Saturday, December 26, 2015

My Favorite City Is New Orleans

Corner of N. Tonti and Barracks Streets, New Orleans, LA
Somebody asked me recently, over breakfast, what my favorite city in the world is.  I looked around, stretched out my hands, shrugged, and let the question answer itself.  Frau Schmitt was putting a plate of crawfish pie on the table and she chimed in to answer.  "His favorite city is New Orleans," she said.  Frau Schmitt is usually right about these things.

Let's face it; Wewoka, Oklahoma is nobody's favorite city, at least nobody that I've ever spoken with, and that's including the people who live there.  I'm not saying I don't like Wewoka.  Far from it.  I'm just saying it is far down on my list of favorites. 

A lot of places are like that.

When the tide goes out, that's when you'll see who's naked.  I had no reason for typing that except that it popped into my head just now.

Apropos of the conversation, I decided to list five things today that I like about New Orleans, five of the things that make this my favorite city.  Lists are good ways to build blog traffic but you have to put the fact that you are featuring a list in the title.  Otherwise, nobody knows you're giving away a list.  Nobody's ever said I was savvy about these things.  If you happened to land on this page by happenstance, more power to you.  Maybe you'll browse the deep archives we maintain for your perusal.  Maybe you'll be tempted to visit New Orleans.  If you are tempted, I can tell you that reason number 6 of why I love New Orleans is because La Belle Esplanade is in New Orleans.  You'll love La Belle Esplanade.

Let's begin.  We are going to proceed without illustrations.  You'll have to use your imagination until you get here.

Number One:  Just before the wee small hours of the night turn into the wee small hours of the morning, if you are on City Park Avenue in New Orleans, your eyes will be drawn to a beacon that never dims its neon: Bud's Broiler.  It's a 24-hour hamburger stand.  Step in for a Number 9 with onions, an order of fries, and a frosty bottle of Heineken.  Life doesn't get any better in a city that refuses to keep normal hours or normal habits.

Number Two:  You can't get a good bagel in New Orleans.  

Sure, there is Humble Bagel on Freret Street, but they keep funny hours that I can never keep track of and Freret Street is far out of the way.  Plus, their bagels are very puffy; they hardly have a hole.  

Sure, there's Manhattan Jack, but just about every woman in there is wearing yoga pants, not that that matters because every scruffily bearded man in there is staring at his phone.  And don't forget the slow discombobulated service, but hey, they have an iPad instead of a cash register!  

Sure, there is also Maple Street Patisserie and Deli on Eighth Street of Magazine.  I had a bagel there this morning and it was a predictable disappointment.  I was walking past a trash can after finishing half the everything bagel I had purchased and I thought, "I wouldn't mind throwing this away."  So I did.

This isn't New York.  You shouldn't expect good bagels in New Orleans, and I no longer do.  That's one reason New Orleans is my favorite city.  I am forced to accept New Orleans on its own terms.  It's liberating.  I don't need to go to Panera Bread Company on N. Carrollton Avenue---their bagels aren't any good either.

[We interrupt this blog for a short commercial message featuring Joanne Worley...]



Number Three:  Whenever we're in the Riverbend, which isn't often enough and looks nothing like Fodor's describes, Frau Schmitt and I like to stop at Cooter Brown's.  They serve the best pastrami sandwich in the city, and they have a very extensive beer selection, but the reason I like Cooter Brown's is the collection of celebrity caricatures that line the walls around all the rooms.  These are celebrities I know, like W.C. Fields, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Gleason, and Albert Einstein.  They don't have Miley Cyrus, at least not that I've seen, though, I have to admit, I have only the vaguest idea of what Miley Cyrus looks like nowadays.  Cooter Brown's is also justly famous for its oysters.  'nuff said.

Number Four:  Oysters with caviar.  I was just talking to a guest from Japan and she asked me for a good seafood restaurant.  I don't recommend it often, but I recommend it often enough because I do enjoy the Bourbon House, even on a bad day.  Is is the greatest restaurant in New Orleans?  No.  Not by a long shot.  But, the Bourbon House does deliver good oysters, especially when they are delivered with a little spoonful of caviar on top.

[Another commercial message featuring the inimitable Joanne Worley...]



Number Five:  In New Orleans, people dance like nobody is watching.  People live according to the dictates of their hearts.  Faith, hope, and charity are a way of life.  Whether you are a gangster or a comedian, whether you are a banker or a busker, whether you are waiter, a secretary, a carpenter, a shoe store clerk, a supermarket cashier, a bricklayer, a plumber, a stripper, a gutter punk or a minister, you do your best to be the best New Orleanian you can be.  We are all in this big shebang together.  Be nice or leave.  Most people who move to New Orleans stay.

Whatever you are known for best, be it a comedian or a gangster, you know how to dance like you mean it.  It's all jazz in the end.  Every day is a joyful improvisation.  And there is tap-dancing, too.



