Monday, November 30, 2015

Mr. Bingle: New Orleans Christmas Icon

Pink elephant in City Park, New Orleans, LA
It's that time of year again, the only time of year when you'll see a pink elephant in New Orleans.  It's Celebration in the Oaks, when the whole Botanical Gardens, the Carousel Gardens, Story Land, and wide swaths of City Park proper are lit up with light displays.  This happens at the end of Esplanade Avenue, about a half hour walk from our house.

If Rex is the King of Carnival, then Mr. Bingle rules this time of year.

Mr. Who?

Before we get into that, let's take a look at your humble narrator pretentiously posing at Celebration in the Oaks in 2010, our first year as New Orleanians:

I've gained ten pounds in the last five years
So, who is Mr. Bingle?  Here is a helpful video that provides all the information you need to know.  I couldn't explain it better myself.

Howzabout a commercial for Maison Blanche from what looks like the 1980s?

That's a tough one for me to sit through, but it's not as tough as this puppet show that used to play in the Maison Blanche department store on Canal Street:

I'm not a big fan of puppetry.  That's just me.  It is no reflection on the artistry of the late, great Oscar Isentrout, Mr. Bingle's primary puppeteer.

We're a little light on real content this post and a little more heavy than usual on video links.  Sorry.  I know that regular readers stop by for some scintillating informative prose.  Some things are just better shown than discussed in depth.  The spirit of Mr. Bingle is best grasped intuitively, like the spirit of Christmas itself.

We'll finish with a song.  Take me back, Mr. Bingle...

If you've spent enough time in New Orleans, you'll recognize every image in that last video.  They aren't obscure but, if you haven't spent a lot of time in the city, you probably can't name them all.  The only puzzler for more-than-casual visitors may be the water color painting shots of what look like Christmas trees at night.  Those are bonfires that get lit on the levees in the River Parishes, further up the Mississippi from the city.  People light enormous fires on the levees so that Papa Noel can find his way to deliver toys to good girls and boys, with Mr. Bingle riding shotgun in the pirogue, naturally.

Now you know that, too.  

If you don't come to New Orleans during Christmastime and you still want to see Mr. Bingle, we know where you can find him.  We know where he resides all year long and it's not at the North Pole.  It's on South Carrollton Avenue.  Ask us about it when you get here.  Like Mr. Bingle, we like to share and we like to make people happy.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade
Where the rest comes easy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What is the Fleur-de-Lis?

A fleur-de-lis
A lot of people ask us what the fleur-de-lis stands for.  In New Orleans and, in fact, all over southern Louisiana, you'll see fleurs-de-lis everywhere.  I was starting to explain it to somebody when guess who showed up...

Lola showed up at our house to show off her new fleur-de-lis tattoo, complete with accompanying Mardi Gras mask.

I don't have one and Frau Schmitt doesn't have one, but there are plenty of people in New Orleans who have fleurs-de-lis tattoos.  Ask any tattooist what the most popular request is and he or she will tell you without hesitating a moment: fleur-de-lis.

When you are writing an article about fleurs-de-lis, the most irritating part of the process is that spell check always automatically turns "fleur" into "flour".  Then, your humble narrator has to go back and replace the 'o' with an 'e.'  If I missed one in the editing process (such as it is), please forgive me.  You can tell that whoever wrote this software isn't from Louisiana.

New Orleans flag
The New Orleans flag naturally sports a fleur-de-lis.  Actually, it sports three of them.  No matter what you read, and I've done plenty of reading on the matter, there is no definitive or straight answer why there are three fleurs-de-lis on the New Orleans city flag.  It just is what it is and let's leave it at that.  Somebody thought it was a good idea at the time and that's the flag we're stuck with.  Long may it wave.

What's the city seal look like?  I'm glad you asked.
City seal, New Orleans, LA
No fleur-de-lis there.  This is a just a jumble of imagery.  Some of it makes sense, some of it is just there to fill up empty space.  I'm not going to go into it.  If you are in New Orleans, you'll rarely see the image above.  The person who sees it the most is the mayor and I don't know if he knows what any of it means.  That's the kind of city we live in.  It's a jumble you have to decode on your own.

The fleur-de-lis symbolizes New Orleans', and Louisiana's, close cultural ties to France.  The fleur-de-lis is an important component of the Acadiana flag, which was approved by the State Legislature as the official flag of Acadiana in 1974.  Acadiana is the region of southern Louisiana that is dominated by Cajuns, who are descendants of French Canadians, not of people directly from France.  Creoles are descended from the French.  Cajuns are descended from French Canadians.  Get it?  

