Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jefferson Davis Celebrated in New Orleans

A conference on our front porch
Jefferson Davis, like Robert E. Lee, is memorialized in New Orleans.  There is a Jefferson Davis Parkway.  If you don't know who I'm talking about, I'm talking about Jefferson Davis, this one, the President of the Confederate States of America.  He has his own Presidential Library in Biloxi, Miss.  

Jefferson Davis' funeral was held in New Orleans, at Confederate Hall, which most people think of as the Civil War Museum just off Lee Circle, across the street from the National WWII Museum.  

This article is about Jefferson Davis Parkway in New Orleans.  Like all streets that cross Canal Street, Jefferson Davis Parkway changes names when it crosses Canal.  There is a South Jeff Davis and a North Jeff Davis.  Everybody just says Jeff Davis.  Nobody says Jefferson Davis Parkway.  At the Canal Street intersection, on the South Jeff Davis side, there is a statue of Jefferson Davis.
The man memorialized in granite
If you go to the Civil War Museum, in the back, there's a collection of Jefferson Davis' personal effects.  I'm a student of history so I find it interesting.  The Civil War Museum itself is an old fashioned jumble of artifacts that people may or may not find insightful.  I don't find them very insightful, myself.  This isn't because I'm a Yankee by birth but only because very little is really explained.

Let me explain.  There are cases of belt buckles next to cases of snuff boxes next to cases of hats next to a piece of a tree that has a cannonball embedded it.  There is very little context to the jumble.  Believe me, as the curator of my own odditarium, which I maintain in our lobby and throughout our inn, this doesn't bother me.  It enchants me and makes me pay more attention to what is on display.  For some people, though, the lack of context, except for the fact that everything is memorabilia from the Civil War, the effect may be more puzzling than enlightening.

The statue in better light
Jeff Davis Parkway is a lovely street, strewn with statuary memorializing other people other than Jeff Davis himself.  The street is named after him, though, so there's no escaping his presence.  The street has a wide neutral ground, where the statues are placed, and it has a bicycle path that meanders down its middle.

It's a nice enough street with a couple of nice bars and restaurants (it is New Orleans, after all).  My tailors are located on North Jeff Davis Parkway.  My tailors are two very nice elderly Vietnamese women located just downtown of Bienville Street next to a music school.  You never know what you'll find in New Orleans.

Sometimes, when I don't have much else to do, I like to park my motor scooter on Jeff Davis Parkway and walk under the oak trees that line the neutral ground.
The sportiest scoot on the block
You can spend all day at the National WWII Museum.  Just ask Jack.  He and I spent four hours there a few months ago and after four hours he said, "I'm fascinated by this stuff, but I'm tired."  I'm twenty years younger than Jack and I said, "Me too."  So we headed back to La Belle Esplanade.
It's the orange house with blue shutters
On the way homeward, we swung a right down Jeff Davis Parkway.  "Who is that a statue of?" Jack asked.

"None other than the President of the C.S.U." I replied.
A monument that few people stop to read
New Orleans is chockablock full of surprises, few of them expected.  Few of them can be interpreted at face value.   The city is a gumbo, if I can coin an unoriginal phrase.  What I mean is that it has a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes full of flavors that mingle with the soapy water to produce something ineffable.  Some people, most people, find it to their liking even if they don't understand why.

The other day, Frau Schmitt and I went to Toup's Meatery on North Carrollton Ave.  We ordered a slice of doberge cake for an appetizer and the waitress commented that she liked our style.  I had a beet martini and Frau Schmitt had a French 75.  Frau Schmitt told me, "I know you say it all the time, but you really are right when you say there is nowhere else like New Orleans."  

When the charcuterie plate arrived after the cake, she said, "We should take Jeff Davis to get home.  There won't be as much traffic as there is on Carrollton Ave."  She is usually right about these things.  That's what we did.  She was right again.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Life of a New Orleans Innkeeper

Our front porch
Nobody wears full length pants or long sleeves this time of year in New Orleans and it's only May.

The busy season is winding down for us.  People like to ask when our busy season is.  It's from the end of January until the 4th of July.  Then, things pick up again in the middle of September and we're busy until the end of November.  Then, we're busy around New Year's Eve.  Now you know.

A similar picture
We are continually blessed with good guests.  We hear a lot of horror stories from fellow innkeepers but, for some reason, we don't have any hair-raising tales to tell.  Ever day is a pleasant pattern of relaxed conversation in the morning and then people go out to have adventures in this magical city we call home.