If you want to learn more, come to New Orleans for a few nights.  A longer visit is better than a shorter one.  Better a day in New Orleans than a week wherever else you are thinking of visiting.  A week in New Orleans will inaugurate a new chapter in your understanding of life.  New Orleans air sets a soul free.  Take a deep breath and be careful what you wish for.  It'll be better than good.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade
...Like Kleenex Tissues, the only real choice.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

It Takes More Than a Village To Make a Great City

Flat Stanley
Sometimes, I wish I could travel the world just like Flat Stanley.  Then, I realize that I don't really like to travel further than about a mile from our house, having all my wants and my appetite for adventure satisfied in that meager radius.  I love our neighborhood in New Orleans and I don't really need many changes in my scenery.  Frau Schmitt will tell you that I think going to the other side of the city is too far, and it's only about a twenty minute trip by motor scooter.  Frau Schmitt is usually right about these things.

Don't ask me to go to the mall.

I was listening to Glenn Campbell on my stereo hi-fi last night.



He was a lineman for the county, but we don't have counties here in Louisiana.  We have parishes. 

I don't mean church parishes.  We those, too, of course, but I'm talking about civic parishes.  There is a separation here between church and state, but it's sometimes difficult to discern where that line might be.  God Bless Louisiana.




This is my absolute favorite of the God Bless Louisiana spots.  "Someday we'll be together in the only place better than here."  Amen.

Witchita, a city and county in Kansas, has a very sharp looking flag.


Witchita flag
It's nicer than the New Orleans flag, and by nicer, I mean only that it packs a bit more vexillogical oomph, or, chutzpah, if you will.


New Orleans flag
Unlike in Witchita, the linemen in Orleans Parish don't work for the county.   They work for Entergy, which is the local gas and electricity monopoly.  What's an Entergy lineman look like?



It may not seem as romantic, and nobody has written a song about it, but the Entergy lineman knows exactly what he's doing, a one-man crew.  You might think that the background music in that video has been added post-production.  Nope.  That's the ambient noise in New Orleans.  A brass band happened to be practicing a block away.  It happens all the time all over the city.  There is always music in the air here for those with the ears to hear it.

I'll bet when that Entergy lineman was done with this job, it was lunchtime and he went over to Sammy's Food Service and Deli on Elysian Fields Avenue for a Ray-Ray po' boy.  A man who works hard deserves a hard working man's lunch with all the trimmings.

Here's a shout out to all of New Orleans' physical infrastructure workers as well as the cultural ones.  It takes more than a village to make a great city.

Tourism may be the main driver of New Orleans' economy, but it's the people who live here that make the city a place worth visiting.  Remember that as you stroll our picturesque streets.  The people who live in New Orleans are the most welcoming people on earth.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade.
...Where the rest comes easy.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dead Spaniards and Russian Gas: Another Day in New Orleans

Our dog
This is the side of our dog that I usually see.  I took our dog for a walk at the Old Spanish Fort today.  I hardly ever take him up there, but when I do there is hardly ever anyone else there so it's a mystery why I don't go there more often.  Personal preference, I suppose.  It's a nice stretch along the mouth of Bayou St. John but it isn't fenced in.  There are plenty of things to smell up there.

I don't smell much myself when I walk around the Spanish Fort.  It's pretty much pristine, but the dog smells plenty so he is amply entertained, though he doesn't run as much as when we go other places.  He keeps his nose snuffling to the ground.  What's he smelling?  I'm not sure.  Maybe it's dead Spaniards.  Maybe its rotten bait left behind by fishermen.  There doesn't seem to be much to eat on the ground there, but there sure does seem to be plenty to sniff out.
Bayou St. John
The part of Bayou St. John we went to isn't the part of Bayou St. John that most of our guests see.  Bayou St. John isn't just a body of water in front of City Park that meanders to Parkway Tavern and Bakery.  It connects to Lake Pontchartrain.  The part in front of City Park seems much more natural than the part at the bayou's mouth.  That is part is purely manmade.

In fact, when I was walking along the edge of the bayou today, I mistakenly thought for a moment that I was on the shore of the London Avenue Canal.  Then I saw the dome of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral and I realized where I was.

You can't see the lake from the Old Spanish Fort.  The view is blocked by some kind of complicated lock and gate mechanism to prevent storm surge flooding Fauburg St. John and the rest of Mid-City.

Mid-City is the largest neighborhood in New Orleans.  It shouldn't be confused with Central City, which is in a different part of town.  Nor should it be confused with the Central Business District, which is usually just called by its initials: CBD.
Oak trees around the Old Spanish Fort
At least the city is leaving the oak trees around the Old Spanish Fort alone.  The trees are growing in luxurious shapes and twists and double backs.  They are really something to see.  They are tall but I don't think they are even a hundred years old (to my amateur arborist's eye).  It's remarkable to see what forms these boughs and branches can take then they don't have to be pruned for power lines and they don't have trucks driving under them every day.

After we left the Spanish Fort, the dog and I scooted down Wisner Boulevard, where the bridge is being replaced.  It's right after the De Saix Boulevard intersection.  How do you pronounce De Saix?  You wing it.  No three people say it the same way.


P.G.T. Beauregard in Beauregard Circle
Over by Beauregard Circle, I saw "Diamond Deuce" Jim and a couple of my other chums singing a song while they were waiting for the Canal Streetcar.  I pulled over and they taught me the words of a new ditty they had picked up on YouTube:



The Gazprom Song.  I'm not sure if they were singing it to be ironic or maybe because they were making a comment on our local power company, Entergy.  Entergy deals in both gas and electricity and powers our city's homes and offices, working days and holidays both.  I didn't stick around long enough to learn why they are suddenly enamored with this song and I didn't stick around long enough to learn all the lyrics.


