Day 7 / The Daze Between ... Wednesday, May 3 

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For the second year in a row, the Wednesday of the Daze Between was a rainy one, although in the end this year made last year look like child's play. So let's get that part out of the way before moving on to what we did. Around 8 a.m. the clouds took over from the early morning's partly cloudy. As you can see above, at dawn the old saying about sailors taking warning certainly applied. But why was I up at dawn? Anyway, because of those clouds that came in, the day's high temperature of just 73 degrees was also around 8 a.m. 

In the afternoon, the temps were in the low to mid 60's. Humidity way up there. Winds were anywhere from 10 to 28 mph depending on the conditions. There was a gust of 41 mph this afternoon and several more in that range later this evening. It rained and stormed from around 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then from around 8 p.m. on through the night. All that rainfall added up to around 3 inches. It seemed like more. 

This morning we went out for brunch at a new restaurant to us, called Red Gravy. It's located on Camp Street just off Canal Street and across the street from the Sheraton. We have seen it a lot as we waited in line for the shuttle bus, and they have been advertising on WWOZ recently as well, so we thought we would give it a try. We were glad we did.

Red Gravy is a cozy bistro serving rustic Italian cuisine using recipes handed down from owner and chef Roseann Melisi Rostoker's mother, aunts, and grandmothers. Plus a few creations of her own. The recipies follow tradition with simultaneous dedication to the past and an eye on sustainability. Rostoker sources locally and organically for eggs, fish, shellfish, produce, beef, pork, chicken, grits, and bread. The dining room is colorful and kitchsy, and we loved the soundtrack from the 80's that was playing while we were there.

The restaurant began as a dream of Rostoker as a 10-year-old Italian girl from northern New Jersey in 1972. She says, "I was always most comfortable in the kitchen; and while other kids were watching Bugs Bunny reruns, I was glued to the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child cooking shows on PBS. Sadly, I didn't pursue the dream out of high school. I spent a couple of years in college deluding myself I'd make a really great English teacher. Even then I'm busy feeding people and perfecting my skills, thanks to self-guided study.

"In the early 1990's I managed to get hired by a large food service company as a cold-prep person. I always took on more, always cooked my heart out, and moved up quickly. 

"We went to New Orleans for my 41st birthday, and I was hooked. We began to vacation here every single year, doing the walking tours, the plantation tours, the music club tours, etc. 

"We held our breath when Katrina struck, and cried when we saw the levees crumble. We had Christmas reservations for that year. While we had to change hotel plans, we kept the plane tickets and kept the trip booked. I think it was that devastation and the sheer determination of sprit we witnessed in New Orleans that gave me the courage to consider leaving New Jersey, and my friends and family, to set up shop here. There was also the fact that we were completely unable to vacation anywhere else; every single trip we took was to New Orleans. We decided that if we ever want to see any more of this planet, we'd just have to move here."

Rostoker paid homage to New Orleans by naming the restaurant Red Gravy, and she does serve a gumbo, but she doesn't imitate New Orleans Italian. "It's a different kind of Italian here," she says, "There's a lot of Southern influence and I'm trying to not go down that road. There's enough people that have done that successfully and I just want it to stay true to my heritage and to my roots and the way we cooked in my house." For example, she makes hoagies instead of po-boys and tops them with hot peppers instead of pickles.

FYI: Red gravy, also referred to as Creole sauce and sauce piquant in New Orleans, is a sauce made with tomatoes, the Cajun holy trinity (celery, bell peppers, and onions), garlic, seasonings, and herbs. Stock is also used and seasoned with cayenne, hot sauce, bay leaf, salt, black pepper, thyme, and parsley.

For our brunch we had coffee and a pitcher of fruity Red Sangria. We started out with a basket of garlic bread and, what else but their tasty red gravy. For the entree, Laurie had a Florentine eggs, which was two shirred eggs with spinach, ricotta, and parmesan cheese, served with seasonal fruit. I had the Uptown platter, with their signature large meatball, two scrambled eggs, red gravy, and a side of grits. Everything was spot on, and we had a great time.

While we were eating our brunch, the rain began, so we lingered awhile but soon realized we had no choice but to brave the elements. 