It's easy for people from outside Louisiana to confuse Cajun and Creole cultures.  People do it all the time.  Get ready for a lecture if you do it on the street.  It will be a good-natured lecture.  No harm: no foul---until the fourth time you make the mistake.  Then, the lecture gets a bit more pedantic so you'd better pay attention and not make the same mistake again.  The worst that can happen is you won't be invited to the next crawfish boil.

It can all get pretty confusing if you aren't from around here.
Blurry Acadiana flag as seen by a drunk
People from France ask me about the fleur-de-lis.  "What does it symbolize?" they ask, genuinely puzzled.  When I tell them about the French connection, they get that part but they don't get why the fleur-de-lis represents France to Louisianans.  To them, the fleur-de-lis is not a symbol of France.  It's the symbol of the Bourbon monarchy, and rightly so.  That's what it was.

When New Orleans and Acadiana were first settled, the Bourbons ruled France and the king's flag was the nation's flag.  Since the French Revolution, though, the French have a new symbol and a new flag.  The current flag, which you may have seen before:

The Tricolor

To French people the fleur-de-lis is not a symbol of their country but of the ancien régime the Revolution of 1789 overthrew.  When a French person looks at all these fleur-de-lis tattoos, he or she thinks that he or she is looking at a bunch of people who support tyranny.  Anything is further from the case.  The people in New Orleans, and in Louisiana, who have fleurs-de-lis tattoos are generally the people who most support le joie de vivre and they most dearly cherish a devil-may-care attitude to human affairs.  Look around.  You'll see that what I say is true.

The symbol of France is not just the Tricoleur.  They also have Marianne.

From the French consul's letterhead

It's all rather tangled and complicated as things tend to be in New Orleans, which is a city rich in history and traditions that go back a long ways.  You needn't worry about it too much.  Like many tourists, you can just walk into a tattoo parlor on Frenchmen Street or Magazine Street and get a tattoo of a fleur-de-lis to show your love of New Orleans.  You won't be the first and you won't be the last.

You'll have the good memories you made in New Orleans and, when you look in the mirror at that tattoo, you'll remember them even more.  The most bestest memories are made in New Orleans.  They are the kind of good memories that last a lifetime.

Be a New Orleanian wherever you are.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

New Orleans: A City of Loud Surprises

2200 block of Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA
Imagine it's a quiet afternoon along the oak-shaded boulevard of Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans.  It will be easy if you try because that is the way it is most of the time.  The birds are twittering in the boughs and the neighbors are waving hello to each other across the street.  People are walking their dogs without a care in the world.  The school bus drops off earnest young scholars into the arms of their attentive parents.  Everything is tranquil bliss, the way most afternoons are in New Orleans.

Then, without warning----a blast of bounce music comes barreling down the street.  You look in the direction of the source.  It's That Black Truck.
That Black Truck
Early in October I introduced our regular readers to New Orleans bounce music.  You can click this link here if you missed that installment.  Now, I'm all about releasing my wiggle but, for me, a little bit of bounce music goes a long way.  That said, if somebody drives by blaring bounce music out of their car stereo speakers, the kind of woofers that rattle the car's suspension and bumpers, I don't mind.  I enjoy the beat's punctuation to my day.  That said, I enjoy it quite a bit less when the car is stopped at the red light at the intersection of Esplanade and N. Miro Street at midnight, but, hey, that's city living.

I like That Black Truck.  I like That Black Truck a lot.  It doesn't pass by our house very often, but when it does, it always makes me smile.  Luckily, I had my camera at the ready the last time That Black Truck came around.
It's a Renaissance truck
Catering?  Yes.  Lawn care?  Yes?  DJ?  Yes, again.  That Black Truck is many things to many people from all walks of life.  Besides the music that That Black Truck brings to the streets, and its can-do attitude, I appreciate the truck's stenciled ammo-can paint job and do-it-yourself aesthetics.  They could park That Black Truck in the NOMA lobby and it would fit right in with a lot of the other art on display.     

As I was taking that photo of the truck's side, a voice from a loudspeaker placed in the truck instructed me to point my camera in the cab's direction.  "Don't just shoot the side, brother.  We've got a better shot for you," the voice said.  Indeed.