Besides, it was time for the dog to be fed and he, like I, had little patience for shenanigans at the time.  Another time, perhaps.  There is little about your humble narrator that is ironic.

I was scrolling through the blog archives (which I highly recommend) when I saw that on October 18, 2014, La Belle Esplanade had 132 reviews on Trip Advisor.  That got me to wondering how many we have today, as of this writing.  I just got finished counting.  The total: somewhat more than 132.  I'm so speechless that I can't bring myself to write it down.  I don't want to provoke bad karma. 

Thank you everyone who has taken the time to write about their stay with us and share your good memories with the world (wide web).  It means a lot to Frau Schmitt and your humble narrator.  Thank you.  For new readers who are en route to La Belle Esplanade, we hope that you, too, will pay it forward for the next generation of guests who will follow you.  Should you wish to return to New Orleans in the next twenty years or so, you know where you can find us.

We should always keep in mind, from dawn till sundown, our work is always needed, working day or holiday.  Let's drink to you, let's drink to us, let's drink to all the Russian gas.

---That last verse doesn't sound right does it?  Maybe something is lost in translation.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Capitals of Louisiana

Every day has its surprises
New Orleans or Baton Rouge?  It sounds like a trick question.

People sometimes ask us which we like better, New Orleans or Baton Rouge?  We don't have to spend a lot of time thinking it over before we answer.  Granted, we live in New Orleans because we love this city and we don't live in Baton Rouge because, well, we don't love it there.

Answering this question isn't like choosing a favorite Harp Twin.  Baton Rouge and New Orleans are as different from each other as Camille and Kennerly are interchangable.



We meet a lot of people from Baton Rouge.  When people in Baton Rouge want to celebrate an anniversary, or spoil themselves, or just have a good time, they come to New Orleans.  I am not aware of any traffic in the other direction for these reasons.  Some New Orleanians go to Baton Rouge because they work there.  Baton Rouge is the capital of Louisiana so people sometimes go there for government business.  That's why I went the last time.  It wasn't a lot of fun.


Baton Rouge flag

When people tell me that they are going to go to Baton Rouge after their time in New Orleans, I always have the same question: "What  do you think you're going to do there?"  It's always the same answer: "We're visiting friends who live there."  That's a good reason to go to Baton Rouge.

I could say a lot of negative things about Baton Rouge, but I'm not going to.  That's not our usual tone here.  In fact, what die-hard, true blue Baton Rougians (is that a word?) may take as being negative, I think of it as more being just what it is, neither here nor there.  I have no strong feelings for Baton Rouge, pro or con.  What do I think about Baton Rouge?  Most of the time I don't think about it at all.


A building in Donaldsonville that is no longer standing
Baton Rouge hasn't always been the capital of Louisiana. 

There has always been a tension between the northern part of Louisiana which is more American, and, more properly what people think of as "the South," and the southern part of Louisiana, which is Acadiana, culturally more influenced by the French and Spanish who ruled here prior to the Louisiana Purchase (1803).

New Orleans was the capital city of Louisiana from colonial times until 1829.   In that year, the Anglo-Louisianians complained that New Orleans was too noisy and was too much a den of vice to conduct proper state business.  The Creoles, who were content to keep the seat of government in francophone New Orleans, did their best to keep the capital close to their home base.  A compromise was reached.

From 1829 to 1831, wee Donaldsonville in Ascension Parish, was the state capital.  Things were a little too sleepy in Donaldsonville,  even for the teetollers and the spoilsports, so the capital reverted back to New Orleans.



In 1846, Baton Rouge was designated the capital of Louisiana.  Once again, the "sinful" distractions of the Crescent City were thought to be detrimental to good government.  A central location was chosen no less than 60 miles upriver of New Orleans.  Since Baton Rouge is located on the first bluff from the Mississippi's mouth, it was chosen.  

Baton Rouge has stayed the capital ever since, with brief interruptions during the Civil War.  In 1862, when Baton Rouge fell to Union troops, the capital was moved to scenic Opelousas, Louisiana for nine months.  The governor's mansion is still standing on the corner of Liberty and Grolee Streets, just west of the beautiful downtown business district.  Opelousas is still a kind of capital.  The city bills itself as The Zydeco Capital of the World.

Opelousas fell to Union troops in 1863 and the state government up and moved again, this time to the most remote corner of the state, to majestically named Shreveport.  Shreveport may be a great place to live (the city's motto) but it apparently isn't that great a place from which to govern because the capital reverted to Baton Rouge in 1865.  The rest, as of this writing, is history.

All this historical talk has got me yearning for a little more harp music.

All this harp music is making me thirsty.  I'm going to walk down our street to Buffa's to catch Lucas Davenport, whose show starts in about twenty minutes in the back room.  I've had enough harp music for one day.  Mr. Davenport tickles the ivories.  That means he plays the piano.  He really knows his way over those eighty-eight.  It should be a nice night.  Why wouldn't it be?  This is New Orleans.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade
Where the rest comes easy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Where the Rest Comes Easy

The scene of the crime
I don't know who started the rumor that Shania Twain stayed at our house last weekend, but I'm here to quash it.  She didn't.  Neither Frau Schmitt nor your humble narrator has ever met Ms. Twain, nor do we expect to meet her any time in the future.  One never knows, though. 