We dodged rain all the way back to the Staybridge, where we planned the rest of the day based on the conditions.

We decided to go to an exhibit at the the Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC). I heard about this exhibit in a interview with the curator on WWOZ a couple of weeks ago and it sounded fascinating.

Founded in 1966, the HNOC has grown to include 10 historic buildings on two French Quarter campuses. The Royal Street campus is the museum headquarters. It has space for rotating exhibitions, the permanent Louisiana History Galleries, and the Williams Residence, which is a house museum. The Chartres Street campus comprises the Williams Research Center, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art, and an on-site vault for items in the collections.

Researchers and casual history buffs alike can access the HNOC’s materials through the Williams Research Center, which holds around a million items that document everyday life as well as momentous events in the 300 years of New Orleans history. The collection includes 35,000 library items, shelves of documents and manuscripts that extend more than two miles, and 350,000 photographs, prints, drawings, paintings, and other artifacts.

The museum's four exhibition spaces are free of charge and present multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the development of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art. Through docent-led or cell-phone tours, visitors can learn about the architectural styles of the French Quarter and enter the private residence of the HNOC's founders, General L. Kemper and Leila Williams. 

As a publisher, the HNOC produces books exploring the history, art, music, culture, and decorative arts of the region. Its magazine, the Historic New Orleans Collection Quarterly, surveys the region's history as it relates to HNOC projects and programs.

Today we were visiting the Chartres Street campus, which is in a 1915 Beaux Arts building that once housed the Second City Criminal Court and Third Precinct Police Station. It's across the street from the Louisiana Supreme Court building and next door to the late Paul Prudhomme's restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. The building was purchased by the State of Louisiana in 1957 but sat vacant for many years until the HNOC bought and began to restore the property in 1993. It opened to the public in 1996. The Reading Room, located in the former courtroom, is simply beautiful. 

The Chartres Street campus also includes the Perrilliat House, which sits at the corner of Chartres and Conti Streets. Built in 1825 by François Marie Perrilliat, the three-story building is composed of four connected row houses, a central courtyard, and back buildings, all restored to their 1825 appearance. It now includes gallery space, office space, a board room, a photography lab, and work space for catalogers, curators, and other staff. 

The two buildings on Chartres Street are picture above. 

The third building at the campus was the first new construction completed in the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina. The building provides the HNOC with increased exhibition and programming space as well as three floors of archival storage. New Orleans architect Davis Jahncke based his design for the addition on a drawing obtained from the New Orleans Notarial Archive. The illustration depicted a hotel, complete with a distinctive rosy-hued façade, that stood on the exact lot in the 1850's.

Before we get to the exhibit, a word about the HNOC's founders. Lewis Kemper Williams (1887–1971) was born in Patterson, Louisiana. As a young man, he entered the family lumber business, becoming secretary-treasurer and then president of the F.B. Williams Cypress Company. From 1949 until his retirement in 1971, he served as president, director, and then chairman of the board of Williams Inc., a company with broad interests in land, mineral royalties, and investments. Williams served in the U.S. Army in World Wars I and II, rising to the rank of Brigadier General. In 1920, shortly after his tour of duty in World War I, Williams married New Orleans native Leila Hardie Moore (1901–1966).

During their life together, Gen. and Mrs. Williams demonstrated a keen sense of civic and philanthropic responsibility. Many organizations were beneficiaries of their generosity. 

In 1938, they bought two properties in the French Quarter: the Merieult House on Royal Street and a late 19th-century residence contiguous to the Merieult House, facing Toulouse Street. The latter property was their home for 17 years, during which time they amassed a substantial collection of important Louisiana artifacts -- the founding holdings of the Historic New Orleans Collection.

With the goal of making their collected materials available to the public for future generations, the couple established the HNOC. With their deaths, the Kemper and Leila Williams Foundation was established to ensure stable, long-term financial support for the collection. What a fabulous gift to the city of New Orleans.

We didn't really know what to expect when we entered the Williams building, but there was a friendly volunteer at the front desk in the entrance hallway to point us toward the exhibit, the comfort facilities, and even old-school wooden lockers where we could stash out wet jackets and umbrella.

