Been back to New Orleans. Reason one: to eat shrimp remoulade and bread pudding. Wherever my husband and I stop in for supper, we pretty much have those two things along with fish or gumbo or jambalaya. Ever questing after the best remoulade sauce and the yummiest bread pudding. Reason two: got to do more research!
If you are at all interested in history and go to some city you’ve studied, you look in vain for the sights and sounds and smells of the bygone era. The Tudor streets where the houses were built to overhang the streets and cut off air and sunlight are gone. Good thing, of course, but I want to see that! And if you go to the parks of London or Paris, you won’t find any fine gentlemen dueling of a misty morning. Disappointing.
But, if you go to the Vieux Carré in New Orleans, you can see more of what was than most anywhere else. The French Market is still there, selling trinkets made in China, probably, but also selling fresh produce, vending cooked food, and serving coffee and beignets. The Maspero Exchange on Chartres Street was one of the most prominent slave markets in the South at one time. It is now a bar and grill kind of place, but the building is there. It gives me the creeps to stand across the street and look at it – I couldn’t bring myself to eat in there for anything. Across the street from that is the Napoleon House. Begun in 1797 and readied for Napoleon himself, because see they were going to rescue him from exile and bring him to New Orleans in the early 1800s, this gray building looks old. Not spiffy. But in pretty darn good shape.
Facing two sides of Jackson Square, which has been there more than 200 years, are the Pentalbo apartments built in the 1850s. You can tour one of those apartments furnished with period drapes and beds and so forth. You can walk by the Ursaline Convent, rebuilt and splendidly at that, but some of the earliest buildings are still on the grounds. This place dates back to the 1720s!
There are cottages here and there all over the Quarter and in neighboring Faubourg Marigny with plaques dating them to the early 1800s. They’ve been restored to look much as they did when the Bonapartists were expecting Napoleon to come on over.
And the Custom House! A huge gray granite monolith on Decatur and Canal Street, it was a brand new building in 1862 when the Yanks came marching into New Orleans. General Benjamin Beast Butler set up his military headquarters in there, and that’s where my character Nicolette works as a telegrapher during the Civil War.
This is what I love about New Orleans. You can actually see history there. My husband is perfecting his remoulade recipe, and I’m working on bread pudding, but we’ll always be going back to see and taste and imagine the Vieux Carré.