If you were wondering what the main hallway looks like at Auld Sweet Olive Bed and Breakfast, well, your curiosity has been satisfied above.  I don't know how Nancy got the rights to sweetolive.com, but I consider that to be a bit of a coup.  That's a nice url.  The Lookout Inn has a nice web address, too: lookoutneworleans.com.  That's what Kelly and Mark said the day they opened the front door from the inside for the first time: "Look out New Orleans!"  They've been doing good work from that day onward.

When we first opened, we considered calling La Belle Esplanade the Shady Rest Hotel.


It turns out that there already is a Shady Rest Hotel, albeit not in New Orleans, or even in the U.S. for that matter.  It's located in Port Morsby.  Where?  It's a city of over 300,000 people in Papua New Guinea.  It's the 139th most livable city out of 140.  


Do you know what people in Louisiana like to say when we read our state's ranking in any quality of life survey?  They say, "Thank goodness for Mississippi."  No matter how badly Louisiana performs in rates of infant mortality, education levels, drinking water quality, income inequality, cases of incest, unemployment, literacy, FASD, what have you, take your pick, we always have the Magnolia State ranked just below us at #50.  Thank goodness for Mississippi.

That's how the people in Port Morsby feel about Dhaka, which is the capital of Bangladesh, if you didn't know.   The Guardian (a British newspaper, if you didn't know) calls Port Morsby the world's worst city.  Maybe they haven't heard of Dhaka.  ---No, they have; at the time, Port Morsby was ranked the world's worst city, Dhaka was two slots above it, with Karachi sandwiched in between.  Karachi is the capital of Pakistan, if you didn't know.

The one way in which Louisiana beats Mississippi in their mutual race to the bottom of every ranking, and in which Louisiana beats everywhere else in the world, for that matter, is that Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate.  That's right.  More people are imprisoned per capita in Louisiana than any other place in the world.  Some people will tell you that this statistic indicates that it's safer here than any other place in the world.  Makes you want to visit, doesn't it?  


An interesting map
As you can see on the map, Louisiana is the only state to earn a solid dark navy blue color scheme.  Take that, Mississippi.  God bless Louisiana.  


Let's lighten up this conversation a little:




I've been meaning to go to Meyer the Hatter for the past couple of weeks, not because I need a new hat but only because I want one.  Wanting a new hat isn't a very good reason to buy one when a man already owns about twenty hats.  I do wear them all, however.  It's not like I collect them to get dusty on a shelf; I put them to good use covering my head.  A lot of people think I'm bald because they never see me without a hat.  I can neither confirm nor deny this rumor.

Thanksgiving Day is the opening day of horse racing season in New Orleans and everyone goes to the track (which is a ten-minute walk from our house) dressed to the nines.  Many of the men wore top hats this year, as they do every year.  In New Orleans, you can wear a top hat any time of year and no one will bat an eye.  

You can wear a blue homburg and nobody will bat an eye either.  In fact, you might just get a compliment or five over the course of running errands around the city.
You can't be afraid of color
I'll never forget when Eisenhower and Nixon both wore homburgs while toasting each other with tea during the 1953 inauguration, but I digress, as I sometimes do.
This has nothing to do with New Orleans

I haven't purchased a top hat yet because I don't really have occasion to wear one, not that anyone really needs to have a reason to top off an outfit with a topper.  

I've decided that the next time I go to a Christmas party at Auld Sweet Olive Bed and Breakfast, I'm going to wear a top hat.  I've got a year to think about it.  Regular readers will be kept updated on my decision-making process and dithering over the course of the next year.  If that isn't a good enough reason to stay tuned to this blog, I can't think of a better one.  I hope Nancy invites us next year.  If not, I'll just wear my new top hat at a jaunty angle around the city.

I'm biased, of course, but I think you'll enjoy visiting New Orleans. I don't know anything about you, dear reader, but I'm confident making that prediction because everyone loves New Orleans.  We live in a magical city.  From what I hear, it's much nicer here than in Port Morsby in Papua New Guinea.  It's more pleasant than Dhaka, too.  It's no Anatevka.


  
What have we got here?  A little bit of this, a little bit of that.  A pot, a pan, a broom, and more than one hat.

We look forward to meeting you.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade (labelleesplanade.com)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Mr. Bingle: New Orleans Christmas Icon

Pink elephant in City Park, New Orleans, LA
It's that time of year again, the only time of year when you'll see a pink elephant in New Orleans.  It's Celebration in the Oaks, when the whole Botanical Gardens, the Carousel Gardens, Story Land, and wide swaths of City Park proper are lit up with light displays.  This happens at the end of Esplanade Avenue, about a half hour walk from our house.

If Rex is the King of Carnival, then Mr. Bingle rules this time of year.

Mr. Who?

Before we get into that, let's take a look at your humble narrator pretentiously posing at Celebration in the Oaks in 2010, our first year as New Orleanians:


I've gained ten pounds in the last five years
So, who is Mr. Bingle?  Here is a helpful video that provides all the information you need to know.  I couldn't explain it better myself.



Howzabout a commercial for Maison Blanche from what looks like the 1980s?