The exhibit we were at the HNOC to see was called Storyville: Madams and Music. It presented the sights and sounds of New Orleans' former red-light district a century after it was closed. There were photographs, maps, postcards, antique objects, and the infamous Blue Books that served as directories to the district's prostitutes. But the main point of interest to us was the music that intertwined with the people and businesses that shaped the complicated legacy of Storyville. 

Storyville was created by municipal ordinance in 1897. The name was coined after City Alderman Sidney Story, who proposed the district. The ordinance didn't create an area for legal prostitution per se, but it did make prostitution illegal everywhere else in the city. It was certainly not the only vice district in the country, but it stood out for several reasons. First, New Orleans had long maintained an international reputation for sexual license and a flamboyant disregard of traditional morality. Storyville's notoriety perpetuated that image of the city and raised it to a new level. Second, New Orleans' history as a French, and then Spanish, colonial city lent it a foreign feel, even after nearly a century of American rule. This foreign-ness, along with its subtropical climate and large mixed-race population, made New Orleans an exotic enclave within the Deep South.

Storyville took advantage of the city's colorful history by promoting the availability of both "French" and "Octoroon" women in its guidebooks and through the tabloid press. "French," in the context of a sex district, signaled special sexual services; "Octoroon" women, purported to be one-eighth black, were considered desirable by the white gentlemen who visited Storyville. The district further violated the segregation laws by advertising "colored" and later "black" women for the use of white men. Sex across the color line was, according to a prominent citizen in the 1910's, Storyville's "notorious attraction." 

Later, another ordinance created a second red-light district a few blocks away. It was known as "Uptown" or "Black" Storyville, for use by non-whites. Louis Armstrong grew up in that neighborhood.

It was clear almost immediately that the plan for Storyville had backfired. Storyville made prostitution and sporting culture more visible rather less, and cemented the city's reputation for promiscuous pleasure and illicit sex as the district gained international notoriety. 

Storyville's promoters even published guidebooks. Known collectively as the Blue Books, they listed the brothels and the women within according to race and sometimes other attributes. The Blue Books also carried ads highlighting bordellos and other nightspots as well as ads for liquor and for pharmacists peddling cures for sexually transmitted diseases.

The district's most famous madams included Lulu White, Willie Piazza, Josie Arlington, and Emma Johnson. Lulu White published her own "souvenir" booklet for Mahogany Hall, her Basin Street bordello. The four-story mansion featured a marble staircase, two parlors, 15 bedrooms (each equipped with a bathroom), and an elevator built for two. Also called the Octoroon Club, Mahogany Hall was infamous for its so-called Creole beauties. 

Not all the brothels were so luxurious -- many were small buildings, called "cribs," that included only a bedroom and a washroom.

The luxury houses were well-appointed, the sort of place a man with financial means would feel comfortable. As the brothels established themselves in the late 1890's, restaurants and saloons popped up nearby. The district was a full-fledged entertainment zone by 1900.

Storyville attracted prostitutes whose fees ranged from 50 cents to $10 or more. An enterprising woman who saved her money could start in a crib on the low end of the scale, eventually moving into one of the nicer establishments located along Basin Street. But Storyville wasn't a sanitized amusement park; there was a seedy underside of gambling, crime, even murder in the district.

Jazz did not originate in Storyville, as many believe, but the district nurtured the music and its players. As an entertainment district, with barrelhouses, saloons, dance halls, and other venues, many establishments featured live music. The upscale brothels would hire piano players to offer light music in their parlors before the couples went upstairs. Some of these houses would even hire fledgling jazz combos to entertain the clients. The saloons in Storyville were also looking to attract customers, and the owners of those joints knew live music was a winner even then. 

Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton (listen here) Pops Foster (listen here), Bunk Johnson (listen here), Manuel Manetta (listen here), Joe "King" Oliver (listen here), and a host of other early jazz musicians performed in the brothels and saloons of Storyville. A young Louis Armstrong earned money by hauling coal to the brothels and saloons. This gave him the opportunity to listen to the musicians playing in the saloons. Armstrong later said King Oliver was his first horn teacher, a relationship likely formed while Oliver was performing in Storyville. Spencer Williams, who wrote Basin Street Blues and Mahogany Hall Stomp, was Lulu White's nephew and lived at her bordello for a while.

