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The French Quarter

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, some people said that New Orleans should not be rebuilt.

First: Not all of the city was flooded (including the French Quarter)

Second: New Orleans was a city before there was a United States of America: it is one of the most important ports of the country - and where there is a port, there must be a city.

New Orleans, like the ancient city of Mainz (in French Mayence) on the River Rhine in Germany (which, for its like passion, I dubbed New Orleans on the Rhine), suffers from the misconception that people think that because they celebrate Carnival with such passion and with the full-blown involvement of the whole community (Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Fastnacht in Mainz) – they are “just a Carnival Town” – and not a place of serious business.

In fact Mainz turned this insult into a musical “thumbing of the nose” by singing a song “We’re just a carnival association” (Wir sind nür ein Karnival Verein) - every time their football team Mainz 05 scores a critical goal.

Richard Florida’s research The Creative Class gives clear evidence that creative cities are business attractors.

Florida is sought out by governments worldwide to help them identify how to nurture a creative “sense of place” and to attract business and talent.

As with many other cities that are accepting of a little eccentricity, both New Orleans and Mainz seem to have done this naturally to qualify as creative cities, and their levels of innovation, leading business and university rankings show that such cities make an economic base that is not easily shaken by the variances of economic ups and downs.

The way New Orleans went about reconstruction, despite slowness of official assistance, is a lesson for us all - and demonstrative of a real business community.

I have often thought that New Orleans is the most un-American of cities – and I mean this as a compliment while not disparaging other cities in the USA which I have experienced - and which also have their own style and personality.

It is also large enough to be a city and small enough to be a village…where news (and gossip) travels fast.

Its heart is the French Quarter…

Chili pepper garland in the French Quarter New Orleans

…with its charming architecture…

French Quarter balconies New Orleans

… and antique shops, like this one - where you are greeted by elephants and escorted down the entrance alleyway by serenading ladies, seated musicians – and other bronze images.

Elephants-guarding-antique-shop-in-the-French-Quarter

The shops of the French Quarter tempt you inside…

Lion in antique shop in the French Quarter New Orleans

… with a wonderful mixture of collectibles: furniture…

Antique furniture in the French Quarter New Orleans

…lighting…

Chandeliers in the French Quarter New Orleans

…period pieces…

Marble statue and art  in the French Quarter New Orleans

…and galleries…

Paintings in the French Quarter New Orleans

…some specializing in “art musical”…

Music art and sculpture in the French Quarter New Orleans

…and others with collectors pieces of every era.

Art gallery in the French Quarter New Orleans

…or perhaps you are a collector of a different sort, and choose to fight battles in miniature.

In this case, the Toy Soldier shop is a good place to enlist an army.

Toy Soldier shop in the French Quarter New Orleans

Some shops have an eclectic mix of art and antiques.

Everywhere the lovely architecture is reflected.

Piano and art in the French Quarter New Orleans

The French Quarter is like fairyland.

It is a place whose charm seduces all who appreciate the art of life: things beautiful, and that passion for life and its celebration that we so often lose in our pursuit of material wealth.

My memorable first tango in New Orleans was at a little café where the Parisian style tables were pushed to one side to allow dancing on the small black and white tiles.

It was a long wait for that first dance but I was quickly adopted by the group and they carried me off with them after dancing - to The Circle Bar on Lee Circle.

One of the oldest bars in New Orleans, The Circle Bar perches on Lee Circle to welcome – from 4pm to 4am – people who enjoy variety in their music.

The clock on the ceiling (so you can see it after one too many drinks?) was permanently at 10 to 10 – so you never felt it was really that late – but I did have to work early the next day.

My lift back was diverted to show me to a marvelous collectors shop in the French Quarter, owned by my driver.

Peering through the window, I saw some advertising cards for 1950’s cars and commented how my brother would love them.

Within minutes we were inside so I could look more closely.

Then I commented on the high stack of tango CDs. One was quickly selected. I was offered a glass of red and a tango dance – both, naturally Argentinean, like the shop owner.

It seemed rude to say “No”!

It is a night I will always remember. We danced in and out of the antiques, the shop lit only by the antique lamps - until I really DID have to go.

Closing up the shop, we drove back towards Canal Street, which runs between the French Quarter and the business district, where we had started.

I commented that it was a lovely way to have my first tango in New Orleans. My driver agreed and sighed, saying that it was, but he had always wanted to dance tango on the streets - like in memorable scene in the film Tango Lesson [DVD] [1997] with Pablo Veron and Sally Potter.

I simply looked at him and said: “Well?”

The car stopped behind some fenced-off road works where the Canal Street Tramlines were being reinstalled.

With both front doors open so that the tango CD at full volume poured music into the warm summer night, the inside lights of the car also shed a soft light onto the pavement as we danced – up and down Canal Street.

Passers by stopped and watched - before moving off, shrugging and smiling – for after all, what else does one expect but the unexpected in New Orleans – a city of dreams?

Tiffany lamp in the French Quarter New Orleans

The similar architectural character and individual personality of New Orleans to that of Havana seems evident to those who know them both.

