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, 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:  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 (
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