NOLA pt. 3: On the people


I hold two general assumptions that the people of NOLA did not fit neatly into.

Assumption # 1:
Although I wasn't raised in the city, I've lived in mostly urban or inner suburban areas for years. And my mother was raised in the city. Therefore, somewhere along the way I've learned that when in a non-social situation, if approached by a person you do not know who then begins speaking to you, it is a wise decision to be on your guard.

Assumption # 2:
Residents of tourist areas tolerate tourists because we are major contributors to the local economy. However, many locals hold some disdain for tourists. One, because of us, the majority of the jobs available are in the service sector; these jobs do not pay well and aren't considered by most to be all that fulfilling (I'm making large generalizations here, so please bear with me). Two, I think locals also see tourists as slightly ignorant, as we tend to stick to the tourist'y sightseeing spots and neglect to seek out the "real" culture of the area. In a harsh nutshell, locals may see tourists as ignorant meal tickets.

My long held beliefs that out-of-the-blue advances from strangers are suspicious and that locals aren't all that fond of tourists were significantly challenged while visiting NOLA. I only wish I had come around to this idea sooner.

The people I met in NOLA were nice! Not a let's-humor-the-tourists-so-they'll-spend-more-money nice, but genuinely nice.

My first encounter happened during my trek to the streetcar that would take me to the Garden District, and was with a little old lady who perfectly fit my schema of "cat lady." She was older with long gray hair pulled into a messy ponytail, was wearing a housedress in public, displayed less than ideal hygiene, and was wearing eyeglasses so smudged and smeared I could barely see her eyes. I first witnessed her trying to cross the 6 lanes of Canal Street that happened to be closed for the filming of a car chase. The poor police officer was doing his best to chase her out of the way.

*Okay, to be fair--it also took me a second and about 2 lanes before I figured out what the heck was going on.

*Oh! And I got to see a car chase being filmed.

I ran back into the cat lady at the stop for the streetcar that would take me to the Garden District. Much to my surprise, cat lady started talking to me. And talking. And talking. She mostly told me all about the famous people who live in NOLA, and how it's so great for them because the locals don't bother them at all. She told me all about how the residents of the Garden District were so worried when they heard that Trent Reznor would be moving in. I must say, I was shocked that this lady knew who Trent was, and even more so when she name-dropped his "band." (Quotes, because, you know, Trent Reznor IS nin.) She also told me all about Brad and Angelina. She even helped me find my stop. She turned out to be a friendly old lady who was proud of her city and wanted to share some of it with an out-of-towner.

Another day, at the height of my foot pain, I took a break from walking to rest the dogs in Jackson Square. I was sitting very near a large group of locals who could have been musicians. Or homeless. Or both. Or quite possibly neither. They were a loud and colorful bunch, that's for sure! I was entertained just eavesdropping. After a few minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. (Guard officially up). It was one of the ladies asking me if I was okay. She appeared genuinely concerned. (I'm sure--I bet my face was purple from the humidity and effort involved in walking at that point. I could not have been a pretty picture). Once I assured her I was, indeed, not dying, she returned to her friends.

On my last day, I was walking down a major residential street when a slightly older man walked out of his house carrying a magazine and an instrument case. I think he had been lying in wait for someone to come along so that he could brag about the write up on him that was featured in the magazine he was holding. He greeted me and showed me the article, reading a little bit from it, as he stepped in and started walking alongside. My guard was definitely up by this point. But I could tell he was very proud at being the subject of a magazine article. He then told me that I looked just like his ex. Guard went up a little bit more. I made some joke about it probably not being a great thing that I reminded him of his ex. He then said that she wasn't an "ex" because they split up, but because she passed away in the hurricane.

His demeanor was so genuine, and I could tell he meant the looking like the ex thing as a compliment, that I let my guard down a little bit. But only a small bit, as he was still walking alongside me. I wasn't really sure where this conversation was going, or how long he was going to tag along. Just as I was wondering how I was going to politely get rid of him, he turned the corner, wished me a good trip, and said goodbye.

I still feel a little stupid for being so suspicious. I blew an opportunity to talk with a local musician, perhaps brightening both his day and mine.

I'm not saying NOLA is a place where you can completely let your guard down as a tourist. And all bets are off on Bourbon Street after dark. But I did learn that the next time I visit NOLA, I want to be a little more open to conversing with the locals without assuming they are going to pick my pocket or try to scam me in some other way.

Now that I'm typing this, I realize that most of my surprising encounters were with people 20-40 years older than me. Maybe it was a generational thing.

