Thursday, May 23, 2013

30 Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 30

The Hotel Monteleone and Writers for New Orleans                                                                                                                                                                                                 The tale of the beautiful Hotel Monteleone began in the city—and far away, in Sicily. That’s where  Antonio Monteleone was born. He’d heard great stories about America and the
American dream and decided he wanted to come to this country. He settled in New Orleans—considered to be America’s most European city, which of course, since it had been under French rule, Spanish rule, and American rule—not to mention that those nationalities had been joined by the Brits and others who had wandered in. Antonio arrived sometime around 1880. He opened a cobbler’s shop on Rue Royale and prospered.

                He loved his new city.

                So, when a hotel became available in 1886 in the Vieux Carre that he loved so much, he bought it. It was on the corner of Royal and Iberville and had 64 rooms.  He did well with his hotel. He soon bought a nearby hotel, the Commercial Hotel. By 1903, he was adding more rooms.

                When he passed away, his son added even more rooms. Neither financial panic nor storms nor any other hindrance, natural or other, swayed the grand hotel. After his son, his son’s son took over—and that’s what has happened to this day.

                After the “summer of storms” had gone through NOLA and the levees broke and disaster struck the city, there were hard times. Somehow—and it still boggles my mind—we could drop newscasters on bridges—and food and water all over the world—but still had a hard time saving way too many of our American people. But NOLA is a tough old grand dame. I was there the weekend before Katrina struck Miami and then moved on across the Gulf and I returned to the city as soon as I could after the disaster. It was a wretched summer; right after Katrina, Rita and Wilma came on through.

                The people of the city were strong. But it was while I was with a friend who owned one of the carriage companies that Writers for New Orleans was born. She told me how grateful residents were for the people of our country—not governments or parties, but the people. And still, what they needed was not handouts after the worse, but work. To get back to work, the carriage drivers, hoteliers, bar owners, musicians, artists—all—needed tourists back in the city. And she mentioned, “You’re a writer; maybe you could get some writers to come.”

                Ah, yes. We could put together a conference. So, okay, a writer’s conference. What kind of a writer’s conference? What would make people come?

                Okay . . . any kind of writers! Fiction, non-fiction, mystery, horror, sci-fi . . . poetry.

                What if we couldn’t get enough writers?

                Well, then, we’d just have to have readers.

                And what if that wasn’t enough?

                Hm. We’d try to throw a few good parties!

                So, with Connie Perry and my carriage-driving friend, Writers for New Orleans came into being. Having decided that we were going to have a conference, we needed a place.  And that place needed to be a local hotel. Sheraton was going to take care of Sheraton just as Marriott would take care of Marriott—nothing against the chain hotels; I love many. But we wanted a local hotel.

                I had just lost my sister, Vickie, the summer before.  She’s the one who had come to Jazz Fest as long as I could remember. She loved the Monteleone.

                We headed there. 

                And we’ve there for eight years.

I love the Monteleone. I love that it’s been owned by a single family for so many years, and I love that the employees there are people I see again and again. I heard great stories from those I worked with about the assistance given to the employees when they were devastated after the storm—they were, if strapped when the hotel was closed, handed checks for electric and other necessities. I have loved their banquet crews and the management we work with. Every year, it’s really like coming home.

Rather sad, but when we went there, I wasn’t aware of the hotel’s literary credentials. (You think I might have gotten this when I realized there were rooms available such as the “Tennessee Williams Suite” and the “Eudora Welty Suite.” The hotel is one of only two others in the country—those being the Algonquin and the Plaza in NYC—recognized as
“Literary Landmark Hotels” by the by the Friends of the Library Association.

Tennessee Williams did indeed stay here; 214 Royal was his favorite address in the city. William Faulkner wrote here. Truman Capote liked to tease that he was born at the hotel. Actually, his mom made it to the hospital, but she had been staying at the hotel.

