Boomers Love New Orleans’ Historically French Beat
by Brenda K Oswalt
If you’ve never been to the Crescent City, it’s time to make that road trip or hop on that plane to enjoy the “Renaissance City of New Orleans”. It’s got a great beat you can dance to.
America with a Decidedly French Flair
Paris is a city that tops the list for worldwide tourism, yet we have our own little slice of Paris right here in the states. It’s called the City of New Orleans. Jean-Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, was a French-Canadian adventurer who founded New Orleans in 1716. He named the town in honor of the Regent of France, Louis Philippe duc d’Orleans, and New Orleans’ strategic location between the large bowl-shaped Lake Pontchartrain and the crescent curve of the mighty Mississippi provided commercial opportunities that would fund New Orleans’ growth for the next 300 years.
Two Huge Fires Couldn’t Keep New Orleans Down
Good Friday, March 21, 1788, offered up a great fire when a candle perched on a private altar in a Chartres Street home caught the curtains on fire. Many homes and businesses burned to the ground, destroying nearly 50% of the town itself. All in all, 856 buildings were burned, including the one which housed the city’s archives. Then, in 1794, another huge fire started when some kids on Royal Street accidently set a hay store on fire. Two hundred and twelve buildings were reduced to ashes in this second fire. But, after new building codes were enacted and a new method of turning sugarcane into granulated sugar was discovered, the town was off and running again.
The American New French City
After the French and Indian Wars, and good-old Napoleon Bonaparte had delivered the colony to France in 1800, the territory was sold to the USA in 1803 for a paltry $15 million. This sale was part of the Louisiana Purchase, and Louisiana officially became a state on April 30, 1812. Unfortunately, the news of the war’s end hadn’t yet reached the area, so the British invaded it anyway. However, a motley bunch of Americans, which included Creoles, Choctaw Indians, slaves, pirates and frontiersmen, fought under General Andrew Jackson to save New Orleans. The famed pirate, Jean Lafitte, was said to have met privately with Jackson in a small, dark passage along the St. Louis Cathedral to concoct the plan that saved the city. Today that passageway is known as Pirate’s Alley in the French Quarter.
Many Colors and Creeds
New Orleans is comprised as a city of neighborhoods. The wildly eclectic architecture is a photographer’s mecca, but it is also a reminder of the city’s heritage. French, Canadian, Spanish and Creole influences are intermingled in this attractive bayou city. Visit Jackson’s Square, in the heart of the French Quarter, a seven-by-thirteen-block area that is truly a living museum of the city’s 270-year history. Check out the historical plaques and you will be amazed at the town’s lineage. The Port of New Orleans was the first place thousands of slaves and immigrants set foot upon American soil. Ships, whose holds carried every imaginable commodity from spices to alcohol, shared quarters with the finest European fashions and furnishings.
New Orleans Literally Vibrates with Historical Flavor
On any given night, New Orleans has a flavorful “beat” you can certainly dine and dance to. The city that gave birth to rhythm & blues and jazz found its musical roots in the multi-cultural Zydeco songs played by the bayou and river immigrants. On almost every street corner, the sights, sounds and scents of a “Parisian-like” personality prevail. Wander into any tavern or bar and enjoy the ambiance of a bygone era that’s very much alive and well in New Orleans today. If you are lucky, you may be treated to a funeral, New Orleans style. The locals have always celebrated life, not death, and they continue to observe a loved one’s passing in their own unique, rhythmic way to this day.
Window Shopping Parisian Style
If you like to window shop, you can do it to your heart’s content in the New Orleans Quarter with a decidedly French style. Gilded palatial furniture, antique museum pieces, clocks, and window dressings, the likes of which you’ve never seen, rest side by side with Mardi Gras masks, costumes, and other carnival paraphernalia. It’s a window shopper’s paradise. From truly tacky to museum quality, the French Quarter, like a classy flea market, seems to engage all five senses in a lusty and elegant bygone way of life that somehow manages to seduce us. Suddenly, we are drawn in, and our modern lifestyle becomes part of its vibrant culture, once more.
Sensory Overload N’awlin’s Style
Whether it’s having a luscious beignet and a cup of chicory-laced coffee at Café du Mode on Decatur, sampling the French Market just up the street, or enjoying a delicious Creole dinner at one of the hundreds of local eateries in the French Quarter, you will be sure to experience the true French flavor of an American food culture on steroids. Oliver’s at 204 Decatur street , across from the House of Blues, is an authentic Creole restaurant that serves wonderful, yet unusual, dishes like braised rabbit with dressing and Creole-inspired roasted duck, alongside the red beans and rice and homemade peach cobbler. Most of these recipes are generations old, and the food is served in a unique white-tablecloth, yet casual, environment; and it’s moderately priced. Or, try the best charbroiled oysters at Dragos, in the Hilton Riverwalk Hotel, 2 Poydras St., just across from Harrah’s Casino. Cards or slots anyone?
Food Reigns Supreme in New Orleans
Just like Paris, where the chefs get their stars, the new American chefs compete in this bastion of Creole and Cajun influence to hone their craft. Many of the local chefs have appeared on the Food Network and have entertained millions with their fanciful flare, delivering food that “Sure ain’t flat,” as the local saying goes. Outstanding restaurants and remarkable little eateries seem to reside on every street corner, each delivering their own unique blend of the historical foods that have come to be known as “New Orleans Style.” A quaint, local saying seems to describe it, “If it flies, crawls, hops or swims, go on now, throw it in the gumbo.” Enjoy secret flavors that have been giving national and international chefs inspiration for years. If you can’t find food to enjoy in “N’awlins”, there is little hope for you because you just don’t like food.
New Orleans Lives On
This city of New Orleans is a “survivor” and despite battles, fires, floods, and the infamous hurricanes, you can bet your pirate’s booty that it won’t be kept down for long. New Orleans will resurrect itself on the very ashes of its former self. Just like the numerous cathedrals and church altars, it will salvage itself and become a renewed, multi-hued “American Parisian vision” of the best the country can serve up. In 1727, two priests and six Ursuline nuns arrived to establish a girl’s school. It’s still there, known as the Ursuline Academy.
In the olden days, the French government gave the Academy chests of clothes and linens to provide dowries for young brides of the colonists. Today, the same multinational influence contributes to New Orleans’ quintessential style. This French influence is still giving back and the artistry of the chefs is definitely kicking the cuisines up a notch. Enjoy.
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