Some people ask if we ever hold a wine tasting in the afternoon.  No.  We're in New Orleans.  I don't have to invent things for you to do.  You shouldn't be hanging around the house, anyway.  You're on vacation---I don't normally use this name for our city, but I'll say it--- Go enjoy the Big Easy.

A real Maltese firecracker stayed with us this weekend.  Remember, Tracey, that hot ticket who thought Tammie the Housekeeper doesn't exist?  Well, this Maltese firecracker was a hot ticket, too.  She was sharp as a pin, paying attention to everything.  It's guests like that who keep us on our toes, let me tell you.

I don't mean this in a bad way.  We like it when people notice what we do.  I don't think many of our guests give our suites the white glove test, though we wouldn't mind if they did, but if they do, we never hear about their findings.  

The Maltese firecracker said, "You two have thought of everything."  I wouldn't say everything.  The inn is still a work in progress and we are always adding lagniappe and fiddling with the details.  We've thought of a lot and we've been doing this almost three years, now.  We like to think we've gotten better along the way from opening day to here.  YMMV.

It's a big work in progress even if most of the pieces are already in place by now.
I'm beginning to detect a theme
We end today with a musical interlude.  Travis Trumpet Black Hill died last week while he was touring in Japan.  He used to play every Monday at the Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar, a few blocks behind our house.  He was a very talented musician who will be missed in New Orleans and in our neighborhood especially.  He had a promising career ahead of him that was unexpectedly cut short under circumstances I'm not going to go into here.  

As you can hear, Trumpet Black could really play.  That clip was taken in Armstrong Park last year.  So far, 125 people (including your humble narrator) have viewed this clip on You Tube.  125?!?  Listen to that, man.

I saw his funeral procession this afternoon under the Claiborne Avenue overpass.  I didn't go to gawk because I don't like to do that.  I don't mind telling our guests about second line parades that are going on in our neighborhood, but when people ask if I know where there's going to be a jazz funeral, I usually say that I don't.  

One: I don't really follow those things.  Two:  Howzabout a little respect for the dead, eh?  If you stumble across it, that's one thing, but I don't want to feel like I just sold tickets to somebody else's funeral.

Living in New Orleans is already like living in an aquarium.  Nobody minds much that visitors watch everything we do and ask us a million questions about what it's like to be here.  I just showed an apartment to a fellow and, when I was done, I asked him when he'd be ready to move in.  "Oh, I live in Pensacola.  I was just wondering how much apartments go for here and what they look like on the inside."

He's staying in an illegal short term rental he found on Air B&B.  "There's no privacy but it was cheap and I'm meeting a lot of interesting people."  I'll bet.  He wanted me to show him the inside of our inn, "just in case for next time." Unfortunately, I had other things to do at that very same moment.

Live here long enough and you'll get used to things like this. 

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Dog's Breakfast in New Orleans

A dog in New Orleans
Meggen and I are irregular correspondents.  She sometimes writes to me.  Who knows why?  She always says that your humble narrator makes her laugh.  I don't mean to.  Maybe I bring a smile to your face, too, gentle reader.  That isn't my intent.  This blog's mission is only to inform, not to entertain.  What it informs you about is a matter of conjecture on my part since I just make it up as I go along.

Let's start this ride, shall we?

I know why Meggen wrote to me the other day.  It was to tell me that La Belle Esplanade was featured on the front page of the website she runs, Find Everything Historic.  You can waste a lot of time there if you click the link I've provided.  

If you search for travel destinations on Find Everything Historic, you'll only find one listed in the great State of Louisiana.  Guess which one.  I like Meggen.  Frau Schmitt likes her, too, and Frau Schmitt is a shrewd judge of character.  

Find Everything Historic
Meggen also told me that she wants to feature our blog on her website.  I said that would be fine.  I said, "The blog is a real dog's breakfast, for what it is worth.  People seem to enjoy it.  If you feature our blog, make sure you call it a real dog's breakfast.  There's no point in wasting a good phrase."

Truer words were never typed in an email.

When I typed it, I didn't really know what a dog's breakfast is, except for something that a dog would eat, which can mean just about anything.  I looked it up on Urban Dictionary, which I don't normally visit since most of the things defined on it are things I would rather not think about.  According to Urban Dictionary, the phrase "dog's dinner" has the advantage of being more attractively alliterative (which, itself, is a phrase that is attractively alliterative), but I prefer dog's breakfast, which, truth be told, I've always associated with a dog eating its own vomit.

This went in an interesting direction.  Remember, I did just say I make these posts up as I go along.

