French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana
A perfect day in the French Quarter is easy to experience. Even in the heat of a late summer day it is relaxing to stroll along these small and colorful streets. Summer can be a slow time for the tourist business here and some shops were just reopening after a few renovations in preparation for the coming Halloween season. Fresh paint covered many of the historic facades, in some places, the painters were still brushing on colors as approved by the Vieux Carré Commission, the city planning board dedicated to preserving the historic appearance of this village within a city. Crisp, new flags seemed to hang from every other balcony. Expectancy charged the air. I had the feeling that tourist buses were already loaded and crossing the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, their arrival mere minutes away.
I always love to see all of this activity in the Quarter. Mornings are especially fun. Delivery vans fill the streets, shops are opening up, streets are washed down, there is a brisk, sometimes hectic combination of tradesmen getting to work on whichever project is on the day's schedule. This is the face of the French Quarter that most tourists miss as they sleep in from a late night of partying. But it is the time I enjoy the most in this little corner of the world.
Don't get me wrong. The streets weren't empty. And a few street artists were out to entertain those of us enjoying the afternoon. As you can see, construction is always underway here, even when there isn't a wall to support a ladder. This hard worker is determined to get that first two by four nailed in place. I've always thought he should start at the bottom. But He seems to know what he is doing. And in case you weren't familiar with this demonstration, be assured that ladder is not bolted down to the stone.
Be sure to carry a pocketful of one dollar bills for the street artists. Jackson Square wouldn't be Jackson Square without the playful tunes of a dixieland band. And these entertainers aren't paid by the city. They will do their utmost to entertain, they won't be shy about asking for donations and if they see you dropping a little something in the bucket they are quick to voice their appreciation.
It was here on Jackson Square that I helped out an older couple from Manchester, England. You can always find a pair like this, taking that single shot with a camera when what they really want is a photograph with both of them in it. After helping them get a few photos in front of the Cathedral I talked with them a little while. It was their third trip to New Orleans. It was just a few days before Scotland voted on the question of independence from Great Britain. They were hoping the Scots would stay in the Union. They could see no advantage to either Scotland or England if Scotland went their own way. I'm sure they were happy to read the news from across the pond today when it was announced that Scotland had chosen to keep Britain unified.
If you head over to Canal Street (which is technically outside of the French Quarter) glance up at the lamp posts that flank the street cars. There is some nice detail work between the lamps. But what you'll also see are plenty of beads hanging around from Mardi Gras. Some of them will be covered in beads, and some will have only a few. This one I captured has just the one strand, seemingly laid carefully to match the design.
At St. Charles and Canal Streets, if you're patient, you'll see one of the historic St. Charles street cars pass its modern cousin, the Canal street car. That's the one you'll want to catch if you want a ride over to the Garden District. (Even better than the Garden District is Lafayette Cemetery Number Two. The St. Charles street car will take you to both places.)
Not every house in the French Quarter has been freshly painted. And I'm glad. It adds to the charm of this place. It helps us to remember that we aren't walking down a street in Disney World, where everything has been engineered for our entertainment. It helps us remember that this village will be three hundred years old in just four years from now. It has stood up to the winds and rains of uncounted hurricanes, the changing politics of the Spanish, the French, and the Americans, and it will be here long after the tourists pack up and leave at the end of this coming season. It is, after all, a living neighborhood where its residents work and play and go about their everyday lives.