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Keeping Up with the Boneses, Broken Windows, and Honoring the Saints

Comic display of skeletons on the Berger House lawn in New Orleans

LA NOUVELLE ORLEANS

Last week I promised you at least a glimpse of my weekend in New Orleans, even though I’ve been back in Paris since last Tuesday. My daughter and I traveled there from Colombia to celebrate the 90th birthday of my brother-in-law. And YES, hard to believe as it might be, but my oldest sister’s husband turned 90…and still golfs many times a week. He may outlive us all.

Adrian Leeds' 90 year old brother-in-law Joe

The entire family showed up, except for one of my nieces. I got the award for having come the farthest, but they did come from all over the U.S.—from coast to coast. My sister planned non-stop events that involved a lot of eating, singing “Happy Birthday” and downing cake. In between, we took every available moment to pig-out on New Orleans seafood which meant that by the time I got on the flight home, I was bursting at the seams.

We stayed in the city’s worst hotel, or so it seemed to us. The New Orleans Marriott Metairie at Lakeway in Metairie was convenient to my family’s homes but must be the worst possible offering in New Orleans. Sadly, restrictions on short-term rentals in the neighborhood left us no choice but to book a hotel and it was expensive to boot. They will not get a good review from us as it may have been the most depressing atmosphere possible, with the least amenities, and nothing worth a positive word. We spent as little time as possible at the hotel—only to sleep, bath, and dress…period. This was a big letdown after our luxury accommodations in Colombia.

Truth is that it didn’t matter. New Orleans is still New Orleans. And family is still family. In between the parties and events, I managed to eat several dozen oysters on the half-shell, crunch down on too many fried oyster Po-boys, slurp up a number of cups of seafood gumbo and drink plenty of mugs of coffee with chicory. The Po-boys at R&O’s were the best, the oysters were delicious no matter where we went and the ultimate high was the fresh hot spicy boiled crabs at Kenner Seafood, of which I ate five at one sitting.

Fried oyster poboy and a cup of gumbo at R&O's

Fried oyster po-boy and a cup of gumbo

A table of boiled crabs at Kenner Seafood

Boiled crabs at Kenner Seafood

If you have never been to New Orleans, then you likely don’t know that this is where every bite of food is a party in your mouth! This is the world’s best culinary experience, and I’ll back that up any time with any place. Gulf of Mexico seafood is THE BEST, bar none. I’ll put a Gulf oyster up against a French oyster any day of the week. Hands down, these sweet plump mollusks are the tastiest in the world. Fry ’em up in cornmeal and lay them on crispy French bread “dressed” (meaning with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise) and what you get is an oyster “Po-boy” or what locals call an “oyster loaf.” You’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Take a blue crab and boil it in a very spicy concoction like they do in Louisiana (Zatarain’s) and while your lips will be on fire, you will realize you haven’t lived till you’ve cracked one open and picked out the juicy meat. I dream about them all on a regular basis and New Orleans friends who know this send me photos of their most recent meals just to torture me!

A platter of oysters on the halfshell

My cousins happen to own the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans—Tujague’s. It has a history going back to 1856 of which they (and we) are very proud. I’ve held conferences there and my family has enjoyed many special occasions in the historic restaurant. This past year, a cookbook was written about the restaurant with its particular recipes by the host and executive producer of a weekly TV show, “Louisiana Eats!,” Poppy Tooker. I had the good fortune of receiving the book as a birthday gift from my sisters, signed by Poppy herself. It’s a fascinating and fun read, plus I can attest to the delicious recipes you will want to try! And if you don’t want to cook, then a visit to Tujague’s should be on your bucket list.

The cover of Tujague's cookbook

Poppy Tooker's book Lousiana Eats

My family pulled a fast one and surprised me with a birthday party Saturday night in a private room at Kenner Seafood. They couldn’t believe they had fooled me, thinking only a few of us were headed there, but when I walked into the room and saw the entire brood around the table I was shocked! Kenner Seafood is my favorite seafood joint, and that’s what it is…a “joint” way out in the city of Kenner not far from the airport. It’s a totally local experience that tourists likely never get a chance to experience, but it’s worth the trip. This is how the real New Orleanians eat. We were all elbow-deep in seafood drippings, using up most of the paper towels set on the table and I told them that bar none, it was the best birthday I’d ever had, and I meant it!

The family gathers at Kenner Seafood for Adrian Leed's birthday

Seafood on the table at Kenner Seafood for Adrian Leed's birthday

During a non-eating moment (of which there weren’t many), we took a ride along Saint Charles Avenue, lined with gorgeous old live oak trees, and what I think is the world’s prettiest avenue (even more beautiful than the Champs ElysĂŠes) not only to see the antebellum mansions but also to see the Halloween decorations. New Orleanians take the holiday very seriously. In a town where voodoo is “de rigeuer” and the ghosts are everywhere, Halloween is a big deal. Travel & Leisure in 2022 declared that “New Orleans was named one of the 13 Best Places to Visit For Halloween Around the World.” “Second only to Mardi Gras for its dazzling display of fun and finery, Halloween in New Orleans draws thousands to the Quarter for devilish fun while vampires, zombies, ghosts, goblins, and everything else parade up and down Frenchmen Street displaying the city’s legendary wit and creativity in their carefully crafted costumes. All Hallows’ Eve in New Orleans is an experience to remember for both the living—and undead.” (Source) More homes decorate for this holiday than they do for Christmas (although that might just be my own interpretation).