Street vendor at a second line parade
I've said it before and I'll say it again, you never know what you'll find when you walk around New Orleans.  The city is a feast for the senses.  

I was talking to our guests from Washington State this morning.  They arrived yesterday.  They went to the French Quarter for their first day in the city, as most people do.  "It didn't smell very nice down there," they told me.  They're from Tacoma, WA.  I used to live in Tacoma so I'm familiar with "the Aroma of Tacoma."  The French Quarter doesn't smell anything like that.  The French Quarter smells like, well, there's no way to put it delicately, it smells like vomit and piss and overripe garbage.  

That doesn't sound very good, does it?  It is what it is.  The French Quarter is beautiful and it really is something to enjoy, all olfactory considerations aside.  It's like being transported back in time.  Believe me, the French Quarter smells the best it has in 300 years.  Imagine it with horses.  When you are in New Orleans, you aren't in Minneapolis anymore.  It's a different kind of city.  We live in the sub-tropics.

That explains everything.

A new B&B in New Orleans
The old Police Jail and Patrol Station on the corner of Dumaine and North Dorgenois Streets is being converted into a bed and breakfast.  It's an interesting neighborhood in which to undertake that project.  It's close by to us and we wish them the best of luck.  It's a beautiful building that deserves to be restored.  I should tell Meggen about it.  She loves everything historic.  Just in case you don't believe it's an old police jail and patrol station, I took a photo of the sign carved in stone over the front door.

New Orleans Police Jail and Patrol Station
You never know what you'll find in New Orleans when you turn a corner.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Best Breakfast in New Orleans

The Pudding Lady!
Regular readers will remember that a while back I wrote about how we have a new partner providing us with bread pudding and corn bread.  She read our blog entry and was kind enough to send us a picture of herself in cartoon form.  Here's a link to her website in case you want to get into the mood of what we like to serve for breakfast.  
A gold medal
We recently got another award for being an outstanding New Orleans B&B.  That's always nice.  In addition, if you read Canadian French, we're featured in the Ulysse Guide published in Quebec.  They provided a very nice write up of our inn and there's even a picture of the house.  Thanks Ulysse!

I would say, doing some back of the envelope calculations, that about 40% of our guests are from outside of the United States.  It depends on the time of year and what's going on in the city, of course, but we have the pleasure of hosting a large number of international travelers.  It makes life interesting.  The breakfast conversations are always interesting, but they are especially so when we have a world-wide smattering of perspectives converge over the bread pudding and crawfish pie.
Take the path less traveled
You can always have scrambled eggs and toast (don't forget that dried-out bacon that was cooked a couple of hours ago) at a hotel.  We don't do breakfast that way.  We don't cook.  We aren't licensed for that and if anyone says anything about Frau Schmitt and humble narrator, it's that we like to do things by the rules.  

We have some friends who are innkeepers who aren't licensed to cook and they do anyway.  Every time we see one of them, he likes to say, "We can't operate at that disadvantage.  Nobody plays by the rules anyway in New Orleans."  We play by the rules and we don't see it as a disadvantage.  Instead, we go to neighborhood shops, delis, restaurants, caterers, bakers, farmers' markets, whatnot, and pick up what looks good, what's fresh, and what tastes good.  We try to give our guests a taste of the neighborhoods that make up this wonderful city we call home.

I like to leave the house at 6:30AM every day to pick up what's on the menu and to pick up the juiciest gossip.  We like to share.

You can eat scrambled eggs at home.  

You don't have boudin for breakfast at home, unless you're from somewhere else in Louisiana, like out in Cajun Country, like in Lafayette.  Here's the Wikipedia entry on boudin.  Note, Cajun boudin is not blood sausage.  Louisiana boudin is described, too briefly, under the boudin blanc part of the article.  

Good boudin is a thing of ethereal flavors.  We like to serve it with Creole mustard and with some garlic jelly that Miss Loretta makes in her praline shop in the Marigny.  

Note: In New Orleans, praline is pronounced PRAW-leen.

Food is different in New Orleans.  Things taste different; they taste better.  It is a city full of surprises.  Arrive with an open eye, an open heart, and ready for any possibility.  You won't be disappointed.  Bring your appetite.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spreading the New Orleans Spirit

A hibiscus blooms in Lakeview, New Orleans, LA
It's been five days since last we spoke.  I know you've been awake nights wondering what we've been up to.  We've been livin' the New Orleans life, that's what.  We've been making good memories, the kind that can only be made in The City Care Forgot.

