New Orleans: The Crescent City
New Orleans: The Crescent City
January 04, 2013
By Cal Campbell
During the Christmas Holiday this year, Betty and I traveled by bus to New Orleans with 50 other senior citizens from Venice, Fla.
From Venice our trip took only one and a half days. Our first night we stopped in Mobile, Ala. About noon on the second day we arrived at our hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans. We stayed on Bourbon Street at the Four Points-Sheraton Inn, formerly known as the Inn on Bourbon.
Many of you who have been in New Orleans during Mardi Gras will be familiar with our hotel, as the parade passes this famous landmark. When you see pictures of young people demonstrating, and the parade participants tossing them beads, then you will be observing these individuals are located in the balconies of the hotel.
Mardi Gras is celebrated for one or two weeks. Many people think that the only parade is on â€œFat Tuesdayâ€ or the day before the start of Lent. We were told that there are more than 50 parades during this period.
Because the Super Bowl is being played in downtown New Orleans this year, the Mardi Gras celebration will begin one week before the game is played. After the football fans celebrate and leave town, then the Mardi Gras will continue for another week.
On the morning of Dec. 24, Betty and I departed the group and on our own explored the French Quarter. We were able to ride in a mule-driven buggy. The driver of our carriage gave an oral history of the city as we slowly made our way around and through this area.
On our walk back to the hotel we just had to stop and enjoy a cup of cafe au lait, a mixture of equal parts of strong chicory-laced coffee and hot milk. Along with this we shared an order of beignets (pronounced ben-yays), which are square French doughnuts deep fried and then dipped in powdered sugar.
At noon we stopped for lunch at the Court of Two Sisters and enjoyed a jazz quartet as we very selectively chose our meal. As this was a buffet, we avoided a few native dishes and enjoyed others.
New Orleans is a melting pot of culinary styles influenced by African, Spanish, French, Choctaw Indian and Acadian immigrants. African slaves introduced gumbo, the African word for okra. The Spanish added tomatoes and peppers, used in jambalaya, a variation on Spanish paella. The Indians added sassafras as a thickening agent, and corn, creating grits. The Acadians, exiled from Nova Scotia by the English, introduced inexpensive meats, seasonal game, fish and simple garden produce to the menu, rounding out a true New Orleans gumbo.
On Christmas Day we took a bus tour of the city. Many members of our group asked our New Orleansâ€™ guide to drive us through the ninth ward to witness the destruction from Katrina.
Our guide told us that it would cost us $50 per person on the bus to tour this area of the city. After a show of hands, we all decided that we could bypass this part of town. As there were 50 seniors on the bus this would have cost $2,500.
Apparently, very few people have elected to move back to this area of the city. Many of the original homes were rentals and others were very run-down. Perhaps as many as 90 percent of those living in this flood prone area were African-American. Many former residents are now scattered in other parts of the country.
Our rather long bus tour took us to one of the three above ground cemeteries. As the water level is so high in New Orleans all of the burials are in vaults above ground. Not many cities consider their burial grounds to be tourist attractions, but New Orleans does.
With its notoriously soggy ground and frequent floods, the dead could not expect to stay buried. They would have floated to the surface, an annoying habit at best.
One of the famous, or infamous, people interred in the Basin Street Cemetery is Marie Laveau, queen of voodoo. Marie practiced her craft of creating voodoo dolls, hexes and charms in the 1820s and had a large following among the African slaves.
Marieâ€™s daughter and granddaughters are also buried in the cemetery. The graves are chalked with fresh Xs by those who still believe in the womensâ€™ supernatural powers. Also, there must still be those who believe, as there were fresh chicken bones near the vault.
Our group ended the bus tour of the city and had a traditional Christmas Dinner at Vacherieâ€™s Restaurant with a few added New Orleansâ€™ specials. I told Betty that I enjoy her sage dressing and turkey better than what we were served that afternoon.
Before heading back to Venice, Fla. on Dec. 26, we traveled down the Mississippi River on the paddle-wheeler Natchez. We observed many cargo ships and tug boats pushing barges filled with either grain or coal.
New Orleans Jazz
No one exemplifies New Orleans jazz like Louis â€œSatchmoâ€ Armstrong, possibly the father of American jazz.
A tradition thought to have originated in the 1890s with Black Creoles â€” stars like Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet, gave the music a voice, complete with lyrical flourishes and low-down blues, with the flavorful notes blending to form a unique combination.
Born in New Orleans, Armstrongâ€™s life was a rags-to-riches tale. He grew up in a New Orleans ghetto, traveled the Mississippi River playing on riverboats and eventually played in the finest clubs around the world. Louis Armstrong Park, on North Rampart Street, honors the jazzman with a statue and a fountain. It was indeed unfortunate that Armstrong was never welcome to play in the segregated clubs of his home town.
For the traditional jazz lover, one must visit Preservation Hall where old-time New Orleans jazz performed by the finest native singers and musicians in the country.
This small building may look a bit rough on the outside, but is a cultural landmark devoutly enshrines the jazz traditions of the 1920s. While no food or drink is served in this serious, no-frills music emporium, the music is excellent. Guests pay an admission fee and are welcome to sit through as many sets as they like.
The atmosphere may be understated, the sign above the door is printed on a couple of old instrument cases, but make no mistake, this is New Orleansâ€™ most famous jazz club.
A group of French-Canadian explorers claimed the crescent-shaped portage for France, on Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, in 1699.
The city was built on filled bog land and the people choosing to live in this area suffered from yellow fever, cholera, Indian wars with the Choctaw Indians, slave uprisings, depressions, revolts and floods. The city has been wiped out by hurricanes four times.
It was claimed first by the French, then the Spanish. Regained by Napoleon in 1800, it was sold to the United States in 1803. It seceded from the Union but was quickly reoccupied by those â€œdamn Yankees.â€ Although the Confederate flag flew over New Orleans for only a year, there is a statue of General B.G.T. Beauregard, a Civil War hero.
From 1803 until about 1916, New Orleans remained a divided city between the Americans and the Catholic Cajuns. The city was truly divided into the two districts and one would not dare venture into the otherâ€™s territory or risk his life.
In conclusion, whether you call it New Orleans or â€œNâ€™Awlinsâ€ as the natives do, this is a city worth a visit at any time of the year. However, you will find the summer months very hot and humid.
Also, we have been told that many residents travel as far east as the panhandle of Florida to avoid the Mardi Gras.