Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Art Deco Laundry Building in New Orleans

Dooky Chase's at the airport
I was going through my pictures looking for something to write about and I came across this picture of Dooky Chase's at the airport.  It made me realize that it was time to find more pictures, but at least I had found something to write about.  I went around town taking pictures.  I got so caught up in this project that I forgot to go to the bank.  There's always tomorrow. 
I'm gonna catch the wave at Gulf Coast Bank!
Anyhow, if you see Dooky Chase's at the airport, don't worry if you don't have time to go in.  We've got the original, just six blocks behind our house.
Dooky Chase's on the corner of Orleans and Miro
It's as good as you've heard.  

Since I was in the neighborhood, I swung over a few blocks to 2512 St. Peter Street.
General Laundry Cleaners and Dyers Building
A lot more authoritative information can be found at this link.  Note that it was declared the No. 1 most endangered building in New Orleans in 2010.  Today, four years later, it still stands, as jauntily forlorn as ever.

What I find most attractive is the entrance to the office:
General Laundry office entrance
Though the entrance for employees is just as enticing:
General Laundry employees entrance
An entrance just for the employees...  Didn't employees work in the office?  Some.  The office was for management and customers, primarily.  Aren't managers also employees?  It depends on who you ask.  Just ask Tammie the Housekeeper if you have any questions on that regard.
Tammy the Housekeeper
Here's what the employees entrance looked like this afternoon:
Abandoned couch outside the General Laundry Building
I know what you're thinking.  Ummmm... Mr. Boutique Innkeeper, why are you showing us pictures of an abandoned building in your neighborhood?  Do you really think that's going to make us want to stay at your inn?  I asked Tammie the Housekeeper beforehand and she said it was a good idea.

Firstly, you will never find this building unless you ask me for directions, and then I'll be happy to tell you.  

Secondly, the other side of the 2500 block of St. Peter Street is made up of perfectly fine if unpretentious homes, and the back of church that is still being rebuilt post-Katrina.  

Thirdly,  this is what New Orleans is like.  You turn a corner and you never know what you're going to find.  It could be beautiful or it could be ugly.  It could be a mix of both.  Look at this masonry detail:

Terracotta masonry
This building was completed in 1930 and it has sat in the New Orleans sun for that long.  These colors are as vibrant as if they were put in place today.  It's really remarkable.  I haven't doctored these photos.

Well, that's enough pictures for one day.  I took 77 of them, so there's plenty of grist for the mill.  It's the second weekend of Jazz Fest starting on Friday.  I could always write about that.  You never know.  I know I don't.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Whatever Happened to Lafcadio Hearn?

Jeanne d'Arc in La France Suite
Frau Schmitt was slicing bread the other morning when I interrupted her by saying, "Do you remember that guy from San Francisco who grew up around the block?"

She nodded, "Yes, I remember him.  He and his wife were very nice.  I think they had two kids."  She mentioned some other identifying details regarding their professions, the street they live on, and the husband's opinion on public infrastructure investment.  

I nodded back, "That's the one," I said.  

See the kinds of things Frau Schmitt remembers?  I remember he was very intrigued by Lafcadio Hearn.
Lafcadio Hearn
In the hallway that separates the two halves of our house, I've hung the biographies of noted New Orleans residents.  One of them is Lafcadio Hearn.  This guy from San Francisco was captivated by the story of Lafcadio Hearn, the man who invented New Orleans.  Lafcadio Hearn is kind of a hero of mine, as well.  He had a very impressive mustache.

When you look at a picture of Lafcadio Hearn, it isn't the mustache you see, it's the fact that he's hiding the fact that he's blind in his left eye.  
Lafcadio Hearn from the right
The guy from San Francisco said to me, "He really has a fascinating story."

Steve said to me, "Is any of that real?"

I assured them both that Lafcadio Hearn really existed.  His house is preserved as a landmark even though nobody outside Japan knows who he is.  It's in the middle of a parking lot.  It's the only house left on that block of Cleveland Street.