One particular home, that of Louellen Berger and Darryl Berger, former chair of the Board of Tulane, who I knew from days past, tops them all. Louellen Berger created her first Halloween skeleton “Lazy Bones” in 2002 and the number has continued to grow! Now, every inch of their front lawn, and even on the roof and on its historical live oak tree, there are skeletons in every sort of configuration and costume, each with its own annotation that is sure to make you chuckle.

The sidewalk lined with skeletons at the Berger House Halloween display

The original Lazy Bone skeleton at the Berger House Halloween display

* Dare Devil

The Dare Devil skeleton at the Berger House Halloween display
* Marrow-Lyn Monroe, Great Bone Structure, Drop Dead Gorgeous

The Marrow-Lyn Monroe skeleton at the Berger House Halloween display
* Napoleon Bone Apart
* Lazy Bones
* The Deadverly Killbillies
* Bag of Bones
* Beauty and the D’Ceased
* Dead Poets Society

The Dead Poets Society skeletons at the Berger House Halloween display
* Lady Killer
* Howard Sternum
* Died Laughing
* Dead End
* Gone with the Skin

My favorite was “Fibula on the Roof”—and you had to really look hard to see him way up there!

The Fibula on the Roof skeleton at the Berger House Halloween display

But, best of all is just next door. On the neighbor’s lawn are two skeletons and one sign: Keeping Up with the Boneses! This definitively gets the biggest laugh of all, once you’ve seen all the rest of the bones next door!

The two skeletons on the Berger neighbor's house

HOME IN SUNNY, BUT SLOVENLY PARIS

Passport control took less than five minutes, my bag was on the carousel as I descended and I was the first in line to grab a taxi. The traffic was minimal, the sun was shining and I was in my apartment in less than one hour from landing…a record! I dropped the bags and headed immediately to CafĂŠ Charlot for my traditional “plat du jour” and “dĂŠcaf allongĂŠ” (decaffeinated American-style coffee). It was as if I had never left.

On the route home, I noticed the abundance of graffiti everywhere and wondered why it’s become so acute and how the city can get it cleaned up. Then, I found an interesting paper in the open archive of HAL-SHS (devoted to archiving and dissemination of scientific literature, published or unpublished, from universities or research institutions in all disciplines of human and social sciences, titled “Maintenance Epistemology and Public Order: Removing Graffiti in Paris” by JĂŠrĂ´me Denis and David Pontille of the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation.

Graffiti on buildings on Paris

Graffiti on buildings on Paris

Strangely enough, I was discussing this very subject with New Orleans friends on Sunday afternoon, who also live part-time in Paris, along with the “broken windows” thesis. The paper opens with a discussion on this very thesis, and how “the anti-graffiti program that emerged in Paris at the turn of 2000 articulated three objects of knowledge—public order, graffiti and the city—whose intertwined definitions root a restorative maintenance epistemology.”

I am also convinced that it should be applied to what’s happening in Paris now as I watch the city deteriorate before my very eyes, as are the authors of the paper: “Entirely focused on visual signs, the ‘broken windows’ thesis makes certain things matter in the midst of a vibrant and crowded urban reality. It identifies certain kinds of phenomena as traces of disorder and states that these signs of disruption, as tiny they maybe, must be treated systematically in order to prevent the acceleration of decay and eventually avoid a major collapse.”

Chart explaining the broken windows hypothesis

Anne Hidalgo, have you not read the paper? What are you doing in your ivory tower of an office at the HĂ´tel de Ville? You don’t seem to be paying attention to the detail, my dear!

I’m not 100 percent against graffiti—in fact it’s thanks to graffiti that we have artists like JR (who I have come to know and greatly admire), Keith Haring and Banksy, among others who have gone on to become respected as major artists in our lifetime. But there is no doubt that there’s a lot of bad tagging going on that just adds to the slovenliness of the city, accompanied by overflowing garbage bins, “rotting benches and crumbling pavements” (see the article, “Trashed Paris: Is the French capital dirtier than ever?” in The Local from 2021). It used to be our biggest complaint was the doggy doo-doo, but that’s been replaced by “broken windows.”

I don’t mean to complain (or maybe I do!), but it’s upsetting to come home to such disrepair of the city I love so much. And I know I’m not the only one noticing it. The question is: what can we do to fix it?

First, we have to not re-elect Madame Hidalgo, but that’s four years away. Ugh. That’s simply too long to wait! The 2024 Olympics will have come and gone and we’ll be left with a bad taste in our mouths and even more garbage on our streets. Help!

JAIL TIME IN PARIS

For those of you following the saga of the reconstruction of the beams in my ceiling…I had a visit from our building’s architect who is planning on shoring up the structure inside my apartment in about two weeks’ time. From what I imagine, I’ll be living inside a kind of jail cell for almost a year! Thank goodness, Martine di MattĂŠo promises to make it as lovely and livable as possible by decorating the poles and covering the holes in the ceiling! Stay tuned for a report when the “jail cell” in my own home is constructed.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

And to all…Happy Halloween and Toussaint! Tomorrow is an important holiday in France: All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, the Feast of All Saints, the Feast of All Hallows, the Solemnity of All Saints, and Hallowmas—a Christian holiday celebrated in honor of all the saints of the church, whether they are known or unknown. It’s a perfect day to visit a cemetery and pay your respects!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds in black and orange wearing a witch's hatAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds GroupÂŽ

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