i heart new orleans

“The cops are here. They’re getting a search warrant and coming in.” This is what I hear as I open the door to our bedroom at the insistent knocking that is waking me up from last night’s Mardi Gras celebration. Four hours later, after quite the farce and much to-do, Bridget and I are out of a place to stay for our second of two weeks in New Orleans. We end up cobbling together five nights in two different hotels – their main feature being their proximity to a good cup of coffee in the morning. We’ve taken to drinking McDonald’s lattes in between stops at Cafe du Monde and enVie, both on Decatur, but you’d have to be walking down to Frenchmen St to find the latter. 1241 Decatur. Seating inside and out, you can relax and enjoy the view …


Chief, one of life’s treasures, and Bridget outside enVie …

But I digress …

It’s the day after Mardi Gras, the police have swarmed the place, and Bridget and I are looking at our watches. It’s February 22, and today’s her birthday. Tonight we’re going to Commander’s Palace in the Garden District, a present from her dad, and a grand one it is. When we arrive at 7, the day’s bizarre events were put behind us, as we were greeted by a phalanx of waitstaff, here to greet Bridget on her birthday. We’re seated upstairs in a corner window that overlooks their courtyard. Our server, Patrick, attended to our every gustatory need and chef Tory McPhail created a masterpiece. Bridget ordered the turtle soup, cooked with sherry, a specialty of the house, and a crawfish gumbo, while I went with their salad and a veal entree. We came in with full intentions of ordering dessert, and our mouths watered, but there was simply no room for more. But if it’s your birthday, the occasion is not complete without a candle, and out it came in a bowl of ice cream …

From the fine Creole food at Commander’s Palace to the po’ boys we picked up in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, cheeseburgers at Port O’ Call on Esplanade, Brazilian from a street vendor on Gravier and tasty Cuban sandwich on Magazine …

… we gobbled up what New Orleans had to offer. If you ever get the chance, try the redfish at Bon Ton Cafe. Melt in your mouth. And talking about melt in your mouth, we cut back a bit on the beignets our second week – these morsels of sweet carbs are truly addictive and moderation is a serious must.

With Mardi Gras behind us, our second week was all down to business: Bridget busking with her violin and me getting down to some research. Readers of my blog will know that New Orleans is one of two locations where I am doing research for my next book – a historical novel that begins in 1848 Ireland and moves to New Orleans during the years leading up to the American Civil War. New Orleans has a magnificently rich history – a cultural gumbo that includes the Irish. That’s what I wanted to find out this trip: where those Irish fit in. Asking around, I was directed to the Williams Research Center on Chartres in the French Quarter, where I spent a few afternoons reading from the archives. It turns out there’s not much information on the Irish, which meant less time needed for work and more time given over to playing; but what they did have was more than enough for me to know that my novel’s character will indeed come to New Orleans from Ireland and the corollary – if my character is coming to New Orleans to set a spell, then so too must I. I am coming back. This is a certainty. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out when and for how long. There is so much left to explore.

When I didn’t have my nose stuck in the books, I struck out on foot to scratch the surface of vodou in The Big Easy, and while it remains to be seen how I will incorporate that in my novel, I was delighted to find that Mama Bridgitte features colorfully in the vodou religion … Celtic goddess Bridgid, who morphed into Saint Brigid in the Catholic faith is here in New Orleans, simply in a different guise. Talk about rich. The folks at Voodoo Authentica on Dumaine St and Veronica and Sharon at Hex on Decatur were a great help in getting my feet wet in this fascinating subject. The lovely Sharon creates beaded jewelry as her therapy, and I am delighted to be wearing one of her necklaces, a little reminder of New Orleans that stays with me as I mosey on down the road.

Bridget and I tore ourselves away from the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny for a couple of days. We devoted one of those days to Uptown. The tourist books list a ride on the St Charles Ave streetcar as a must. Boarding at Canal Street, you can take the streetcar along St Charles past all the glorious mansions of the Garden District. We jumped off at Tulane University, across the street from Audubon Park – 190 acres of green that is largely a golf course with paths that mostly meander along its edges. Spring has come early to New Orleans this year – the azaleas are in bloom! An oasis far from the madding crowd, home to statues and ducks and the ever-present oak trees.




A walk the length of the park brought us out to Magazine St, where we hopped on a bus heading back downtown, jumping off in the Irish Channel, for a wee walkaround the area to get a flavor for where 150 years ago, the Irish and Germans lived cheek by jowl in the crowded tenements. The area has changed a lot since then, with Magazine boasting miles and miles of shops and restaurants catering to a different class.

The next day we went farther afield, outside of New Orleans to the west. Our cousins, Kathe and Paul, live in the town of Luling, a hop, skip and a jump from some of the remaining plantations “up river” from New Orleans. Each of them comes with their own history (not to mention hefty admission), so it was pick and choose which one to put our money down on. We opted for the Laura plantation, simply because it looked the most interesting, with its main house, several outbuildings, and gardens. Our guide kept us at a fast clip, no dawdling, and unfortunately, we only went into a couple of the buildings. I looked forlornly at the buildings unentered, left to create my own stories for the history they once held. We drove into the grounds of the San Francisco plantation and stopped outside the gate of Oak Alley, which derives its name from the 28 oak trees that line the front path to the plantation’s home. Magnificent.

These were sugar cane plantations along the river, and what was true then is true now. It’s early in the season, but out here in the wide open expanses, you can see fields upon fields of the stuff …

A late afternoon view of the lazy Mississippi …

There was just enogh time left in the afternoon to head down to the bayou. Cajun country. Paul took us for a drive down to Bayou Gauche – which operates on entirely different time. You can hide out in the bayou and no one will find you here …



Those were our days. Filled with sights and sounds, food and people.

The nights were turned over to music. New Orleans is alive with music, and we got our fill. I’ll tell you all about it next time, but for now, I’ll leave you with some random shots from the streets of New Orleans.





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