There’s so much to love. The lobby is beautiful and ornate. Entering from the street, if you make an immediate right, you’ll be at the Carousel Bar. The carousel was installed in 1949. The bar itself came about because performers—like Louis Prima!—enjoyed meeting friends and enjoying a cocktail after performing.

The pool is on the roof. It’s a lovely place to go, sit, soak in the sun, cool off from the sun, and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. There are meeting rooms—like the
Riverview—that look over the Mighty Mississippi. There are ballrooms that are truly beautifully designed and decorated.

And the food—even for banquets!—is delicious.

When people come here, they never want to leave. Aha! That leads to another draw. The hotel is haunted. (Naturally, right?) Several paranormal groups have carried out investigations here and found definite “haunted” activity. An employee died here of natural causes and he’s still around, walking the halls, checking up on the guests. Sometimes, you can hear children’s laughter in the hallways, even though there are no children. While these merry lads and lasses did not die here, it’s speculated that they had such a great time while staying at the Monteleone, that they returned to play.

If you’re interested, we stick to our original plan—Writers for New Orleans happens yearly at the Hotel Monteleone at 214 Royal Street. It’s for all writers, all readers—and/or friends who just want to tag along for fun. Our registration fee is strictly kept at cost—the idea remains to bring people into this incredible city so that they can fall in love, too—and so that more and more people can understand how unique and precious New Orleans is to our very unique and precious country!

Of course, any time you come, you might want to stay at the Monteleone. And if you can’t stay, at least pop in for a cocktail or soda at the Carousel Bar and see the beautiful lobby. Privately, family-owned for over a hundred years—if it weren’t for the fantastic beauty and incredible beauty, that alone would be a reason to come!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

30 Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 29

Everybody’s Got an Opinion
So . . . I love New Orleans, which is pretty evident. I’ll never know exactly what made me so very passionate about the city. Is it the history—is it a real mystique, or something that we’ve
given to it.
More than anything, I think it’s the way that Nola manages to be a city of living history. People live out their lives in homes where others tread before, dealing with the tragedy of the Civil War, slave markets, Civil Rights, and more. Restaurants are places where those creating the eras that came before us dined and talked and voiced their own opinion about “current” political situations that shaped the nation we live in now. Since the summer of storms, the city is more international than ever. Everyone is welcome in NOLA—Southern hospitality abounds. There’s the “decaying elegance” of bygone times; there is the good and the bad—an outlook that is resilient and hopeful for the future. There are the cemeteries where the past seems to seep right into your skin and Jackson Square where you see the performers, hear the performers, and the wonderful laughter of the children. Ghost stories in carriages as you listen to the voice of your guide . . . and the clip-clop of the mule’s hooves.
So, coming almost to the end here, I’ve asked a few of my children and friends to give me their opinions of this amazing city. There’s usually something that draws everyone, and for everyone, that something is just a little bit different.

From Jason Pozzessere  (my son and co-author of A Child’s Cry, Cast of Characters)
When in New Orleans there are three main attractions that most people just can’t get enough of. Bourbon Street, with its wide array of bars, club, and restaurants is a sure bet for a crowd pleaser. Second is the art, it is everywhere, and you can find beautiful works in galleries, shops, hotels,and even on the streets. But the third, and most important one--in this foodies humble opinion--is the food!

From K Paul's, to the World Famous Acme Oyster House, there is plenty to find that is sure
to please. But nothing beats a late night round at the Original Cafe Du Monde when one needs a respite from a fun night on the town or a crazy all night bender.

Since 1862 this French Market Original has been serving tasty treats to folks that have no known equal in the modern world. From its scrumptious food specialty, the French beignet, to its perfect partner in crime, a steaming glass of Chicory coffee, the cafe is sure to please just about everyone with working taste buds.

You also never know when you might catch a show, as the locals often times burst out into spontaneous song, or perform a little "reality drama" right in front of you. And have no fear for your safety, as some of New Orleans' finest can be found there taking a breather from a hard night on the streets at just about any time of day.