I read his biography in the hallway this morning.  That's exactly what it says.  I know these stories by heart.  Your humble narrator is a licensed tour guide, after all.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with what I'm talking about
Frau Schmitt was done slicing the bread.  As she was putting the tray on the buffet table, she said, "Did he talk to you about anything other than Lafcadio Hearn?"

He said New Orleans feels like home.  He said that it reminds him of San Francisco.  That's what Tennessee Williams said, too.

Frau Schmitt paraphrased Tennessee Williams for the benefit of people from Cleveland, "There are only three cities in America: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans.  Everywhere else is where you're from."

Everybody has memories.  Be thankful for your good ones.  

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The difference between Cajun and Creole

Our Lady of Rocheblave and Our Lady of Dourgenois
When people come to visit New Orleans, they expect to meet some Cajuns.  Sorry, but Cajuns aren't native to New Orleans.  They are native to Louisiana, but they live out in the swamp, not in the city.  The descendants of the original French and Spanish families, and their slaves, and the Haitians who moved to the city after the Haitian Revolution, are called Creoles.  Ours is a Creole culture, not a Cajun one.  
Breakfast in New Orleans
There are a lot of cooking shows on television nowadays.  Frau Schmitt and I always drive past the billboard on North Broad Avenue that touts Willie Mae's Scotch House, which is just six blocks behind our house.  According to the billboard, the Food Network, which hosts a whole smorgasbord of cooking shows, says that Wille Mae's serves the best fried chicken in America.  According to the first review listed on Google+: "Believe the hype!"

Sometimes, we go to Sammy's Food Service and Deli on Elysian Fields Avenue for lunch.  Guy Fieri, who has a show on the Food Network, autographed a poster that hang's in Sammy's dining room. According to Guy Fieri, Sammy's serves some of the finest food in all of American's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  He also signed a poster at Katie's, which is on North Telemachus Street, where we also often go for lunch.  

Chefs who host cooking shows love visiting New Orleans.  Everyone else who loves to eat loves New Orleans.  It's like loving life.
Sitting room in Le Pelican Suite
Frau Schmitt and I are usually too busy tidying up the inn to watch much television.  I'm not going to tell you that innkeeping is a difficult profession, but it does take a lot of attention to details.  There are only so many hours in a day.  Rather than watch TV shows about New Orleans, we live in the city.  360 degrees of real life.  It always smells delicious here.  

When I was much younger, my father liked to watch cooking shows.  We all have our vices.  This was his.  Back in those days, cooking shows were mainly on PBS.  It was considered educational television rather than entertaining television.  No company would think of buying an ad to support a cooking show-- not many people watched them back in the day.

One of my father's favorite shows was hosted by Justin Wilson.  My father had a deep love for New Orleans.  He went to school here and, though he didn't revisit the city as often as he may have liked, it made an impression on him that couldn't be erased.  Justin Wilson was a Cajun, not a Creole.  Up north in Connecticut, it was close enough.  Here is a sample of Justin Wilson cooking gumbo:

My father also liked Jeff Smith who was the Frugal Gourmet on PBS.  Mr. Smith was as fussy as Mr. Wilson was relaxed.  In the following sample, the Frugal Gourmet cooks Creole.  You can see the difference in the two approaches.

Both these cooks give a lesson on New Orleans cooking culture.  Justin Wilson just is who he is.  He's hard to understand but you can't help but like him.  That's the way most people are in New Orleans.  Creole cooking is similar to Cajun cooking, but they are distinctly different.  Jeff Smith is more analytical, approaching the city from the outside and falling in love in the process.  It happens all the time.  Spend enough time in New Orleans and you will take away a bellyful of appreciation.

The other day, the New Orleans Advocate, the newspaper I read before guests show up in the morning, published an article about the houses on Esplanade Avenue.  Ours is mentioned in the middle, in paragraph 11, the way we are smack in the middle of Esplanade Avenue.  The writer made a small mistake; our house and its immediate neighbors were built in 1883, not in the 1890s.  Nobody expects precision in New Orleans.  Like adding a teaspoon of hot sauce to gumbo, close is good enough to taste.