A Brief History of the Garden District


Once upon a time, New Orleans was inhabited by people of French and Spanish descent, as well as a large population of free people of color. The French and Spanish weren't happy to see each other, but eventually started to get along, and became referred to as "Creoles." At that time, the French Quarter and a few other neighborhoods were the only settled parts of the city. But, as often happens, cities grow. After the Louisiana Purchase, Americans started moving to New Orleans. However, the wealthy Americans did not want to live with or near the original inhabitants of the city, and the Creoles did not want to live near the "rough" Americans, and so the Garden District was created in the early 1800's. (For comparison, NOLA was founded by the French in 1718 and was ceded to the Spanish in 1763 before being retaken by the French in 1801. The Louisiana Purchase happened in 1803.)

You'll notice that the architecture in the Garden District is very plantation, antebellum, American. Whereas the architecture in the French Quarter is very French and very Spanish. This reflects the influence of the early inhabitants of each neighborhood. Canal Street separates the French Quarter from the newer, American side of town. There is a large median in the middle of Canal Street (where the canal was "supposed" to go but didn't), and the median became known as "neutral ground" between the two sides. Even today, natives still call a median "neutral ground."

There were strict zoning rules in the Garden District, and each block could only contain up to four homes. Each property was on a "corner lot." Each home was landscaped with a large garden, hence the name "Garden District." Even today, most blocks still only have four homes; however, other blocks may have as many as 8 homes as property was divided and sold off.

The Garden District, as well as the French Quarter, are on fairly high ground, and saw very little flood damage from Hurricane Katrina.

NOLA pt. 2: The Garden District

The first item on my agenda my first day in NOLA was to take the St. Charles Streetcar to the Garden District. The St. Charles Streetcar is the oldest continuously running streetcar in the United States, and is associated with the Streetcar Named Desire. As it was told to me, the Desire St. Streetcar was not actually in service during the time the play was set, and the closest in reality was the St. Charles Streetcar. Here's a pic that I did not take of the St. Charles Streetcar on Canal Street:


This first home is just an example of a typical Garden District home. The smaller homes, such as this one, sell for between $100-200K. When I think of the gargantuan McMansions that $200K buys in the Midwest, I would MUCH rather own something like this instead.


Here's a "fancier" home in the district. It probably belongs to someone famous, but I can't remember. Could be Nicolas Cage.


Guess who's house this is? Hint: it's the one I most wanted to see:


Give up? It's the former home of Anne Rice. It's on the market (see the for sale sign?) as she moved away from NOLA after her husband passed away. Below is her front door. You'll notice that the ceiling of the porch (veranda?) is painted a light blue color. That is to mimic the color of the sky, which keeps wasps away. Now, why aren't the ceilings of porches EVERYWHERE painted light blue? Heck, I might consider breaking the terms of my lease and painting my own patio ceiling blue if it will keep the wasps away! (Oh, and those are actual operating gaslights on either side of the front door.)


Here's a carriage step. The ladies back in the day would step up on them to get into horse drawn carriages so as not to get their dresses and petticoats dirty.


This is one of the largest houses in the district. It looks like two houses side by side, but it's really one very large home. The owners have spent twice as much as they paid for the house to restore it, and they allow various nonprofits in the city to hold their fundraisers onsite.


Oh! Here's the other house that I REALLY wanted to see. Trent Reznor lived here, but moved a few years ago and sold it to John Goodman. The story goes that the genteel residents were quite worried when they heard such a shock rocker was moving into the neighborhood, but that Mr. Reznor ended up being a very good neighbor. Very quiet. I think those of us familiar with Mr. Reznor's reserved personality and lack of publicity-seeking would not be surprised that he was a quiet neighbor.


Here's another shot of the Reznor/Goodman home:


The gentleman in the white t-shirt was our tour guide. *Due to editing issues cutting off my pictures, he's only half in this one. You can see a better pic of him in the lower left corner of the first pic at the top--of the house, not the streetcar.* He had just moved back into his home a couple days before this tour. It had taken 2 1/2 years to repair the damage from Hurricane Katrina. Two and a half years of being put out of your home. And yet he chose to rebuild instead of moving away.

The Garden District is as beautiful as you would expect it to be. The streets are lined mostly with live oaks and crepe myrtles. Many original details remain, such as the carriage steps and posts to tie your horses to. Several very famous people live there (Peyton Manning's parents, Harry Connick Jr's parents, Nicolas Cage, the French consulate, etc), but none of the homes are hidden behind gates, tucked away unseen behind acres of landscaping. It's the type of place where a famous person can live and not be harassed.

Anywho, look very soon for a brief history of the Garden District, especially as it relates to the French Quarter. Fascinating stuff, at least to me.

