Day 5 / The Daze Between ... Monday, April 28


5-02

This was a day of rest and relaxation. And eating. I’m not sure when we actually left the Staybridge this morning, but there was definitely no morning routine. In fact, the breakfast buffet was nowhere to be seen when we reached the main floor. So we grabbed some coffee at the PJ’s in the DoubleTree Hotel on South Peters Street. 

We were ready for some food, but not a big New Orleans breakfast or brunch, so we went to the Pinkberry in the little triangle created where Tchoupitoulas and South Peters meet Canal Street, just in front of the DoubleTree. Some might find the idea of breakfast there strange, but it is yogurt after all, and when you use fresh fruit and granola as toppings, why not? Besides, it IS New Orleans. We had a lovely, leisurely time on the Pinkberry patio, watching scenes like the one at the top of this page unfold. The weather again was gorgeous: low 80's with fairly low humidity, lots of clouds to break up the strong sunshine, and a nice breeze that wasn't as strong or persistent as yesterday.


We had to do some provisioning for the room, and that made for a leisurely stroll up Canal Street to the CVS, our go-to place for provisioning.

We walked back to the Staybridge to drop everything off, walking from the CVS over to Poydras Street on Carondelet, a busy Business District street with some great architecture.  

            

We spent some time putting stuff away and catching up on e-mails and the like. Laurie was doing some long-distance job hunting and spent a lot of time trying to make someone at the Virginia unemployment office understand that while she was in New Orleans, she wasn't looking for a job in New Orleans per se, she was looking for a job in Virginia while in New Orleans. Not sure that person ever did understand. 

Eventually we headed out into the warm sunshine for a mid-afternoon lunch, given that dinner was also going to be later tonight. We didn’t have anyplace specific in mind, but headed into the French Quarter, quickly finding out that we were more hungry than we had thought. Thus the first place we came upon that looked decent worked, and that was the Crescent City Brewhouse on Decatur Street between St. Louis and Toulouse.

This place is in the heart of the tourist zone, but it was surprisingly good. Given the hour, it was not too crowded, so we were seated immediately near the bar, with a good view of the bar, the beer tanks, the dining room in the back, and even the people passing by on the street. Check out the cool jellyfish lamps over the bar.

This place serves only the beer it brews on the premises. That makes deciding a bit easier. I had the pale ale and grilled grouper on homemade naan topped with avocado, tomato, and a slaw of carrot, poblano pepper, cabbage, cucumber and cilantro. Laurie had drum (a gulf fish) broiled and served with corn and crawfish maque choux, fingerling potatoes, and fresh green beans. 

Dessert? Yes, of course. Fresh berries and chocolate mousse in a basket made of almond brittle, topped with whipped cream. 

A lot of people who talk about places like this on all those Internets review sites complain about this or that, the service, the prices, the food, the beer, whatever. This by no means is a five-star dining experience, the kind where you need to make reservations months in advance. But we walked in and were seated right away in a comfortable, clean, and attractive room. We found the beer to be good, the food to be interesting and well prepared, and the service to be excellent. The prices, yes, were a bit high. But since we knew we were in the middle of a tourist zone, a block and a half from Jackson Square, we didn't really expect anything else. All in all a really good lunch. Plus they have a walk-up beer-to-go window!


We then went over to Jackson Square, with the intention of doing a self-guided walking tour of the historic buildings in the vicinity, but instead we found a bench and started doing a lot of people watching. Then we discovered that we could see most of the buildings on the tour from our bench, so we did a sit-on-your-ass walking tour. Here’s what we “toured.”

Jackson Square. When the French founded New Orleans in 1718, they centered their new city about this square and named it Place d'Armes. The rest of the French Quarter was quickly built out in a grid system around the square, and though it was meant to be a drill field, it became an important gathering point in early New Orleans culture, especially after the imposing St. Louis Cathedral was built on its perimeter in 1727. 

Although French culture became strongly imprinted on New Orleans, France never gained the foothold they hoped for in the south, and by 1803 Napoleon sold the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. Even though they owned the territory and started forming states out of parts of it, the U.S. didn't fully control the area until they withstood the British attacks on New Orleans during the War of 1812. This war came to an end when the U.S. won the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Place d'Armes was quickly renamed Jackson Square after the victorious General Andrew Jackson.   