Storyville musicians played everything from ragtime tunes to overtures from popular operas to keep their audiences entertained. There were piano players, string bands, and brass bands.

Perceptions of the connection between the vice district and the origin of jazz are full of misconceptions and stereotypes. Discovering where the history of Storyville and the origins of jazz intersect is an interesting component of the exhibit. The focus is on music as a part of the history of Storyville, as opposed to the development of jazz within the district, because in Storyville, music was utilitarian; it provided a soundtrack for dancing and entertainment in prostitution houses and was a tool for increasing alcohol sales in bars and dance halls.

In the most expensive brothels, music was typically performed by a piano "professor" who acted as a sort of popular music jukebox. To be successful, these musicians had to be able to play whatever the customer wanted to hear, whether it was ragtime, opera overtures or Tin Pan Alley hits. Most of these musicians were also skilled readers, as seen in a display of classical sheet music owned by Storyville professor Manuel Manetta and oral testimony and piano performances from other former professors.

The Storyville district also had a number of music clubs, cabarets, and honky tonks of one sort or another, and the exhibit includes the types of music and musicians that worked in these venues. Images of bands such as the Imperial and Superior accompany photographs of the remnants of a number of clubs from the 1930's. Above this section are displayed reproductions of 20 different sheet music covers representing a popular song for each year Storyville was legal, from 1897 to 1917. This musical timeline illustrates the spectrum of popular music and dance in that period. Notable is the absence of the word "jazz" until the last year of the period. 

In February of the same year Storyville was closed, a group of five white musicians from New Orleans calling themselves "The Original Dixieland Jass Band" held a recording session for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York City where they performed two songs: Livery Stable Blues and Dixieland Jass Band One-Step, which were released that March and became one of the most popular records of the year. These are now considered the first-ever jazz recordings, which one can listen to in the section of the exhibit discussing the end and afterlife of Storyville.

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band never played in Storyville, and their role in the history of early jazz is primarily as the first band to record. The recordings are a snapshot of popular musical in New Orleans during the mid-1910's but they are there as popular songs among many others of the era. 

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As New Orleans developed, Storyville's "back o' town" location became more central. In 1908, the Southern Railway terminal at Canal and Basin streets, one block from Storyville, was completed. To reach the station, trains traveled past the Basin Street bordellos, where the (often naked) prostitutes waved to the passengers from balconies. The proximity of those elegant mansions to the train station made them the most popular and profitable. 

As jazz became more popular and nightclubs opened in other parts of town, Storyville began to decline after 1910. By 1917, opponents of legalized prostitution began to push for the district's closure. New Orleans was a major port of embarkation for troops going to Europe to fight in World War I, and the U.S. Navy had a large presence in the port. The military did not want the troops exposed to entertainment considered immoral, so they pressed the city government to close the district. The city ordered the brothels to be closed, although Storyville remained as an entertainment district through the 1920's. While prostitution continued, Storyville lost its cachet and the neighborhood's decline continued.

Following passage of the 1937 U.S. Housing Act, the city razed most Storyville buildings in order to construct the Iberville housing project. Those apartment buildings are now being either demolished or renovated in an attempt to update affordable housing options near downtown. The area where uptown Storyville was located now contains hotels, parking lots, offices, and municipal buildings, including City Hall.

The exhibit was on two levels. The first level covered the history and music of Storyville. The upstairs portion of the exhibit focused exclusively on the "Blue Books," with many original examples and enlarged reproductions of pages for examination.

Among the most beguiling traces left of Storyville, the Blue Books (not always blue), were winking, swaggering guides to the "better establishments" of the neighborhood, which in many cases contained extensive lists of individual local prostitutes.

The Blue Books are strange little artifacts. They were not intended as lasting records of the culture of Storyville by any means, which is evident partly because they are not very well done from a production standpoint. 

They are also almost charmingly vague; with the exception of one relatively tame, often nicknamed act that is therefore easy to allude to in coded language, actual sexual acts are not mentioned. The turn-of-the-last-century slang is by turns delightful and, ironically, impenetrable: "Now if you are in the A.B.C. class you want to get a move on yourself and 23, and to do it proper is to read what this little booklet has to say and if you don't get to be a 2 to 1 shot it ain't the authors fault."

