A couple of weeks ago, my good friend here on the coast, Master Naturalist Andrea, of Hummingbird Trapping fame, was kind enough to invite me to join her and spouse, Ralph, to journey with them over to the French Quarter in New Orleans yesterday, to attend the Annual French Market Creole Tomato Festival.
During this past week, Andrea and I talked briefly about the upcoming Festival, and what all it might have in store for us. During our conversations, Andrea informed me that she has also invited our mutual close friend and co-worker, Master Naturalist Buddy John, to come along to the festival.
So, yesterday morning early, I drove the two miles over to Andrea and Ralph’s home, in nearby Pass Christian, to park my car at their place, and ride with them and John over to The Big Easy, for this French Quarter special event.
Upon arriving at Andrea’s and Ralph’s, I learned that John, and his brother Bill, a University Teacher from Dothan, Alabama, who was in town visiting John and his parents, would be meeting us there in the French Quarter.
Under a partly cloudy sky, with a slight breeze and a morning temperature already above 80 degrees at 8:30am, Andrea, Ralph and I set out across the new, $266 million Bay of St. Louis bridge, built after the old one was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, on our way to New Orleans and the Creole Tomato Festival.
While driving into the east side of New Orleans, we drove past and through several areas of the City which had been flooded just after Katrina, noting evidence of both serious recovery and seriously damaged areas, still awaiting recovery efforts.
In my own mind, as we drove through those areas, I silently wondered how many more years it would take for these heavily damaged areas to rebuild.
I also said a silent prayer as we drove along I-10, entering the City, for the thousands of families who were former residents here, prior to the storm and the flooding, who had suffered so much agony and loss because of Katrina.
Just before 10:00am, we left I-10 and withing several minutes, we arrived at the U.S, Mint, and shortly thereafter, made our way down Decatur Street, and into the Public Parking lot, over the Mississippi River berm, behind the Cafe Du Monde, finding a vacant parking space in short order.
When we stopped off at the local tourist information office in the ground floor of one of the Pontalba Apartment Buildings, which line Jackson Square on two sides, we wanted to find out the particulars about the festival.
In the information office, we learned that not only was the Annual Creole Tomato Festival going on during the weekend in the French Market area, but to our good fortune, there were also two other festivals going on: the Louisiana Seafood Festival and the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival! The three festivals were actually working together to make it a combined weekend festival, called: New Orleans Vieux-To-Do.
As we left the car, I slung by camera bag over my left shoulder, the sling of my Nikon D100 over my right shoulder, and a bottle of water in my right hip pocket. At that time, the streets and sidewalks were not too crowded yet, and it was easy to walk right along.
Ralph called John to find out where he and his brother were, and learned they were out 15 minutes out yet, from our location. So, the three of us slowly made our way across Decatur Street, over to Jackson Square, and walked around to the St. Louis Cathedral to take a look inside.
The St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square.
The cathedral is huge, and inside, very beautiful. A number of people were inside, some sitting in pews, while others walked around reading the various plaques, and viewing the inside architectural features. I had never been inside it before, and it is worth a visit if you are in that area.
After snapping a few images, we walked back outside, and then around the other side of the Square, past all of the Carriages lined up waiting for fares on Decatur Street, to the corner across from the Cafe Du Monde.
The world famous Cafe Du Monde, on Decatur Street, in the French Quarter.
Dozens of mule-drawn carriages line Decatur Street, in front of Jackson Square, across from the Cafe Du Monde, in the French Quarter.
As we stood there briefly, talking, waiting for John and Bill, watching a silver-painted mime doing a routine, I glanced across at the Cafe Du Monde and noted that there was a line of customers, stretching all the way around to the back of the awning area, and back around front again, waiting to get inside.
WOW! That line meant for quite a wait to get in there, to sit at a table for a cup of chicory coffee and white, powder sugar-covered, beignets.
In this file image I snapped during a 2004 visit I made to The Cafe Du Monde, you see what a typical visitor to the world-famous Cafe experiences, partaking of the delicious, but rich, beignets.