Men on a mission
I don't know which one of these gentlemen is DJ Maniac, but they are all heroes in my book.  Thanks for visiting Esplanade Avenue, gents.  It was like seeing Mr. Okra and the Roman Candy Cart on our street, rolled up into one.

It was with deep regret that I watched That Black Truck pull away out of sight down Esplanade Avenue toward the Claiborne Avenue Overpass.  The acoustics under the highway are incredible and I'll bet That Black Truck parked under there and let those speakers boom, boom, boom.  I'll bet people were dancing.  I expect there was laughter and singing and an all-around good time.  Why do I think that?  Because that's what happened on our usually quiet stretch of Esplanade Avenue.
Big speakers project a happy noise

I don't remember what song DJ Maniac was playing out of the back of That Black Truck.  I may be confabulating, but I think it was a bounce version of this:

You never know what you are going to see in New Orleans.  You never know what you'll find when you turn a corner.  This is a magical city that isn't choreographed.  It blossoms organically, one bright and incandescent bloom at a time, randomly, like a parrot in your garden.  There are usually trumpets involved, but sometimes it is something more prosaic.  Sometimes, all it takes for magic to happen is three guys in a black truck.  That Black Truck.  Now you know what people are talking about when they talk about That Black Truck and they capitalize it when they say it.

You'll discover all sorts of things in New Orleans.  Your destination is known and it's gonna be full of surprises.

We look forward to meeting you.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade, a boutique inn in New Orleans.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't Get Shortchanged in New Orleans.

Ethel Blanchard in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art

Ethel Blanchard visited New Orleans but she didn't stay at La Belle Esplanade.  When you stay with us, we'll tell you what's open and what's not.  Ethel Blanchard had planned her whole stay to visit the New Orleans Museum of Art and she saved the best of her vacation for last.  Today, Monday, she wanted to go to the New Orleans Museum of Art to see the exhibition of woodcarvings by Pierre Joseph Landry.  

Nobody at her hotel, not the front desk staff, not the concierge, not the cleaning lady, not the bellhop, not the doorman, not the manager, told Ethel Blanchard that the art museum in New Orleans is closed on Mondays.  She's been in town for a week.  Nice work, Marriott.  

If she had stayed at the Hilton, it might have been different, but I'm not really in a position to say.  I have my doubts.  All I know for certain is that when our guests tell us what they are interested in doing, we listen, and we recommend on how best to do what they want to do.  It isn't magic and it isn't voodoo.  It's about being a good host.

I ran into Ethel while she was walking dejectedly out of City Park, where the art museum is located.  It's at the end of our street.  "I told the people at the hotel I wanted to see this exhibit and nobody said a word about the museum being closed on Mondays," she told me with tears in her eyes.

To rub salt in the wound, she made her lodgings reservation through Expedia, paying additional "taxes and fees" than she would have if she made the reservation through the hotel's website directly.  Don't believe all the hype from the online travel agents and their best price guarantees.  Go directly to the hotel's (or the bed and breakfast's) website.  We don't list our suites on Expedia or anymore.  If you want to stay with us, you'll have to make a reservation through  Check it out.

Wanna know what's nice about staying at La Belle Esplanade?  We don't add 13% hotel and sales tax on top of the bill.  The price is the price.  It's a refreshing way to do business.

Anyhow, Pierre Joseph Landry fought in the Battle of New Orleans under General Andrew Jackson.  Later in life, after a career as a successful sugar planter, he became a sculptor, whittling wood into allegorical scenes.  His works are amazing and they've been collected at the New Orleans Museum of Art for a show that runs October 16, 2015 until March 20, 2016.

Frau Schmitt and I went to the exhibit.  What a great show.  Mr. Landry was self taught and very talented.  He reminded us of two innkeepers we know.  We spent at least an hour looking at his work.  It was fascinating.  I didn't have my camera with me so I don't have any pictures of the work itself.  Instead, let's break up the narrative with a picture of something else.


For the rest of this installment, I'm going to call the New Orleans Museum of Art by the acronym by which it's better known: NOMA.  

NOMA has an excellent permanent collection.  It's a little of this and a little of that.  There are always exhibits rotating through its galleries.  Currently, besides the woodcarvings of Pierre Joseph Landry, there is an exhibit of Noh masks made to resemble famous women in the Western canon of old master paintings, and views painted of the French Quarter in the early years of the 20th century. There is also a room where a man is typing on a typewriter.  I didn't pay much attention to this bit of performance art.  If I want to see a man typing, I can just look in the mirror.

