Tuesday, August 09, 2011

New Orleans miscellany.

Way back in June, I wrote that I hoped to produce a post on New Orleans; this is that anticipated (but unfortunately long-delayed) post, which follows the template set by my post-retreat posts (Part I and Part II) by offering miscellaneous photographs taken on a Sunday afternoon in the Crescent City. To start off, here are some eye-catching mailboxes on Royal Street in the French Quarter.

A pedestrian passage called Pirate Alley runs between St. Louis Cathedral (right) and the Cabildo (left), connecting Jackson Square to Royal Street. As idyllic as the setting might appear here, this photograph was taken just a few steps away from streets crowded with tourists, panhandlers and street vendors, all of which I'll leave to your imagination.

Jean Lafitte's Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street is said to be the oldest continuously-operating bar in the United States, a claim that should probably be considered in the same light as the Union Oyster House's claim to be the nation's oldest restaurant. General Andrew Jackson visited this bar in December 1814 to ask privateer Jean Lafitte for help in defending New Orleans from invading British troops. Jackson's U.S. forces went on to win the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815, a short time after the Treaty of Ghent had brought an official end to the War of 1812, but before news of said treaty had reached the Western Hemisphere.

Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo, a Bourbon Street tourist trap which probably has nothing to do with the real Marie Laveau. I didn't go inside and accordingly cannot comment on the wares, but I figured the House of Voodoo was at least worth a photograph. I can't say the same for most of Bourbon Street, which I generally found to be as boring as it is seedy; there are a lot of enchanting places in New Orleans, but this street isn't among them.

The task of preparing for a new fall course at SJU meant that I had to take some work with me to New Orleans. A good friend who is a native of the area told me that if I insisted on trying to get serious reading done in New Orleans, I should do it at Café du Monde so that I could soak up the local atmosphere at the same time. Following that advice, here I am reading De Civitate Dei with a cup of chicory coffee at Café du Monde.

A New Orleans institution since 1894, Meyer the Hatter is the South's largest hat store and also boasts of having been named one of America's seven best hat stores by GQ. This is a real old-school men's hat store, with old-school lettering to match.

Didn't I just write that Meyer the Hatter was an old-school men's hat store? Well, I think this display window offers even more proof. I would have gone inside the store to sample the merchandise and perhaps take more photos, but Meyer the Hatter isn't open on Sundays - a fact that I found very edifying, even though it prevented me from doing business there.

Fides quaerens intellectum: faith seeking understanding. These words may be found over the door of the Jesuit residence on Baronne Street where I spent the last two days of my stay in New Orleans; I don't believe that I had ever seen Anselm's classic dictum inscribed on a building before I visited the Crescent City, but I certainly approve.

New Orleans is also the first place where I can recall having seen a parking garage named after Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, who was one of the first Europeans to map a substantial portion of the Mississippi River but did not, as far as I know, make it this far south.

I spent the better part of an afternoon at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which is devoted to diverse forms of painting, photography, and sculpture produced in the American South from the 1890s to the present. I really liked the Ogden and hope to return next time I'm in New Orleans; if you'd like to learn more about the place, visit this page for a two-part podcast interview with the Ogden's former chief curator, David Houston.

From the Ogden collection: Lord, I Don't Want to be Buried in the Storm, a 1970 self-portrait by Sister Gertrude Morgan. Though Morgan was an Alabama-born Baptist who spent half her life in New Orleans, elements of her story may remind one of some of the great Catholic mystics: a series of visionary experiences led her to leave her home and family at the age of 38 to preach in the streets and work with the poor and later to adopt a white habit and to identify herself as a bride of Christ. Regarding visual art as a complement to her preaching ministry, Morgan also produced paintings like the one seen above.

Also in the Ogden, a 2005 work by Texas-born painter John Alexander called The Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The day that I visited the Ogden happened to be Trinity Sunday; the exhibition catalogue suggests that Alexander intended this painting to convey something of the ecstatic love shared by the three persons of the Trinity, so I suppose that the work suited the day of the liturgical calendar.

One of the works that intrigued me the most in the Ogden collection was Herbert Singleton's Leander Perez (1992). According to the Ogden, Leander Perez is "a narrative work . . . about the longtime segregationist boss of Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish and the aftermath of Hurricane Camille in August 1969. Perez, a truncheon-wielding policeman at his side, is shown haranguing the city blacks who have come to help clean up the storm wreckage. He is warning them not to incite the Plaquemines Parish blacks . . . who were under Perez's iron hand." There is at least one problem with the Ogden's description: Perez died in March 1969, five months before Hurricane Camille. I'm not sure whether the mistake was artist's or the museum's - perhaps the scene depicted actually occurred, but after an earlier hurricane - but seeing this painting gave me the desire to learn more about Louisiana history as well as Singleton's work.

While we're on the subject of Louisiana history, here is a mysterious memorial marker I spotted in Elks Place Park in New Orleans' Central Business District. Given the dedication date of October 20, 1950, the marker's language regarding "the democratic principles of free enterprise and individual liberty" is rather curious. Built just a few months after the start of the Korean War, at a time when McCarthyism was gathering steam domestically, the marker could have been intended as a local assertion of faith in Cold War Americanism. On the other hand, the marker's wording could also have been intended as a coded statement of segregationist defiance at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was growing in strength. I have wondered whether the name of the park may provide a clue of some kind - perhaps the Elks Lodge was involved somehow - but so far the marker's origins and meaning remain a mystery to me.

I hope you've enjoyed this first-time visitor's impressionistic tour of downtown New Orleans. I also hope that my first visit to New Orleans will not be my last; when I return to the city, I may have something more to say about it on this blog. AMDG.


At 8/13/2012 12:53 PM, Anonymous Dick Schmitt said...

The parking garage seems to be named for the Pere Marquette hotel which was built on the Jesuit college property so maybe the Jebbies suggest the name. More pictures of their great church at at https://picasaweb.google.com/113876161603762817408/NewOrleansChurchOfTheImmaculateConception#slideshow/5775109387706437698 if you're interested (and comments, corrections are welcome:) )

At 8/13/2012 12:55 PM, Anonymous Dick said...

Joe, the garage was probably named for the Marquette building that replaced the Jesuit college. The Jebbies may have suggest the name??? More pictures of the church, if you are interested, are at https://picasaweb.google.com/113876161603762817408/NewOrleansChurchOfTheImmaculateConception#slideshow/5775109387706437698

At 8/13/2012 11:37 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Thanks for the info - it's good to know more about the history, and the pictures are great!


Post a Comment

<< Home