Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Love is in the air

Florabelle Robicheaux was featured as an extra in the first Tarzan movie.  It starred Elmo Lincoln as the Ape Man, and it was shot in Morgan City, LA in 1918.  Executive producers thought Mlle. Robicheaux could be the “colored Clara Bow.”  

Floribelle Robicheaux grew up on Ursulines Street in New Orleans.  When she was 42, and still unmarried, she rented the back rooms of 2216 Esplanade Avenue, the rooms that are currently known as the Pelican Suite.  She had spent the last few years in Los Angeles and New York City.  As she was taking a break between film shoots, she decided to spend her downtime in the city that she always thought of as home.  
It was 1945, and Henry O’Reilly, a native of Glidden, Iowa, was granted 72 hours of shore leave from the minesweeper, USS Admirable, that was docked at the Esplanade Avenue Wharf.  He rented the rooms that are currently the Clio Suite at La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.  Seaman O’Reilly was the ripe age of 19, having seen two years of honorable service in the U.S. Navy after lying about his age at enlistment.

Mlle. Robicheaux and SN O’Reilly met at breakfast.  They discussed an editorial in the New Orleans Times-Picayune regarding the state of the motion picture industry and its influence on the decline of public morals during wartime.  SN O’Reilly asked Mlle. Robicheaux if she would be interested in taking a walk down Esplanade Avenue to the Delgado Art Museum and she gladly consented. They walked up to City Park but stopped along the way at Terranova’s Grocery for bottles of Dr. Nut soda pop and a sandwich to eat on Dovecote Island.

There was a collection of Claude Monet paintings on display at the museum, which was free in those days, and Florabelle told Hank that she had already seen them in the Louvre.  “They look better in New Orleans,” she said.

After enjoying the artwork on display, the couple walked under the shade of the Dueling Oak to Dovecote Island.  The shared a muffaletta.  As they fed the last crumbs of their bread to the ducks in the surrounding lagoon, their hands touched, greasy with olive salad and prosciutto.  Was it the oil that allowed a spark to pass between them?  Was it the ambient humidity?  Was it the city itself?  Was it their own natural attraction?  They always preferred to think it was the latter.  

Later that evening, SN O’Reilly carved his initials and Florabelle Robicheaux’s initials enclosed by a heart in one of the palm trees in the back garden of 2216 Esplanade Avenue.  That tree was cut down in 2006 after having been struck by lightning, not once, but twice.

The happy couple eventually settled on Kerlerec Street, nearby.  Whenever they passed 2216 Esplanade Avenue on their evening strolls, they shared a heartfelt kiss.  Mrs. O’Reilly died in 1965.  Commodore (ret) O’Reilly passed away a few days after his wife. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Grocery Shopping

The order of today was to take our scooters out to St. Bernard Parish to the farmers' market in Arabi.
The Rough Rider
We went in order to pick up preserves canned with love and out of tradition by Josie, a pleasant, older woman who makes jams, jellies, and pickles on her homestead way out in bayou country.

She uses local produce to make jams, jellies, and pickles that you can't get on your grocer's shelves.  We picked up some pickled mirlatons.  We picked up some pickled onions ("Have you tried these yet?  You have to," Josie said.  We picked up fig preserves, cherry jam, blackberry jelly, raspberry jelly, two jars of pickled quail eggs, and a jar of pickled green beans, among other sweet and savory delicacies.

Josie was concerned that our two scooters would not have enough room to hold all the jars we purchased.  No worries, we assured her.  This is how we run errands.  We know how to transport fifteen jars of preserves on two wheels apiece.

She wasn't convinced.  "If you ever need it, I can deliver the jars to La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast," she said.  "I know where it is.  It's the house you just painted more orange than a satsuma.  I don't get into Orleans Parish often, but it won't be any trouble to drive down Esplanade Avenue."  
2216 Esplanade Ave from the front
We admitted we may take her up on the offer in the future, but driving a scooter through Downtown New Orleans, through the 7th Ward, the 8th Ward, and through the Lower 9th into Arabi is a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half.  

Though she wasn't convinced that we could carry all the jars we had already purchased, she added another.  "Have you ever had Chinese white eggplant?  It is very different and delicious."  We admitted that we have never tried it.

"My grandmother stumbled onto Chinese white eggplant about 15 years ago.  She pickled it and everybody loves it.  Whenever I can get my hands on some, I soak it in brine and spices.  You and your guests are gonna to love it," she added as she dropped a jar into a bag for us.  We had it for lunch.  It is as delicious as promised.

In other news, four cruiser bicycles will be delivered next week.  Two men's and two women's models.  These will be available free of charge, first come first served, to pedal around this wonderful city, maybe as far as Arabi.

Just how orange is a satsuma anyway?
2216 Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, LA is more orange than that, at least on the outside.

