Day 7 / The Daze Between ... Wednesday, May 1


Today we got down to the hotel breakfast in time to scrounge a little bit of food and immediately left for the DoubleTree PJ's for coffee, au lait for me and black for Laurie. From there we walked along the river again, then into Jackson Square by St. Louis Cathedral on St. Peter Street. The goal was Preservation Hall, so I could take some daytime pictures of the building, but when we got there, the street was jammed with production trucks, catering trucks, generators, and cables. The windows were covered with black tarp, too. Obviously there was some type of filming going on inside, and my photos were going to have to wait. 

We walked back over to Canal Street on Royal Street, which is sort of the anti-Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, lined with antique stores, art galleries, and more genteel musicians. We were already thinking about lunch, but the humidity on this warm day didn't really create a whole lot of apetite for a meal. We settled on the PinkBerry, which is also part of the DoubleTree complex on Canal Street at South Peters Street. Laurie had mango frozen yogurt with nuts and I had a fruit smoothie with strawberry yogurt.

There was a decision to be made, and that was, what to do this afternoon? We discussed taking the streetcar to City Park and the New Orleans Musueum of Art, but at this point it was early afternoon; by the time we got there, time would be limited. So we decided to stick with the streetcar idea but instead take the St. Charles Avenue line uptown to the Garden District and stroll around up there. 

As always with something new, especially pertaining to mass transit, we were apprehensive about fares and payment method, stops, schedules, etc., etc., but once we found the kiosk on Canal where you can buy tickets and got the Streetcar app fired up on the iPhone, it became very easy. We even found a Garden District walking tour for the phone.

The St. Charles Avenue line is the oldest (what else?) continuously operating streetcar line in the world. The cars have rumbled, and I do mean rumble, down the middle of St. Charles Avenue and along Carrollton Avenue for more than 150 yearsThe Perley Thomas cars currently on this line date from the 1920's. They have mahogany seats, brass fittings, and exposed ceiling light bulbs; no plastic or aluminum here! You can read all about the New Orleans streetcars here. There are also lines along the riverfront in the French Quarter, up Canal Street to City Park and beyond (the line one would take to get to Jazz Fest), and a new line connecting Canal Street with the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal.

We boarded the streetcar on Carondelet Street, right across from the CVS where I provisioned my sodas and snacks every couple of days. The friendly driver took our kiosk-dispensed ticket, we went around the corner onto Canal Street, went down a block, and turned right onto St. Charles. We were off into the heart of the Central Business District and beyond! 

Well, not so much. We hadn't gone much more than a few blocks, before the streetcar ground to a halt. There was a power failure on the entire St. Charles line, the driver informed us. We could wait or we could leave the car. About half left, most locals by the look, headed for buses on other streets. The rest of us stayed and listened to the driver talk about driving the streetcars, tell a few stories and jokes, and otherwise entertain us. It was just more daze-between relaxation, and it wasn't more than a half hour before the engine started up and we were on our way again, around Lee Circle, under the approaches to the Greater New Orleans Bridge, past Emeril's third restaurant in town, the Delmonico, through a local business district, and finally into the Garden District with its canopy of incredible live oak trees and antebellum mansions. 

In the early 1880's, when Louisiana officially joined the United States, eager young Anglo-Saxons flocked to this promising territory to make their fortunes. Since the French Quarter was the stronghold of the proud Creoles, these "Americans" (as they were defined by the Creoles) sought a residential section of their own. Thus was born the Garden District.

We got off the streetcar at Third Street, as instucted by our tour guide (my phone). The first thing we learned was that the novelist Anne Rice lived here and it seemed as if she either lived in, owned, or wrote about almost every building on this tour. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but her name did pop up a lot. The first house on the tour, known as the Marigny-Claiborne house, was built in 1855 for the daughter-in-law of the President of the Louisiana Senate but was later bought by Rice and was the setting for her novel Violin.

The Briggs-Staub house (1849) (on the left) is known for its church-like windows, while the Lonsdale-McStea house was bought by the Redemptorist Fathers after the Civil War and turned into a chapel. It was later bought by Rice, who sold it to Nicholas Cage, its current owner. It has a very cool iron lattice gazebo (on the right).

The Women's Opera Guild Home (on the left) was built in 1865 as the Davis-Seebold residence. Colonel Robert Short built the "cornstalk fence" house in 1859 and surrounded it with wrought-iron cornstalks (below) so that his wife, a native of Iowa, wouldn't get homesick.

At this point it was definitely time for a break. Fortunately the next stop on the walking tour was a building known as "The Rink." It started out as a wooden-floor roller rink in 1884 and has since been a livery stable, a mortuary, a grocery store, and a gas station. Today it's a bookstore with a nice coffee shop attached. Anne Rice frequents the store and of course you can buy autographed editions of her books. At the coffee shop, Laurie had a bagel and I had a cranberry oat bar. We sat in one of those bay windows you see in the front of the building and watched the world go by for awhile.

