Thursday, July 30, 2015

Riding a Motor Scooter in New Orleans

A motor scooter in New Orleans
A lot of people see our motor scooters parked in front of our inn and remark that it's probably the best way to get around New Orleans.  I've been a scooterist for a long, long time.  Frau Schmitt, a little less so, only since she met me and moved here.  Like I've always told Frau Schmitt since I met her, "Get a scooter.  It will change your life."

I stand by these words.

For our musical accompaniment today, let's listen to a song by Randy Newman.  He grew up in New Orleans.  He wrote the songs for "The Princess and the Frog," a Disney movie you may have seen.  We saw this movie before we moved here but after we had been for our first visit to see what the city is like.  Needless to say, that first visit was a success.  While the movie was a typical Disney production with the songs landing in all the usual places and all the plot points showing up where children will find them most delightful, the scenery and the spirit of the city portrayed are accurate.  So what's today's song?

This is one of my favorite songs from the 1970s.  Don't complain.  My other choices were "Disco Duck" and "The Streak."

Speaking for Frau Schmitt and myself, I can categorically say that we love short people.  Short people are always welcome at La Belle Esplanade.  Don't bother googling Disco Duck or The Streak.  I'll be treating you to these videos soon enough, gentle reader.  I love the '70s.  Shag carpet, fern bars, milky cocktails, creme de menthe, disco infernos, doing the hustle and brown-and-orange color schemes.  Sonny and Cher.

Anyhow, the electrical box on North Broad Avenue, where North Broad crosses Esplanade Avenue, four walkable blocks from our house, is painted with a portrait of Big Chief David Montana of the Washataw Nation Mardi Gras Indians.

Electrical box on North Broad Avenue, New Orleans
I had been watching the artist work on it for a few weeks and I was interested in how it would come out.  She did a very good job.  If you'll remember from a post back in this past March or April or May (I'm too lazy to look it up myself) I featured a photo of the Big Chief in this very same suit.  It's his 2015 suit.  Let's get a close-up of his portrait:
Electrical box on North Broad Ave., New Orleans
What does any of this have to do with riding a motor scooter in New Orleans?  Nothing really.  My only point is that the best way to see this magical city we call home, a city that is rich and ripe with details, a city in which cultural quirks burble out of the ground and in the very air itself, is to get out of your car or out of a taxi cab and to experience it in the flesh, in the round.  

We don't rent motor scooters to our guests.  We don't rent bicycles, either, but you can rent a bike at City Park or from Crescent City Bike Tours, and that way you'll see more than you'll see on foot.

Me?  I recommend on foot.  That's how Frau Schmitt and I explored the city the first time we came here.  We walked everywhere---in August.  New Orleans unfolded like a flower, showing us many, though not all, of the secrets its streetscapes hold.  We love where we live.

And now, since Randy Newman must be done singing about short people by now, here's the opening scene for a 1980s show called Blossom.  Maybe you remember that one.  Who sang the theme song?  Dr. John, the Night Tripper.  He also worked with Randy Newman on The Princess and the Frog.

It's just my opinionation, but I think you'll enjoy a visit to New Orleans.  It may change your life.  It changed ours.  Frau Schmitt, who is usually right about these things, seconds the motion every time I make it.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hustling in New Orleans

Tammie the Housekeeper's coat-of-arms

Regular subscribers to our blog have written to ask why I haven't written updates this past week.  I appreciate your concern, regular readers, but I'm not at liberty to say. What I can say is that even though July is the start of our slow season in New Orleans, Frau Schmitt and I have been hustling and I don't mean just like this:

You might think this next bit is apropos of nothing, but there's a reason I'm going to write it:

It's not what you do, it's how you do it.  Be anything you want to be.  It's not what you've got, it's how you use it.  You be you and I'll be me.  It's a matter of style.  

If you think that last paragraph doesn't sound like your humble narrator, you have a good eye and you're right.  I plagiarized it from Ray Stevens.  Of course, now that I've given him the credit, it isn't plagiarism, is it?