A slide show accompanies the article, but I'm not entirely pleased by the photo they used of our house.  Let's take another look at this picture that I took the other day after the race.  I like it:
2200 block of Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans
Tour guides like to point out that these houses are painted in traditionally joyous Creole colors.  This is partly true.  The paint wasn't picked by any native Creoles, but they seemed appropriate to the streetscape.  Plenty of people seem to agree.  Sit on the front porch or on the balconies and you'll see people stopping to snap photos all day long.  We live in a local landmark.  It isn't just the paint jobs--the houses would be beautiful even if they were painted white.

What's the difference between Cajun and Creole?  It is a matter of degree.  Cajuns live in the country.  They live in the swamp.  They paddle pirogues on the bayous.  Creoles live in the city.  They are urban and urbane.  Each have very different accents and different colloquialisms.  We'll be exploring those things another day.  In the meantime, think about visiting New Orleans to discover a world very different from where you live.  It's very nice here.  It is unfamiliar but very welcoming.  No matter where you go, it is very hard to have a bad meal.

Emeril Legasse, who is from Fall River, Massachusetts of all places, is as New Orleans as anyone else.  He knows his way around a Creole kitchen.  Think about him what you will, but he knows New Orleans even better than Guy Fieri does.

It's the difference between someone who lives in New Orleans and someone who lives in the rest of Louisiana.  New Orleans is a unique world all its own.
A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Crescent City Classic 2014

Esplanade Avenue after the Crescent City Classic
The Crescent City Classic is an annual 10k road race that goes down Esplanade Avenue every spring.  It went by our house this morning.  This is what it was like:

1.  9:30 last night some trucks stopped in front of our house to set up an archway over the street at the 3-mile mark.  While they were setting up, a driver heading lakeside up Esplanade Avenue was gawking at the work in progress and he rear ended the car in front of him.  The police arrived and flashed their lights at least until 30 minutes past midnight. 

2.  At 5:00 this morning another work crew arrived to install a sound system and make a general racket putting the finishing touches on the archway.  They finished up about an hour later.  They enjoyed listening to classic rock while they went about their business.

3.  The race started at 8:00AM.  By 8:15 the first runners went by our house with police escort.  Motorcycle police with sirens.  It's a different layout every year.  This year we had water stations set up two houses down from us and portable toilets in the park across the street from us.  Some years, there is nobody but us and the neighbors watching the race.  This year, there was a crowd in the 2200 block of Esplanade Avenue, everyone cheering.

4.  The last of the walkers passed by, bringing up the lagging rear, at about 10:30.  Then the street was a wasteland of empty conical paper cups.  The sheriff's department came by and prisoners picked up all the trash.  Nice guys.  All of them smiling as they went about their assigned duties in orange OPP (Orleans Parish Prison) jumpsuits.  It was beautiful weather.

5.  By 11:30 all the trash had been picked up.  The archway was disassembled and you wouldn't have known there was a race today except for the people wearing numbers walking back to the French Quarter from City Park.  Everyone seemed to be in a good mood.
2200 block of Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans
There is no parking on our street between midnight and noon on the day when the Crescent City Classic is running.  I took advantage of the lack of cars in front of our house to take a picture.  As I mentioned above, it was a beautiful morning.  It's springtime in New Orleans.

I wasn't the only person taking pictures of our house.  People are always stopping to snap a few pics.  I fit right in.  I never get tired of taking pictures of our inn and it's neighbors.  The inn is the orange building in the middle.  2216 Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70119.
A closer view
The sun was so bright and the day was so cloudless that I haven't doctored the exposure or the shadows of these pictures.  This is what it looks like to live in New Orleans in the middle of April.  We love it here.  Most people do.  If you can't be happy in New Orleans... well, I don't know what to say about that.