Secretly passed to Spain by the British following their victory in the Seven Years War, the New Orleans Spanish Governor didn’t arrive until three years later – only to be hurried off forcefully – but bloodlessly - back to Spain by French and German settlers hoping for re-unification with France.

The Spanish re-asserted their control a year later and from then on, New Orleans shared the same Governor as Cuba.

However, there was another secret deal done in 1800 when Louisiana was passed back to France – but this allowed for it to remain under Spanish control until it suited the French to assume their right – which they did ceremonially – for 20 days before the formal hand-over of Louisiana (which at that time consisted of parts of what are now several other states) following its sale by Napoleon, in 1803 – to the United States in what we know as the Louisiana Purchase.

In the intervening years, on Good Friday 1788, over 800 French-styled wooden buildings were burnt to the ground by a devastating fire. Another less destructive one followed in 1794. Buildings were rebuilt in the Spanish style – with brick construction, firewalls, iron lace balconies and airy courtyards.

The legacy remains, with a Spanish touch adding its bit of magic to the French Quarter.

Calle Real in the French Quarter New Orleans

The doorways…

Doorway in the French Quarter New Orleans

...and allies leading to inner courtyards …

Alley to courtyard in the French Quarter New Orleans

...give some indication of the extent to which the “hidden” parts of “the Quarter” as the French Quarter is locally known, owe their architectural legacy to Spain.

In one such café courtyard, this small vignette played out before us as we waited for coffee after a late, lazy lunch:

A quick movement in the plants beside us caught my eye.

I am Australian – and our insect life is something to reckon with if you don’t want to be bitten – so I was probably more attuned to it than my friends.

In fact, it was small lizard…

Lizard on handle in the French Quarter New Orleans

…and he was watching something very carefully.

Lizard on leaf in the French Quarter New Orleans

We soon saw that his proposed lunch was the fly that had landed in an empty champagne glass on our table.

Lizard chasing fly in glass in the French Quarter New Orleans

Realizing that the angle of the glass made his lunch a bit difficult to secure, we intervened, while the lizard waited…

Lizard poised on leaf in the French Quarter New Orleans

The glass tilted on an angle and held in place with the Salt and Pepper shakers gave the perfect angle, and with a quick dart – our little green friend also enjoyed a French Quarter courtyard lunch.

Lizard chasing fly in champagne glass in the French Quarter New Orleans

The French Quarter is a place where the same view gains new life when seen from new angles.

This famous and much photographed street corner seems brought alive from the chandelier crystal viewpoint from within an antique shop.

Chandelier fringed view in the French Quarter New Orleans

…and seen from another angle, it takes on new characteristics.

Famous corner in the French Quarter New Orleans

The mix of nations that has influenced the formation of the unique character of New Orleans is always notable – even after a rain shower…

Flags reflected in puddle in the French Quarter New Orleans

..when curbside puddles reflect flags, details of the iron lace balconies above …

Balconies reflected in puddle in the French Quarter New Orleans

… high ceilinged Spanish-styled verandahs...

Verandahs reflected in puddle in the French Quarter New Orleans

… and the French Flag – reflecting an influence that is never far away.

French flag reflected in puddle in the French Quarter New Orleans

A visit to the French Quarter is supposed to not be complete without a beignet at Café du Monde.

For those who still savour the memory of the taste – here is the recipe:

Cafe du Monde beignet recipe

Café du Monde has been open 24/7 – Christmas Day and a passing hurricane excluded – since 1862.

I always preferred my beignet on the way home after a long night of music and dancing, after cutting down Pirates Alley to the waterfront.

Pirates Alley in the French Quarter New Orleans

The chairs might be stacked up for café cleaning – but the place is still open - so I could enjoy my black coffee or Café au Lait (half coffee, half hot milk) and fresh baked beignet.

Café du Monde at dawn French Quarter New Orleans

As the dawn approaches, you can walk slowly back along the Mississippi, watching the fog wrap a soft light cloak around the paddle-wheel steamer resting at anchor…

Paddle steamer in fog New Orleans

…its red wheel standing out against the blurred grey image of the distant bridge.

Paddle steamer and bridge in fog New Orleans

..and the Immigrants Statue eternally reaching out in welcome, with a pigeon perched on her head as she reaches out to sea and the man behind her looks inward to land – child in his arms.

Immigrants Statue New Orleans

According to Tom Robbins, Madame Lily Devalier used to ask people:

"Where are you?"

...in a way that insinuated that there were only two places on earth one could be: New Orleans and somewhere ridiculous.

Her viewpoint is totally understandable to anyone who has lived there.

My friends all told me it was a voodoo town. It was like the song “Hotel California”

You can check out

But you can never leave

For those who have had the extreme good fortune to live there, New Orleans is a place you never want to leave – and if you do, it lives on always in your heart.

For anyone creative – it is Mecca.


More New Orleans pages:

New Orleans Jazz Funeral

New Orleans Audubon Zoo

New Orleans Mardi Gras

New Orleans Krewe of Barkus

New Orleans Creole Mass

New Orleans Rock n Roll Marathon

New Orleans Performers

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