We went to the third oldest restaurant in the city last night.  If you're from here, that would be all I would have to say and you would know where I mean.  You may not be from here, though, so I should just come out and say it: we went to Sbisa's.  

There was a band in the dining room playing New Orleans jazz mostly dating from the 20s and 30s, classic stuff; a trumpet, a saxophone, a banjo and a bass.  That bass player could really slap that bass---it was something to see, and to hear.  A girl on the trumpet isn't the novelty you might think it is, but enough people on the street thought that it is that they wandered in to hear the band.  We were there for the music, the food, and the cocktails.  

They are very proud of their speakeasy era cocktails at Sbisa's.  Rightly so.  They're good.  The mint julep and the Moscow Mule come in a metal cup, keeping the beverage extra frosty.  The ice is crushed by hand with a muddler in a shaker.  How's that for bartender talk?

We had a good time.  We met a lot of nice people, which is usually what happens in New Orleans.  People like to talk here.  They like to enjoy life.
A whole bush of flowers in New Orleans, LA
The oldest restaurant in the city is Antoine's.  The second oldest is Tujaque's.  I don't know what the fourth and fifth oldest restaurants are.  I'm guessing Arnaud's and Galatoire's, but I'm not guessing in which order they appear on the list.  It's one or the other. 

Earlier in the day, we were watching pelicans along the lakefront.
A brown pelican in New Orleans, LA

You never know what you'll find in New Orleans, where life is a parade.
Bayou Super Sunday on Orleans Avenue, New Orleans, LA

I'll tell you, life in New Orleans is very different than what life is like in Bishkek, which, according to Wikipedia, is the largest and capital city of the Kyrgyz Republic.  Where?  You probably know it as Kyrgyzstan, if you know it at all.  It's a former Soviet Republic.  It's been independent since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

I know what you're thinking, I just took a left turn into destination unknown.  Let me explain.

In June of 2013, the Stooges Brass Band, headquartered and celebrated in New Orleans, traveled to Bishkek to share a little New Orleans culture with the people of that fair city.  The Stooges were goodwill ambassadors, the way Frau Schmitt and I try to be without leaving our home.  The Stooges Brass Band did us one better---they brought a little New Orleans to the former Soviet Bloc.  Don't believe me?  Here's the proof:

Bring a little New Orleans back with you.  Wherever you're from, your home town will be a bit better off for it.  Be your own goodwill ambassador.  Dance like nobody is watching.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.


Here's a different kind of brass band video about destination unknown.  I've always liked this one, but I can't quite put my finger on why.  Maybe it's the drums.

There are girls playing trumpets, but it's pure machine made Euro Techno Pop; its the opposite of hand crafted New Orleans Dixieland jazz.  There's gin and tonic, and then there's estrogen and tonic.

À votre santé (again),
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians

Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans
Most people don't know much about the Mardi Gras Indians.  I know more than our visitors do, but even I don't know much about the Indians.  As I always like to say, "The Indians do what they do."  I know more than that, but I don't always feel comfortable sharing it.  You can't define a bird.

What do New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians do?  They hand sew their suits every year.  They never appear in public in the exact same suit twice.  The big chiefs compete on grounds of who is the most beautiful.  How do they determine that?  I'm not entirely sure.  They all leave me dumbstruck.  

"Do you know where we'll be able to see some Mardi Gras Indians this weekend?"  Nope.  Not in their suits, at least.  Mardi Gras Indians are everywhere.  If you want to see an Indian without his or her suit, go outside.  I see them at the hardware store, at the supermarket, and at the bars I frequent, but they aren't in their full feathered regalia.

One of the misconceptions people have about New Orleans is that we all dress up in costume and dance down the street with a shrimp po' boy in one hand and a trumpet in the other.  Most people do that once or twice a year, but we don't do it every day.  It has to be the season and there has to be a reason.  Your humble narrator, for example, can barely play the kazoo, let alone a trumpet, not even a toy one.

What are the Indians' reasons?  That is for them to know and you to find out.  You probably aren't going to find out and there's really no reason for you to know.  The Indians do what they do because that's what Mardi Gras Indians do.  

If you are lucky enough to be in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day, on St. Joseph's Night, or on one of the Super Sundays, you may see a Mardi Gras Indian in his or her suit. Maybe not.  There's no guarantee.  The Indians are not tourist attractions.  They do not sew their suits all year long to have their pictures taken by you or I.  They are respected members of their community.  It cheapens their dignity, their history and, at the core of the matter, what they are, to think of them as eye candy or part of the city's colorful scenery.  They are much more important than that.

