Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thirty Days of Why I Love New Orleans

Let the Dead Sleep

Thirty Days of Why I Love New Orleans

My book, Let the Dead Sleep , begins a series that highlights New Orleans. My protagonists--Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn--are both from the city. They live and work in the city, love it, know it, and, naturally, want to keep it safe from harm!

Well, I love the city, too. I've never lived there, but I spend a great deal of time there. I have since I was a small child.

So, today's "Why I Love" goes to the city itself.

New Orleans practices what I think of as living history daily. The French Quarter is filled with fantastic architecture—all being used today as restaurants, shops, hotels, homes, and what have you. While it's called the French Quarter, a lot of the architecture is actually

Spanish. That's because of the fires. But, I'm setting the mule before the carriage.

Native Americans lived in the area for hundreds of years before the first European explorers and fur traders began arriving in the late 1600s. 1718 brought the official founding of Nouvelle-Orléans by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. In 1722 it became the capitol of French Louisiana, but a hurricane came and wiped out most of the houses that had existed at the time. They'd been described as hovels, so, maybe the hurricane—despite the damage and the horror—helped out history a bit.  Because, after all that damage and horror, Bienville set about to create the grid that remains the boundary of the French Quarter or Vieux Carre today. In 1763, with the British victorious in the Seven Years War, the land was ceded to the Spanish--and thus the Spanish rule. That didn't work out so well--a lot of the settlers, no matter where they came from, wanted it all back under French Rule. They drove the Spanish governor out in the Bloodless Revolution.

Ahha! The Spanish were not about to give up--a year later, they were back, and five of the ringleaders were executed and others were forced to pledge their loyalty to Spain. Next, great fires ripped through the city, the first being the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 followed by another awful fire in December of 1794. Over a thousand buildings were destroyed.

After these fires--and while the Spanish were still in control--the city began to rebuild with brick.  The cemetery, St. Louis #1, opened in 1789. While it’s true that flooding could cause bodies to float through the city, the style of the cemetery was, scholars argue, decidedly Spanish.

Rule got a little tricky and confusing. In 1795, the Spanish granted the United States "right of deposit." That meant the U.S. could use the port facilities. And then, in 1800 Spain and France signed the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso. It was so secret that many of the city’s residents wouldn’t know about it for years. It returned New Orleans to French rule, but only when the French were ready for a transfer of power and it wasn't to be for long. Then, as we know, Napoleon sold Louisiana (which included many other states or pieces of states!) to the United States.  

By then, of course, the "English"--some real English and many Americans--were trickling in and there was a magnificent mixture of cultures and people.

However, from that time on, the beautiful city of New Orleans was American. Fantastic architecture was already in place and more was to come. The Garden District became part of the City of New Orleans back in 1833. Parcels of land were sold and since the “French” were in the Quarter, the “English” had to be somewhere. Both areas are unique, beautiful, and incredible.

The Haitian Revolution that began in 1791 brought people—white and black, slave and free—to New Orleans and introduced incredible culture, including the Voodoo for which the city is so famous. Bad times were destined, of course. The Civil War came along, but the city was in the hands of the Union by 1862. And, as we all know, in our own day and age, the city was devastated by Katrina and the summer of storms and cast into further despair by the oil spill. But one thing about NOLA—the city is resilient! I was there yesterday and it was amazing to see the amount of people once again flocking the streets, making driving and walking a mad dash for survival, and most of all—appreciating the fantastic city.

My favorite description of the city as a whole is that which denotes her as “a gem of decaying elegance.” Now, trust me—not everything is decaying. There’s work constantly going on and many places are just plain elegant. Others are just plain fun. Some—like Lafitte’s Bar—lets you feel that you are, indeed, living history.

So, day one of loving New Orleans—she’s just a great city. There are all kinds of neighborhoods to visit extending beyond the French Quarter and the Garden District. There are the haunted cemeteries, the great Cities of the Dead, from St. Louis to Lafayette to those beyond the city limits. There is a bustling CBD, or Central Business District.

Oh, there are bayous and parks and national heritage sights and more. There is an excellent aquarium. There are so many places to go; there are carriage rides that must be taken, ghost tours, history tours, vampire tours! There is the Mighty Mississippi and there are paddle steamers and magnificent plantations just down the road and . . . .

The city, the beautiful city itself, is a gem.  Just sit at Café Du Monde as others have since 1862 and watch the pageantry at Jackson Square or the abundance of people in the city as they pass by. See the beautiful buildings of Jackson Square, the cathedral, the Cabildo, the Presbytere . . . .

Ah. Those are for another day!


Mike said...

Oh I so want to go back! Just one trip there inspired me to use the city in part of my first novel!

Heather said...

I visited New Orleans for the first time in November. It was amazing, and it was great seeing the city's resilience first hand. There was a lot of construction going on to prepare for the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras, but it was still magnificent!

Mona Risk said...

Hi Heather, I love New Orleans and visited several times before Hurricane Katrina. But I love your books even more. I've read them and re-read years before I met you. Your new stories are eagerly waited for by both my husband and me. Thank you for a new book set in such a gorgeous city.

Heather Graham said...

Mike, it's a great place to draw upon for fiction! Heather, it's come so far since we first went back after Katrina! Mona, you are always a doll--thak you!

DonnaGalanti said...

Heather, after visiting here I can see why it fuels fiction! It seems to pulse with its own heart beat. The food, the music, the best ghost tour ever...Madam Lalaurie's tale still gives me chills today. Looking forward to this series!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I love the food in New Orleans the best. The whole city is so atmospheric.

Mary Ricksen said...

New Orleans sure is an amalgam of so many different people. And it makes for an amazing city!