street, (loved the wait service, ambience and the perfect place for lunch in the bright, airy restaurant), Commander’s Palace (1427 Washington Ave) for everything including their bread pudding soufflé located in a charming area of the city and a great old mansion which is next to one of the famous above ground cemeteries, Lafayette. And don’t miss the corn and crawfish soup and soft shell crabs when in season at Brigsten’s. (723 Dante Street).It’s located in what is known as a ‘shot gun house made from barge wood, which means the wood was taken from a ship and re used to build turn –of- the- century structure with this long hallway hence the moniker “shot gun”. It may be far out of the city, about a 20 minute drive, but certainly worth every minute that the cab meter ticks away. Since these restaurants are extremely popular with the locals, a suggestion is to reserve before leaving home.
However, at smaller cafes you could always get an Italian muffaletta or Gulf oysters and boiled crawfish if the oil spill in the gulf hasn’t killed them off or made them inedible.
Famous for their beignets and cafe au lait
Legendary steam boat
Not to be missed is a ride one of the three streetcar lines. The St. Charles streetcar the oldest continuous in North America takes a route passed areas of some of the major mansions with architecture from Antebellum to Greek Revival from American Colonial to Victorian and Italianate, all with perfectly manicured gardens. Also, on the route is monumental Touro Synagogue, the 2nd oldest in the USA and also Temple Sinai. Of course, another means of orienting yourself is on the Mississippi ‘s famed Natchez steam boat which floats the length of the city. An oddity are the above ground cemeteries where the crepts look like small houses. Most famous is the Saint Louis said to resemble Paris’ Pere Lachaise.
Then of course there’s Magazine Street which boast of about 6 miles of shops from art galleries and rare antique shops and of course the latest in fashion and jewelry. Okay, ladies with a fervor for shopping, there’s Weinstein’s which was actor Susan Sarandon’s favorite place while she was filming a movie and picked up a few wonderful outfits. And the two fortyish owners, Roz and Bonnie, are so un-harassing about sales they would rather talk about their new exercise class or the best hair salon, Paris Parker, on the parallel Pyrtania. Street.
Weinstien’s wonderful boutique
One of the newly built houses after Hurricane
But then I do have a passion for jewelry. Let it be silver or gold, plain or encrusted with precious and semi precious stones, if the design is great, then it’s a must for my overflowing and very large jewelry box.
My first introduction to Mignon Faget (Fage- eh) was at their small boutique at Canal Square’s, The Shops at Canal Street – for example Francesca’s, where the inexpensive, colorful inventory includes bags, beads and tops, and Blue Alligator Designs with upscale boots and bags in various skins, a terrifically well stocked fashion forward Saks Fifth Avenue and Brooks Brothers. And then there is my folly, Mignon Faget’s designs in a small stunning shop. Faget has many motifs taken from the city’s famed cast wrought iron balconies which are so often photographed. Also, she loves shells, fish, classic columns, flora and anything organic. However, while strolling along Magazine Street, I viewed the larger boutique–call it their flag ship shop- where Mignon has many more designs and most of them very tempting. (see jewelry segment on www.indulgedtraveler.com).
So if it’s a weekend getaway, one of the best eating experiences this side of Paris, a fine shopping excursion, the girlfriend getaway, some culture and music, then nothing comes close to New Orleans. And it’ true to its moniker, The Big Easy.