A votre sante.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Pelican Suite

That is a bed
The Pelican Suite is not completely done, but we are ready to open for business come September 1.  We have received our first reservation.  With that in mind, we decided to take some photos of the Pelican Suite, even though it looks a bit bare.  By the end of next week, the pictures will be framed and hung, the flowers will be arranged, and every detail will be in place.  Today, it isn's exactly bare bones. It is nicer than any hotel room.

Let's take a look at the sitting room, shall we?
That is a wardrobe, a chair, and an ottoman
The sitting room is painted in lavender with a stenciled border of pelicans, fleurs de lis, and diamonds over the molding.  The bed room is spring green.  The ceilings throughout are the clear azure blue of an unclouded sky.  While I am partial to La France Suite, I have to admit that the sunny and cheerful Pelican Suite makes me happiest.

This is a second-story suite with private bath and balcony that catches the morning sun.  The balcony is the most private on the property, secluded and overlooking the gardens of the house next door.  The furniture is predominantly antiques, including the magnificent full-sized canopied bed.  Man, that is one beautiful bed, and it is a joy to sleep in.

The private bath is equipped with its original claw foot tub.  The floors are all original heart pine hardwood.  Each room is centered around an original fireplace mantle in the interior wall.  Shall we look at that canopy again, this time with a view of the blue 12 and a half foot ceiling?
Color never goes out of style
The other corner of the sitting room:
A tall map of historic New Orleans coming soon behind the antique couch
Howzabout a better look at the mirror that hangs over the mantle in the sitting room?  Okay...
The carving is a marvel
While there are not too many detailed photos in this suite description, we should include one more.  Your hosts were mugging in front of the marble topped mirrored dresser when they took this pic:

Love makes the world go around

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

La France Suite

Welcome and vive la France
Every heart beats true to the red, white and blue, or, as the French prefer to say, to the blue, white and red.  We took some photos of La France Suite this afternoon.  The ceilings, doors and trim are purest white.  The sitting room is royal blue.  The bedroom is the red of patriots who believe in liberte, egalite, and fraternite!  It is located on the second story.

As with the other suites, antique furnishings predominate.  There is a bust of Emperor Napoleon, and a statue of St. Joan of Arc on the mantles in each room.  There is even a fainting couch if you are overcome with emotion after walking in.

First, a closer look one corner of the sitting room:
There is nothing sad about Bourbon blue
It is an antique marble top table (please don't sit on it) and the dresser is intricately carved.  The chair, the the lamp, the little porcelain statuettes on the dresser, all are antiques.

The opposite corner...
The craftsman wrote his signature inside
The last time they built a wardrobe like this was the last time they built a house like La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.  Benjamin Harrison was president.  

Between the two corners is the (non-working) fireplace mantle, topped with chrysanthemums, the statue of St. Joan of Arc, and a portrait of liberty reminding us that the fruits of victory is abundant food.  This is a sentiment near and dear to every New Orleanian's heart, as well as to their soul...
A rose between chrysanthemums
Let's get a close up of St. Joan:
The Maid of Orleans
January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, is also the memorial day of St. Joan of Arc.  It is also the first day of the Mardi Gras season.  The Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc holds a candlelit walking parade through the French Quarter to inaugurate the start of the festivities to follow.  As the most Gallic of American cities, the French nation gifted this fair New Orleans with a gilt statue of their country's patron saint.  She stands astride a charger, pennant waving in the humid breeze that blows off the Mississippi River in front of the French Market in the Quarter.  The locals call her Joanie on the Pony.  That is also the name of the fair maid chosen to lead the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc parade.

Getting back to La France Suite, readers will be interested in the bed.  It is a full-sized antique, mahogany-and-burl affair that matches the majesty of the rest of this suites furniture:
Sleep better than a sans-colottes
La France Suite has its own balcony running along the side of the house that eventually overlooks the back garden.  It is a long high porch that runs longer than the length of the suite.  I took a picture of that today, too, and I included a figure for scale.  The woman on the balcony is 5'10" tall...
A sunny day on a New Orleans balcony
All the ceilings are twelve and a half feet high.  What did this lovely lady see when she looked down?  The fountain in back, of course.  Leda and the Swan:
The sounds of a fountain make every sunny day even more pleasant 
We almost have the reservation software ready to install and get our official website running.  The link will be at the right at the beginning of this post, the picture of La Belle Esplanade's beautiful facade.  Check back often and consider La Belle Esplanade when planning a trip to New Orleans you will never forget.

We will work to make your stay pleasant and memorable, in the best way.  The lady on the balcony will make sure of it.

