New Orleans, Louisiana—alternately known as the Big Easy, Nawlins, and the Crescent City—is one of the most fascinating places in the United States. The Monkey was enchanté to spend time there in November 2000.
In 1699, France claimed Louisiana (named for King Louis XIV) as a colony. New Orleans was founded on marsh lands near the Mississippi River Delta in 1718, and became the capital of Louisiana four years later; a secret 1762 treaty passed control of Louisiana from France to Spain. Close to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, New Orleans grew rapidly as a port and trade center, with African slaves and cotton among its chief “commodities.” After 1783, the newly independent United States began its westward expansion and trade on the Mississippi boomed, benefiting New Orleans immensely. Napoleonic France retook Louisiana from Spain in 1802, but a short time later, busy at war in Europe, France agreed to sell most of its North American colonies to the United States in a deal dubbed the Louisiana Purchase that doubled the area of the United States almost overnight. In 1815 the so-called War of 1812 culminated with the U.S. defeat of its former colonial masters in the Battle of New Orleans and the city entered something of a golden age, albeit one based in large part on the slave trade. The city developed a reputation as a freewheeling place where cultures met and mingled in brothels, absinthe bars, and elegant parlors. Its large black population added to the cultural melange in a way few other U.S. cities experienced in the antebellum (pre-Civil War) period.
Occupied by the Union Army for three years during the Civil War, New Orleans emerged shaken by the loss of the lucrative trade in human slaves. But the city’s port remained a key asset, both as a riverboat terminus and an entry point for coffee, sugar, and bananas. In the late 19th Century, New Orlean’s black community crafted a new and vibrant music form that came to be known as jazz. A combination of African and Caribbean rhythms, old work songs and spirituals, and brass band tradition, the music took root in the city’s brothels and backroom bars before gaining a wider following and a less risqué reputation. Other music forms, from Delta blues to boogie-woogie, were also fostered in and around New Orleans and went on to influence the development of other styles including rock and reggae.
Despite frequent economic woes and racial discord, New Orleans is a great city possessed of a unique multicultural heritage well worth getting to know. In this shot, the Monkey explores an old cemetery with some skyscrapers from New Orleans’ Central Business District peaking out in the distance.
The Monkey takes in one of the quieter streets of New Orleans famed French Quarter.
The heart of the old French and Spanish colonial city, the French Quarter is one of the most interesting neighborhoods in the United States. Laid out in a grid with a central square, the Quarter evokes the 18th Century urban planning of its colonial founders while its mostly 19th Century buildings feature intricate ironwork grilles, plant-filled balconies, and hidden courtyards. Filled with restaurants, cafes, music halls, and crazy bars serving up cocktails like the Hurricane to an endless supply of visitors, the French Quarter retains a party atmosphere year-round.
On a street in New Orleans’ funky Faubourg-Marigny neighborhood , an ornamental lion greets the Monkey a bit too roughly. Luckily, the Monkey escaped unscathed.
A result of both the city’s colonial heritage and the watery ground on which it was built, the St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery, founded in 1789, features above-ground graves not unlike those of Paris’s Père Lachaise. By burying their dead above the usual water level, New Orleans’ residents avoided the unfortunate occurrence of seeing the city fill with corpses after flooding.
While St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery contains the remains of a number of New Orleans celebrities, its most visited grave is undoubtedly that of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, who was much sought after and much feared in the mid-19th Century for her spell-casting and potion-making abilities. Her grave, not pictured here, is ritually visited by those seeking favors from or contact with the long dead priestess.
Here, the Monkey wanders amongst the crumbling mausoleums of St. Louis No. 1, leaving Marie and the others to rest while enjoying the architecture of this City of the Dead.
New Orleans is renowned for its cuisine, which also draws on the city’s multicultural traditions. French, Spanish, Native American, and Caribbean cooking all came together in the Crescent City’s kitchens, creating a regional cuisine unique to Louisiana. Referred to as Cajun-Creole cooking, it’s worth clarifying the difference between Cajuns and Creoles, though, as it sheds light on the city’s history as well. Creole is a term derived from the Spanish Criollo in use throughout the Caribbean to refer (loosely) to the native-born descendants of Spanish (or other European) colonizers. In New Orleans, Creole refers to the Louisiana-born descendants of the original French colonizers as opposed to Cajuns, who are descendants of the French colonizers of Acadia (in eastern Canada). Forced to flee Acadia after the British defeated the French in the territorial French and Indian Wars (1689-1763), some of the Acadians resettled to Louisiana, where their name morphed from “Acadian” to “Cajun.” Thus, New Orleans’ Creoles and Cajuns have distinct historical lines that both lead back to French colonial foray into North America.
In this picture from Felix’s Restaurant on New Orleans’ famed Bourbon Street, the Monkey sits beside a bowl filled with the remains of boiled crawfish, a Cajun-Creole specialty.
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