Up the street from The Rink is the walled Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, established in 1832. It was not open to the public this late in the afternoon, but you could certainly get a feel for the place by looking through the gate. If you are a movie fan, scenes from Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire and many other movies have been filmed here.

A bit further up the street is the bright-blue Commander's Palace Restaurant. In 1880, Emile Commander established the only restaurant patronized by the distinguished neighborhood families. By the early 1900's, it had become one of the most famous restaurants in the nation. In the 1920's its reputation was somewhat spicier, however. Riverboat captains frequented it, and sporting gentlemen met with beautiful women for a rendezvous in the private dining room upstairs. Downstairs, however, the main dining room (with its separate entrance) was maintained in impeccable respectability. Today it is one of the top places to go for dining in New Orleans. 

Continuing the tour, we headed down Coliseum Street to the house used in the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (on the left), a favorite of the tourists (like us) who roam the Garden District. Next, the house owned by Sandra Bullock (on the right), another popular attraction. Known as the Koch-Mays house, it was built in 1876. In addition to its wonderful Victorian design, it is interesting architecturally because of its staggered sections that optimize natural lighting.

The Musson-Bell house was built in 1853 for tobacco grower and Cotton Exchange president Michael Musson. A new owner added the lovely cast iron gallery on the side (left) in 1884. Next was the "Stained Glass House," another Victorian, this one known for the stained glass on its doors and windows and the rounded railings on the gallery (on the right).

Continuing the tour (and winding down because we found that one can walk around looking at old houses for only so long, not to mention the tripping on uneven sidewalks and curbs), on the left is the Calrow-Pride house, built in 1857, the adult home of Anne Rice and also the setting for her series of Witching Hour books about the fictional Mayfair family of witches. On the right is the Carroll-Crawford house, which dates to 1869. Mark Twain often went to huge parties here.

The last points of interest for us, and by now we are walking on First Street back toward Saint Charles, were the "Seven Sisters" houses on Coliseum Street (on the left). These side-hall shotgun houses were built by John Hall in 1868, and are unusual for the neighborhood because they are so small. Legend has it that Hall built one cottage for each of his seven daughters, but the story falls apart because there are actually eight houses. We passed Archie Manning's house (big deal), a house that had been turned into a private school, and Magnolia Mansion (on the right), which dates back to 1858 and has a history of owners' mysterious or untimely (as in struck by lightning) deaths.  

This stroll was thoroughly enjoyable and as we stepped back onto the old streetcar it almost felt like we were in another time. The Saint Charles line continues on, up around the bend (props to CCR) to the Carrollton part of town. Along the way are Loyola and Tulane universities and the Audubon Zoological Gardens. We didn't continue in that direction, instead heading back downtown.

The skies were clouding over a mostly sunny day, but no rumbling was heard other than the streetcar; in fact, the day stayed rain-free, the first time since last Saturday. We got off of the streetcar at Lafayette Square, where the weekly Wednesday at the Square series was ramping up. In the square were a big outdoor stage, lots of food vendors, and lots and lots of people. Even though the featured performers were Leo Noncentelli and the Meters Experience, along with Chris Mule and the Perpetrators, we decided to head back to the Staybridge to rest for a bit and ... do laundry. One of the charms of living 11 nights in a hotel out of a carry-on suitcase. The Staybridge has a free washer and dryer on several floors, though, and (a) they worked and (2) they were not in use, so it was pretty easy.

We did have one more activity tonight, and that was dinner at Rio Mar restaurant. To get there for our 9 p.m. reservation, we walked back up Tchoupitoulas Street to Julia Street, then a few blocks down into the Warehouse District toward the river. Rio Mar is not your typical New Orleans cuisine. Rather, it features fresh, traditional Spanish and Latin American seafood dishes and tapas. The name comes from a town in Panama where the river meets the sea, and the atmosphere is that of a a seaside tavern in Spain. 

Before leaving for the restaurant, we studied the menu at great length ... it's one of those places with ceviches, salads, soups, small plates, arroz, and large plates, not to mention desserts. We thought we had a pretty good idea of what we were going to get until the server told us they were offering a special of a whole grilled red snapper for two. We immediately went for that, because, well, how often do you have an opportunity to enjoy a whole grilled red snapper? 

Before the fish, Laurie had La Gitana ManzanillaSpain’s most popular sherry, while I had a glass (or two) of 2011 Camins Del Priorat, a Spanish red from renowned winemaker Alvaro Palacios. The wine was good. Then we started with the Flor ceviche, which consists of drum, hibiscus infusion, mango, papaya, bird chiles, and cilantro. Fascinating, said the first-time cevichier. (Here's a video on the ceviche.) Then we shared a house salad (baby greens, Manchego cheese, sweet roasted peppers, and a sherry vinaigrette). The fish, too, was very good, and we ended the meal with a guava cheesecake that was so light that it almost didn't seem like cheesecake.

We took a slow walk back to the Staybridge after this completely unique and most enjoyable meal, and then realized thay we had reached the end of the daze between and it was back to Jazz Fest tomorrow!  



© Jeff Mangold 2012