NOLA: A note


Since I was traveling alone in NOLA, I knew that experiencing any nightlife was out of the question. My plan, therefore, was to experience as much of the city as possible during daylight hours. I even planned ahead for all the walking I would be doing in the humid humid NOLA air. A few weeks prior to the trip, I bought a pair of Born flip flops. The most comfortable shoes on the planet, right? Naturally, this was my fourth pair of Borns, and the first pair that required breaking in. Can you see where this is going?

As I didn't think these shoes would need to be broken in, the very first time I wore them was my first full day in NOLA, during my walking tour of the Garden District, followed by a short hike and stroll down Magazine Street. By the time I got to Magazine Street, I was in agony. But I was a trooper, and pushed forward, because I had limited time and I was determined to seek out the NOLA that existed beyond Bourbon Street. Unfortunately, the public transportation back to my home part of town stopped at the opposite end of the French Quarter from the location of my hotel.

Let's review:
New shoes.
Three hour walking tour of the Garden District.
One mile walk to Magazine Street.
One mile stroll down Magazine Street.
Two mile walk back to public transportation.
Two mile walk after public transportation to my hotel.

I won't go into the gory details, but my feet were an absolute wreck. I could barely walk, but this happened on my first day and I refused to let it ruin my trip. I am a trooper. As a result, I had the largest, deepest blisters ever, on the BOTTOM of my heels. And my feet swelled to an unrecognizable shape, which didn't go away until my third day home.

I learned a very important lesson. Even if my most comfortable, most broken in shoes are my Adidas cross trainers, I will risk looking like a tourist (tennis shoes and khaki's, anyone?) in order to BE a tourist.

NOLA pt. 1: On Food:


My first night, after a lengthy flight delay and the last leg of my flight being twice as long as planned--I was a little too disoriented and it was a little too late in the day for a single traveler to do much exploring. I decided that finding dinner and unpacking was going to have to be enough. The B&B owner recommended a soul food place around the corner. It was a small place, but very nice. Again, being slightly disoriented, all I could muster up to order was a po-boy. It was alright... Come to find out later that this was a place well-known in NOLA for soul food, and I probably should have ordered meatloaf (the specialty), or at least fried chicken. Live and learn...

Speaking of learning, apparently "brasserie" is French for "expensive restaurant." The Marigny Brasserie was recommended to me by a nice bartender whose bar I had wobbled into (oh! the blisters. more on that later), looking for a quick burger. Turns out the bar didn't serve food, but the bartender recommended the cafe on the corner that had reasonable prices and where most of the food service employees in the neighborhood went to eat. The Marigny Brasserie:
Marigny Brasserie

I hobbled over to the cafe and enjoyed a glass of wine at the bar, as the restaurant itself didn't open for another 15 minutes. Once I'm seated, I get to take a look at the menu. I experienced a moment of shock as I realized the menu consisted of about five to six entrees, priced between $25 and $30 each. My server explained that they have a new chef and he's trying to keep things simple.

I have to mention here that I have never ordered an entree above $15 in my life, and certainly never patronized an establishment where the "chef" is mentioned during my course of conversation with the server.

Once I overcame my shock and regained my ability to breathe, I decided "What the hell. I've made a mess of my feet (again, that's another post) and as a result am spending half of my three short days in NOLA camping out in my B&B room." I decided to throw monetary caution to the wind and enjoy the experience of an honest to goodness upscale restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised, and just a little giddy, when my meal arrived. The presentation was straight out of Iron Chef America. And the meal itself. was. divine.

I'm still wondering how to re-create it, but know that I will never attempt such a feat. Monetary caution being thrown to the wind, I also enjoyed a second glass of wine and an after dinner coffee. I have not regretted one dollar I spent at the Marigny Brasserie.

Another thing I learned: I hate seafood gumbo. Especially when I ordered chicken gumbo at THE gumbo restaurant in the French Quarter and the waiter mistakenly brings me seafood gumbo. And double especially when the surprise seafood gumbo is garnished with the claw of a crawfish.

Statement of Purpose


You know when you have some exciting, or at least exciting-to-you news, and you're thinking of sharing it with Person A--and you know that you've shared the news with someone, but can't remember if it was with Person A or Person B? And at the risk of repeating yourself, you decide not to share the information at all?

Okay, I don't know if this is a universal phenomenon, or just unique to my less than organized way of thinking. At any rate, I've realized that I am so overcautious about repeating myself, that I generally end up not sharing exciting-to-me news with anyone!!

And we come to my idea to start a blog. I've decided on a home where I can share exciting-to-me news with my friends and family, as well as share other goings-on in my life. For example, I think my first series of posts will be about my recent trip to New Orleans. Because, apparently, I've shared very little of that trip with anyone. I put my insomnia to good use last night and wrote the first part of the series, and will enter it later. So stay tuned!!

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