Ok fine, we did what everyone else does

Dooky Chase’s restaurant, open since 1941, is famous for multiple reasons including a civil rights meeting place and the source of authentic Creole cuisine.

It was not until my fourth day in New Orleans did I finally set foot for the very first time in the French Quarter, and walk down Bourbon Street, and drink too much, and eat beignets. But first we went to Treme.

Inside Dooky Chase’s. The walls are covered in work by African American artists.
A room off to the side of the main dining room. The painting is of Leah Chase.
I liked the yoni in the bathroom.
Painting of Obama with Leah Chase

Today we skipped breakfast and hit Dooky Chase’s for an early lunch so we could stuff ourselves at the buffet. Part of the interest for me was that we were going into the Treme community, that I know from watching the show by the same name. This is a working-class neighborhood with predominantly black homeowners and shop owners. Dooky Chase’s closed its doors for two years after Hurricane Katrina because this entire neighborhood was flooded. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita came through in 2005, so it has been over a decade, and on the major streets where we were, there was very little evidence of the flooding to untrained eyes.

People who came with us to eat at this iconic restaurant were all here to pay respect to the history and impact of the place. Each person was either quietly humble, or gushing in appreciation, and the staff returned the gratitude with their own for the customers’ support. Me, having never heard of the place prior to my trip, I just kept my mouth shut and watched and listened. Inside the front door are paintings of Obama with Leah Chase, the celebrated head chef and longtime owner of the place. There are photographs of the two most recent popes. In 1941, Ms. Leah was the one to turn her husband’s sandwich shop into a sit-down restaurant and then make it a haven for black organizers and a venue for black artists. In their turn, patrons included Louis Armstrong, Martin Luther King, and the Black Panthers. At 97 years old, she is still an active part of the business and I hoped to see her but did not.

Louis Armstrong’s first coronet.
One of Fats Domino’s pianos, rescued and mostly restored after being destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
Women in jazz exhibit.
One of the astonishingly magnificent costumes worn during Mardi Gras by a distinct contingent of participants.
These costumes are made of feathers, beads, sequins, and rhinestones and can take more than a year to create.
Detail on one of the masks.
Detail of a face
Ranger Matt and Julie. Ranger James is behind Julie.

Next we went to the New Orleans Jazz Museum, which is in the old New Orleans Coin Mint building so we toured the Mint Museum as well. Both museums were rather small, and we were able see all of the displays in a short time. We were there for the 2:00 pm live jazz performance by the  Down on Their Luck Orchestra. The group had a guest performer, Julia, who played bass cello. It was not what we were expecting, and turned out to be an educational performance: designed to introduce visitors to New Orleans jazz and a bit of the history of jazz in the United States. The two main musicians were Ranger Matt, who did all the talking and played piano, and Ranger James who was mostly on drums but also played saxophone and sang a convincing Louis Armstrong impersonation. In between each song they asked for audience questions and I finally couldn’t hold mine back any longer. As a federal employee, I recognized that identifying themselves as rangers meant they were also federal employees. I had seen them pass through a hallway earlier wearing National Park Service jackets, and both of them, on stage, were clearly in uniform. In my mind I was saying, what on earth is going on?!! I asked, “How common are ranger musicians?”

Ranger Matt explained that, of the 20,000 employees of the NPS, exactly 4 of them were hired to be musicians and all 4 of those are in New Orleans. In other words: ranger musicians are rare. U.S. Park Rangers are entrusted with protecting and preserving natural and cultural resources, and the the NPS decided that New Orleans jazz is one of those resources.

Beignets with almost enough powdered sugar.

Out on the street we stopped for a few moments to listen to the fabulous music of a large percussion band on the sidewalk right there across the street from the Jazz Museum, on the edge of the French Quarter. Next we walked over to an open market where local entrepreneurs sold their wares, and then got in line at Cafe du Monde, another famous stop, and had coffee and beignets. These are fried square pastries covered in powdered sugar – like doughnuts. It had been a windy day and while we sat there we witnessed multiple fierce gusts of wind stirring up sugar tornadoes. Everyone in the outside seating patio was covered in powdered sugar in no time.

Then we plunged into New Orleans’ most famous district.

Ironwork for which the French Quarter is famous.
A street in the French Quarter.
Bourbon Street, looking toward the center of New Orleans.
Lights on Bourbon Street.