That's a tough one for me to sit through, but it's not as tough as this puppet show that used to play in the Maison Blanche department store on Canal Street:




I'm not a big fan of puppetry.  That's just me.  It is no reflection on the artistry of the late, great Oscar Isentrout, Mr. Bingle's primary puppeteer.

We're a little light on real content this post and a little more heavy than usual on video links.  Sorry.  I know that regular readers stop by for some scintillating informative prose.  Some things are just better shown than discussed in depth.  The spirit of Mr. Bingle is best grasped intuitively, like the spirit of Christmas itself.

We'll finish with a song.  Take me back, Mr. Bingle...



If you've spent enough time in New Orleans, you'll recognize every image in that last video.  They aren't obscure but, if you haven't spent a lot of time in the city, you probably can't name them all.  The only puzzler for more-than-casual visitors may be the water color painting shots of what look like Christmas trees at night.  Those are bonfires that get lit on the levees in the River Parishes, further up the Mississippi from the city.  People light enormous fires on the levees so that Papa Noel can find his way to deliver toys to good girls and boys, with Mr. Bingle riding shotgun in the pirogue, naturally.

Now you know that, too.  

If you don't come to New Orleans during Christmastime and you still want to see Mr. Bingle, we know where you can find him.  We know where he resides all year long and it's not at the North Pole.  It's on South Carrollton Avenue.  Ask us about it when you get here.  Like Mr. Bingle, we like to share and we like to make people happy.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade
Where the rest comes easy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What is the Fleur-de-Lis?

A fleur-de-lis
A lot of people ask us what the fleur-de-lis stands for.  In New Orleans and, in fact, all over southern Louisiana, you'll see fleurs-de-lis everywhere.  I was starting to explain it to somebody when guess who showed up...


Lola!
Lola showed up at our house to show off her new fleur-de-lis tattoo, complete with accompanying Mardi Gras mask.

I don't have one and Frau Schmitt doesn't have one, but there are plenty of people in New Orleans who have fleurs-de-lis tattoos.  Ask any tattooist what the most popular request is and he or she will tell you without hesitating a moment: fleur-de-lis.

When you are writing an article about fleurs-de-lis, the most irritating part of the process is that spell check always automatically turns "fleur" into "flour".  Then, your humble narrator has to go back and replace the 'o' with an 'e.'  If I missed one in the editing process (such as it is), please forgive me.  You can tell that whoever wrote this software isn't from Louisiana.


New Orleans flag
The New Orleans flag naturally sports a fleur-de-lis.  Actually, it sports three of them.  No matter what you read, and I've done plenty of reading on the matter, there is no definitive or straight answer why there are three fleurs-de-lis on the New Orleans city flag.  It just is what it is and let's leave it at that.  Somebody thought it was a good idea at the time and that's the flag we're stuck with.  Long may it wave.

What's the city seal look like?  I'm glad you asked.
City seal, New Orleans, LA
No fleur-de-lis there.  This is a just a jumble of imagery.  Some of it makes sense, some of it is just there to fill up empty space.  I'm not going to go into it.  If you are in New Orleans, you'll rarely see the image above.  The person who sees it the most is the mayor and I don't know if he knows what any of it means.  That's the kind of city we live in.  It's a jumble you have to decode on your own.

The fleur-de-lis symbolizes New Orleans', and Louisiana's, close cultural ties to France.  The fleur-de-lis is an important component of the Acadiana flag, which was approved by the State Legislature as the official flag of Acadiana in 1974.  Acadiana is the region of southern Louisiana that is dominated by Cajuns, who are descendants of French Canadians, not of people directly from France.  Creoles are descended from the French.  Cajuns are descended from French Canadians.  Get it?  

It's easy for people from outside Louisiana to confuse Cajun and Creole cultures.  People do it all the time.  Get ready for a lecture if you do it on the street.  It will be a good-natured lecture.  No harm: no foul---until the fourth time you make the mistake.  Then, the lecture gets a bit more pedantic so you'd better pay attention and not make the same mistake again.  The worst that can happen is you won't be invited to the next crawfish boil.

It can all get pretty confusing if you aren't from around here.
Blurry Acadiana flag as seen by a drunk
People from France ask me about the fleur-de-lis.  "What does it symbolize?" they ask, genuinely puzzled.  When I tell them about the French connection, they get that part but they don't get why the fleur-de-lis represents France to Louisianans.  To them, the fleur-de-lis is not a symbol of France.  It's the symbol of the Bourbon monarchy, and rightly so.  That's what it was.

When New Orleans and Acadiana were first settled, the Bourbons ruled France and the king's flag was the nation's flag.  Since the French Revolution, though, the French have a new symbol and a new flag.  The current flag, which you may have seen before:


The Tricolor

To French people the fleur-de-lis is not a symbol of their country but of the ancien régime the Revolution of 1789 overthrew.  When a French person looks at all these fleur-de-lis tattoos, he or she thinks that he or she is looking at a bunch of people who support tyranny.  Anything is further from the case.  The people in New Orleans, and in Louisiana, who have fleurs-de-lis tattoos are generally the people who most support le joie de vivre and they most dearly cherish a devil-may-care attitude to human affairs.  Look around.  You'll see that what I say is true.

The symbol of France is not just the Tricoleur.  They also have Marianne.


