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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

Author: Julia Coates

Author: Julia Coates

I finally made it to another meeting of the Mt. Hood Cherokees. I made a point to go today because we had guests Julia Coates and Jack Baker, both At Large Tribal Councilors. And it’s the 175th anniversary of the arrival of Cherokees in Indian Territory following the Trail of Tears.

Julia has recently had a book published, Trail of Tears. (Check out her book at Powell’s!) I wanted to meet Julia because we’ve had brief email exchanges. I also wanted to hear about the book.

Aaaannnnddd, I did want to learn a little about what’s going on in the Nation. We’ll be voting for Principal Chief in a year, and there is Great Rumbling Afoot, and I wanted to try and educate myself a little before I vote. Not that I expected to get all the information I need, out of one visit from two people, but it is good to add this extra information to what I’ve been gathering.

Most of the meeting was focused on culture and heritage, which is what our At Large group is all about. Thank the gods our group leader makes an active effort to avoid politics, and re-directs us when possible, back to learning about being Cherokee and leaving the other stuff outside the door.

Today I learned new information about the Trail of Tears, the name given to the ethnic cleansing of American Indians from the southeastern United States to the present-day Oklahoma. At the point of bayonets, the first people left. By 1839, 46,000 Indians had left their houses, their farms, their possessions, their friends, even their savings, in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and other states all the way up to New England.

Cherokees accompanied other Indian tribes, up till then all of them at some stage in the process of learning the ways of the white people, attending schools, running businesses and plantations. All trying to find a way to maintain their culture, tradition, and languages, but in a way that made sense to the white colonizers.

That part I knew.

In having an intimate gathering with a woman who had studied and researched the Trail of Tears, new facts were revealed. I didn’t know, for example, that when the Indians were told that they had to give up their lands for white settlement, they took it to the Supreme Court. And Won! But President Andrew Jackson ignored the decision and kicked them out anyway.

Prior to the forced removal of Cherokees, the Army had apparently given them months of notice. The Indians were told to put their business affairs in order, to pack, and to present themselves to be penned up in stockades built just for them. I learned that it was one of the first known uses of the phrase “concentration camp.”

But the Indians were modern people and many of them educated and wealthy. And -just imagine how you would feel being told to pack up and move simply because other people wanted to build a settlement on your land- finding the whole idea preposterous, they refused to comply. While they understood that packing extra shoes and a coat and some food would be a good idea, since the Army was bound to show up any day, they also understood that making those kind of preparations would be a kind of complicity. In protest, in an inspiring display of dignity, they refused to prepare at all. Perhaps some of them held a feeble hope that soldiers would see how pathetic it was to boot a woman out into the street in a housecoat clutched by a toddler. Or how despicable it was to shoot a deaf man for not responding when he was told to move.

Apparently the obvious cruelty of enforcing the crime did not stop the soldiers from obeying orders.

After being rounded up in the concentration camps, the Indians were marched West. They walked to Oklahoma with only the clothes on their backs. They walked. The ones that didn’t die on the trip were at risk of dying from disease once they landed in Oklahoma.

The thing that struck me the most about Julia’s readings today was learning that the Indians had a warning, and yet chose to go on with their lives until the very last moment. She told of one woman who saw the soldiers coming with their rifles, and fed the chickens first. That is some kind of powerful force of will. It’s the kind of pride that takes ultimate courage. They couldn’t expect to be heroes you see. Chances were no one would ever find out and tell an individual’s story. The resistance of the people sent to internment camps in 1838 was pure, distilled integrity. A pact made within their own souls, or between a soul and it’s God. Incredible courage.

One more thing I learned (since I deal with pain by making light of it): I heard for the very first time about Uktena – a mythical Cherokee beast. It’s a dragonlike serpent with a crystal in its forehead. Since dragons are my totem, and my name is Crystal, and I’m Cherokee…I think there is no better mythical beast for me!

One of my many guises

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