For eight bucks, you're welcome to come over and watch me write this blog.  No refunds.

The black and white version
People ask us where to eat when they are in City Park.  There is always Morning Call, and you can't go wrong there for café-au-lait and beignets, but if you are looking for a real meal, we suggest Café Noma.  

Café Noma isn't your typical museum snack bar.  It's a real restaurant and the food is very good.  The atmosphere is relaxing and the view out the windows of City Park is stunning.  Don't think of Café Noma as a place to duck into when it's raining and don't think of it as a meal of last resort.  Frau Schmitt and I go there for lunch when we go to the museum.  We make an outing of it.  We've never been disappointed.

You don't need to go through the museum to eat at Café Noma.  If you tell the ladies at the front desk that you're just there for lunch, they'll let you through without paying the museum's admission.  Don't take advantage of this.  There is also a side entrance on the downtown side of the museum building.

If you are looking for lodgings run by professional hosts who enjoy sharing everything they know about New Orleans, think about staying at La Belle Esplanade.  We'll be happy to meet you and if something is closed on the day you want to go, we'll advise you to rearrange your plans so that you'll be able to see the things you want to see, and avoid the things you want to avoid.  Good memories are made on Esplanade Avenue.

We are looking forward to meeting Ethel Blanchard again, this time when she stays with us.  

Until that day,
À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

We Have An Accordion In Our House

It's morning in New Orleans!
We have a new accordion in our house.  I know many of our regular readers can say the same thing but I felt compelled to mention that we have one now, too.  Keeping up with the Joneses, and all that jazz.

Naturally, I haven't taken a picture of our new accordion because I'm lazy and also because our new accordion is only new to us.  It's really an old accordion that came via FedEx yesterday.  From what I understand, it won't make any noise beyond a squeezed wheeze.  This is fine because neither Frau Schmitt nor I play the accordion.  We haven't even tried it out.  We've only admired it with our eyes.  We don't know enough about playing the accordion to noodle on our new (to us) accordion.  It's a conversation piece.

Look at the negative space between the E and the x in Fedex on the side of a Fedex truck.  That space forms an arrow pointing forward.  The people who designed the Fedex logo didn't realize it when they made it.  It was serendipity.

Once you see that arrow, you can't stop seeing it.  It's right there.  Things happen like that sometimes.  I should know.  I live in New Orleans.

Shane, which isn't her real name, stayed with us recently and she offered to send us her accordion for the cost of shipping.  Naturally, we agreed.  We like it when our guests help us build up La Belle Esplanade's mythology and when they help us build up the unique collection of oddities we house in our lobby.  Our lobby is a veritable odditarium.  Shane, which, again, is not her real name, sent us the fabled White Accordion.  

When I opened the box, I got a jolt of the shivers.  Then, I got a shot of the jitters.  Then, I got the shakes.  Then, I got the heebie-jeebies.  Then, I got the hot sweats.  Then, I let out a long whistle after I unwrapped all the packing: Whoooo-oooo-wheeet.  This was a lucky day in the Big Easy.

Thanks, Shane.

Shane says this is the greatest accordion song of all time:

I had to promise I would play this song when I installed the White Accordion in our inn.  This one is for Shane (not her real name).

I was corresponding with someone recently who has been to New Orleans and he asked if I knew where he had been while he was here.  "It was a high-ceilinged hall, like a beer hall, and they were playing zydeco music, of course, and they served all the New Orleans food you have to eat when you are in New Orleans like alligator and boiled crawfish.  Do you know where that was?"

Zydeco music is actually very uncommon to find in New Orleans, so the "of course" was a little misleading.  Also, Frau Schmitt and I rarely go anywhere that offers alligator on the menu.  I know where he's talking about but I'm not going to name it.  If you want to go, ask me when you're here.

People often confuse Cajun with Creole.  Cajuns play zydeco music  and they eat alligator.  Heck, Cajuns eat anything that moves.  Just look at the signs at the Baton Rouge Zoo.  They all contain recipes and they all start with, "First you make a roux."

The accordion is not a Creole instrument.  New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz.  New Orleans jazz is built around the trumpet, the tuba and the banjo.  Most people don't know that, but it's true.  You don't hear many banjo players anymore but if you play the jazz tuba, you can find steady work in New Orleans.