If you want to watch a documentary about the Indians, we recommend "Bury the Hatchet."  I'm sure it's available on Netflix.  Here's the trailer:

In our neighborhood, we are graced to have the Washitaw Nation.  They had an open practice one night last year at Club Caribbean up the street from our house and we went.  Whenever I remember that night, I get goosebumps and chills.  

The Big Chief of the Washitaw Nation is Big Chief David Montana.  This is what he looked like on Bayou Super Sunday this year:
Big Chief of the Washitaw Nation, New Orleans, 2015
I write this post somewhat reluctantly.  I am no expert and I certainly mean no disrespect to the Indians I know, or to the Indians I don't know.  It is always a privilege to see them, both suited or not.  New Orleans is a very special place, full of special traditions, special things, and special people.  It isn't always the prettiest place or the most kind to the people who live here.  It is like nowhere else on earth, though, and thank God for that.  

New Orleans just does what it does because those are the things that this magical city does.  These things don't always make sense.  They don't have to.  Good memories are made here, the kind that make a deep impression that will last a lifetime.

Here's a short documentary in which Big Chief David Montana works on his 2014 suit:

As I post this video, it has only 24 views.  It deserves more if you want to learn a little bit about a big something of what it's like to live in New Orleans.  My Big Chief's got a golden crown.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Locally Sourced New Orleans B&B Breakfasts

A Puddin' Lady
We've become friends with the Pudding Lady.  She doesn't call herself that, but we do.  Face-to-face, we call her Nicque, which is her name.  Amongst ourselves, we call her the Pudding Lady.  She is the proprietor of The Puddin' Shop, a home-based bakery located right here in downtown New Orleans, a few block away from our inn, in the 7th Ward.  Technically, La Belle Esplanade is part of the 6th Ward, but when you're on the boundary things tend to blend together in a hash.

Note:  Downtown in New Orleans does not mean that the Pudding Lady is located in the Central Business District.  Our inn is downtown and we are not in the CBD.  Our house is located exactly one mile from the quite side of Bourbon Street.  You have to walk to get to where the action is.  Downtown only means that we are all located downriver on this side, the downriver side, of Canal Street.  That's how things are described here.

That picture above isn't a picture of the actual Pudding Lady that we know.  It's just a bit of swipe art from 1890.  Like Tammie the Housekeeper, the Pudding Lady is shy.  I haven't asked her permission to take her picture to post on the world wide web.  If I know her, she would say no, she has to go home and pretty up a bit and make herself presentable.  It's a pity.  Like everyone in New Orleans, one look at her will make you smile.  She's lovely even when she isn't prettied up.  She's plenty pretty already.

Here is the Pudding Lady's website: The Puddin' Shop.  The Pudding Lady sells her bread pudding, corn bread, bagels and other sundry treats at Armstrong Park, on North Rampart Street, on Thursdays (3-7PM) and at the Gretna Farmers' Market on Saturdays (8:30AM-12:30PM).  

We love the Pudding Lady, she's very likable, and we hope that she doesn't mind that we call her that when she's out of earshot.  I'll say, "I just put an order in with Nicque," and Frau Schmitt will say, "Who?"  "The Pudding Lady."  "Oh, good."  Likewise, Frau Schmitt will tell me that Nicque stopped by this morning.  "Whozzat?"  "The Pudding Lady," to which I'll reply, "Oh.  Good."

We get bread pudding and corn bread from the Pudding Lady.  They are both delicious.
Tammie the Housekeeper
The first time the Pudding Lady dropped off some samples of her baked goods, Tammie the Housekeeper couldn't help but take a taste.  "That's good stuff," Tammie judged.  She's a Cajun, from around here.  She knows what she's talking about.

Tammie the Housekeepr is right.  All of our guests who have tried what the Pudding Lady makes agree.  It's good stuff.

Our bed and breakfast isn't licensed to cook food according to city ordinances.  We've turned that to our advantage, offering what we find from local bakers and chefs, local delis and caterers, to give our guests a taste of the various New Orleans neighborhoods.  Nobody complains.  When there is good food on the table, who would?

The Pudding Lady is very nice, the way most people in New Orleans are very nice.  It was our pleasure to meet her and to make another connection.  If you stay with us, it isn't like staying in a hotel.  It's like living here, with neighbors, in tune with what's going on the city.  We try to give you a taste of what it is like to be a New Orleanian.

Thanks, Pudding Lady, for helping us make that happen.  Thanks, Nicole.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.
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