Saturday, February 2, 2019

New Orleans in images

Twenty-two years ago this spring I had one of my first conversations about the impact of gentrification on San Francisco. The man I was chatting with was working a shift at the Golden Eagle, a roach-ridden residential hotel I lived in while on a hunt for a shared rental that dragged on for months due to the housing crisis. 

A long-time resident of the city, he talked about the ways the tech boom and its corollary (off-the-charts housing prices) were diluting unique aspects of San Francisco's character and culture. He cited Tennessee Williams' famous statement (“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”) by way of saying that the runaway greed of real estate interests could take San Francisco off of Williams' list. 

New to the city and excited to be there, I didn't feel the magnitude of what he was saying, but the quote stuck in my mind. In 2008, I spent a couple weeks in Manhattan, leaving me one trip shy of seeing all of America's Big Three up close.  I finally crossed New Orleans off the list last month. 

Over the course of just a few days, I caught an array of tasteful music:  a Dixieland jazz band with five trumpets, two trombones, and a tuba; Django Rheinhardt-like gypsy jazz propelled by a driving rhythm guitar and stand-up bass overlaid with violin and clarinet melodies; a pre-electric blues trio with slide guitar, harmonica, and a singer playing washboard percussion; and a bracing rock trio fronted by the dynamic vocalist/guitarist Jack Sledge, who belted out classics such as "Long Tall Sally" and "Gloria" with the energy they deserve.

The food was consistently delicious. I had beignets with café au lait,

pralines aplenty,

the creole combination (jambalaya, shrimp creole, red beans and rice), 
and chicken and andouille sausage gumbo,

a chorizo po' boy with Zapp's spicy Cajun crawtators,

a Grand Slam McMuffin (sage pork sausage, hash brown, griddled
onions, fromage Americain, and Heinz ketchup on an English muffin),

and the meal to end all meals at the
James Beard award-winning Pêche, which started
with shrimp bisque, shrimp toast, and baked mussels,

continued with smoked duck pappardelle and 
pan-fried catfish smothered in a fresh creole tomato sauce,

and finished with a divine slice of salted caramel cake with
a scoop of homemade Dulce de Leche ice cream.

In addition to having wonderful food and music,
New Orleans serves up an endless feast for the eyes. 
Crossing through both the Mid City and Lakeview neighborhoods, 
City Park offers 1,300 acres of public parkland which includes the Bayou Saint John

                                                                   here with swans,       

               the New Orleans Museum of Art, which looks out on this tree-lined promenade,

and just next to the museum, a sculpture garden, home
to "Monumental Head of Jean D'Aire" (1884-1886) 
by Auguste Rodin
from up close,

                                                                      a step back,

                                      "Hercules the Archer" (1909) by Antoine Bourdelle,

                                                   "Overflow" (2005) by Jaume Plensa,

                                                                   and the sublime 

                                                     "Karma" (2011) by Do-Ho Su.

Returning to earth, and a sidewalk vantage point, New Orleans is a 
very walkable city with a seemingly endless supply of eye-catching 
architecture. A few blocks from the hotel I stayed in is the Hotel 
Monteleone, a luxury hotel built in 1886 in a Beaux-Arts style.

           The Monteleone is eight stories high, one of the taller buildings in the French Quarter.

Not far from the Monteleone is another Beaux-Arts beauty. The 
Maison Blanche building, constructed in 1908, is home to the 
Ritz-Carlton, here viewed from the nearby trolley line,

here from the side, as seen at Canal and Dauphine streets, 

here a close-up of some of the many embellishments:  the symmetrical towers 
with roots in elaborate Hellenic architecture, the rustication of the stones, bands 
of dentils strung both below the eaves and under the festoons which are connected by 
by medallions, in between the sets of double windows which fill the bottom of the frame.


Around the corner is the Roosevelt Room (the Waldorf-Astoria), 
Renaissance Revival building with terracotta detailing 
in the facade and a canopy of glass and metal,  
as seen from across the street,

or up close, while

next to the French Quarter, in the Central Business District,  
is the lovely neoclassical archway of the Poyndras 
Street branch of Hancock-Whitney and 

this Italianate gem, the Norman Mayer Memorial Building.

The large-scale classic architecture continues with the St. Louis Cathedral in the
French Quarter. Built from 1789-1794 (after the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 
destroyed the original structure) and restored in 1850 in a Gothic Revival style, 
it is the oldest cathedral in North America, viewed here from the front,

up close,

from the side, where one can see its triple steeples.

Also in the Quarter are a statue of the Maid of OrléansJoan of Arc, from up

and under, 

black Victorian carriage lamps, 

and ferns hanging from wrought iron porches with lace-like columns here,


and everywhere.

Next door to the French Quarter is the Marigny, a funky neighborhood 
filled with restaurants, music venues, murals big

and small,

and modest but ornate homes,

many of them shotguns,

often combining gingerbread detail

and fun   



which reminded me of housing stock in San Francisco

The biggest treat of all, visually, was the Garden District. I 
had the good fortune of visiting on a nice day, sunny and in the 60s.

I saw single family homes with decorative flourishes similar 
to what one finds in the Marigny, including these camelbacks 
(shotgun properties with a single floor in front and two stories in back).

Common to many of these houses are brackets 
hanging from eaves, here individually,

here in a row, 

and floor-to-ceiling windows, originally designed 
before the advent of air conditioning to cool
homes during long, hot summers.

Porches were another way to cope with the heat, here 
seen in wrap around fashion on a Colonial structure,

here in the clean lines and balanced symmetry of Federalist architecture, 

here in an Edwardian double-decker.

Moving upscale I found fluted Doric columns, 

Ionic columns supporting a wondrous home with frieze 
work on the balcony topped by gabled dormers with Gothic windowpanes,

wrought iron gates with elaborate scrollwork opening
onto a two-story, wrought iron lacework facade,

and this double gallery home, rumored to belong  
to John Goodman, with a three-bay window, double 
brackets, dentil work, overhanging eaves, and tall, narrow windows.

Most amazing of all was that these earthly delights were feeding my soul during the winter

As I strolled around taking in the sights, a conversation played in my head. I thought about
how verdant New Orleans would be during July or August, when everything is in bloom, the flower beds, the gardens, the ferns, the vines, the trees fuller, brighter, in high color, the sweet scents of summer in the air...

...I calculated my future vacation time. Coming back to New Orleans before traveling anywhere else was out of the question on principle, but couldn't I shoot down for a few days, a Thursday-night-into-Sunday stay, just about anytime? 

The thoughts went around on a loop through my trip, one foot in the present, grooving on the architecture, the food, the music, the aesthetic, one foot projecting into the future, imagining all of the other things I could get to with a few more days. When I got to the airport to head home, I was already imagining my next trip to The Big Easy. 

                                               More Truth and Beauty photo essays:

"Random San Francisco" has 46 photos which range from 
ornate architecture to vistas to murals to sidewalk messaging

"On a clear day you can see forever." explores Noe Valley, Ashbury Heights, 
the Inner Sunset district, microclimates, and street art on a pristine September day 

"Crystal Blue Persuasion" is a walking photo tour of San Francisco 
from the Bay to the Ocean (and a golden sunset) 

head-turning architecture, and miscellaneous city scenes 
in a stroll from the Mission District to South of Market to downtown

"Gone but not Forgotten" is a tribute to a friend who left this world all too soon 

"A Sunny* Monday in San Francisco" is a day tour of the city, 
from Mission Street to the Pacific Ocean

"California in November" captures deep fall natural splendor

"Back in Time" documents my return in the height of summer to an upper 
Midwest town I hadn't been to since moving away, 33 years earlier