Vive la France!  Vive la Nouvelle Orleans! 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Some Lobby Details

Entering from the front door
Quite the jumble of details, isn't it?  Those of you unfamiliar with New Orleans culture may not recognize that black, feathered creature on the right.  When people come in, he is the thing that immediately captures attention and admiration.  From the front:
Spy boy suit
This is a suit made by hand in 2010 for Mardi Gras day.  That is a rooster projecting rom the waist, and a turkey from the apron.  The Spy Boy who sewed this suit is a native of the 7th Ward.  We met him at his mother's house on St. Roch Avenue, where he had two suits stored.  He said, "My son thought this one was so scary he ran away from me on Mardi Gras morning.  It's still one of the best I've ever sewed."  A young boy would find the mask a bit intimidating...
All hand sewn with tiny beads
The Spy Boy told us it took him four months to sew it all together.  The feathers are rooster and ostrich feathers.

Looking up to the top of the pilot doors that separate the yellow front room of the lobby from the green back room, the ceiling is a pleasant dark blue.  The ceiling and medallion are the only parts of the house that have not been repainted...
A real New Orleans ceiling
Shall we take a closer look at that medallion?  Of course we will:
I like to stare at the ceiling
Curious readers may wonder about the bust that caps the pilot doors:
Ceasar Augustus
The lobby is slowly being filled with curios and specimens of New Orleans life that have been collected over the past few years.  Some of them are mundane, such as a branch of palm nuts that fell in the back garden last autumn that has been mounted on the wall.  On one shelf is an armadillo skull that was stumbled over next to the Industrial Canal, just seconds after a woman wondered allowed if there was any wildlife in the area.  Next to the palm branch is a candle chandelier made of collected driftwood by a river man in Arabi, just downriver from the Lower 9th Ward, in St. Bernard Parish.

The driftwood artist also crafted the shelf that hangs over the mantle in the dining room.

Things are proceeding apace.  The target date for opening is still the end of August, but it more probably will be the beginning of September.  There is no point in opening before everything is perfect.  The first month or so, we are thinking about offering reduced rates as we work out the kinks.  All in all, La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast will offer a unique and memorable experience on one of the most beautiful blocks on one of the most beautiful streets in one of the world's most beautiful cities.

Why the fondness for Mardi Gras Indian suits?  When we first came to New Orleans, we visited the Backstreet Cultural Center, on Henriette DeLille Street, about a half-mile's picturesque walk from our address.  If you want to see some beautiful suits, learn about the culture of Faubourg Treme, and also learn what a second line is, what a baby doll is, and what a skull-and-bone gang is, this is place will answer all your questions, and more.

A votre sante!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Les Fleurs Suite

The first suite is finished.
The first suite is finished:  Les Fleurs.  The sitting room is pink, the bedroom is peach, the ceilings are baby blue.  The floors are the original polished hardwood.  This suite is on the first floor in the front, across from the dining room.  The ceilings are 14 feet high.  

The front window opens onto a porch that faces the street.  It is the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by and to say hello to everyone strolling to the French Quarter or to Faubourg St. John.  The view is of Gayarre Park, directly across the street, and its statue of Clio, Goddess of History, Muse of Peace, who benignly looks over the 2200 block of Esplanade Avenue.

Is that a bed?  It is.  It is a queen, Egyptian-style bed bedecked with flowers:

A beautiful bed
The bath has a claw foot tub, original to the 1890s house, equipped with a shower.  The sink is in the bedroom, tres European.  The shutters on the front windows close, as seen above in the bathroom, but we prefer to keep them open in the bedroom during the day.  The light is a balm.

The furniture in this suite is predominantly antiques, and there are two fireplace mantles.  A flat screen TV is in the bedroom over the mantle.  In the sitting room is a delightful arrangement of original oil paintings.

Original artwork courtesy of Whalehead King
We began setting up the reservation software today, so the website should be up and running in a week or so.  The French Suite is almost complete, and the Pelican Suite needs a few more touches.  The painting was finished today in the Clio Suite.  The colors delight the eye.  All in all, things are moving along nicely and we should be able to be open for business in September.  Stay tuned.

Want to see those paintings a bit closer?

Those are saints' medals in the flowers
A votre sante!

Friday, August 10, 2012

A New New Orleans B&B Takes Shape

Middle of the 2200 block, Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans
The above photo was taken in December, 2010.  The addresses depicted are, from left to right, 2212, 2216, and 2222 Esplanade Avenue.  2216 Esplanade Avenue is the address of La Belle Esplanade, LLC, a New Orleans bed and breakfast due to open at the end of August 2012.  Times change.