Let's take a closer look at those three houses.  They were all built at the same time, in 1883, by the same man.  He built them for the old Creole families who were moving out of the French Quarter at the time.  The Quarter was being overrun by Sicilian immigrants and the old French families wanted a change of scenery.
2212 Esplanade Avenue
The blue house was built to be a one-family domicile.  
2216 Esplanade Avenue
The orange house was built for two families, side by side.  The actual address is 2216 on the riverside and 2218 on the lakeside of the building.
2222 Esplanade Avenue
The green house was also built for two families; one on the ground floor and one on the second story.  The addresses for this building were originally 2220 for the porch and 2222 for the balcony.

When I sit out front waiting for guests to arrive, I have the opportunity to chat with people walking by.  They all have nice things to say about the paint jobs.  These are cheerful landmarks in the middle of one of the most beautiful streets in New Orleans.  It is like magic to live here, whether you spend a lifetime or just a few nights.

We like it here.  You will, too.  If you don't... well, I don't what to say about that.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Let's take one last look at all three:
Middle of the 2200 block of Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Little things mean a lot

Clio Suite
Angels dwell in details.  As I'm sure I've mentioned before, every room in our inn is a different color.  This doesn't only mean the walls.  All the ceilings are a different color, too.  Shall we take a tour of the ceilings in the Clio Suite?  I don't have anything better to do.

When the suites are unoccupied, I like to linger in them.  By unoccupied, I mean that no one is currently staying in them.  They aren't rented.  I don't hang out with people's luggage while they're out sightseeing and having adventures.  

Someone rang our doorbell the other day and asked to see all the suites.  "I thought that everyone would be out in the afternoon and you could show me the rooms.  I have family coming to town in June and I'd like to rent the whole house, but I want to see the suites first," she said.

I informed her that the house was full.  "You mean everybody's home?" she asked.  I answered, "No, but all the suites are rented.  If you rented a suite, would you want strangers traipsing through?"

"I don't see what difference it would make if they're not here," she answered.  It was a difference of opinion and our opinion mattered more.  When you stay with us, your space is sacrosanct.  Frau Schmitt or I, or Tammie the Housekeeper, will go into the suite to change replace the glasses, make the bed, sweep the floor, and clean the bathroom, but nobody else.  Nobody else.  What you do in the suite is nobody's business.  Not even ours.  We are very discreet.
Tammie the Housekeeper
We are not a hotel.  We are a small boutique inn.  Our inn meant to be an oasis.  I informed our visitor that I thought we have a day toward the end of May when the house will be empty.  That was as of this writing.  It being May in New Orleans, we will probably have people staying with us that day, too, but not as of this writing, and we won't be able to show any rooms that are occupied.  "The end of next month is a little close to when I want to make a reservation," she told me, "I'll see if someone else will show me their rooms."  I bid her goodbye.

I don't know what the policies are at other B&Bs.  Maybe someone else will let her see their guests' unmentionables.  We won't.  If we don't get her business, so it goes.  We think some things are more important than getting as much business as we possibly we can.  As professional innkeepers, we are in this for the long haul, trying to do what is right.  By doing what it right consistently, we hope to build our reputation.  It takes time, but it is the right thing to do.  What's the point in having locks if anyone off the street can go into your rooms?

Didn't this start out as a tour of ceilings?  It was supposed to be.
Corner in Clio
The ceilings in the Clio Suite are purple.  The walls in Clio's sitting room are a shade of teal.  The ceiling in the sitting room is a dark purple.  Why not?  Frau Schmitt always tells me, "You can't be afraid of color."  She is usually right about these things.  We love the fact that our house is so colorful.  Our guests do, too.  Have you ever slept in a room with purple ceilings?  It's very relaxing.
Another corner in Clio
The bedroom in the Clio Suite is pink.  I know, teal and pink.  It shouldn't work, but it does.  It works because of the purple ceilings.  The ceiling in the bedroom is a bit lighter.  There are angels in the details.
Also the Clio Suite
There are about 150 licensed B&Bs in New Orleans.  There are plenty of unlicensed ones, as well.  We are licensed, inspected, bonded, and insured.  We are up to code.  We are professionals.  As ambassadors for our city, our job is to ensure that you are comfortable and cared for.  Our job is to ensure that you enjoy your stay.  Our job is to ensure that you leave New Orleans full of good memories.  Everyone has stories to tell after they leave New Orleans.  Our job is to ensure that our guests have only good stories to tell about their stay.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Authentic New Orleans