The contents of that paragraph are anodyne enough but it isn't the sentiment that attracts me to them.  There's a reason these words have been running through my head recently and it has nothing to do with the brunch we had recently at La Crêpe Nanou.
La Crêpe Nanou
La Crêpe Nanou is a French restaurant on Robert Street, within spitting distance of Robert Street's intersection with Prytania Street.  It's a nice part of Uptown.  We don't normally send guests there because it's a bit out of their way and the restaurant doesn't take reservations.  It's first come-first served.  Some people like the guarantee of a reservation if they are going to go out their way to a neighborhood they haven't read about in the guide books.  We can't blame them, so, while we'll discuss La Crêpe Nanou, we rarely recommend it except to the most adventurous.  Even if you can't get a table, or there's an hour wait, there are plenty of other good restaurants nearby, but, again, those places aren't in the guide books.  It's an adventure that's worth it.

The inside of La Crêpe Nanou is as quirkily appealing as the outside and the food is outstanding.
Exterior of La Crêpe Nanou
There's a replica of the Eiffel Tower over their front door.  I always think that's a nice touch.  I wouldn't mind a replica of the Eiffel Tower to put in our lobby.
Over the entrance to La Crêpe Nanou
Even though July is supposed to be the start of our slow season, and it is slower than the previous six months have been, there has still been a steady stream of guests at the inn.  In fact, they have been as numerous and as varied as the cast of Cannonball Run 2.  How numerous and various?  Check out this clip at 1:35 for a list in alphabetical order if you can't sit through the whole minute and a half before that (sit through it):

I was talking to Tammie the Housekeeper about how we aren't as slow this year as we were last year.  "Are you complaining?" Tammie the Housekeeper said.  "I would think that being busy is a nice problem for an innkeeper to have."

She had made a good point, of course.  Sometimes, I think Tammie the Housekeeper spends too much time with Frau Schmitt.  Frau Schmitt is usually right about these things, too.
Tammie the Housekeeper

Did you know Tammie the Housekeeper's family has a coat-of-arms?  I didn't either until she showed it to me.  Tammie is a Cajun, not a Creole.  Her family comes from out in the swamp, descended from French Canadians, French Canadians who have a long lineage that goes back to the founding of Normandy, no less.  Who knew?  Now I know.  You do, too, gentle reader.  When you stay with us, you are staying with noble gentry.

Shazbot!  All this talk about La Crêpe Nanou made me think of something else:

Na-Nu Nan-Nu,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Technical Difficulties

It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it does.  We're experiencing some technical difficulties of a vague and indeterminate nature that we cannot describe at this point in the diagnostic process.  I know: the suspense is killing you.  Apologies for the lightly nonexistent publishing schedule this week.  As I say, technical difficulties.  We should be back and up online on Sunday.

Why do I bother to put all this here if there is nothing to say?  Because there is nothing worse than a dead blog.  We're not dead.  Far from it.  

If you are looking for something to read, I did just recently rewrite our website's page about breakfast.  

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Finding the best New Orleans B&B

Lillie's Package Store, St. Ann Street, New Orleans, LA
I read a lot of online reviews about B&Bs in New Orleans.  It's a hobby of mine.  They are usually good reviews.  In fact, they are usually excellent reviews.  Why is that?  It's because the hospitality bar is set high in this city.  We love visitors.  We try to treat them right.  As innkeepers, we usually succeed.  That's our business.

Frau Schmitt and myself are professional innkeepers.  We wouldn't be in business for long if we couldn't compete with the other innkeepers in New Orleans.  We are currently ranked #1 on Trip Advisor, and we have been for 15 months and counting, keeping our fingers crossed, but it can't last forever.  I was talking to another innkeeper recently and he said, "I don't envy you being #1 so long.  There's only one direction in which you can go."  True enough.

What we try to offer is a taste of our neighborhood and what it is like to live in New Orleans.  We are newcomers to this city.  We have only lived here five years.  It is long enough to know a lot of things.  People are often flabbergasted by the amount of things we know, past, present and future about New Orleans.  That's our job.  It's also our passion.
What Lillie's Package Store sells
Being an innkeeper is the ultimate small business.  We invite people into our homes and share our lives with them.  Every B&B is unique, reflecting the personality, history, and interests of the innkeepers.  We are not located in the French Quarter or in the Garden District.  We're on the edge of Tremé.  We can talk about anywhere in the city because we go everywhere in the city.  Other innkeepers talk about other things.  If you want to talk about local musicians, we may not be your best choice.  We can talk about the local music scene but it isn't our forté.  We are more interested in what it is like to be a New Orleanian.

Be a New Orleanian wherever you are.

