It's been a year since my last visit to New Orleans. The trip was partly a pilgrimage for my heart, since it is a place of family and memory, and partly a fun adult holiday while my daughter enjoyed a ski trip over spring break. And of course there was also the photography, for which I packed in earnest.
My mother's mother, my Grand-mere, was born in the Crescent City, and I grew up hearing wonderful stories about her childhood there. Often during a visit to her house I would ask her to show me - again - the trinkets she kept in her curio case that had been gifts from suitors at Mardi Gras parties. Her father was King Rex (I think more than once), and famously had a streetcar dismantled to retrieve her first communion cross, when it got caught between the wall panels as she leaned out the open window.
Grand-mere was a fine, beautiful Southern Woman, with an accent smooth and slow as a summer day in the shade, and ladylike manners to match. She beat me over the head with those manners when I was growing up, and soothed me the rest of the time with her wonderful voice. Also she could cook like nobody's business, but I'll write something about her another time. This piece is about the city of her birth.
I had visited before. The first time, I was about 18, in town for a cousin's wedding. We went into the Quarter for one sweltering afternoon, and I recall being completely enchanted with the feeling of age, the nooks, crannies, and courtyards. The city had a soul, and I wanted more of it. We had coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde, and returned to the wedding festivities. My second visit was several years later, in 2001, and I don't recall much of it for the usual New Orleans reasons. . . . . I couldn't tell you where I stayed or what I ate, but I have a glass or two from Pat O'Brien's to prove I was there.
Our accommodations were at a B&B on the edge of the Quarter. We arrived very late at night, and the obliging staff had left a note with cryptic directions for finding the key to our room, which was up a flight of stairs at the back of the house. I LOVED IT. I absolutely ate it up, as I ate up the atmosphere each morning in the dining room, and the delicious coffee on the veranda. I would go back there right now, if I could; it's a pleasure to remember those beautiful mornings, that NOLA spring, with a whole day of possibilities before me.
We left the car and walked everywhere, which would have been my preference even if it wasn't a tactic for avoiding parking headaches. The whole area was full of character at every turn. Old, old houses, each unique, some of faded fortunes, others done up as pretty as an Easter Bonnet ready for the parade.
An added special bonus on this particular trip was new friendships! A photographer friend of mine from another group (Shootapalooza) lives there; she and her partner were kind enough to take us under their wing and show us the Real Side of NOLA. Our first meeting with Elisa and Gary was particularly memorable: we arrived at Molly's Irish Pub expecting to be joining them to hear a band, but - surprises of surprises - instead we were *joining in* their street band and marching around the Quarter. I can't remember the last time I had such a joyful, authentic, spontaneous experience. The magic is real!
The Quarter itself was full of life, and oh my my my it was street photography heaven. Everything was interesting. The first day I'm not sure how many photographs I made, but I slowed a little and paced myself after that. I relished every moment. The city was as glorious and soulful as I remembered, with so much to look at every step of the way.
What I didn't recall from previous trips was the people, the sheer numbers of them, and most of them tourists. I remembered Cafe du Monde being an easy place, not crowded; this time I never passed it without there being a line that stretched practically back to Texas. Bourbon Street was different too, with people throwing beads from balconies (ow) even though it was well after Mardi Gras. What happened? When did New Orleans become a caricature of itself? Were there that many street performers before? I just don't know. But I also don't care - it's a wonderful city, and I can't wait to go back again.
All photographs: Hasselblad 500 c/m, Canon Canonet QL17, Nikon FM2, with Kodak Tri-X, Kodak Portra, and Cinestill 800T films