By Debby Giusti
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Let the good times roll, as they say in New Orleans, Louisiana, known as NOLA. Some months ago, my husband and I signed up to take an October trip to The Big Easy with a group from church. We lived in Louisiana when our children were young and visited N’awlins often, but we hadn’t been back in years. Fond memories of the history, culture, cuisine and charm of the city that I had loved then enticed me to return.
This time I visited as a writer and saw New Orleans through different eyes. As I toured the French Quarter, dined at sidewalk cafes and enjoyed a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi, I discovered a city packed, like a treasure chest, with story fodder. New Orleans teems with life, and inspired by the sights and sounds, I came home eager to share with you what I had experienced.
|ST Louis Cathedral|
Often we dream of traveling to distant lands in search of a unique setting, but stories can be found anywhere—around the corner or in neighboring state, and yes, even on church tours to places we’ve already visited. For a writer, there are #NOLIMITS on where to find inspiration. Any life experience can trigger an idea for those of us who work at creating tales that capture hearts…and New Orleans is a city that can easily capture your heart!
The people of New Orleans come from hardy stock. A mix of French, Spanish, Creole, African, Canadians, Haitians, Irish and Italians call New Orleans home. You’ll find voodoo queens, like the infamous Marie Laveau of yesteryear, to current day artists that sell their paintings along Jackson Square, to a host of Mardi Gras krewes and party revelers who fill the streets during the parades. The city welcomes all of them.
|Cast iron fences are seen throughout the city.|
Do a Google search to learn the amazing history of French rule, followed by the Spanish, and again the French before Napoleon sold New Orleans to the US in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. While I like doing online research, I especially enjoy getting first-hand information from docents and tour guides. For me, the bites of information I glean from them provide the seasonings, like any good cook adds to her gumbo, to flavor my the writing.
Here is some of what I learned:
Jackson Square is the center of the French Quarter and is named for Andrew Jackson. In the War of 1812, British troops, 10,000 strong, advanced on the city. Jackson and his men came to the rescue. Although outnumbered two to one, Jackson and his soldiers defeated the British and saved New Orleans.
|Andrew Jackson's statue in the center of|
Saint Louis Cathedral, named for the King of France, overlooks Jackson Square, dates from 1718 and is one of the two oldest cathedrals in the United States. Destroyed by fire, the cathedral has been rebuilt twice and is a favorite landmark to the predominately Catholic population of New Orleans.
In the 1840s, two block-long rows of brick structures were constructed on each side of Jackson Square in hopes of upgrading the French Quarter. Shops opened on the first floors, with sixteen apartments over the storefronts available for rent. The Pontalba Buildings are the oldest continually rented apartments in the US.
New Orleans was home to the largest US Mint in the South. In operation from 1838 to 1861 and again from 1879 to 1909, the mint produced both gold and silver coins.
The Higgins boats used in the Normandy Invasion on D-Day were manufactured in New Orleans. Today, a National World War II Museum honors our greatest generation and is a must-see for any WWII enthusiast.
The New Orleans City Park was established in the mid-1800s. The land was once the Allard Plantation, but was bequeathed to the city as a park for children. The park encompasses 1,300 acres and is two times larger than Central Park, in New York City.
|The Natchez steam paddle|
|The port of New Orleans is busy, even at night. We|
passed a number of ships lined up to unload their cargo.
In New Orleans, medians— the grassy strip in the middle of a road—are called neutral ground. Po-boys are similar to hoagies and come dressed, with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. Make dodo is to go to sleep, and lagniappe is a bit of something extra, like a second scoop of ice cream or another spoonful of jambalaya, a rice dish containing meat and seafood.
When giving directions, locals don’t refer to north, south, east or west. Instead, they use the terms riverside, uptown, lakeside and downtown as points of reference.
|ST Louis Cemetery|
Because of the high water table, the dead are buried above ground, and family members are often interred in the same vault. A weeping willow on the tomb means a baby is buried within. Locals visit the cemeteries on All Saints Day. In the past, families would cart in cemetery furniture on which to sit as they enjoyed picnic lunches, played cards and white washed the tombs.
The old pharmacy on Chartres Street, now a museum, had large apothecary jars in the front window that signaled sailors when they docked in port. Red water in the jars warned of an outbreak, or plague, while green water signified the city was safe and sailors could come ashore.
|Can you see the Romeo Hookers?|
Sharp, serrated strips of metal can still be seen at the top of the iron poles used to support balconies in the French Quarter. Called Romeo hookers, the sharp attachments were strategically placed to keep young men from climbing to the second-story bedrooms where the daughters of the families lived.
|This woman reads palms and Tarot cards|
into the night.