Most New Orleans B&Bs are good at what they do.  Each one is different.  Each one is different from staying in a hotel.  When you stay at La Belle Esplanade, we try to immerse you in what it is like to live here.  As long as you are staying with us, this is your home.  You can, and should, go to the French Quarter.  Be advised, however, that when you go to the Quarter, you'll mostly be meeting people who aren't from here.  You should go to the Quarter, but you should also spend time in the opposite direction.  New Orleanians are friendly and convivial.  They are happy to share their city with you and to show off its charms.
Steel pony
I was riding my motor scooter on North Broad Avenue the other day and I decided to take pictures of the painted electrical boxes that line the street.  I stopped across the street from Zulu headquarters to take a picture of that one.  The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is a New Orleans institution about which you probably know little.  Click the link.
I'm not going to go into the history and relevance of Zulu here.  If you're interested you'll do the research.  They are a part of our neighborhood, the way so many other things are.  So much happens in New Orleans that many people aren't aware of.  Sometimes, when we're talking at breakfast, trying to explain what New Orleans is to our guests, we realize we have to backtrack a bit and start explaining from scratch.  It's a city with many layers.  It has more layers than an onion.  It has more layers than a universe.  It can make you cry, it's so beautiful.
Big Shot
If you say, "Big Shot," in New Orleans, you may be talking about soda pop or you may be talking about a Zulu officer.  Or, you may be talking about something else altogether.  Someone familiar with New Orleans culture will be able to follow the conversation.  Someone unfamiliar with New Orleans culture will need some explaining.  That's what we're here for.

We don't try to keep you in the French Quarter.  We encourage you to go to Frenchmen Street, but there is a whole wide city out here that isn't written about in the guidebooks.  That's where we live.  We go to the places you read about in the guidebooks, but we live in New Orleans.  Defend New Orleans.

Look, anywhere you stay, you'll be in New Orleans.  Like having a bad meal, it's hard to find a bad place to stay.  We hope you'll choose to stay with us, but we're a small boutique, five-suite operation.  Everybody can't stay with us.  We don't have room.  Arrive as guests, leave as friends.  That's our motto.  It isn't written down anywhere officially, but that's New Orleans' motto, too.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Everything in New Orleans is a Good Idea

Everything in New Orleans is a good idea
I got a new sticker that I put on my motor scooter's leg shield.  It has a quote from Bob Dylan, of all people.  When fellow Orleanians see it, they say, "That's true.  Everything here is a good idea."
Sign in Rouses front window
I usually shop at Canseco's or Terranova's when I'm picking up groceries, but, sometimes, I'll go to North Carrolton Avenue to Rouses, which is a big local supermarket chain.  I wouldn't say that every boil starts at Rouses, but they do have an extensive seafood selection and a wide selection of spices blended to local tastes by local firms.  They make "local" a virtue.  We don't boil our own crawfish.  It's much easier to walk five minutes in either direction from our house to either Broadview Seafood or Orleans Seafood.  They both do a better, and less messy, job than I can.

Zatarain's is a local company.  Their HQ is located across the river in the City of Gretna.  Every time I drive by their warehouse, I sneeze.  The air over there is spicy.  The firm is actually now owned by McCormick & Company (NYSE: MCK) but they still maintain a local presence, which is always nice.  If you're from Maryland, McCormick also owns Old Bay Seasoning, what you folks use to boil crabs.  Zatarain's Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil is spicier and less bay-ey to my palate.

Everything in Louisiana is spicier.

One thing that I like about Rouses is that they really are dedicated to local firms, farms and suppliers.
Sign in Rouses produce department
When I'm shopping for produce in Rouses, I look up at a sign that hangs over the yams and I think about how Frau Schmitt and I have  some values in common with the Rouse family.  No, it isn't low prices.  We also believe in locals supporting locals.

We try to serve as much local food at breakfast as we possibly can. That's why I'm out on my motor scooter every morning before any of our guests are awake.  It's to pick up freshly baked bread and pastries. It's why Frau Schmitt goes to the farmers' markets a few times a week, to pick up what's fresh and in season.  It's why we stop by Terranova's to pick up sausages, at the Big Fisherman to pick up crab cakes or crawfish boudin, it's why we go to Cardozza's in Kenner for crawfish pie, and why we go to Norma's on Bienville Street for chicken empanadas.  We want our guests to get a taste of the various New Orleans neighborhoods.  Also, those are the places that have the best gossip.