Jackson Square, with its artists and entertainers, is still a very important part of city. The people playing here represent all facest of New Orleans and Louisiana music, and there are often well-known artists playing there. Tuba Fats used to hold court here regularly until his untimely passing. Now you can often see the best young clarinet player around, Doreen Ketchens, with her band, and some of the top young brass bands like the Young Fellaz or Forgotten Souls. Plus, its unique tropical plantings do an excellent job of framing the surrounding buildings to make all of your photos look great. The large statue of Andrew Jackson triumphantly riding on a horse dates from 1856. The work of sculptor Clark Mills, it is the world's first equestrian statue with more than one hoof unsupported. 

St. Louis Cathedral. This is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the U.S., but actually the third one erected on this spot. The original cathedral was finished on the site of a former parish in 1727 and was dedicated to the sainted King of France, Louis IX. This building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1788. It was rebuilt 10 years later, but the work was done very poorly. During a facade update in 1850, the city found out how bad the rebuild really was when the roof collapsed and numerous cracks appeared in the walls. The entire cathedral had to be demolished, the only part salvageable was the bell from the central tower. 

The bell and stately clock (note the nonstandard Roman numeral four), were both imported from France. The rebuilding was done under the supervision of the architect J.N.B. de Pouilly.

During Hurricane Katrina, portions of the Cathedral's roof were damaged (actual hurricane damage; the French Quarter was not flooded), and the oak trees in the garden behind the cathedral were uprooted, damaging the fence and a statue. 

The Cabildo. The building to the left of the cathedral is the Cabildo. During the Spanish rule of New Orleans, this structure housed the governing council, or Cabildo, of the colony.  The structure was erected in 1779 on the site of a French police station and guardhouse, but burned in 1788. Don Andres Almonester y Roxas then contributed the funds for construction of a replacement, built in 1795-99. The splendid wrought-iron balcony railing, called the finest work from the Spanish period in New Orleans, is attributed to Marcelino Hernandez.  

Spain's rule in the French Quarter was short lived as France was able to gain control back, but the French soon sold it to the United States. The transfer papers for the Louisiana Purchase were signed in this building in 1803 in a second floor room, known as the Sala Capitular. Over the years, the building served as New Orleans city hall and the home of the Louisiana Supreme Court where the nationally significant decision on Plessy vs. Ferguson was handed down. 

Since 1911, the Cabildo has been the flagship building for the Louisiana State Museum. The upper level was severely damaged by fire in 1988 and restored using 600-year-old French timber framing methods. It reopened in 1994 with exhibits focusing on Louisiana's early history. A favorite item is Napoleon' Death Mask, given to the city by France because Napoleon died on his way to New Orleans while seeking shelter from exile.

The Presbytére. Dating from the same period as the reconstruction of the Cabildo following the disastrous fires of 1788 and 1794, the Presbytére was designed to look like the Cabildo. Originally called the Casa Curial (Ecclesiastical House), the building derives its name from the fact that it was built on the site of the residence, or presbytére, of the Capuchin monks. As with the Cabildo and the Cathedral, construction was financed by Spanish philanthropist and nobleman Don Andres Almonester y Roxas. It was finished in 1813, having transferred from Spanish, to French, to American control.

The Presbytére never served as a recotory. Throughout the 1800s it was used for commercial purposes and served as a courthouse from 1834 to 1911. In 1847 the structure's mansard roof was added, along with a cupola that was blown off in a 1913 hurricane. The cupola was replaced in 2006, meticulously modeled after the old one.

The Presbytére is now part of the Louisiana State Museum, housing a special exhibit on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Upstairs there is an exhibit on Mardi Gras, including an array of tiaras, scepters, necklaces, and other baubles worn by generations of royalty. It also shows how Mardi Gras is celebrated in rural Louisiana, which is quite a bit different from New Orleans.

The Pontalba Buildings. On either side of Jackson Square, these beautiful buildings sport some of the most impressive cast-iron balcony railings in the French Quarter. They also represent early French Quarter urban revitalization -- and early girl power. In the mid-1800s, Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba inherited rows of buildings along both sides of the Place d’Armes from her father, the wealthy Spanish nobleman-turned-magnate Don Almonester (who rebuilt St. Louis Cathedral, among other developments). In an effort to counteract the emerging American sector across Canal Street, she razed the structures and built high-end apartments in the traditional Creole-European style, with commercial space at street level, housing above, and courtyards in the rear. The Pontalba Buildings were begun in 1840 under her direct supervision; you can see her mark today in the entwined initials “A.P.” in the ironwork. They were completed in 1849 and 1851, respectively. The Baroness also had Jackson Square built, including the cast-iron fence and the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson. Her scandalous personal story is equally fascinating.