So if you find yourself in the mood for a great snack head on down on your next visit. I love it, and my moneys on the bet that you will too!

From Connie Perry (Organizer extraordinaire of Writers and Louisiana native)
One of the reasons I love New Orleans is because it is a part of me, part of my heritage.  I was born and raised in Louisiana, although it was in a different city, it really doesn’t matter.  Louisiana is one of the greatest states in America.  We may be one of the smaller states, but our state offers a myriad of opportunities to all.  Our state and New Orleans have a flavor all of their own.  All you have to do is come on over to visit and you too will be enchanted by the people, culture and some of the best food on this planet.  Ah, but my favorite thing? My son lives in New Orleans.  And my best friend comes to visit several times a year.  The memories we share are priceless!

From Erin McCarthy (USA Today bestselling author of True, a new adult novel, and many
I love New Orleans because of the joie de vivre of both the locals and the tourists... how it's a city that embraces the philosophy of live and let live.  The deep sense of history, the amazing food, and the wonderful music all draw me back to NOLA again and again!

From Chynna Pozzessere (daughter and hard-working L.A. actress.)
Uptown—While a lot of people love the French Quarter, I love Uptown. The area has a great neighborhood feel, wonderful coffee shops, and a real sense of community. I also love
the cigar shop in the alley by the Monteleone—lots of friends have worked there!

From Kathleen Pickering (author of When We Began and more! Kathy’s family owns a jewelry store—she is our expert!)
I'd never been to New Orleans until I attended Heather's first Writers for New Orleans conference eight years ago. Returning to New Orleans--and Heather's conference--has been an annual love affair for me ever since. New Orleans is vibrant with history, character and a passion for living that reaches a body through the city's diverse culture and heritage. Locals are delightful. Food is amazing. Music is as abundant as the breeze and keeps you dancing down the sidewalk with a smile on your face. Oh, and did I mention the jewelry and antique stores? Beignets and chicory coffee? Reasons enough to return each year! Thank you, Heather for choosing New Orleans as playground for writers. The city offers inspiration around every corner, indeed!

I was truly interested in myself in everyone’s answers—because, as I suspected, there’s not really just one thing—or perhaps it’s everything. New Orleans offers its own unique ambience; yes, it is the architecture, the history, the beignets, the laissez faire, the old and the new, and maybe, especially, it’s a piece of America that is just as special as we are as a
people—a beautiful part of the puzzle that’s the American dream.
Maybe, sometimes, it’s because there’s nowhere else you can get such wonderful cheese grits!
Ah, you never really know.
But you may just find yourself falling in love with NOLA anyway.

