I’ve never been a person who believed I had to know someone in a place in order to visit it. For me, one of the great joys of traveling is crossing paths and developing friendships with people I wouldn’t ordinarily meet. But I’ve come to understand that being a stranger in a strange land isn’t always the best thing.
For the past three years, I’ve had the good fortune to be in New Orleans on the same weekend as my friends from Franklin and New Iberia. That first year, while our girls were visiting Warrington’s parents, he and I flew down for a quick getaway. We hadn’t been to New Orleans since we came for Jazz Fest fifteen years earlier, and thought we’d rediscover the city. My friends were in town for the Antiques Forum, and we met them for dinner, but not before they introduced us to two of their friends, Dick and Peter. Peter is one of the few full time residents of the French Quarter, so we met at his house, then walked over to The Italian Barrel, a tiny restaurant frequented by locals. After dinner, RP and Peter, both well versed in antiques and the city’s architectural history, pointed out different buildings and told of stories of how they came to be. That evening was my first look at the city from the inside, and it was enough to make me understand that there were actually two New Orleans: the New Orleans the tourists saw, and the real New Orleans, which you only saw if you knew where to look.
After that evening, I only experienced New Orleans from the inside–until last summer that is, when I arrived in the city with time to kill before my flight departed for San Francisco. My friends were there, but I couldn’t reach with them, and for a couple of hours, I was horrified to be a tourist again. I knew the other New Orleans was there, but the curtain dropped. It was awful.
So this time, I’m back . . . on the inside. I’m here for the Antiques Form which starts later this morning. I’d planned to stay at a hotel again, but Peter generously invited me to stay at his house. He’s an antiques dealer, and his house is filled with wonderful 19th century pieces. Some other people are staying in the back unit, the oldest building on the property built in 1820.
I’m sleeping in the front unit, in a bed crafted around 1855, by Dautreil Barjon, Sr., a New Orleans cabinet maker and free person of color.
Here are some examples of what it means to have access to the real New Orleans: Yesterday, we ate lunch at Elizabeth’s over in Bywater. We passed this boy, walking down the street playing his drum. He was really, really good. I asked if he was headed to band practice. “No,” he said, “I’m just drumming.”
A Louisiana Landscapes and Portraits exhibit opened at the Ogden Museum, so we dashed over to see it. On our way back to Peter’s, I saw these two chefs sitting outside their restaurant. They were just sitting there, lounging in the sun, taking a break between lunch and dinner service.
There’s still so much I don’t know about New Orleans; places I haven’t been, history I don’t know, people I haven’t met. I suspect that I could come back one hundred times and not experience everything. But at least I’ve scratched the surface and now I’ve got friends here to welcome me and keep the curtain lifted.