Is the Waltz of the Monsters done yet?  Here's an example of zydeco music:

You'll find people playing the washboard in New Orleans, but that isn't a Creole instrument.  It's used more often in Louisiana country music than it is in Louisiana city music.

I hate to tell you this, but few people speak French in New Orleans.  That's the language you'll most often hear, after English, out in the swamp.  If you are in St. Bernard Parish, you'll hear Spanish, too.  The people speaking Spanish aren't Cajun.  They are Los Isleños.

Then, to tell you about the rest of my day, I went to Parkview Tavern to rehydrate myself after going to the Creole Country Sausage Company.  I'll tell you, it's hard being a professional innkeeper.  We have enough sausage to last us a long while.  It's delicious.

I was talking to six of my cronies, comrades, compatriots, or whatever you want to call them, and we got to more talking and then we talked some more.  Mike, who's the youngest of us, said, "You know who we remind me of?"  

It turned out we all did know who we remind him of:

Stay tuned for further updates on the storied White Accordion and other irrelevant news.  If you choose to stay with us, remind me to tell you the story about the time I met Robert Vaughn.  It's a real thriller-diller.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade, your boutique bed and breakfast inn in New Orleans.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

There Is a House In New Orleans

Ride the wave
Frau Schmitt and your humble narrator are innkeepers.  Being an innkeeper is a profession.  It's how we make our living.  We support ourselves as innkeepers and we preserve the property located at 2216 Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans by being innkeepers.  If people didn't choose to stay at La Belle Esplanade, the building wouldn't be the landmark that it is.  We would like to thank everyone who has stayed with us over the years for their help in paying the bills and maintaining the upkeep.  Thank you.

We see ourselves as stewards of this magnificent home located an equal distance between the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street in one direction, and City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art in the other direction.  That picture up top is from the Botanical Gardens in City Park.  It is a pleasant and picturesque stroll no matter which way you turn outside our front door.  

We love living in New Orleans and, more specifically, we love the part of New Orleans in which we live.  Ours is a very interesting neighborhood.  We never know what we'll find when we turn a corner.  All we know is that we are continually pleasantly surprised.

Are you ready?

I was reading about the history of the above song on the House of the Rising Sun Bed and Breakfast's website.  If you want to stay in Algiers when you visit New Orleans, we recommend staying with Kevin and Wendy.  It's very nice in Algiers.  It's quiet.  We live in a quiet part of the city, but it's nowhere near as quiet as Algiers.  It's that quiet.

We don't get to Algiers often, but when we do, we take the ferry.  It's pedestrian only.  $2.00 each way and the view is breathtaking.  

Hallowe'en is over
We've had a lot of people driving to New Orleans recently.  I don't know why.  You certainly don't need a car while you're here.  Being from Connecticut, your humble narrator dislikes any car ride longer than an hour.  Why?  Because that's about how long it takes to get anywhere in Connecticut.  If it's more than an hour, that place is too far.  Plus, I don't mind flying.

We had a whole family come down for Voodoo Fest this past weekend.  They parked their car in the back lot behind our gardens and left it the whole time.  Never used it once.  I like that.  

Other people insist on driving.  If you want to know why I don't like driving, here's a video of two people trying to find a parking space near the French Quarter.  Notice it took them the first 2:35 just to travel two blocks.  Oy vey!  I've got other things I could be doing rather than sit in the car with those two.

Now, if you want to go to a plantation or out in the swamp, then you might want a car.  Of course, Tours by Isabelle will pick you up right at our house and take you out there, too.

People ask all the time if they should take a swamp tour.  "Is it worth it?"  If you are here for two days and you want to spend half your time outside New Orleans, I have to ask you if you think it's worth it.  It's not like you're going to be bored in the city.  But then, some people don't like to be around other people.  In that case, the swamp will probably be for you.

People who choose to go don't regret it.  I can tell you that.  

There is a house in New Orleans
Frau Schmitt took that picture at the top of this page of the Pavilion of the Two Sisters in the Botanical Gardens.  Pretty good work, huh?  She has an eye for composition.  

I took the picture of our house, above.  One of my legs is shorter than the other so every time I take a picture it's at a slant.  

One one final note:

This month marks the 19th month in a row that we've been ranked the #1 bed and breakfast on Trip Advisor not just in New Orleans, but in all of Louisiana.  We are very proud of this fact, but it's only due to the many kind words people have written about us over the past year and half.  We would like to thank everyone who has stayed with us.  You make our profession a pleasure.

À votre santé,
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