First a look at 2212 Esplanade Avenue since the day the last photograph was taken:
Beautiful homes on Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, LA.  June, 2011
New shutters!  Between December 2010 and June 2012, 2212 Esplanade Avenue was always the showoff the three properties.  They were all built in the 1890s as investment property by the cotton broker Julius Weiss.  Over the course of over a century, all three houses fell into disrepair.  In the 1990s, 2216 Esplanade Avenue was purchased by a preservationist with an eye for purity who renovated the property as a New Orleans bed and breakfast known as Esplanade Villa.  The B&B stopped operating as such after the federal levee failures that accompanied Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  None of the homes sustained water damage, the neighborhood is called Esplanade Ridge for a reason, but the New Orleans B&B demand was less than robust.

In June 2012, 2216 Esplanade Avenue was purchased by new owners with the intent to revive its New Orleans bed and breakfast identity.  The new owners have kept all the period details, and most of the irreplaceable antique furniture, but they have added a fresh coat of paint and a playful sensibility.  A picture of La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast, located at 2216 Esplanade Avenue, last week:
 A new New Orleans bed and breakfast.
The blue house at 2212 Esplanade Avenue used to make strollers stop to capture a snapshot.  Now it is orange house at 2216 Esplanade Avenue.  If people appreciate the new colors on the outside, they will be amazed by the new colors on the inside.  New Orleans is a colorful city.  The suites in La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast are a riot of color that delight the eye with fresh surprises around every corner.

So, we have talked about 2212 and 2216, what about 2222, which was built at the same time by Julian Weiss and stands cheek to cheek with the others?  It hasn't been repainted yet, but the Historic New Orleans Collection has seen fit to include an architectural rendering of this equally beautiful building in its first edition of delineation prints rendered by Charles E. Ruello.  

Best wishes for a pleasant stay.  Meilleurs voeux pour un séjour agréable

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Esplanade Garden

An Esplanade Avenue Oasis

The gardens behind La Belle Esplanade Avenue have been replanted.  The oleander trees remain, but the thickets of bamboo have been replaced with shade palms and fruit trees.  Lemons, limes, satsumas, and figs.  There is a trumpet flower tree.  The pecan trees in the back have been there for decades, and they are welcome to stay.  We expect a bumper crop of pecans when the seasons align.

The fountain in the middle of the garden has been given a fresh coat of paint.  Leda and the swan.

For those who don't know, Leda was the queen of Sparta.  Zeus, king of the Greek gods, took a shine to her and seduced her in the form of a swan.  The fountain behind La Belle Esplanade depicts Leda embracing her fine-feathered lover.  The swan spouts a tinkling trickle of water that echoes throughout the grounds, adding to the air of peace and tranquility.

Renovations are proceeding apace in La Belle Esplanade's interior.  The lobby is complete.  The first suite of rooms, Les Fleurs, is finished.  Pictures to follow later this week.

Until then, a votre sante!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Cats of Esplanade Avenue

A New Orleans Cat

You might notice that cats have the run the gardens around the 2200 block of Esplanade Avenue.  They do not belong to anyone.  They are not pets.  They are free spirits, welcome fellow citizens who mind their own business, go about their own errands, and leave everyone else well enough alone.The cats are not tame.  The have never spent a night indoors, though they have spent plenty of nights in the shelter of houses, the crawlspaces under 2212, 2216, and 2222 Esplanade Avenue, included.  Nobody shoos them away.  It would be as productive as shooing mosquitoes.  
For better or worse, the cats are part of the landscape, part of the fiber and fabric of any given day.  Respect their independence and privacy, and they will respect yours.  There is something unnerving about a cat that pays no attention to you.  They don’t feel the same way about people.  They prefer it that way.
As feral cats, the cats in the 2200 block of Esplanade Avenue are both shy and bold.  When no person is about, the cats have the run of the grounds.  They like it that way.  Confronted, they will give ground.  Left alone, they will lounge in the sun until they are bored, or until they have an appointment somewhere else.  
Somebody feeds them.  They are not fat, but they are well-nourished.  Their sleek shiny coats belie that they are getting good vittles somewhere on a regular basis.  
The neighborhoods around Esplanade Avenue are full of life.  Not just cats, but also lizards, rats, and chickens.  The lizards and rats are few, thanks to the cats.  The poultry are willing to give the cats as good as they get, which isn’t any guff.  While roosters and hens rarely wander into the gardens behind 2212, 2216, and 2222 Esplanade Avenue, you can see them on Bayou Road, or North Tonti Street or Barracks Street.  When a brood of chicks tempts a kitten to test its hunting skills, both sets of parents, feline and avian, soon put a stop to the proceedings.  Bird and cat live in peaceable co-existence, each species respecting the other.  
Some people get friendly with the neighborhood cats.  A painter spent a few months at 2216 Esplanade Avenue, setting up her easel in the garden.  She  set out sardine tins for the cats, and they sat at her feet while she painted.  One day, she went inside to wash her brushes.  When she returned, the cats had walked over her palette and tore her canvas to pieces.
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