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Tales From A U.S. City Whose Roots Are Steeped In French Soil

Now that I’ve wandered the streets of the “Vieux Carré” and driven down the oak-lined boulevards of anti-bellum homes in my native town of “Nouvelle Orléans,” I can understand more fully why and how I fell in love with Paris the moment I landed like most tourists fall in love with New Orleans.

As I stood waiting in line for a table at Maspero’s Café, one of New Orleans’ restaurant institutions located across the street from the old Jackson Brewery on Decatur Street, I overheard a T-shirt-clad tourist remark, “It’s amazing these old buildings are still standing!” and I thought of my 17th-century apartment older than this one by about one-hundred years.

A childhood friend lives in the very heart of the French Quarter just behind the “Presbytere” on St. Ann Street in a two-story wrought-ironed-balconied typical home of (originally Spanish architecture) complete with courtyard, high ceilings, fireplaces, dripping potted plants and oozing with character. While not of exactly the same style as the “Hôtel Particuliers” of “Le Marais” in Paris, there is undeniably a strong connection.

The symmetry of the Place des Vosges with its red-brick three story apartments and colonnade were clearly a model for the Pontalba Apartments, the first apartment buildings in America, that border two sides of the square. Quite a fascinating story, the Baroness de Pontalba, born in New Orleans in 1795, whose father-in-law shot her four times, built both the U.S. Embassy residence in Paris and the Pontalba Buildings in New Orleans. Her life is a window into America and France in the 19th century.

The French connection is everywhere. We stood late at night on the edge of Bayou Saint John taking in the perfect reflection of the oak trees and dotted street lights in the still water of the wide waterway. The Canal Saint Martin in the 10th arrondissement of Paris has the same quiet serenity, only occasional vessels breaking the smooth mirror-like surface.

Ray Ruiz, a reader of Parler Paris and New Orleanian who grew up with French-speaking parents, owns and operates “La Dauphine,” a small Bed and Breakfast in the “Faubourg Marigny” on Dauphine Street. He also maintains an apartment in the Montorgeuil district of Paris, available for short-term vacation rental when he’s not there enjoying it himself. New Orleans actors Adriana Bate and Bert Pigg, also long-time friends of Parler Paris, shared drinks and conversation with me on the massive porch of the elegant Garden District Columns Hotel while agreeing to be our on-the-ground liaisons for the upcoming Living and Investing in France Conference this coming February 11 – 13, the weekend after Mardi Gras. Adriana, an expert on New Orleans history and the French Connection will be speaking opening night on this fascinating topic.

I paid a visit to the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, where we will be holding our conference. The hotel sits right on famous Canal Street, just across the street from the official border of the French Quarter. It is one of the city’s largest and tallest convention hotels with 1,110 recently renovated well-appointed guest rooms and stunning views of the mighty Mississippi River. It took my breath away to see the city and this powerful route of commerce stretched out before me. How could I help but not think of the Seine and once again see my roots intermingled with the life I know now on the other side of the ocean?

Later this week I’ll have a drink at the bar at Tujague’s, the city’s second oldest restaurant located on Decatur street just one block from Jackson Square, opened in 1856 by Guillaume and Marie Abadie Tujague natives of Bordeaux who like many other immigrants, sailed to New Orleans in the mid 1850’s. Guillaume Tujague became a butcher in the
French Market for three years before they established Tujague’s Restaurant. They began by serving breakfast and lunch to the dock workers, market laborers and seamen who crowded that part of the riverfront. The South was still recovering from the Civil War, but Tujague’s never missed serving a meal and now it is coincidentally owned and operated by a not-so-distant cousin, Steven Latter. He and I will be putting together a special Saturday night dinner for our conference attendees — sure to be a memorable experience in such a historical spot, also well-known for it’s typical New Orleans bistrot cuisine.

Tomorrow — more time spent in Le Vieux Carré and more tales to come from the city in the U.S. that without a doubt has its roots steeped in French soil.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. For those of you interested in attending the Living and Investing in France Conference February 11 – 13, 2005 in the great city of “Nouvelle Orléans,” we’ll be starting the registrations very soon, but to be on the mailing list to be the first to know, email Schuyler Hoffman at [email protected] And don’t forget we’re still taking reservations for Invest in France, December 29th, 2004, Paris France!


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