Thursday, January 21, 2016

Living in the French Quarter

New Orleans French Quarter Skyline Night

Mardi Gras is coming up fast and I'm kind of toying with the idea of heading back to New Orleans for a couple of weeks. There is a $98 round trip flight from Las Vegas that it seems almost criminal to pass up and it would be nice to see everyone. 

Martha will be there, too, and something random reminded me recently of the time she and I shared a tiny third floor walkup in the French Quarter for a year, which we absolutely loved until it started to fall apart near the end of our lease. It was a really special time, and we knew it was only temporary. So though we were there a year, and not really traveling, I still think it has a place here, and I want the memories preserved.

New Orleans French Quarter small parkThe apartment was right on busy Decatur, home of Jackson Square and Cafe du Monde. We were just down from the French Market, across from a nice little garden square that we didn't stop to enjoy often enough.

Though located in one of the most urban areas of the city, it had nice views from every window, including the one in the photo at the top of this post.

We lived through some very good, and very bad times there - it was where we were living when our mother died, and that was a very dark period. But life in the French Quarter itself turned out to be so much more delightful than I'd ever imagined was possible.

New Orleans French Quarter horse carriageUp until then, I'd always thought the French Quarter was too noisy, dirty, stinky, dangerous, expensive and inconvenient for me to want to live there. Turned out that, though it could certainly be all of those things, it was also interesting, exciting, different, friendly and fun. I thoroughly enjoyed so much of that year, and feel really lucky to have had that experience.

New Orleans French Quarter Joan d'Arc statue
During most of that time, I was working on Poydras Street, from mid-afternoon until 10 or 11 at night. It was almost exactly a mile from where I lived to where I worked, and except for a small handful of times, I walked both ways every single workday. 

New Orleans Red Streetcars

But I also really enjoyed taking public transportation when I needed to go elsewhere, for the first time after a lifetime of driving everywhere. The buses and streetcars in New Orleans are pretty nice, though not always reliable. 

I loved those walks...mostly anyway. If I left home later than I should and had to really hoof it, it was a bit stressful, particularly on weekends when tourists were so much in my way that I walked in the street. But more often than not, I had time to stop and take photos of what I found so pleasing on my commute by foot.

And I always loved my walks home in the dark. Late enough
New Orleans French Quarter Cafe du Monde day
that the Quarter was fairly quiet, and on weekdays, fairly clean, as well. It was bit torturous having to pass by Cafe du Monde every day and night and smell the fabulous beignets. 

New Orleans French Quarter Cafe du Monde night awnings down
It's open all day and night, every day of the year. Sometimes, when it's cold, they'll bring the awnings down, but I only ever saw it closed a couple of times, both during the Polar Vortex.

New Orleans French Quarter street corner nightI'd eaten there far too many times when I first moved in. But they only take cash, so I finally just stopped carrying any. I would sometimes stop on that corner, where I'd usually cross the street, and just pause to enjoy being exactly where I was. 

Peri came to stay now and again, a few times on weeknights, when we'd have to be out the door by 7 am to get her to school on time the next day. It was always an eye opener to see the Quarter so quiet and empty in daylight. I'm sorry I never got a photo of that.

New Orleans French Quarter Mr. Okra
Mr. Okra with fresh fruit and veg
But I got plenty of other photos. There was always the chance of coming upon something unusual.

New Orleans French Quarter Dog in CasketAnd the street performers were usually of a decent caliber.

Since we were there an entire year, we got to be part of all the celebrations - and the French Quarter celebrates everyfreakingthing. It was one of the few times in my life I actually enjoyed mingling with crowds.

New Orleans French Quarter Mardi Gras street crowdMardi Gras, of course, was huge. 

New Orleans French Quarter House decorations
The decorations and celebrations last almost a month, though the parades are mostly just for two weeks or so.

New Orleans Mardi Gras end of parade
The parades were ending right near my work just as I was finishing my shifts, so I got to see the floats without all the usual crowds. The krewes were just dumping their throws, too, because they tend to hoard until the end to make sure they don't run out. But we had a surplus of that kind of thing, so I didn't bother to catch anything. I'd usually watch the floats until the end, then continue my walk home.

We were particularly glad not to have to worry about driving to work during those weeks.

New Orleans French Quarter St. Patrick's Day parade
The St. Patrick's Day parade went right past our door.

New Orleans French Quarter Halloween decorationsHalloween is, naturally, always a huge deal.

New Orleans French Quarter St. Louis Cathedral Christmas
Christmas would have been nice, but our mother had died just a couple of weeks earlier.

New Orleans French Quarter Jackson Square bandBut my favorite times were just everyday rituals. Either walking to or from work, going to Community Coffee on my days off or grabbing a meal with Martha on one of the rare evenings we had off at the same time. Sometimes, just going to the grocery store was enjoyable for the things I got to see along the way.

New Orleans French Quarter Street corner day
And, of course, I particularly loved looking at the buildings. They are every bit as enthralling as what I came across in Europe. Just really lovely architecture, much of it beautifully renovated after Katrina.

New Orleans French Quarter Be Nice or LeaveI wasn't entirely in love with my job, though I genuinely loved almost everyone that I worked with. And, as I mentioned before, my personal life hit some very deep lows. But the overall experience of living in the French Quarter was filled with joy.

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