In 1856, a yellow fever outbreak, spread by mosquitoes that bred in the cisterns, claimed more than 8,000 lives.
Nicknamed the “Trinity,” celery, parsley and onions are favorite seasonings used by Louisiana cooks.
Court of Two Sisters, a well-known French Quarter restaurant, was once a ribbon and rabais or notions shop.
From 1850 to the Civil War, New Orleans was the richest city in the United States due to newfound methods of producing white sugar.
Red beans and rice were commonly served on Monday’s in most homes as a way to use the leftover pork, or ham, and vegetables from Sunday’s dinner.
In 1788, a fire destroyed 856 wooden buildings in New Orleans. Six years later, 212 buildings were lost in another city-wide fire. When New Orleans rebuilt the second time, they used bricks.
In 1884, the World’s Fair, known as the World’s Cotton Centennial, was held in New Orleans and started the tourism industry that remains an important source of revenue for the city.
|Decatur Street in the heart of the|
Mardi Gras is celebrated from the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The standard colors used in floats and costumes are purple, green and gold and symbolize justice, faith and power in that order.
New Orleans is located 60 miles from the Gulf of Mexico as the crow flies and is a 120-mile drive by car.
I came home from my travels excited about what I’d learned and equally as enthused about the spirit of the people of New Orleans who have endured and thrived in a city that has faced much in its history. No one can forget Katrina and the devastation it caused. We all remember the horrific pictures of the water, rushing in from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River that overran so much of the city. Thankfully, the French Quarter sits at a higher elevation and was not flooded, but in other areas, the water wreaked havoc. The restoration and revitalization of New Orleans defies the odds, and although the people are quick to recall the ravages of the storm, they are also proud of what they’ve accomplished to rebuild their city.
As writers, we can learn from NOLA, from the city’s tenacity and determination. They didn’t let adversity stop them, even from something as dangerous as a Category 5 Hurricane named Katrina. The city and its people found the wherewithal from deep within to not only survive but to emerge triumphant. It’s the #NOLIMITS theme that we embrace in Seekerville…stay the course, don’t give up and persevere in the face of huge odds, just like the people of New Orleans.
|Mules pull the carriages in the French Quarter.|
I hope the overview of my trip has whet your appetite to find new settings in which to place your characters. What folklore or history have you picked up from your travels that will make a rich backdrop for your own writing? What do you look for in a setting? What areas are you eager to explore as you research your next story?
In honor of New Orleans, I’m serving a delicious meal that I enjoyed at Muriel’s on Jackson Square: Shrimp Gumbo, Shrimp and Grits served in a Cajun red sauce and Crème Brulee.
|Supposedly Muriel's Restaurant has a ghost. Each night|
this table is set and a glass of wine poured for their visitor.
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to Café du Monde for a cup of café au lait, made with chicory, and beignets, piping hot and covered with confectioners’ sugar. Café du Monde, located between the Mississippi River and Jackson Square, has been serving beignets continuously since the Civil War. Enjoy!
|Wonder how many beignets I can eat in a day?|
|Watching the cook make beignets.|
Wonder how many they make in a day?
Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for PERSON OF INTEREST, the latest book in my Military Investigations series, AND a kitchen timer. To get words on the page—in true #NOLIMITS fashion, I set my timer for thirty minutes and write non-stop. When the timer dings, I break for water and a quick stretch, before I set the timer again. I’ll also give away a pretty journal and a string of Mardi Gras beads.
Happy Writing and Happy Birthday, Seekerville!
Wishing you abundant blessings,
PERSON OF INTEREST
By Debby Giusti
WOMAN ON THE RUN
While babysitting a young servicewoman’s infant, Natalie Frazier hears a murder in the neighboring army duplex. Convinced her former commander is behind the crime, the ex-soldier bolts with the baby. But who will believe her story? Army investigator Everett Kohl deals only with the facts, but this time his gut instincts can’t be denied. Is the attractive Natalie a cunning killer, as his ranking officers believe, or an innocent victim? Ordered to bring her in, Everett has a decision to make. Helping her could cost him his job…but not protecting Natalie and the baby could get all of them killed…
Order your copy in digital or print format: Amazon.