The only time I was in New Orleans was in the early 1980s on a business trip. Susan has never been there. So between Orange Beach and Fredericksburg, TX we stopped in New Orleans (NOLA). Sounds like some government agency.
Bayou Segnette State Park
We stayed in Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego. West of the river and New Orleans but not far.
It was a very nice park, reasonably sized sites. And right in the middle of a bayou which is a slow moving flow of water through a swamp. Our guess is that the bugs might be bad here in the summer.
The park had a boat launch, a water park, lots of picnic areas and a long enough set of roads. We got in some bike riding. The park is along side of a massive levee with a 10-12 ft high concrete wall on top of it. There were huge steel gates that we open for passage to the other side.
On the other side of the levee and wall was a waterway leading into the fishing docks at Westwego at one end and somewhere else at the other. There were 16 floating cabins along this road. Each had 2 or 3 bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room and a nice porch. They each had air conditioning and satellite TV and their own wifi antennas. Even if the river flooded and the road was under water these would just float up on tall stilts that held them in place. Each had a power pole much taller than the cabin and the transformers and electrical equipment was above the top of the levee walls.
Down by the boat launch the walls were even higher. There were more big gates to protect the fishing harbor.
All of the water lines were elevated and there were huge dams with sliding gates to manage flow.
Over the River, the Mississippi River
There were two ways back over the river into New Orleans and both took about a half hour. Both involved bridges and elevated highways. Almost every highway in New Orleans and the surrounding area is up on stilts, not just because of flooding in a metro area which is mostly below sea level but because the city is so densely populated and crowded with buildings.
These are big, old riveted together bridges. The kind that look like any one piece could fail and the entire bridge would collapse into the Mississippi River just like the one in Minneapolis did several years ago. Four and five lanes in each direction.
We were here at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. No sense of concern at all while it began to explode in the Seattle area.
The Garden District
Some of you might be familiar with one of our favorite musicians and songwriters, Randy Newman. He was born in LA and grew up in New Orleans. Many of his songs are about the South and growing up in New Orleans and the Garden District is mentioned more than once.
We bought tickets on an open air tour bus with a guide that made 22 stops (hop on! hop off!) on its way around town. At two of those stops there were guided walks of the Garden District and the French Quarter. So we found the bus station, inexpensive parking and got on the bus.
This bus was a double decker with the upper deck being open to all of the noise and commotion and smells as we went by. The Garden District stop was not far along on Magazine Street, one of the avenues with lots of shops and eateries. They pointed out one of the spots where NCIS New Orleans shot an episode. We got off at the Garden District stop and had a 45 min wait until the next walking tour started so we crossed the street and found a coffee shop up a block or so and had a coffee and an almond croissant. I have had better. And then back to wait for the walk.
The walk leader showed up and counted off the 28 people who could go in each cluster. She gave us all the rules: don’t walk in the gardens, don’t lean on the houses or walls, stay in a group and most important watch where you are walking. She repeated that a couple times. Everybody ready? Walk this way. We didn’t even get across the intersection before a woman face planted in the street. Believe me it sounded terrible. Just flat out, face first into the street. Amazingly she was uninjured and was making comments about her bad knee. The caution to look down where you were walking got repeated a couple more times.
Down the street past some nice older homes. The Garden District was an early part of the New Orleans area, originally farms, these were bought up by a wealthy land developer who realized the land was more valuable for very upscale homes for the New Orleans elite. The land was divided into generous blocks, four lots per block so everyone lived on a corner. Maybe an acre apiece. And the high and mighty moved into the garden district building expansive homes. The major streets were grand divided avenues with trees down the middle. Many became street car lines. Some of the street cars came from Minneapolis and St Paul after the Polad’s (they own the MN Twins Baseball team) joined with General Motors to get rid of the street cars that ran from Stillwater to Lake Minnetonka and replace them with General Motors busses. The street cars that were not burned went to New Orleans and Mexico City.
We walked down a sidewalk, watching every step, they were very uneven, to a corner where there was a famous restaurant. The Commander’s Palace. It was more famous in its early days as a brothel upstairs and fancy dining downstairs. Today just fancy dining up or down. The walk leader said some of the upstairs tables were in high demand.
We never got back there to eat.
We turned the corner and went past a home owned by Ann Rice where she wrote many of her books. A few doors down across the street was an immense “cottage” done in more of a Queen Anne style that what you might expect in New Orleans. It was built by a wealthy business man as a honeymoon cottage for his son and bride who were expected to move back to the father’s home after the honeymoon until they started a family. The cottage was a temporary thing to be sold off as surplus after its initial use. Well, the newlyweds liked the life they started in the cottage and never moved out for the rest of their lives. After the cottage stood empty for a bit until another single lady came along looking for a place to stay in when she was in New Orleans. Not her primary home mind you, just a second home.
Nestled in behind a substantial hedge Sandra Bullock now lives here when she is in town.
Another block or so to the next corner lot was a huge Italianate style home. The original owners built it as just a rectangular home but found it too small so the took the plans for 1/2 of the house and added that on to the side to make a T shaped home. Many years later and many years ago an up and coming Hollywood type and his then girl friend were looking for a home in New Orleans and bought it. They still live there, married now with their dog. The tour leader said they are often seen letting the golden lab out the front door or coming to the gate to fetch the morning news paper. We didn’t get to see John Goodman or his wife but we did get to see a puppy come out the front door followed by the golden lab who came to the gate a-wagging her tail. “Pray tell what else would she wag?”
We thought all of that was pretty neat. It turns out the Garden District was one of only two areas in New Orleans that didn’t flood during Katrina. We wondered about all of the homes and businesses and people in the 80% of the New Orleans metro area that did flood. The hop on, hop off tours don’t go there.
Pascal’s Manale Restaurant
It has been so long since I was in New Orleans and then only for a couple days in the early 1980s that I have no recollection of it at all. Except for a memorable meal at Pascal’s Manale Restaurant. Barbecued Shrimp. Nothing like it anywhere else. We did manage to find the recipe for it published in a cook book and made our own Pascal’s Manale Barbecued Shrimp for several of our porch picnics when we lived in St Paul. A dozen or so folks shared picnic fare on long tables on our front porch. We all got our annual share of butter and New Orleans cajun spice, baguettes, potato salad and more. We hadn’t discovered gumbo, cheesy grits, beignets and more bits of New Orleans cuisine that we now hold dear.
So we made reservations to pay a return visit. I had no idea where it was or what to expect. It has been on the same corner in the same old corner grocery store since 1913. They have added a room here and there but it is still small and wonderful.
Not what one might expect, a bit understated on the outside, but casual/formal in the inside.
White linens and us in our shorts. If you order the Barbecued Shrimp all pretense is set aside, they bring bibs.
You need them. We had the same thing but a lunch sized portion with grits and the peel and eat bits removed.
It was wonderful. Was it as I remembered? I don’t know. My imagined dinner was probably more like what we used to make. In any case it was very good. We had a bowl of gumbo too.
We topped it off with a shared key lime pie and a cup of what you would expect in a fine restaurant, good coffee.
All those who remember the porch picnics raise your hand. Maybe its is time for a feast renewed.
There is too much more to cram in one blog so…
More Later, Much Love
Roger and Susan