Monday, May 20, 2013

30 Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 28

                The word lagniappe actually entered the world through the Louisiana French who adapted it from the Spanish Creoles who came to New Orleans who adapted it from a Quechua word. Confusing?
                It originated from lapay, which sounds like a slangy version of “you pay.”
                It means just the opposite. It means a little something for nothing, or a little something extra. It’s very nice. Lagniappe is all the little extra wonderful things about New Orleans.
                There really so many things to do in New Orleans; it would take a massive travel book to begin to point them all out. But today’s the day to mention a few I’ve missed. A few more of the wonders to be found in NOLA.
                We’ll start with the steamship Natchez. Some people call it Natchez 9. That’s
because there have been many ships called the Natchez. The one you can board now in New Orleans was actually built in 1975. Her pieces come from earlier years, however. Such as her steam engines which were built for the Clairton in 1925. Her whistle is an antique, and her calliope was hand produced just as the calliopes of old. Her steel-and-copper bell was produced from 250 silver dollars—I’m not really sure how a copper bell was made from silver dollars “for purity of sound,” but that is the case.
                Hop aboard for a cruise that can include different meals and entertainment, and the sense of what it was like in days of old, traveling the city by the mighty Mississippi. Great views can be obtained, and to me, true perception of the river. The Mississippi is mighty and powerful.
                We hopped aboard the Natchez for Writers for New Orleans once and had a great time; it was a costume party with a jazz band on one level and karaoke on another—fantastic food and a beautiful night on the river.  Having seen the play Show Boat and then the musical with Howard Keel, I was anxious to actually get aboard a steamboat.
                The Natchez doesn’t disappoint—hop aboard! Naturally, you can find the Natchez at the river. The ticket office can be found at Toulouse and the river.
                Walk the river—yes, of course, there’s a river walk. If you’re not going to cruise, it’s great just to walk the walk—and watch the great big muddy Mississippi. Also, there are the Riverwalk Shops and the Riverwalk Marketplace. (500 Port of New Orleans Place.) While you’re heading that way, you could
stop in at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. (The Museum of the American Cocktail just found new digs and is in process of moving as I write!)
                Are you a gambler? Harrah’s is there, large, in Mardi Gras style, and offering everything from slots to poker to craps and roulette, fine restaurants, and a very nice hotel. Harrah’s can be found easily at Canal Street—you wouldn’t want to hide a big Casino!  
                Convenient and offering changing exhibits is the Historic New Orleans Collection.
This museum is dedicated to New Orleans and Louisiana. Artifacts chronicle life, art, music—you name it—in the city of New Orleans and the surrounding environs. You can find events happening here—life, art, music—you name it—and ever-changing special exhibits. Since the Historic New Orleans Collection is easily found at 533 Royal Street. You can make a great day of shopping, browsing—and enriching your sense of the city and history by stopping in. The last time I visited, the exhibits gave the visitor a great sense of day to day life in the area during the mid 1800s. Ladies gloves, gentlemen’s pursuits, all displayed thoughtfully and artistically in handsome displays.
                Hopping over to Algiers for the day is intriguing. Algiers is on the west bank of the Mississippi and is actually the “15th” ward of the city of New Orleans. (There are 17) Algiers can be reached by the Canal Street Ferry. The area has had its ups and downs through the
years and has a rich history all its own. Now the area offers pleasant shopping and browsing. A number of Mardi Gras “krewes” maintain warehouses in Algiers for their floats and costume materials and supplies. There are beautiful late 1800s churches and libraries here, along with the shopping. When the Confederate army left Algiers behind  when the Union was about to take over, they destroyed any arms, munitions, and supplies, not wanting them to fall into Union hands. Most of the area was burned and most buildings there were obviously
constructed post-Civil War.
                Have some energy and want to cover some space? You can head to 1815 Elysian Fields and to Confederacy of Cruisers. Bike around the city on a Schwinn with a guide who will give you all the ins and outs. Depending on your mood and desires, you can see the city in dozens of ways; tour companies abound. By carriage, by motor vehicle, by bike—and by Segway!  Now, there’s a fun challenge. Learn to balance and see the city at the same time.
                You can also go up in a plane for a tour—Big Easy Tours can give you a bird’s eye view of the city. I’ve had friends who have loved it—pricing is around $250 a person. (I can’t personally attest to this one; too chicken for small planes I don’t have to be on!)
                You can also book a Hurricane Katrina Tour. This will take you to the 9nth Ward where, to this day, residents are trying to put back the pieces from the flooding after Katrina and the devastating summer of storms. While it’s humbling and heart-breaking to hear many of the stories, it’s also uplifting to see the resiliency to be found in the human soul—and the energy put in by so many people to bring back all that was broken. We are a great nation.
                So, you’re worn out and tired. You’ve biked or Segway-ed, walked, listened, learned
—seen. Take a little jaunt to Magazine Street. You’ll find wonderful and unique shops that will grab your attention even if you’re worn out. You’ll also find some of the most wonderful bars and restaurants in the city—places to chill after a long day of loving New Orleans.  During the day I’m particularly fond of Artz Bagelz (3138 Magazine.) For dinner, I suggest Domenique’s on Magazine, 4213 Magazine. You can also find great coffee, chocolate, desserts . . . trust me. It’s just a nice place to be. You’ll find something that will make you very happy!