Mayor Mitch Landrieu, courtesy of
The city's website used to be  Not too catchy, is it?  When Mitch Landrieu was elected, he changed it to  I'm not here to play partisan politics, as most visitors are not terribly interested, but I will quote something I read a while back.  Mitch Landrieu seems to be holding the job he was born to have.  Whether you think it a case of privilege (his father was mayor) or a case of a man who is enthusiastic about going to work, that's not much of my concern.  I think he's a good mayor, for whatever my opinion is worth.

Frau Schmitt and I met him once.  We were at the coffee shop in The Rink, which is on Prytania Street.  A bald guy was buying a pound of coffee in line in front of us.  He turned around and introduced himself.  "I'm Mitch. What are your names?" he said.

We had a nice conversation.  He seemed genuinely perplexed that we would move from Boston to New Orleans.  "It's so nice in Boston," he said.  We pointed out that there's more snow in Boston than there is in New Orleans and he couldn't argue that point.

There's an interesting article in Politico Magazine that highlights the mayor and his crime strategy.  We don't often discuss the murder rate in New Orleans unless someone asks.  It is high enough to curl most people's hair.  It is much, much, much lower than it was when we moved here four years ago.  It is still more than double the murder rate in Boston, and Boston has twice as many people.  
St. Jospeh Altar, New Orleans
We don't shy away from talking about crime in New Orleans with our guests.  They're already here so there's no point in hiding the truth.

The truth is that we don't see a lot of murders.  Actually, we haven't seen any.  Our part of the city is peaceable.  There isn't even a lot of petty crime in our neighborhood.  It's basically a working families' neighborhood.  It is slowly gentrifying, but it hasn't reached the tipping point, yet.  Once the property values in the Bywater reach their ceiling, I suspect our part of the city will be the next hot real estate market, but that's about a half-decade down the road.  We do have a new Whole Foods supermarket and property values are rising.  Give it time.

People who walk to the French Quarter from our house have to walk under the highway overpass on North Claiborne Avenue, and it's ugly the way most highway projects are.  There are sometimes a panhandler or two under the overpass holding out a sign to the cars stopped at the traffic light, but do you want to know where most of the panhandlers are?  It's where most of the pickpockets and purse snatchers are, too.  They're where the easy marks are: the French Quarter.
Looking up from the Clio Suite balcony
We live a relaxing stroll away from the French Quarter in one direction and from City Park in the other direction.  Tour buses and bicycle tours pass by our house all day, but the neighborhood, overall, isn't inundated with visitors.  It's very peaceable in this part of New Orleans.  It's close enough to the action while being far enough away that we get a good night's sleep without many cares or concerns.

A lot of people who stay with us want to get an authentic New Orleans experience.  This means different things to different people.  A night on Bourbon Street is as authentically New Orleans as a night on Frenchman Street; the only difference is one of degrees.  Emeril Lagasse has a restaurant called Nola.  Is that more authentic than a dinner at Mandina's?  I'm not one to judge.  It's hard to have a bad meal in this city.  Emeril is pure New Orleans even if he is from Fall River, Mass.  We've never eaten at one of his restaurants, but we're not opposed to it.  They just always seem to be crowded.  
Another tree in front of our house
We've never eaten at Couchon either.  Last year, just about everyone who stayed with us arrived with reservations at Couchon. It's in the Warehouse District and last year you needed reservations to get a seat.  We don't spend a lot of time in the Warehouse District.  Everyone who ate at Couchon enjoyed their meals.  Having a good meal is an authentic New Orleans experience, but is Couchon?  I don't know.  I haven't eaten there.  I can tell you about the jazz brunch at Buffa's though.  I recommend it.  The kitchen is open 24 hours and it's right down our street.