From the French consul's letterhead

It's all rather tangled and complicated as things tend to be in New Orleans, which is a city rich in history and traditions that go back a long ways.  You needn't worry about it too much.  Like many tourists, you can just walk into a tattoo parlor on Frenchmen Street or Magazine Street and get a tattoo of a fleur-de-lis to show your love of New Orleans.  You won't be the first and you won't be the last.

You'll have the good memories you made in New Orleans and, when you look in the mirror at that tattoo, you'll remember them even more.  The most bestest memories are made in New Orleans.  They are the kind of good memories that last a lifetime.

Be a New Orleanian wherever you are.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

New Orleans: A City of Loud Surprises


2200 block of Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA
Imagine it's a quiet afternoon along the oak-shaded boulevard of Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans.  It will be easy if you try because that is the way it is most of the time.  The birds are twittering in the boughs and the neighbors are waving hello to each other across the street.  People are walking their dogs without a care in the world.  The school bus drops off earnest young scholars into the arms of their attentive parents.  Everything is tranquil bliss, the way most afternoons are in New Orleans.

Then, without warning----a blast of bounce music comes barreling down the street.  You look in the direction of the source.  It's That Black Truck.
That Black Truck
Early in October I introduced our regular readers to New Orleans bounce music.  You can click this link here if you missed that installment.  Now, I'm all about releasing my wiggle but, for me, a little bit of bounce music goes a long way.  That said, if somebody drives by blaring bounce music out of their car stereo speakers, the kind of woofers that rattle the car's suspension and bumpers, I don't mind.  I enjoy the beat's punctuation to my day.  That said, I enjoy it quite a bit less when the car is stopped at the red light at the intersection of Esplanade and N. Miro Street at midnight, but, hey, that's city living.

I like That Black Truck.  I like That Black Truck a lot.  It doesn't pass by our house very often, but when it does, it always makes me smile.  Luckily, I had my camera at the ready the last time That Black Truck came around.
It's a Renaissance truck
Catering?  Yes.  Lawn care?  Yes?  DJ?  Yes, again.  That Black Truck is many things to many people from all walks of life.  Besides the music that That Black Truck brings to the streets, and its can-do attitude, I appreciate the truck's stenciled ammo-can paint job and do-it-yourself aesthetics.  They could park That Black Truck in the NOMA lobby and it would fit right in with a lot of the other art on display.     

As I was taking that photo of the truck's side, a voice from a loudspeaker placed in the truck instructed me to point my camera in the cab's direction.  "Don't just shoot the side, brother.  We've got a better shot for you," the voice said.  Indeed.


Men on a mission
I don't know which one of these gentlemen is DJ Maniac, but they are all heroes in my book.  Thanks for visiting Esplanade Avenue, gents.  It was like seeing Mr. Okra and the Roman Candy Cart on our street, rolled up into one.

It was with deep regret that I watched That Black Truck pull away out of sight down Esplanade Avenue toward the Claiborne Avenue Overpass.  The acoustics under the highway are incredible and I'll bet That Black Truck parked under there and let those speakers boom, boom, boom.  I'll bet people were dancing.  I expect there was laughter and singing and an all-around good time.  Why do I think that?  Because that's what happened on our usually quiet stretch of Esplanade Avenue.
Big speakers project a happy noise

I don't remember what song DJ Maniac was playing out of the back of That Black Truck.  I may be confabulating, but I think it was a bounce version of this:



You never know what you are going to see in New Orleans.  You never know what you'll find when you turn a corner.  This is a magical city that isn't choreographed.  It blossoms organically, one bright and incandescent bloom at a time, randomly, like a parrot in your garden.  There are usually trumpets involved, but sometimes it is something more prosaic.  Sometimes, all it takes for magic to happen is three guys in a black truck.  That Black Truck.  Now you know what people are talking about when they talk about That Black Truck and they capitalize it when they say it.

You'll discover all sorts of things in New Orleans.  Your destination is known and it's gonna be full of surprises.

We look forward to meeting you.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade, a boutique inn in New Orleans.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't Get Shortchanged in New Orleans.

Ethel Blanchard in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art

Ethel Blanchard visited New Orleans but she didn't stay at La Belle Esplanade.  When you stay with us, we'll tell you what's open and what's not.  Ethel Blanchard had planned her whole stay to visit the New Orleans Museum of Art and she saved the best of her vacation for last.  Today, Monday, she wanted to go to the New Orleans Museum of Art to see the exhibition of woodcarvings by Pierre Joseph Landry.  

Nobody at her hotel, not the front desk staff, not the concierge, not the cleaning lady, not the bellhop, not the doorman, not the manager, told Ethel Blanchard that the art museum in New Orleans is closed on Mondays.  She's been in town for a week.  Nice work, Marriott.  

If she had stayed at the Hilton, it might have been different, but I'm not really in a position to say.  I have my doubts.  All I know for certain is that when our guests tell us what they are interested in doing, we listen, and we recommend on how best to do what they want to do.  It isn't magic and it isn't voodoo.  It's about being a good host.

I ran into Ethel while she was walking dejectedly out of City Park, where the art museum is located.  It's at the end of our street.  "I told the people at the hotel I wanted to see this exhibit and nobody said a word about the museum being closed on Mondays," she told me with tears in her eyes.

