Bastille Day à la Nouvelle-Orléans
The reason I am not in Paris enjoying the fireworks this year is because today would have been my mother’s 98th birthday and the family had planned to gather together to celebrate it. Therefore, I’m in a swelteringly-hot New Orleans helping my sisters sell off the remainders of her belongings and prepare the house for the signing of the “Act of Sale” that will take place later this week.
This is a term that never crossed my mind as ‘unusual’ until learning that in France, the closing of the sale of a property is called an “Acte de Vente” — or “Act of Sale.” Louisiana is different from all other 49 states in the union thanks to Napoleonic Code on which it still bases much of its legal structure.
When I first entered the house during which a garage sale was taking place, with it mostly void of the furnishings and my mother’s belongings, it was a shock. The feeling of loss flushed over me like a big bad wave, then I took a last look and gathered up a few things to take home including a few pieces of artwork I had done as a kid that had hung on the walls.
We hadn’t come for a fun weekend in New Orleans, but New Orleans didn’t know that. The city celebrates Bastille Day with full rigor (see bastilledaynola.com/bastilledaynola/ and nolafrancaise.com/)…as it should, considering it was founded by the French (in 1718 by the French as La Nouvelle-Orléans, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville), ruled by the French (after Spanish rule), and sold by Napoleon to the U.S. as part of the Louisiana Purchase in April 1803.
This past weekend and into the week you could take-in any one of the many Bastille Day events here in New Orleans:
* BASTILLE DAY FÊTE – Free Festival at Spanish Plaza
* Bastille Day Regatta
* Bastille Day Dog Costume Contest
* Trinity Artist Series Bastille Day Celebration
* Faubourg St. John Bastille Day Celebration
* CitroëNOLA French Car Club Parade
* Bastille Day Mass
* French Market Bartender and Waiters Race
* Encore Aznavour!
* Council of French Societies Wreath Laying Ceremony
* Arnaud’s Bastille Day Wine Dinner
* Alliance Française French Cooking Class
* French Film Festival
It was surprising that we were able to get reservations for dinner Saturday night at “the longest running and most Gallic French Bistro in New Orleans,” “Café Dégas.” It was at this very spot that New Orleanians were celebrating Bastille Day and by default we were a part of that. It seemed appropriate to order frogs legs and fried oysters, leaving there ridiculously full and incredibly satisfied.
Don’t tell the French, but you can eat better in New Orleans than anywhere in the world. This may be thanks to the French, or at least partly so. There’s a fascinating article about “New Orleans history explored through its restaurants: a 1989 story from our archives” that begins in 1840 when the Creoles introduced spicy seafood gumbo and French expatriate Antoine Alciatore first started serving meals in the French Quarter in 1840. You may know his restaurant as “Antoine’s” and his famous oval potato bubbles called “soufflées.” The current owner of Antoine’s just happens to live next door to my mother’s house and they were long time friends. Naturally, her 90th birthday party was held there.
New Orleans is a big small town. It also just happens that our close cousins own the second oldest restaurant in the city, Tujague’s. Dating back to 1856, Guillaume and Marie Abadie Tujague from Bordeaux established Tujague’s Restaurant “by serving breakfast and lunch to the dock workers, market laborers and seamen who crowded that part of the riverfront.” By sheer coincidence, I am acquainted with one of the Tujague family still resident in France.
Meanwhile, as Bastille Day was being celebrated and the Beerman clan gathered to close out a century of our mother’s life, an opossum decided to adopt my sister’s pool and patio, who she readily named Ollie. Ollie was slow to move and docile as a small cat, circling the pool, swimming in it from time to time. Ollie got slower and slower, even though we tried to revive him with fresh water to drink and giving him cool baths…until yesterday afternoon, Ollie sadly died.
Air fares were a bargain on Bastille Day, so while those of you in Paris may be picnicking on the Champ de Mars waiting for the fireworks to be launched, I’ll be flying home to Paris. The next six weeks will be particularly quiet while the immediate French world is officially on vacation. You won’t hear a peep from me August 8 through 15 as I’ll officially be on vacation, too.
Happy Bastille Day from La Nouvelle Orléans
A la prochaine,
The Adrian Leeds Group
(with niece, Shari, and daughter, Erica, at Café Dégas)
P.S. If you are in Paris on July 27th, be sure to come to watch ‘in person’ the filming of “Literary Death Match” a ‘hilarious’ contest in which 4 ‘pugilists’ (authors) face-off against each other. Author and journalist, Linda Hervieux, is one of them, where she will be reading for the first time from her upcoming soon-to-be-released book, “Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War.” Judges pick a winner, all the while making ‘witty’ comment…and I’M ONE OF THE JUDGES!!! Then, one of the authors moves on to the “epic finale.” (It’s all in English.) It starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are €5 in advance, €8 at the door (includes post drinks). Sign up now to be one of the first to witness this nutty, wacky, but fun event!
P.P.S. For those of you in the New York City area, you’re invited to the private opening of “Human Nature,” a photography show by Erica Simone www.EricaSimone.com and Jaci Berkopec, www.JaciBerkopec.com Thursday, July 23rd from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Adorama Gallery, 42 West 18th Street, 10011 New York City. See for more information