Inside the kitchen of The Cafe Du Monde is where the magic of the beignets takes place, when, fresh out-of-the fryer, a copious amount of powdered sugar is heaped on high, as is shown in progress in this file image I snapped on a previous visit to the cafe, in 2004.
A few minutes later, as the area streets filled with auto traffic, and the sidewalks and walk ways filled with people, John and Bill walked around the corner fence of Jackson Square, and made their way to where the three of us waited.
After exchanging greetings and pleasantries, the five of us walked across the street by the Cafe Du Monde, and started up Decatur towards the French Market where all the festival vendors and music stages were located.
As we walked past the entrance of the Cafe Du Monde, I noticed that there at the entrance were two men playing music for the customers at the crowded tables inside, and those who waited outside, for their turn at enjoying the Cafe Du Monde experience.
I recognized one of the musicians as Herman “Hack” Bartholomew, an incredibly-talented, black trumpet player, I had met and talked with several times over the past 7-8 years, in my past visits to the French Quarter and the Cafe Du Monde. As we walked by the, I gave Hack a squeeze on the top of his shoulder, and said Hello, telling him that he was still playing beautifully.
New Orleans’ own Hack Bartholomew, outside of the Cafe Du Monde, in a file image I snapped of him during a visit I made there in mid-2004, during The Essence of Jazz Fest.
We then spent the next 45 minutes or so, walking around the French Market area, through all of the vendor stands and tables, and watching the Zydeco band playing and spectators dancing at the upper music stand of the Market.
During that time, the sun was shining down hotly, which prompted the other three fellows to visit one of the beer stands for a cup or two of one of the tasty brews on tap there.
It was fun for me, just doing some serious people-watching then, as all of the people there moved about, danced, sat and stood around, just quietly enjoying themselves. I found myself silently wishing that Blond Girl could be there with me, sharing the experience. Another time…
At about 11:00am or so we walked down to the French Market Cafe for lunch, ending up in the upstairs dining room, when the main floor room was already full of diners. Our lunches consisted mainly of crayfish, oyster, gumbo and salad entries, with unsweetened tea as the preferred beverage of choice.
It was nice to be able to sit down and eat in the air conditioning, during our lunch. And to also have the opportunity to enjoy the relaxed, friendly conservation that ensued between us.
Just a wonderful time, enjoying a special experience with special friends, while being so far from family and home.
After lunch, we walked outside, and then over to the old Ursuline Convent for a short visit, which was “Home of Ursuline Nuns who came from France to relieve the poor, sick and provide education for young girls.” It was the first girls school in Louisiana, and the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley.
Upon leaving there, the other four walked back over to the French Market to enjoy the sites, while I took a short opportunity to walk down Decatur Street, looking for a souvenir cap, with the inscription “Bite Me – Bait Company.”
After checking quickly in about a dozen souvenir shops, I was unable to locate one of those, and walked back up Decatur to the gold John of Arc Statue, to meet Andrea and Ralph around 2:00pm, so we could head back towards Long Beach.
Although the sun and the heat was taking its toll on me by then, I felt a bit sad we were leaving the French Quarter.
I truly enjoy visiting there, and always seem to find that when I am fortunate enough to visit, it never seems to be for enough hours to see and experience all there that I want to see and experience there. The place just draws me, beckons to me and has a hold on me.
We decided to drive back to Mississippi on U.S. 90, along the coast, to see the fishing camps along there, and pay a visit to the Dong Phuong Vietnamese Bakery, just east of New Orleans, for some tasty baked goodies.
Later, after crossing back over the Bay St. Louis bridge, into Pass Christian, only a mile or so from his home, Ralph noted that it was definitely time for a nap when he arrived at there, as he was getting tired.
And, so was I.
It sounded like a good plan to me.
Thanks again, Andrea and Ralph, for inviting me along! And HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANDREA, on Thursday!
A good day, with good friends, at a good place.
Try it, when you get the chance.