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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Summer's View of the French Quarter

The French Quarter, New Orleans.
A Jazz Band tries to cool things down in Jackson Square.

The French Quarter, New Orleans.  It is known for its Mardi Gras and Halloween celebrations.  Yet, for those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to visit it throughout the year, we know there is more to this very unique city than her festivals.  This week, I took a walk around the Vieux Carré and thought I would highlight a few of the sights you might see if you take a July vacation in the Big Easy.

Right away, when you get to Jackson Square, you're gonna find someone, or some group, playing jazz.  It won't always be Dixie Land jazz, but you can be sure it's cool, hot, sweet, and spicy.  You'll usually find them out in front of the Café du Monde, or between Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral.  In the picture above, I found this group in front of the Cabildo.  That's Café Pontalba behind them, which is one of the best places to eat some gumbo, red beans and rice, fried alligator, and jambalaya.  (That last item is my favorite.)  If you look closely, you'll notice that not all of the bands have traditional instruments.  This one has an honest-to-goodness broom guitarist.  You've got to hear him to believe it.  He'll sweep you away.  He can really kick up some dust with that baby.

Speaking of the Cabildo, here you can see that in July, the flowers are in bloom, including the bougainvillea, shrub roses, and especially those on the crape myrtles, which are a Louisiana specialty.

The Cabildo was built by the Spanish in the 1790's.  Aside from being the home to the Spanish government, it was also the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer in 1803, once the New Orleans City Hall, the Louisiana State Supreme Court (which saw the landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson decision in 1896), and was used as a prison before it eventually became the Louisiana State Museum in 1908.

Not far from the Cabildo, which is on the right hand side of Saint Louis Cathedral, you'll find Orleans Street, which runs into the backyard of the cathedral, connecting Royal Street, the home of so many art galleries and antique shops, with Bourbon Street, the home of so many bars and strip clubs.

In July, the heat can be pretty rough.  While I was there, it was not bad in the shade.  As you'll notice, even the cigar shop Indian is wise enough to hang back in the shade on the banquette.  (The raised sidewalks in the French Quarter are called this because way back when, the small blocks were called islands, which led the French people in town to call the sidewalks banquettes, as in the banks along a shore.)

Speaking of the heat, if you need a place to get out of the sun, most of the hotels in the Quarter have these little passages that lead to their courtyards.  It is in these courtyards where you'll find respite from the midday sun where there is lots of shade, and more often than not, the cooling presence of a fountain.  

During my walk, it wasn't hot enough to seek out shelter.  Though I must admit those fountains looked terribly inviting.

In July, you'll get to see the splendor and variety of the houses in the Vieux Carré.  So many of the homes in this area are gaily painted to reflect the traditional decor associated with this French-influenced American neighborhood.  And many of them are kept in perfect condition, despite the damaging effects of the sub-tropical heat and the near constant high humidity.  There's also the effects of tropical storms and hurricanes to consider as well.  So with all of these elements attacking the wood, you'll find that there are many shutters and doors which have been mistreated.  However, I am always glad the residents don't repair every one of these at the same time.  They add such a wonderful flavor to the Quarter.  It would be a shame if every home there looked perfect.

My purpose for this day was to keep searching for shots to use for my calendars for 2014.  I am never sure which is better, the older, run-down look of the Quarter, or the fresher, painted, restored sections.  I really couldn't choose one over the other.  They're both inspiring in their own way.

But if you're looking for perfect, or at least something close to it, you'll find plenty of homes that will catch your eye.  Here, on Dumaine Street, just north of Dauphine Street, I was intrigued by the colorful display of paint along with the flags waving in the summer breeze.  How delightful it must be to live in such a colorful and cheerful home.

Not far from here I sat down to rest on a stoop and chatted with Louis, a photographer from New York, who was taking a break in the shade.  Though born and bred in New York City, he was down in New Orleans for the coming Fourth of July festivities.  We shared the shade and a little companionship before I moved on in search of more targets for my camera.

Because it was July, and many of the northern tourists did not realize it was actually a pleasant day (by local standards), many of them felt the best way to see the Quarter was to take a ride in the shade of a carriage awning.  You'll find plenty of carriages awaiting you on the south side of Jackson Square.  The drivers/guides will be more than happy to drive you around, dishing out as many legends and myths as you're willing to swallow.  The indefatigable mules, either a Jack or a Jenny, will pull you along, no matter the heat.  The clip-clop of their hooves is often the only sound you'll hear on the lesser traveled streets at noon.  Everyone else is inside a restaurant eating great food and having a few drinks.  (But easy on the drinks in the hot weather, okay?)

Now if you've seen enough of the Quarter, or you just plan to hit it later in the day, you can always grab a ride on the steamboat Natchez.  

Using steam engines built in 1925, the Natchez, one of only a few steamboats still plying the waters of the Mississippi today, will take you on a two hour trip along the river.  Leaving every day from the Toulouse Street wharf behind the Jax Brewery, the Natchez takes you down around the bend of the river past the Chalmette battleground.  Along the way you'll learn a little bit of history about the Mississippi and enjoy a cool breeze up on the top deck.

And when the cruise is over, you don't even have to walk back to your hotel.  The Toulouse Streetcar station is nearby, and so are a few guys willing to peddle you home in their pedicabs.  But if you can stand to walk just a little, I always suggest heading back to Jackson Square so you can grab a milkshake at Stanley.  Trust me on that one.  They're the best!

I'll leave you with a little tune from the Natchez, as played on their steam-powered calliope.  We filmed this as we were heading back to the car.  Look closely and you'll see the man standing at the organ.  Yes, they really do play it live.  It is not a computer programmed calliope, as I had once thought it was.

Use these links for 2014 calendars featuring my photography from New Orleans:
French Quarter Balconies Calendars
French Quarter Balconies Calendars by jreeser1

Also, you might enjoy this wrapped canvas photograph of Central Grocery.

View more gifts at Zazzle.

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