It's why we get our bread pudding from the Pudding Lady.
The Puddin' Lady

Also, like Rouses, we believe in offering the best price for our services----every day.  

I'm well aware that we are not the least expensive lodging option in New Orleans.  For that you'll have to go to St. Vincent's Guest House.  I stayed there for a month before we moved to the city.  For the price, there is nothing to complain about, though the reviews are accurate.

We aren't the most expensive lodging option, either.  We try to offer good value for what we charge.  Even during Jazz Fest, when we necessarily raise our prices far above normal because the festival is a ten-minute walk from our house (and supply-and-demand and all), we try to provide a lot of extra lagniappe to make your stay memorably enjoyable. We want you to feel like you got your money's worth.
A cloud over Rouses Supermarket
Every day in New Orleans is a good day.  Every day in New Orleans is full of surprises.  Every day in New Orleans contains the ingredients from which good memories are made.  Every day in New Orleans is like nowhere else in the world.  When you stay in New Orleans, you can live like a local.  You can stay at La Belle Esplanade.

For the rest of this month, astronauts stay free.  Contact us beforehand for details.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Marxist Innkeepers in New Orleans

A Marxist Innkeeper in New Orleans, LA
The jacket gives it away.  That and the cigar.  Everything I learned about being an innkeeper I learned from Marx Brothers' movies:

If you are curious about how I learned to ride a camel, I learned that from Bing Crosby and Bob Hope:

If you're wondering how I learned the secret of a happy marriage, I learned it from Frau Schmitt.  I remember it well.  I also picked up some tips from Maurice Chevalier, for what they were worth:

If you want to know why everyone who tangles with my derring-do ends up at the same angle that herring do, well, I refuse to be outfoxed:

If you are wondering what any of this has to do with a New Orleans, you are not alone, no doubt, dear reader.  

But wait, what about that plaid jacket your humble narrator was wearing in the first photo?  Two words: Spike Jones:

If you have sat through no other video clip thus far, sit through this one.  I was at the Sazarac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel this afternoon and while what transpired wasn't an exact reenactment of this scene, it was close enough---especially after 1:39.  Enjoy.

You never know what you'll see in New Orleans.  

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Monday, July 6, 2015

New Restaurant in Tremé

Sky over North Rocheblave Street, New Orleans, LA
It was the darnedest thing, but I saw an eruption of snakes out of one of the lagoons in City Park.  Don't ask me to explain it, words won't suffice.  Just imagine walking by a placid lagoon minding your own business and hearing a burbling out in the water. When you turn, there is an eruption of snakes out in the middle of the lagoon.  They went up in the air, then they went down, then they swam away an all directions.  I beat a hasty retreat away from the shoreline.  I've seen a lot of things in my life but I've never seen anything like that.  You never know what you'll see in New Orleans.
North Rocheblave Street from Orleans Avenue, New Orleans, LA
A new restaurant has opened up behind us, on the corner of Orleans Avenue and North Rocheblave Street.  When we first moved here, five years ago, the building was empty.  Just before Hurricane Isaac, three years ago, the building was renovated and opened as a market.  I know because I went to buy ice there after the hurricane. We had lost power and we had just opened for business ourselves.  The market didn't last long, unfortunately.  

A month or two ago, the building went back into commerce as a restaurant of sorts.  It's now Orleans Ave. Wok & Soul.
Orleans Ave. Wok & Soul, New Orleans, LA
I took the photo above early in the morning, but yes, indeed, it's now open.  Down in da Tremé with me and my baby.  Only the best Chinese!!!!  Fresh donuts, bacon and eggs, po-boys, burgers and hot dogs for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Dine in or take out.

Wok and soul, New Orleans style
Frau Schmitt and I haven't been yet.  It's on our list, like so many other restaurants that are in the city.  I'm waiting to get a review from one of our neighbors before I take the plunge.  Not that have any trepidation.  I'm sure it's better than any of the other Chinese food available in our neighborhood.  It's just that this seems more a place for neighborhood habitueés than visitors from out of town.  I may be wrong.  After all, it's only a two blocks from Willie Mae's Scotch House and two blocks from Dooky Chase's.  

You can ask us about it when you come visit.  Until then...

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

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