the writers tour … involving a wee drink in historic places
August 13, 2009 § 7 Comments
It was a bit of rainy day. Enough to make a person want to tour some of the city’s haunts where writers of remark and reknown had trod before. Enough to incite bookish activities. Think bookish thoughts. See what other writers might have seen.
It began with a hop onto the streetcar which runs the length of St Charles Avenue right smack into Canal Street which edges the French Quarter. I will never pass up the opportunity to buy St Charles again during a classic game of Monopoly. It is a beautiful street stretching from urban fringes into the gorgeousness of the Garden District.
There is much to behold along the streetcar route. But you must keep your head and fingers inside the window. There is no air conditioning, so the windows will go up and down as you like. Sometimes there’s nary an inch between you and the branches, streetcars and trucks just beyond your window. Sometimes the branches of the crepe myrtles flick right inside the window. It’s $1.25 to ride the streetcar. The driver is nice, affable though ready to yell and smile at other drivers who unwittingly drive over the tracks in front of him or swoop close at a corner. It’s entertainment of a sort. He opened the door to the car to yell at a woman in a BMW who was pinching his access and he coached her, with a yelling voice, to back up, while offering some humor as an aside to us, his passengers. He let a bum get on the streetcar and ask others for enough fare to pay his way. We rattled from stop to stop. And got off at Canal and Bourbon.
This is the ritual of absinthe. Certain size glass. Fancy silver salver laid across the top. Sugar cube placed on top. Absinthe poured over the sugar. Sugar cube then lit and burns, carmlizing the sugar cube which drips into the absinthe in the glass below. When the flame goes out, the bartender gently scrapes sugar off the salver and drops it into the drink. Now ice water is slowly poured through the salver into the glass and the absinthe slowly, slowly “turns” color (gets cloudy), known as the louche effect.
Yeah, it’s legal now. Not too trippy unless you drink several I guess. I dunno.
Above, a glimpse of the interior view at Jean Lafitte’s Absinthe House. Hundreds and hundreds of business cards are taped, tacked and tucked on the wall. There are plenty of historical pictures framed and hung on the wall as well, yet (oddly), there are football helmets on long strings, hanging from the ceiling. The helmets are very dusty.
Don’t be fooled. There are plenty of places that call themselves the “absinthe house.” But this one, Jean Lafitte’s, might have special meaning to writers. One reason: O Henry lived across the street on Bienville, reportedly while hiding from the police for embezzlement charges in Texas. General Andrew Jackson and pirate Jean Lafitte were said to have met in a secret room on the second floor of this building to plan the defense of New Orleans. Chances are, Tennessee Williams wandered into the place as well.
Just like the Court of Two Sisters.
Above, the sign of the famed restaurant/club with its famed sunday brunch. Below, just inside, the courtyard entrance to the lovely place. We didn’t go in. We didn’t fill like another drink (yet) nor sitting at a linen-ed table. So, who hung out here? Well, our goodl Mr. Williams loved it, especially sitting at the patio bar and made reference to it in his work Vieux Carre. It’s also referred to in Ann Rice’s novel The Witching Hour.
Above and below, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon has always been a hang out. Built in 1772 it is seemingly falling in on itself. It’s an odd little place. Walk in and feel as though you belong or as though you really don’t. A huge old stone fireplace is smack in the middle (the smithy’s), loud music plays and find your spot at the bar or table. One wall has photos of celebrity visitors. There’s Nick Cage, Jason Alexander, James Dewhateveritis (Tony Soprano). Very cool. We didn’t stay here, though. Just stopped in to check things out. But duly note that Tennessee Williams liked this place. Surprise.
The picture below is in the lobby of the Monteleone Hotel. Yes, Williams stayed here, with his grandfather. He also worked on Camino Real. He also rec’d a basket of fruit after the staff realized who he was. It is also safe to say that the author may have had a drink here.
Truman Capote was almost born here at the Monteleone where his father had procured a suite. But no, as it happened, Baby Truman was born at the Touro Infirmary.
Do you recognize the “reference” in the picture below to John Kennedy ‘Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces?
It’s “Lucky Dogs,” which figure in the book bigtime. (I only know from HM. I did not read the book. I started it and stopped somewhere around page 15. )
And this is only a very teeny, tiny tip of the literary iceberg in the Crescent City. Laissez les bon temps roulez.