Sunday, May 09, 2010

Oh! The things you'll see!

Ah!  New Orleans!
On the Littlest Ninja again.  You would think after about 60 hours on a motorcycle in six days, I'd want to give it a rest, but no.  Like a centaur, it's how I get around.  Whalehead King without wheels is like a fish without water.  I ran an errand out in suburban Metarie to see what's out there.  I saw a lot of strip malls and chain stores and the Lakeside Mall.  Convenient enough, I suppose, but not really what I'll be looking for on a regular basis. After that I was back in the Crescent City proper.

New Orleans is basically self contained.  Surrounded by swampland, it has had to house all industry and activity within it's boundaries until fairly recently.  From what I understand the real expansion of it's suburbs and exurbs happened in the 1960s and 70s.  Traversing the city, I'm amazed by what is planted in the most improbable places without warning or discernible reason.  I've been on bivouac through neighborhoods one street at a time, doubling back, circling blocks, tracing the weft and woof of the urban tapestry.

I'm going to talk about Faubourg Marigny specifically today, but the same observations hold true elsewhere.  I'd be traveling down a street lined with colorfully painted or run down shotgun shacks, or a combination of both, and then be surrounded by corrugated metal machine shops.  There are little grocery stores and bars tucked willy nilly where I least expect to find them.  There are commercial districts, but the mix between commercial and residential zoning is hodgepodge and fuzzy.  So much the better from my point of view.  I like my city both shaken and stirred and alive with commerce and social opportunities.

Stores and restaurants can be hidden.  They are neighborhood oases that can't be bothered to advertise.  No need.  What signage exists can be home made and hand lettered, little larger than a legal pad nailed next to a front door.  There are few plate glass windows to catch a passing eye.  Some places look closed but they are, in fact, bustling lunch counters offering hot plates and po' boys and light hardware or cleaning supplies.  The essentials for daily living are always within reach the closer one gets to the central city.

In Faubourg Marigny, purring down Dauphine Street, I ran across a local institution: the Hubig's Pies bakery.  There was no warning, just a battered, neon sign hung over the sidewalk to the left.  At the corner of Franklin Street a little further down, at 2529 Dauphine, was the Lost Love Lounge, a forbidding looking place with dark windows and an open, battered door and nothing more than it's evocative name to recommend it.  Dauphine is a narrow and leafy street, picturesque and charming, so charming it made me think of checking out apartments in this part of town.

Here, in the middle of tidy houses and narrow streets, was a commercial bakery that's been around for almost a century and a bar (more than one, but none with such a great name) and other sundry businesses and a coffee shop.

Turn a corner in New Orleans and you'll never know what you'll find.  I don't know the firm boundaries of all the neighborhoods yet but I traversed Treme and went the length of Claiborne Street, South and North.  I discovered hidden nooks of activity on Freret Street and at the intersection of Calhoun Street and South Claiborne.  A visit to Ted's Frostop Burgers for a sit down meal and a root beer is on my agenda.  The same for the Parkway Bakery and Tavern, but not on a Tuesday.  There are a baker's dozen of other places I saw today that I plan to enjoy and even more than that that I can't remember.

Ah! New Orleans!  I doubt the charm will ever wear off.

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