I will tell you something that I've found to be true.  If you have heard about it, it's probably not a place we go to often.  It is probably crowded because these places have to advertise to attract the kind of national attention that they do.  The kind of places we go to don't issue press releases or have PR people.  They don't need them.  They've been around for a long time and they have a dedicated clientele of people who live here.  We live here.  When we go out, we like to see people we know.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, St. Joseph Altar, New Orleans
When you live in New Orleans and you go into a shop in the French Quarter, the person behind the cash register asks, "Where are you from?''  You say, "Esplanade Avenue."  They say, "Is that where you're staying?"  You say, "We live on Esplanade Avenue," and the whole tenor of the conversation changes.  

Nobody asks us where we're from at the places we usually go to.  They don't need to.  Nobody cares.  When you are in the weave of New Orleans, we're all in it together.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Orleans Fire Artist

Kerlerec Street, New Orleans
You never know who you'll meet in New Orleans.  We happen to live next to Walker Babington.  Who?  Walker Babington, the Fire Artist.  He's represented by Hyph3n-Art Gallery here in New Orleans.  The other night, he invited us to his opening, during which he set himself on fire in a piece of performance that left a lasting impression on a wooden canvas (if such a term exists).  You can see the video here.  He invited us, but we couldn't make it... We had guests due to arrive at the exact same moment that he was immolating himself for art's sake.  Spoiler:  He lived to tell the tale.  I talked to him this morning.

I went down to the corner of Kerlerec and Royal Streets after I talked to him.  He made this 20-foot-tall angel out of wood, blowtorches, and a flame thrower.  I told you he's a fire artist.  He also makes engravings in wood using a magnifying glass and the sun.  As someone who went to art school, let me tell you that Mr. Babington can draw.  He draws very well.  I've seen a couple portraits he's made of Sydney, who is a lovely young lady, and I knew exactly who she was supposed to be.  

How's that for high praise?

The angel is beautiful.  After I took its picture I saw it reflected in the front window of the R Bar:
Entrance to R Bar, corner of Kerlerec and Royal Streets, New Orleans
You can see the reflection on your left.  Mr. Babington told me they are going to take it down in the next day or so, but that it will be installed nearby for posterity.  Good.  It's a very solid piece of work, both in the physical and in the aesthetic sense.

You may think that is enough to make for an interesting day.  If you do, you don't live in New Orleans.  I also went to the bank.  Here's the bank we use:
201 N. Carrolton Avenue, New Orleans
Every time I see this building, I think that the architect had a few too many sazeracs before he sat down at his drafting table.  Then, I look at the bank's logo and I think maybe it's all part of an ugly master plan.
Gulf Coast Bank & Trust Company logo
If I find the bank's aesthetics so off-putting (and I do), you may wonder why I go there...
Gulf Coast Bank lobby
There's never a line.  The tellers are very nice, too.  And the branch manager?  Let me tell you, she's a real professional.  She's a regular fountain of banking information.  No line and excellent personable staff.  When I bank at Gulf Coast, I know I'm not at Capital One, which is just four buildings down.

How's that for high praise?

After I got home, I was looking at the picture we have hanging over the fireplace in the lobby.  It was taken around 1905.
Corner of Esplanade Avenue and North Miro Street, New Orleans
It being a sunny day, and me with my camera and all, I decided to walk half a block to snap a pic of what these houses look today.
Corner of Esplanade Avenue and North Miro Street, New Orleans
The house on the left is still there.  The trees have grown a bit in last 110 years.  You'll also notice that in 2014 everything is in color.    Times change but the bones of New Orleans remain the same.  

You never know who or what you'll see in New Orleans, but I think Trader Vic described the city best:

It is a city "where those merry souls who make drinking a pleasure, who achieve contentedness long before capacity, and who, whenever they drink, prove able to carry it and enjoy it, and remain gentlemen."  I couldn't have said it better myself.

A votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.  
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