The French Quarter dates to when New Orleans was founded by a French colonist. The distinctive architectural styles retain the influence of construction during the late 1700s. Today the age of the buildings is evident, and the most eye-catching design is the prevalence of cast-iron railings and decorative work around balconies of nearly all of the structures.

We walked the entire length of Bourbon Street, famous today for unlimited drinking by people who can purchase alcohol right on the sidewalk and can carry their drinks with them when typical American cities have “open container” laws preventing that. Patrick and I walked through in early evening while the sun was still up, and cars were still moving along Bourbon Street (auto traffic is prevented at night). So we didn’t see the craziness. We did hear live bands on  every single block, however, which is another thing the area is known for. We criss-crossed the district, peeked into windows, and admired the sights until we ended up at Jackson Square. It is a lovely little park between the St. Louis Cathedral and the Mississippi River. I had only one thing on my mind there, however, and that was to express myself to Andrew Jackson.

I am not a fan of Andrew Jackson.

We headed back into the district and found Pat O’Brien’s. We ordered their specialty drink and settled back to listen to the piano duo take turns playing songs requested by patrons. We had several drinks and finally headed out into the nighttime with a neon-lighted street where revelers were just beginning to get warmed up for their night on the town.

Dueling pianos at Pat O’Brien’s
Shadow of Jesus

14 thoughts on “Ok fine, we did what everyone else does

    1. Glad you think so! It was an enlightening trip. Visitors to New Orleans either love it or hate it. So far I haven’t found anyone who says they are in the middle. I’ll have to cast my vote for loving it. I can hardly wait to go back.

    1. Glad you were with us out there!!! It was chilly, despite the sun, so I hope you brought a jacket.

      President Andrew Jackson oppressed Indians in his country, the indigenous populations who lived there BEFORE HIM. My Cherokee ancestors tried to assimilate after colonization, and had become educated in the schools of the colonists, were fluent in English, were wealthy landowners, livestock owners, and even slave owners like everyone else at that time. The Cherokee were highly educated community leaders, and some of them were lawyers. So when Jackson’s administration came down to Georgia and said, “Hey, you’re living on some pretty sweet land and we want it. You’re going to have to move,” the Cherokees said no, and the Cherokee lawyers filed suit. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court in which the Court decided in the Indians’ favor. They told President Andrew Jackson that the Cherokee were legally in possession of all their lands and property and could not be forced to move. Jackson ignored the Supreme Court and sent soldiers down there anyway, forced Cherokee families out of their homes at bayonet point, seized all their homes, farms, horses, cattle, bank accounts, furniture, etc. for the government. Then the people were sent to corrals, called concentration camps, where the Indians were held until the corral filled up. Then when it was full, soldiers marched the Cherokee (and other Indians and undesirables too – much like the concentration camps in Europe that mostly targeted Jews but also included gypsies and homosexuals, etc.) on foot, from the East Coast to Oklahoma, to some land the US Government didn’t want at the time. Many people died in the concentration camps, and many more died during the walk to Oklahoma. This journey is known as the Trail of Tears.

      1. Thank you, Crystal, for this explanation. I did google him quickly – I didn’t even know that he was one of the presidents – but found nothing as telling as what you wrote. Sounds most terrible.

  1. Hello Crystal! I’m back from an amazing trip to the Southern Hemisphere, and making some blog visits. Hope you are well!
    After 3 visits, all during big time football games, I can say that I’ve never seen Bourbon Street so quiet. 🙂
    Loved the info about Dooky Chase’s. Thank you.
    Now to quickly go back and learn more about this trip to New Orleans

  2. I’m way, way behind. Sounds like your trip continued. My father-in-law drove us through New Orleans but we never got out of the car. 😦 I’m not a fan of the weather in the south anymore so never considered going back to look on my own. Glad you got to see so much of it.

    1. And I am way, way behind too!! I’ve been thinking of you my dear friend. I hope you are well. I just received an owner’s manual in the mail from TS for the tablesaw he gave me. It was sweet of him to do that. 🙂

    1. Thank you for asking if all is well. As you can see, I haven’t shown my face around WP for awhile. Things are ok. Much going on. I am getting ready to do a lot of travelling with a friend this week, and I hope to post about it, so you’ll get a little update. I hope all is well with you and I hope it has been well since your inquiry back in April. 😉

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