French New Orleans: Finding Paris in NOLA
It’s not hard to find a slice of Paris in the very French city of New Orleans. Lucky me we are renting a beautiful flat for the month thanks to my daughter graduating Tulane.
The first weekend here we went to jazzfest, something we’ve done many times before and still one of the best music festivals around that appeals to young and old. I’ve you’ve never been, you must try to go once. You’ll see anything from Chicago to No Doubt to Bayou Indians performing covers of Funky Meters songs, but lets get back to French New Orleans.
I think this is a town I have loved for two decades now because of its heavy French influence which is married so beautifully with Cajun and Creole cultures. Every other place you see on Magazine street in Uptown or in the Vieux Carre (French Quarter) has a French name. Consider the stunning group of antique shops on Magazine or Royal St in the quarter like Antiques de Provence and Balzac antiques on Magazine.
The plethora of French restaurants often with a Nawlins’ touch like August by John Besh in the Central Business District (CBD) or La Petite Grocery, one of our favorites on Magazine.
Patois near the Audubon Park is very cool and gives you the best of classic French with the best of southern food combined in dishes like a crispy duck confit salad or bayou pigeon frogs legs with a Vietnamese caramel sauce. That dish is the history of New Orleans on a plate, a French background that loves frogs legs sourced from the bayou with a Vietnamese sauce – there is a huge community of Vietnamese people here who came decades ago and entered the shrimping trade. This melding of cultures is what makes New Orleans so special.
NOMA, the New Orleans art museum from 1911 shows some very interesting contemporary exhibits plus they have a glorious portrait of Marie Antoinette upstairs painted by Angélique Vérany de Varennes, one of only two women who painted royalty at the time. She was only in her twenties when she painted Marie Antoinette and the two became good friends. The queen ended up sitting for Ms. Varennes 25 times before the revolution. There is also a portrait of Louis IVI in the same room. The small yet lovely museum boasts a collection Picasso, Braque, Dufy, Miro and others from the School of Paris.
However for me probably the most magically New Orleans spot that stands as an important part of French/American history is the Napoleon House in the quarter. The house is 200 years old and its peeling and decrepit looking in just the right kind of dive-bar kind of way. The building was built by Nicholas Girod, the mayor of New Orleans who later offered his residence to Napoleon in 1821 as a refuge during his exile in Italy. Napoleon never made it here but it feels like his ghost inhabits the place. Settle down to a superb Muffaletta or Po-Boy and a Pimms cup and while away the hours at lunch in this hauntingly fantastic spot from a bygone era.
If you want to learn more about the French in New Orleans read the Bourgeois Frontier by Jay Gitlin published by Yale University Press which chronicles the importance the French in American history.