Day 22: October 20, 2015--NOLA: French Quarter 1

Don't miss today's Gallery!

St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square (Photo by Lila)

A great, easy-going day strolling around the heart of New Orleans--and missing out on seeing a cousin at the end.

We woke up on our first of five days in New Orleans and got out of Old 77 fairly early, and then had a hearty breakfast at a nearby place called "The Ruby Slipper Cafe." The name derives from the fact that the owners were among the thousands who had returned to New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina; when they opened their place they reflected on the fact that "There's no place like home!" It was our first impression of how devastating "The Storm" had been, not just in terms of property and the loss of life, but in its effects on the lives of the survivors.

This statue of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, is
just across from the NPS-run French Quarter Visitor Center.
As I mentioned yesterday we could walk to the French Quarter--from Old 77 to Jackson Square, the very heart of the Quarter, was seven-tenths of a mile--so we did. Along the way, we stopped to shoot a statue of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, who, though born in Montreal, Canada (in  part of what was then called "New France"), was a co-founder of both Mobile, Alabama, and Biloxi, Mississippi. More importantly (for us), he founded New Orleans on May 7, 1718. The guy got around.

He was also several-times governor of French Louisiana (which was named for the French King Louis XIV). Originally covering most of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River, it stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains. What we call "The Louisiana Purchase" was only a part of that territory, bought by Thomas Jefferson from Napoleon in 1803; France had already ceded large portions to England and Spain. The Purchase constituted roughly 25-30% of today's continental United States (though there were some adjustments and land swaps with England).

After paying our respects, we moved on to the nearby and catchily-named Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve, French Quarter Visitor Center (say that ten times fast). It gave us a good overview of the area, and we picked up a few maps with places marked, which we promptly ignored.

On, then, three more blocks to Jackson Square. We hung around and took some badly lit photos of Colonel Jackson and the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, usually just called St. Louis Cathedral, though the full name reminds us that this saint, who was King Louis IX, had the same status as Louisiana's namesake, Louis XIV: King of France. (As near as a quick perusal can tell, the XIV was a twelfth-generation descendant of the IX.) The city of St. Louis, Missouri, was also named for IX.

Wikipedia calls the Cathedral "the oldest cathedral in what would become the United States," and mentions two of its many ghosts, Père (Father) Antoine and Père Dagobert.  This article on an extremely reputable website (ahem) has the stories of the two priests and some others ghosts of the Cathedral.

Now about that Jackson character: Better known as the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson was also called "Old Hickory" because of his toughness, and "The Hero of New Orleans" for holding New Orleans against an assault by a British force twice the size of his own. This happened at the end of the War of 1812--well, actually, after the end of the war, as the Treaty of Ghent had been signed before the final battle. Jackson had no way of knowing this, but instead maintained martial law in the Big Not-So-Easy for months afterward, until convinced the war was over. Some hero.

Nevertheless, he was decorated by Congress, and rode on that victory all the way to the White House. As French observer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, Jackson "was raised to the Presidency, and has been maintained there, solely by the recollection of a victory which he gained, twenty years ago, under the walls of New Orleans."

Anyway, we took in the Cathedral, inside and out, and appreciated the presence of some brass players noodling around. Then we walked over to Cafe du Monde (home of the heavenly beignets) and the French Market, where we bought a poster of a painting that we still haven't hung two years later.

Inside the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park (Photo by Lila)

Not far from Cafe du Monde, we visited the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park and had a pleasant chat with the rangers, who had no idea who my grandpa was. Later, we visited another one, The New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint. They were closing at the time, but they didn't know who Achille Baquet was, either. Their loss.

In the meantime, we had a mosey through the streets of the Quarter and on into Treme, shooting houses and other buildings along the way, especially enjoying the brightly-painted ones (see today's Gallery for LOTS).

One of the nice serendipities that happened was, this being late October, New Orleans, famous for the weird--voodoo and whatnot--was getting dressed up for Halloween. There are a few pictures of these decorations in the Gallery, too, including an exquisitely-framed shot by Lila of a house with one of the creepiest stories imaginable. (There's a 19th century telling of the story starting here. If the link doesn't go straight to the story--called The "Haunted House" in Royal Street--come back here and click it again.)

That gentleman on the corner looks as lost as I felt.

Last stop, and another disappointment. We walked through Treme, up Esplanade, and a little over a mile away from Jackson Square tried to make yet another family connection--but we were thwarted. My family has been operating restaurants in New Orleans for generations, and the only one running at the time we visited was Li'l Dizzy's, run by my cousin Wayne (uncle to Eddie, Peter, and Dana, whom we met in Atlanta, and naturally their mother Linda's brother-in-law--but TWICE, as Linda's sister married Wayne, her late husband's brother). Anyway, we found out Dizzy's was a breakfast-and-lunch only joint, and was closed this late in the day (M-Sa 7AM-2PM, Su 8AM-2PM). We would try again.

Don't miss today's Gallery!

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