Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010 1. New Orleans (12/21/2010)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010
From Baton Rouge, we headed east on I-10, to New Orleans.
First stop in NO was for lunch at Acme Oyster House in Metairie. Did not have oysters, but the food was good.
Before the 2:00 pm tour at the rum distillery, we drove north on Elysian Fields Avenue in search of Lake Pontchartrain. Normally you can't miss this huge lake, which is 40 miles wide and 24 miles across. However, we could only see levees and walls. We passed through several of the neighborhoods that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While some homes have been repaired and restored, many are still boarded up and vacant. Even so, it is difficult to imagine the area under water. The city of New Orleans lies between the lake to the north and the Mississippi River to the south. It was the breakdown of the levees at the lake that caused most of the damage.
The Old New Orleans Rum Distillery/Celebration Distillation Cooperative (http://www.neworleansrum.com/index.php?section=1): We were asked how we heard about the place - Brynne found it in the AAA Tour Book!
The main room was filled with colorful paintings of New Orleans scenes. Turns out the founder of the distillery is an artist, James Michalopoulos (http://www.michalopoulos.com/). We were given mixed drinks of rum and iced tea, and rum and ginger ale while we waited. One of the 6 employees took us on the tour in the actual space where the action takes place. No glass observation rooms or railings.
Oak barrels of rum were shelved floor to ceiling (the bottom row of barrels actually are filled with water as the barrels were first used for bourbon).
The high water mark (at 8') of the Hurricane Katrina flood was pointed out on the wood post.
Rum is made from sugar cane, where the sugar is squeezed out and cooked into molasses. Yeast and tap water are added to the molasses and it ferments, producing alcohol. Here Chris shows us a tank with leftover molasses, after the alcohol (clear) was pumped out.
The rum is then put through column distillation to purify it to 180 proof. Distilled water and "secret ingredients" are added for the final product. The staff is always experimenting with taste and color.
There are four rum products:
   Crystal - freshly distilled.
   Amber - aged 3 years
   Cajun Spice - the Crystal with added spices
   10-year - aged 10 years
The first three are distributed, and the fourth is offered for sale only at the distillery. Soon they will be producing a ginger soda.
As we returned to the main room, a group of four guys loitered, then came running in to report a leak! A hose had come undone and the men were horrified to see rum streaming across the floor.
We had a taste of each of the four rums.
Checked into the Best Western St Christopher Hotel. Our room had brick walls:
Started a walking tour of the French Quarter. Stopped at the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park (http://www.nps.gov/jela/index.htm) to get our National Park Passport stamp. This park with 6 sites tells the story of the Acadian ("Cajun") history and culture. The French Acadians settled in New Orleans after being driven out of Nova Scotia by the British.
After the Louisiana Purchase, when many other immigrants arrived, the French-speaking and mostly Catholic population called themselves "Creoles" to distinguish themselves as "natives".
Jean Lafitte National Historic Park courtyard:
The Pontalba Buildings at Jackson Square were erected in 1849 as apartment houses. The Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba is credited with turning a dusty parade ground into a garden park. There is a row on St Peter Street:
The Washington Artillery Park is on the river side of Jackson Square:
Jackson Square is the heart of the French Quarter.
Originally called Plaza de Armas by the Spanish, it was renamed in 1848 for the hero of the Battle of New Orleans (War of 1812), General Andrew Jackson.
The equestrian statue of Jackson was erected in 1856. It is one of three by sculptor Clark Mills (the Andrew Jackson statue in Jacksonville, FL was cast from the Mills' statue in Washington, DC) and is made from cannon from the battle.
The St Louis Cathedral is in its third incarnation, completed in 1794 during rebuilding after the second great fire in New Orleans. The Spanish-style cathedral was remodeled in 1851, and to the outrage of many, was modified with steeples and a Greek Revival portico.
On either side of the cathedral are twin buildings, The Cabildo and The Presbytere. Here we see The Cabildo, built in 1799 when it served as the Louisiana statehouse for the Spanish governor and the governing body - the Very Illustrious Cabildo. Now it is part of the Louisiana State Museum.
The Pontalba Building on St Ann Street.
A living statue sits on the news stand:
Jackson Square is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence where artists display their work.
Jackson Square as seen from Washington Artillery Park:
We climbed to this park to sit and enjoy our beignets and cafe au lait from the Cafe du Monde. These treats were first served in 1862 from a coffee stand at the end of the French Market, still it's present location.
Our three beignets were served in a bag of a half pound of confectioners' sugar! The cafe au lait is made with a chicory and coffee blend, and hot milk.
Washington Artillery Park (note fleur-de-lis tree topper):
The other side of the park looked down on the Mississippi River and the New Orleans port. Here is the Riverfront streetar:
And a cargo ship:
We returned to the French Market, passed the Cafe du Monde:
to see the French Market sculptures. First, "Michelle" (1984) by Paul Perret, sitting on the edge of a fountain in front of a mural "Window into the Past, French Market Yesteryear" by Shakor.
Next, "Jacques the Butcher" (1983) by Eric Kaposta standing in front of the Butchers Market.
Finally, "Martha, A Market Customer" (1983) by Paul Perret, holding a basket of fruits and vegetables. (The bicycle does not belong to her!)
A gilded statue of Joan of Arc stands in Place de France. She was a gift from the people of France, presented by President Charles de Gaulle in 1959.
Christmas decorations:
The French Market was founded in 1791, and is the oldest public market in the United States, built on the site of a Choctaw trading post.
The Old U.S. Mint, built in 1835, was a federal mint from 1838-1861. It was the Confederacy's only mint for a few months in 1861. After the Civil War, it continued to be a U.S mint until 1909. It is now part of the Louisiana State Museum.
The modern sculpture in front of the Old Mint is "Second Line Sashay" by Madeleine Faust.
View up Royal Street in the French Quarter:
The French Quarter represents the original French colonial settlement of Nouvelle Orleans. Fires in 1788 and 1795 destroyed most of the French structures, and the area was rebuilt in Spanish architecture.
The Soniat House, a large town house built in 1829 by a wealthy Creole plantation owner. Now it is a hotel with a fine example of 19th century iron lacework. You can see that the front doors once opened up into a carriageway.
The Beauregard-Keyes House is where General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, the "Great Creole" for defending Fort Sumter, resided from 1866-1868.
The author Frances Parkinson Keyes lived here in the 1940s, and wrote "Dinner at Antoine's."
The Lalaurie House is known for being haunted.
Delphine Lalaurie tortured her slaves and set fire to the building when she was discovered.
The Cornstalk Fence was made in Philadelphia around 1834:
We had dinner at the Court of Two Sisters Restaurant (http://www.courtoftwosisters.com/), known for their jazz brunch.
It has one of the French Quarter's largest dining courtyards, with a fountain:
And a well:
After dinner we walked past Pat O'Brien's and Preservation Hall, two of the most popular night spots. Preservation Hall wasn't open yet for the evening, but we were too tired to stick around!
More Christmas decorations:
Next: More New Orleans.

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