Garden District

Final Days New Orleans

We set out on another Garden District walk, inching up Jackson Street with a stop here to admire the palm fronds spilling over the sidewalk, and there to gawk at the boughs of trees that extended down to the earth and up again, and there to catch sight of the bird serenading us with vigor. We took pictures of lichen painted leaning fences and antique gate handles with rich verdigris patina.

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Until finally we just sat down on the sidewalk to sketch the next house. This one looked a bit run down and haunted, causing a passerby to query “Why are you drawing this house?” (meaning, because there are so many nicer looking mansions)

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We were headed to one of the historic cemeteries where people were buried above ground inside the tombs, since the water table in the city is so high. The gates were locked and the cemetery closed while much needed maintenance and repairs were happening. But the view from outside the gate was fascinating. There are so many places in New Orleans like this, with a Halloween vibe that makes you want to carve a pumpkin, go trick or treating or read a gothic novel.

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Next day we took two buses (for $.40 total fare) to a neighborhood down river aptly named Bywater. And there I believe we encountered not one other tourist! We walked along the Mississippi on a trail reclaimed from post-Katrina devastation and found a jewel of a hipster lunch cafe.

NOLA17 After lunch we found a hurdy gurdy man outside his music/clothing/etc. resale shop who was friendly and excited to have some prospective customers or at least people interested in the hurdy gurdy.

The houses in Bywater were smaller than the Garden District, but were so charmingly diverse and colorful, that in the interests of time, we did thumbnail paintings.

As we were leaving we talked to a woman who pointed out an intersection nearby that had “bad juju” so that none of the businesses survived for long. She also shared what she’d had to do to exorcise the spirits from her house with a combination of Feng Shui and Voodoo or something like that. Like I said. . .the stuff of Halloween.

Later in the day on the way home I stopped at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium because I love bugs! I think it comes from having raised two little boys with whom I spent lots of time finding chrysalids, following butterflies and bringing crickets home for the leopard gecko and  praying mantis. As I walked through the museum I kept having flashbacks of my little boys faces lit up with delight! So of course I revelled in the exotic butterflies and beetles and tasted the bugs in the cafeteria. They have no taste on their own, but are quite tasty with cajun spices and in chocolate chip cookies!

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And then it was our last day, with just enough time to wander in and out of all the strange and wonderful shops on Magazine St, grab a last sketch, and meet Brenda.

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Somehow we started talking while she was waiting for the bus and I was loitering. It wasn’t long before I learned that she’d worked in the medical field her whole life and had lost her home in Katrina, and that her son had died two years ago. And then she said something that has stuck with me since, as I’ve contemplated the repercussions of the pandemic crisis. She said that what people gained from Katrina was a greater knowledge of what’s really important in life – kindness and caring for each other.

As we parted we shook hands (the last of that act for a long time now!) and introduced ourselves.  It felt a bit like a blessing to take with me on the airplane and into my life at home with the (bad) news digesting and the hand washing and social distancing. . .a blessing to stay kind and caring and find a way to look out for each other.

If you’ve stuck with this travelogue this far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you are finding a way to live with the onslaught of news and lifestyle changes. Stay well and let’s stay connected in all the ways we can.

And do lots of art of whatever kind you have access to!

A Week in New Orleans

A little over a week ago, while the Covid19 pandemic was brewing, but not yet declared, I was on my way for a week in New Orleans, in a state that as yet had no cases of the dreaded virus. Nevertheless my morning started with a text from my son Ben – to not worry because the tornado which ripped through sections of Nashville during the night had (rather too narrowly for comfort) missed him. I guess that goes to show that when you’re focused on one disaster, you could be missing another coming your way! (I mean there’s always the stock market and the election to worry about.)

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I’ve been wanting to get back to New Orleans (NOLA) for 45 years since I was last there. So I talked my sketch buddies into joining me. It wasn’t a hard sell.

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We rented an AirBnB in the Lower Garden District and discovered we were in a neighborhood that became easy to call home. While waiting to get going the first morning, I sat on our porch to sketch the deli across the street. The Turkey and the Wolf won  America’s best new restaurant of 2017 award from Bon Appetit!

And 3 blocks away was District coffee shop (donuts, sliders, etc) which became one of our home bases for eating. Ever tried Miso Praline Bacon?!

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So I know it sounds like a strange way to get started seeing NOLA but a thunderstorm was brewing that day, so we headed to the WWII Museum on the 11 bus (40cents for seniors!) It’s more like a theme park, and the Beyond All boundaries theatre provided an immersive sensory experience including vibrating seats with machine gun fire and even falling snow. I kept ducking the fire and tearing up at the letters written home by soldiers.

NOLA4 Both my parents were enlisted in the war: my dad on a submarine in the Pacific, my mom as a WAVE. The dog tag card above was a way to follow the experience of a particular serviceman or woman in the exhibits.

Our rental house was the lower story of the house on the right. Highly recommend it if you have a chance to go!

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Next day we were out walking around the Garden District enjoying the architecture and trees. I made the mistake of plunging right into a sketch in my larger sketchbook and rapidly felt impatient with all the detail.

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So I took the lead from Cathy and scaled way down to a more manageable 3X3″ size. While sitting on the sidewalk a man stopped to tell us about his experience with the WWII museum. We found people in NOLA friendly and always ready to tell a story, whether it was how they lost everything in Katrina or the sights they recommend.

Lunch that afternoon turned into a extended affair when we decided to explore not only the excellent cuisine of Lula but the distillery and tasted the gin and tonics, where not only the gin but the tonic was made on site.

In the evening we were at Frenchman St where there is door to door live music and other attractions like the Poets for Hire sitting with their typewriters cranking out spontaneous poetry.

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One has to do the French Quarter in NOLA and get the beignet and coffee at Cafe du Monde, but personally the crowds of tourists were exhausting.

When I finally found a quieter spot in Jackson Square and was ready to paint, a park guard said it was not allowed! Apparently the painters would otherwise take over the park and mess it up, if they allowed the lowly watercolorists to get their brushes out.

NOLA7So I satisfied myself with a pen sketch of the statue of Andrew Jackson, for whom the square in named. On a side street, in front of the Conjure Shop (hoodoo, voodoo, spiritual magic, rootwork, and readings) we found a spot to not get trampled while we set up our stools for a bit.

Next: a meet up with the NOLA UsK group, the museum that woke up my interest in history, and the jazz I had hoped to find on the streets of New Orleans!