Instead of frank descriptions of you-know-what and you-can-guess-what-else, the writers use a sly, winking tone more reminiscent of middle school than of the artless debaucher. Disappointingly, but practically, no prices are mentioned; a wise madam wasn't going to pin herself to a price when negotiation might pay off, under the undoubtedly correct assumption that a man faced with a pretty, available girl will have less sales resistance than one flipping through a mildly salacious brochure in a hotel room.

The value of the Blue Books to a casual reader or student of history is obvious: they're a fascinating glimpse into a brassy, bawdy world. For historians, they record not only a particular reality, but a vision of reality: what did these potential clients, upper-class white men, want from vice? Mixed-race women were advertised, with the abovementioned Lulu White specializing in "octoroon" women in Mahogany Hall. The names of the madams were always set apart from those of the mere "girls"; even in a supposedly freewheeling context, race and class mattered. 

Some of the fancier books contain photographs, both of the women themselves and of the interiors of the various houses. Storyville madams didn't just sell sex, they sold a particular kind of sex -- aspirational sex, high-roller sex. The surroundings, lavish, luxurious, and feminine, were part of the appeal. Underscoring this point, the Blue Books are full of ads; not just for the expected brothels, venereal disease treatments, liquors, and hangover cures, but for more prosaic concepts like interior decorators and, in one instance, meat. A few private detective agencies also had the foresight to take out ads, in the reasonable assumption that a man contemplating adultery might want to forestall any ideas his wife might have in that direction. Storyville clients had disposable income, and what they didn't spend on lust, they might spend on Veuve Cliquot or, the next morning, ozone water.

As with many historical sources, what the Blue Books leave out serves as a valuable editorial comment. The inelegant, dirty cribs that catered to poor men, and occasionally even an integrated clientele, are not mentioned because addressing the seamy side ruins the illusion. The grim, more common story of a woman turning to prostitution because her body was her last available asset wasn't fun or escapist, so, in the grand tradition of New Orleans, it was not discussed. The guides also don't mention the adjacent Uptown (Black) Storyville, where both the prostitutes and their clients were African American.

Drawing both on the Blue Books and all the other artifacts, the entire exhibit painted a broader picture of the people of Storyville, with special attention to the musicians and their role in the development of jazz. It was an excellent way to spend a rainy afternoon.

As we finished viewing the exhibit and headed downstairs to the lockers and the lobby, a thunderstorm was in progress outside, so we had to hang out for a while until the coast was relatively clear. We dashed over to the Envie Café for some refreshment, arriving just before another serious downpour began. We figured we would be there for a while, so we ordered adult coffee beverages, Irish for Laurie and Bailey's for me. We sat in comfortable chairs close enough to the front to feel the breeze and smell the rain but far enough away to stay dry.


We got to talking about Jazz Fest with the employees and I mentioned how much I enjoyed the Jazz Tent and was looking forward to seeing Nicholas Payton this weekend. Before too long Payton's "Afro-Caribbean Mixtape" was playing on the sound system. Apparently I wasn't the only fan in the café! It was a perfect mellow accompaniment to the rumbly, rainy scene. We stayed for a good long time and didn't care. It was quintessential Daze Between.

We did finally get back to the Staybridge and given the weather forecast we decided that it would be a real good evening to stay in. That decision was made easier by the fact that we needed to do some laundry. One of the reasons we like the Staybridge is that it has free full-size washers and dryers every few floors. It's not the most exciting part of the trip, but it needs to be done. 

Since there appeared to be a break in the rain, we decided that we would get takeout from a French Quarter Vietnamese restaurant called 9 Roses. It's on Conte Street at Exchange Alley, next to Adrian Fulton's Gallery (see Monday). 

         

As I walked over to the French Quarter along the river in the early evening it was very breezy and almost chilly. I brought back minty shrimp spring rolls and a grilled pork banh mi sandwich. The food was very good.  

We spent the evening catching up with postings and videos and the like, watching some TV, doing the laundry, and watching the lightning show out the window. It was very relaxing evening and another great Daze Between. It's "back to work" tomorrow, Jazz Fest Day 4!

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© Jeff Mangold 2012