In the middle of the Pontalba Building on St. Ann Street is the 1850 House. With the Antebellum era in full swing in the mid-1800's it is easy to idealizes the large plantation mansions of the South and huge estates of the wealth, but it is also important to understand how the middle class was living in New Orleans. To give you the full experience, the Louisana State Museum turned the home of the richest lady to live in New Orleans during the era, Baroness Pontalba, into a living middle class museum. Furnished with everyday items, decorative art, and clothing from the period, the 1850 House does a great job of depicting middle class family life during the most prosperous period in New Orleans history.

So if you didn't already, you now know that New Orleans isn’t completely about music; a lot of history can be found here as well. And you don’t even need to move to enjoy it!

Realize, of course, that while you are sitting on a bench in Jackson Square you are hearing the wonderful sounds of whatever band happens to be playing on Chartres Street in front of the cathedral and the museums. Plus the horns of the boats on the river behind and the clip-clop of the horses pulling carriages full of tourists. All of this under a bright, warm sun. The urban planners way back when got it right, because Jackson Square is a great place to hang out.

After a (good long) while we decided to do a little walking, so we decided to check out the little alleys on either side of the cathedral. These passages lead to Royal Street. Between the cathedral and Presbytére is Pere Antoine's Alley, named for Friar Antonio de Sedella, who came to New Orleans around 1774. Cut in 1831, this passage was given the official name of Ruelle d'Orleans Nord, or Orleans Walkway North, and was a twin to Ruelled'Orleans Sud on the other side of the cathdral, which is now known as Pirates Alley. 

There are some who say Pere Antoine still haunts the area. We did not see him. However, at the corner of Pere Antoine's Alley and Royal Street is the George Rodrigue Gallery (see Day 2), which we did see.

As you emerge from between the cathedral and the Presbytére you come acrross Place de Henriette Delille, a lovely garden behind the cathedral. The marble monument at the center of this garden was erected by the Minister of the Navy under Napoleon III. The statue now features really neat lighting that at night casts a larger than life shadow onto the back of the Cathedral.  

To head back to Chartres Street from the other side of the garden, we first passed the gallery of Alex Beard, where the artist can often be seen in the window working on a new painting. Then we headed down what's known as Pirates Alley.  

Alas for its romantic name, and for the legend that says that somewhere along this passage General Andrew Jackson conferred with the freebooters Jean and Pierre Lafitte about the forthcoming defense of New Orleans, the alley simply did not exist at that time. It was cut 16 years later (1831). The alley is still paved with the original stones, which had served as ballast on ships that cruised the Mississippi. 

A little pirate history anyway! Jean Lafitte, the buccaneer, did indeed fight with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans in 1816. Also an adventurer, Lafitte was a smuggler who was popular with the locals. After a price was put on his head by the governor, Lafitte in turn put a price on the governor’s head. 

Faulkner House, where William Faulkner briefly lived and wrote "A Soldier’s Pay" is in the middle of the alley. It's now a bookstore.

We meandered back to the Staybridge via Chartres Street to rest for awhile and catch up on mail and stuff for a few hours before heading back into the French Quarter for our dinner at Emeril's NOLA. This is our third visit to this great restaurant (see Day 1 in 2012 and Day 10 last year), a sort of home to Emeril's greatest hits, the best dishes from his other two restaurants in the city, served in a more casual atmosphere. The setting, in an old warehouse open to two of the three floors, is fantasic. The wait staff here is awesome, very friendly and knowledgeable, eager to suggest variations and combinations. It just makes for an experience like dining out is supposed to be.

To start, we each had a glass of a California zinfandel. For appetizers, I had the pork-cheek boudin balls with a creole mustard aioli while Laurie had a baby lettuce salad with goat cheese and pistachios.

My entree was a pork chop with a caramelized onion reduction sauce and brown sugar glazed sweet potatoes. Laurie had a specially prepared vegetarian grilled portobello mushroom stuffed with more goat cheese, with herb couscous, ratatouille, cherry tomatoes, and a preserved-lemon butter sauce. 

For dessert we had key lime bread pudding with ice cream topped with candied lime and a rum-ginger caramel sauce. Our other dessert (no judging ... we're on vacation) was strawberry-rhubarb crumb cake with strawberry rhubarb compote and ice cream. Both were incredibly tasty.

The first of the Daze Between was perfect. Hanging out in New Orleans is every bit as much fun as going to Jazz Fest!

© Jeff Mangold 2012