To rub salt in the wound, she made her lodgings reservation through Expedia, paying additional "taxes and fees" than she would have if she made the reservation through the hotel's website directly.  Don't believe all the hype from the online travel agents and their best price guarantees.  Go directly to the hotel's (or the bed and breakfast's) website.  We don't list our suites on Expedia or Booking.com anymore.  If you want to stay with us, you'll have to make a reservation through labelleesplanade.com.  Check it out.

Wanna know what's nice about staying at La Belle Esplanade?  We don't add 13% hotel and sales tax on top of the bill.  The price is the price.  It's a refreshing way to do business.

Anyhow, Pierre Joseph Landry fought in the Battle of New Orleans under General Andrew Jackson.  Later in life, after a career as a successful sugar planter, he became a sculptor, whittling wood into allegorical scenes.  His works are amazing and they've been collected at the New Orleans Museum of Art for a show that runs October 16, 2015 until March 20, 2016.

Frau Schmitt and I went to the exhibit.  What a great show.  Mr. Landry was self taught and very talented.  He reminded us of two innkeepers we know.  We spent at least an hour looking at his work.  It was fascinating.  I didn't have my camera with me so I don't have any pictures of the work itself.  Instead, let's break up the narrative with a picture of something else.


Macaroons!

For the rest of this installment, I'm going to call the New Orleans Museum of Art by the acronym by which it's better known: NOMA.  

NOMA has an excellent permanent collection.  It's a little of this and a little of that.  There are always exhibits rotating through its galleries.  Currently, besides the woodcarvings of Pierre Joseph Landry, there is an exhibit of Noh masks made to resemble famous women in the Western canon of old master paintings, and views painted of the French Quarter in the early years of the 20th century. There is also a room where a man is typing on a typewriter.  I didn't pay much attention to this bit of performance art.  If I want to see a man typing, I can just look in the mirror.

For eight bucks, you're welcome to come over and watch me write this blog.  No refunds.


The black and white version
People ask us where to eat when they are in City Park.  There is always Morning Call, and you can't go wrong there for café-au-lait and beignets, but if you are looking for a real meal, we suggest Café Noma.  

Café Noma isn't your typical museum snack bar.  It's a real restaurant and the food is very good.  The atmosphere is relaxing and the view out the windows of City Park is stunning.  Don't think of Café Noma as a place to duck into when it's raining and don't think of it as a meal of last resort.  Frau Schmitt and I go there for lunch when we go to the museum.  We make an outing of it.  We've never been disappointed.

You don't need to go through the museum to eat at Café Noma.  If you tell the ladies at the front desk that you're just there for lunch, they'll let you through without paying the museum's admission.  Don't take advantage of this.  There is also a side entrance on the downtown side of the museum building.

If you are looking for lodgings run by professional hosts who enjoy sharing everything they know about New Orleans, think about staying at La Belle Esplanade.  We'll be happy to meet you and if something is closed on the day you want to go, we'll advise you to rearrange your plans so that you'll be able to see the things you want to see, and avoid the things you want to avoid.  Good memories are made on Esplanade Avenue.

We are looking forward to meeting Ethel Blanchard again, this time when she stays with us.  

Until that day,
À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

We Have An Accordion In Our House

It's morning in New Orleans!
We have a new accordion in our house.  I know many of our regular readers can say the same thing but I felt compelled to mention that we have one now, too.  Keeping up with the Joneses, and all that jazz.

Naturally, I haven't taken a picture of our new accordion because I'm lazy and also because our new accordion is only new to us.  It's really an old accordion that came via FedEx yesterday.  From what I understand, it won't make any noise beyond a squeezed wheeze.  This is fine because neither Frau Schmitt nor I play the accordion.  We haven't even tried it out.  We've only admired it with our eyes.  We don't know enough about playing the accordion to noodle on our new (to us) accordion.  It's a conversation piece.

Look at the negative space between the E and the x in Fedex on the side of a Fedex truck.  That space forms an arrow pointing forward.  The people who designed the Fedex logo didn't realize it when they made it.  It was serendipity.



Once you see that arrow, you can't stop seeing it.  It's right there.  Things happen like that sometimes.  I should know.  I live in New Orleans.

Shane, which isn't her real name, stayed with us recently and she offered to send us her accordion for the cost of shipping.  Naturally, we agreed.  We like it when our guests help us build up La Belle Esplanade's mythology and when they help us build up the unique collection of oddities we house in our lobby.  Our lobby is a veritable odditarium.  Shane, which, again, is not her real name, sent us the fabled White Accordion.  

When I opened the box, I got a jolt of the shivers.  Then, I got a shot of the jitters.  Then, I got the shakes.  Then, I got the heebie-jeebies.  Then, I got the hot sweats.  Then, I let out a long whistle after I unwrapped all the packing: Whoooo-oooo-wheeet.  This was a lucky day in the Big Easy.

Thanks, Shane.

Shane says this is the greatest accordion song of all time:


I had to promise I would play this song when I installed the White Accordion in our inn.  This one is for Shane (not her real name).

I was corresponding with someone recently who has been to New Orleans and he asked if I knew where he had been while he was here.  "It was a high-ceilinged hall, like a beer hall, and they were playing zydeco music, of course, and they served all the New Orleans food you have to eat when you are in New Orleans like alligator and boiled crawfish.  Do you know where that was?"

