Monday, November 28, 2011

My Favorite Photos of New Orleans

I would guess that New Orleans and San Francisco have the greatest concentration of gingerbread, an architectural form that just screams for inventive color schemes. I couldn't get enough of it.

This old building, with its gaping roof, intrigued me. All around it were beautifully restored homes, yet something about this building's past had precluded such care.

In the heart of the French Quarter, one sees evidence of the original French colonization with lots of 18th century brick buildings that look like this one. The walls have many cast iron stars, the signature of structural reinforcing rods.

I couldn't live in a building like this without getting out and repainting, and yet to visit New Orleans is to appreciate patinas of decay as a romantic design element.

I fell in love with this lantern, which was huge (I think it was on Royal Street) and I wish I could have photographed it without a busy background — but I couldn't.

Also on Royal Street is Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights, maker of the gas lanterns that are still to be seen throughout the French Quarter. (As an aside, I have to say that I saw literally tons of plastic souvenir Mardi Gras beads in many glitzy tourist shops, but this ambiance is what would make me want to return to New Orleans.)

I visited a salvage company that was almost entirely New Orleans grill work. It included cast iron tubs, stoves and mantels.

I think the most impressive building in New Orleans is the United States Custom House. It was begun in 1848 and finished in 1881 (construction dragged in part because of the Civil War). Believe it or not, today this houses the Audubon Insectarium, the largest free-standing museum in the United States devoted to ... insects.

My trip to New Orleans would not have been complete without a visit to one of its famous cemeteries. The Greenwood Cemetery is not the oldest or best known, but it is filled with many picturesque above-ground monuments.

. . .

And so ends my tour of New Orleans.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Pontalba Buildings

Both sides of Jackson Square boast handsome brick buildings that have been photographed for many years — the Pontalba Buildings. They were constructed in the 1840s by the Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba, whose life was literally so dramatic, it was turned into an opera. Grills on the Pontalba Buildings display the monogram of the Almonester-Pontalba families, a most difficult union.

The upper floors of the Pontalba Buildings are rented as apartments, the oldest apartments in continuous use in the United States.

Louisiana State Library
A view if Jackson Square in the 1860s, with one of the Pontalba Buildings in the background.

Alexander Allison  |  New Orleans Public Library
One of the Pontalba Buildings photographed between 1905 and 1910.

My mother took this photograph in 1954. My father had just returned from a tour serving in Korea, and the two went to New Orleans on a second honeymoon.

My own view of the Pontalba Buildings.
Above is an image of the Baroness Micaela Pontalba. The link in the lead paragraph takes you to her interesting story, or you can read it here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I was looking through a box of my childhood toys (I still keep a small box out of sentimentality), and I found this rather two-dimensional turkey, which was part of a farm set. As I study the toy's obvious antiquity, it's a wonder to me that I actually played with it in this lifetime — surely it's from a very distant past life!

I'm sharing this with you as my way of saying, Happy Thanksgiving!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Eating My Way Through New Orleans

The first stop for any visitor to New Orleans should be the Café du Monde, at 800 Decatur St., and in business at the same location since the early 1860s. It's the home of the famous beignets, which are often compared to the common donut — and that would be a great mistake!

The beignet is lighter than any donut I've ever eaten, is served warm, and is sprinkled with so much powdered sugar that one can see the thumbprint left by the waiter!

Squeeeeeeal - oink, oink, oink! Oh, excuse me, I completely forgot myself! The reason you might want to start at Café du Monde is that you can then plan a return trip — you'll want to experience beignets more than once!

This young man was our waiter. Almost all the waiters at Café du Monde are Vietnamese because it's currently Vietnamese-owned.

Carriages across from the Café du Monde

I had great pasta and shrimp at Joey K's, at 3001 Magazine Street. Joey K's serves good New Orleans cuisine in generous portions, has a fun ambiance, and is a favorite of locals.

In Algiers Point, I had breakfast at Toute de Suite Café, at 347 Verret St., off the tourist path, and another favorite of locals. I had an outstanding breakfast, and there was a good piano player providing background music, an unexpected treat on a Saturday morning.
My hosts are great cooks, and I was treated to alligator sausage! In the photograph below, the lighter links are alligator.

And ready to eat!

The same meal included crayfish, a.k.a. "crawfish." Delicious!

If you're imagining that the alligator sausage and crawfish are served spicy-hot, you'd be correct. Here's a picture from my hosts' kitchen — they buy cayenne pepper by the quart!

And now ... back to the treadmill exerciser!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jackson Square, New Orleans

© Mark D. Ruffner, 2011
I'll start with the obligatory statue of Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and the second military hero to be elected President. The statue by sculptor Clark Mills was cast several times and is identical to ones found at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville; in Jacksonville, Florida; and in Washington, D.C, across from the White House. As equestrian statues go, this one is unusual in that it rests on two points. More often such rearing horses rest on three points, employing the tail for extra support.
 The same statue in Washington, D. C.

The St. Louis Cathedral dominates the square. It was founded as a parish in 1720 and is the oldest cathedral in the United States. Flags inside attest to New Orleans' history under Spanish, French and English occupation.

The interior of the cathedral is a rich monochrome, with colorful and beautifully painted vignettes from the life of Christ. St. Louis is featured in the stained glass.

I'm always searching for the details that others may overlook. The finials on the fence that surrounds Jackson Square appear as stylized fleurs-de-lis, interspersed with the Greek palmette decoration. I'd love to have a portion of this fence at my house, otherwise I'd be glad to just incorporate the Greek design. I'm not too picky.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Brad Pitt and the Lower 9th Ward

On the map of my last posting, you'll see the Lower 9th Ward, the portion of New Orleans that was the most devastated by Hurricane Katrina, with approximately 4000 homes lost. A new friend - who's a local resident - was kind enough to take me to see the Lower 9th Ward, which I had wanted to do. The whole area is cleared of debris by now, but it's not uncommon to still see reminders of the widespread destruction, like the scenes below.

Enter Brad Pitt, who visited the area and was dismayed by delays in government services and relief. Pitt formed a foundation called Make It Right, which in turn commissioned 13 architectural firms to design 150 green, affordable houses. I can't report how many houses have been built to date, but below are some of the several dozen that I saw. These are all designed and built for returning residents of the Lower 9th Ward who lost everything in Katrina.

These houses have actually become somewhat of a tourist attraction, with buses driving by much like the tours of Hollywood celebrity homes. But do you know that these houses have also attracted criticism from some architects and government officials, who say that they're not in keeping with New Orleans architectural tradition, and that if they were simpler and more generic, more could have been built sooner? 

What cheap shots! It's easy to stand on the sidelines and be a critic, but Brad Pitt will be remembered in New Orleans for seeing a need and actually fulfilling it. I salute him for making a difference in the world.

The photograph in the header of this posting first appeared in W magazine.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Orleans Gingerbread

New Orleans has lots of gingerbread detailing, and most of it is located where I was staying, in Algiers Point.

I've made a map to help orient you. The French Quarter is the oldest part of New Orleans, and Algiers Point, right across the Mississippi, is the second-oldest area. A large fire destroyed much of Algiers in the mid-1800s, so it was rebuilt in the style of the mid- to late-1800s, which favored gingerbread. (I've included the Lower 9th Ward on this map because my next posting will be about an interesting project there.)

I saw so much gingerbread that I wanted to share with you, but getting the full impact was a little problematic, especially when shooting upward and at a distance. So I've decided to show a comparison of a few of Algiers' many gingerbread brackets.

 Here's where I stayed, a charming house
with fancy brackets of its own. 

 Even the chimneys of New Orleans have gingerbread!