New Orleans, Today and Yesterday
|Crowds at Central Grocery Co.|
I must admit, today’s New Orleans is no longer the New Orleans of my misspent youth and wistful dreams. But, memories are kind, and if the city falls short, perhaps it’s my memories that need adjustment. Oh, the faded visions of the women who were prettier, incomparable food that changed my expectations forever, aromatic beer that washed down sea brined oysters, and starry nights that made me never want to leave!
The reality of today’s New Orleans is as sad as seeing an old lover in a nursing home. Oh, yes, it gets worse. Time doesn’t march on, it stomps, wearing jack boots.
The French Quarter’s sidewalks are like broken teeth, and roads have potholes big enough to bait a hook and give it a try. Swamps and tangled jungles of millenniums past seem to be creeping forward again.
Sad, because the French and Spanish, Cajun, Creole, and African people have given New Orleans every cultural chance to rise above the muddy waters of the Mississippi, to push back against modernity.
In decades past, was the French Quarter really so crowded that I couldn’t find my feet? I don’t remember a two-block line on Decatur Street waiting for chicory coffee and beignets at the fabled Café du Monde. Not to worry. These days there are several locations scattered around the city. But, it wasn’t really the coffee that called; it was an atmosphere of the clip clop of horse drawn carriages and timeless views of the wrought iron fence enclosing Jackson Square. Café du Monde in a mall just can’t compare, beignets or not.
Could be that my expectations are just too high, or maybe I’m just too damn old to fit in. On the streets of today’s New Orleans, the young women wear ripped jeans and dirty t-shirts, as tasteful as a smudge of dirt on a hamburger bun. Their faces look as if makeup was applied by Stevie Wonder. Tattoos, or as I called them, body-graffiti, adorning every inch of skin, and smart dressers stand out like Tuxedoes at a beach party..
The good news is, there is still much to enjoy in New Orleans. The French Quarter still boasts of elegant restaurants and glorious street jazz. Only a short walk away, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas offers a truly marvelous adventure in aquatic life. I watched penguins fed by hand, and personally hand fed stingrays. Give yourself lots of time!
Another attraction not to miss is The National World War II Museum. Displays and recordings and films (Don’t miss the films!) lead you all the way through. A friend of mine told me he spent four hours there. I said to myself, no way, then spent four and a half hours myself and only felt as if I’d seen a portion. All phases of one of the greatest conflicts in all of history, is right before you. Better than any history class and a hell of a lot more fun! Visit this fabulous museum!
|A mockup of the D-Day Invasion at Normandy, France, June 6, 1944|
So, how did the city get it’s name and what’s all this Frenchy stuff? Only time for a thumbnail sketch.
The French arrived in 1682, and Nouvelle Orléans was founded by Jean Baptist Le Moyne is 1718. In 1763, the Spanish took possession. 1800, France reacquired the city and the Louisiana territory. Then in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson bought the entire territory for 15 million dollars, which was about 3 cents an acre, and almost doubled the size of the United States. And by the way, Orléans is still a city in France!
So now my pagan readers are tired of rich history and ripped jeans culture. “How ‘bout them damn restaurants? I don’t go to Nawlins for no damn museums! And I flunked historeeee three times.”
Ah, I detect proud members of the drinking class. So, I’ll heed your plea and mention some restaurants.
Antoine’s: A noble restaurant, visited by royalty and celebrities for ages. Exciting to soak in the elegant atmosphere and be served by waiters in black suits and white shirts, but for the exorbitant prices you pay, you can find better chow, if not better ambience. Ask a waiter to show you around and impart some thrilling tales of Antoine’s glory days.
Red Slipper: A small chain, with outlets around the city. A wonderful breakfast with a variety of eggs Benedict and don’t forget to try the award winning Bacon Bloody Mary.
Gianna: An Italian restaurant owned by the wonderful butcher shop, Cochon. Best food of any variety I had on this visit to New Orleans. Gianna features northern Italian Cuisine, meaning very fresh pasta with cream sauces rather than the red sauces from the south of Italy. Wines are superb and the bar will satisfy your every alcoholic dream.
It’s easy to give up on this interesting old city, but adjust your view and spread your wings. Enjoy the French Quarter and street jazz, but don’t stop there. There’s a new New Orleans that has much to offer.