Zydeco music is actually very uncommon to find in New Orleans, so the "of course" was a little misleading.  Also, Frau Schmitt and I rarely go anywhere that offers alligator on the menu.  I know where he's talking about but I'm not going to name it.  If you want to go, ask me when you're here.

People often confuse Cajun with Creole.  Cajuns play zydeco music  and they eat alligator.  Heck, Cajuns eat anything that moves.  Just look at the signs at the Baton Rouge Zoo.  They all contain recipes and they all start with, "First you make a roux."

The accordion is not a Creole instrument.  New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz.  New Orleans jazz is built around the trumpet, the tuba and the banjo.  Most people don't know that, but it's true.  You don't hear many banjo players anymore but if you play the jazz tuba, you can find steady work in New Orleans.

Is the Waltz of the Monsters done yet?  Here's an example of zydeco music:


You'll find people playing the washboard in New Orleans, but that isn't a Creole instrument.  It's used more often in Louisiana country music than it is in Louisiana city music.

I hate to tell you this, but few people speak French in New Orleans.  That's the language you'll most often hear, after English, out in the swamp.  If you are in St. Bernard Parish, you'll hear Spanish, too.  The people speaking Spanish aren't Cajun.  They are Los Isleños.

Then, to tell you about the rest of my day, I went to Parkview Tavern to rehydrate myself after going to the Creole Country Sausage Company.  I'll tell you, it's hard being a professional innkeeper.  We have enough sausage to last us a long while.  It's delicious.

I was talking to six of my cronies, comrades, compatriots, or whatever you want to call them, and we got to more talking and then we talked some more.  Mike, who's the youngest of us, said, "You know who we remind me of?"  

It turned out we all did know who we remind him of:



Stay tuned for further updates on the storied White Accordion and other irrelevant news.  If you choose to stay with us, remind me to tell you the story about the time I met Robert Vaughn.  It's a real thriller-diller.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade, your boutique bed and breakfast inn in New Orleans.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

There Is a House In New Orleans

Ride the wave
Frau Schmitt and your humble narrator are innkeepers.  Being an innkeeper is a profession.  It's how we make our living.  We support ourselves as innkeepers and we preserve the property located at 2216 Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans by being innkeepers.  If people didn't choose to stay at La Belle Esplanade, the building wouldn't be the landmark that it is.  We would like to thank everyone who has stayed with us over the years for their help in paying the bills and maintaining the upkeep.  Thank you.

We see ourselves as stewards of this magnificent home located an equal distance between the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street in one direction, and City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art in the other direction.  That picture up top is from the Botanical Gardens in City Park.  It is a pleasant and picturesque stroll no matter which way you turn outside our front door.  

We love living in New Orleans and, more specifically, we love the part of New Orleans in which we live.  Ours is a very interesting neighborhood.  We never know what we'll find when we turn a corner.  All we know is that we are continually pleasantly surprised.

Are you ready?



I was reading about the history of the above song on the House of the Rising Sun Bed and Breakfast's website.  If you want to stay in Algiers when you visit New Orleans, we recommend staying with Kevin and Wendy.  It's very nice in Algiers.  It's quiet.  We live in a quiet part of the city, but it's nowhere near as quiet as Algiers.  It's that quiet.

We don't get to Algiers often, but when we do, we take the ferry.  It's pedestrian only.  $2.00 each way and the view is breathtaking.  


Hallowe'en is over
We've had a lot of people driving to New Orleans recently.  I don't know why.  You certainly don't need a car while you're here.  Being from Connecticut, your humble narrator dislikes any car ride longer than an hour.  Why?  Because that's about how long it takes to get anywhere in Connecticut.  If it's more than an hour, that place is too far.  Plus, I don't mind flying.

We had a whole family come down for Voodoo Fest this past weekend.  They parked their car in the back lot behind our gardens and left it the whole time.  Never used it once.  I like that.  

Other people insist on driving.  If you want to know why I don't like driving, here's a video of two people trying to find a parking space near the French Quarter.  Notice it took them the first 2:35 just to travel two blocks.  Oy vey!  I've got other things I could be doing rather than sit in the car with those two.



Now, if you want to go to a plantation or out in the swamp, then you might want a car.  Of course, Tours by Isabelle will pick you up right at our house and take you out there, too.

People ask all the time if they should take a swamp tour.  "Is it worth it?"  If you are here for two days and you want to spend half your time outside New Orleans, I have to ask you if you think it's worth it.  It's not like you're going to be bored in the city.  But then, some people don't like to be around other people.  In that case, the swamp will probably be for you.

People who choose to go don't regret it.  I can tell you that.  

There is a house in New Orleans
Frau Schmitt took that picture at the top of this page of the Pavilion of the Two Sisters in the Botanical Gardens.  Pretty good work, huh?  She has an eye for composition.  

I took the picture of our house, above.  One of my legs is shorter than the other so every time I take a picture it's at a slant.  

One one final note:

This month marks the 19th month in a row that we've been ranked the #1 bed and breakfast on Trip Advisor not just in New Orleans, but in all of Louisiana.  We are very proud of this fact, but it's only due to the many kind words people have written about us over the past year and half.  We would like to thank everyone who has stayed with us.  You make our profession a pleasure.

À votre santé,
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