The Influence of the French on La Nouvelle Orléans
In last Wednesday’s Nouvellettre® you got an ‘ear full’ of gluttony in the “Big Easy.” Although the overdose of everything delicious didn’t end until I boarded the plane back to Paris Saturday. I will not bore you with more details, except to say that lunch at the well-known New Orleans institution, Dooky Chase Restaurant was everything I would have expected — the fried chicken was divine.
Dooky’s and Chef Leah’s daughter, also named Leah, once came to Paris not long after Hurricane Katrina, to sing ‘the blues away,’ at which time we became acquainted — and it’s been too many years since we’ve seen one another. Friday was the day to visit with old friends and catch up with what’s going on in their lives and take in the spirit of the city, but Leah wasn’t there, leaving her sister, mother and father to run the famous restaurant.
While my family was dining on turkey and oyster stuffing at Tujague’s Thanksgiving Day, we heard a band playing outside and ran to the balcony to see what was going on in the street. In typical New Orleans fashion, the Bayou Classic Smoke-Free Thanksgiving Day Parade Smoke-Free Thanksgiving Day Parade was marching down Decatur Street. The marching bands were exceptional and the floats were throwing beads to an adoring crowd. Being above them and waving our hands wildly, we managed to catch quite a few in the usual Mardi Gras fashion. What would New Orleans be without at least one parade to take in?!
One thing that really struck me over the course of the week was the beauty of the old oak trees, some with hanging Spanish moss, some without, but they seemed older, wiser, more lush and more stunning than I ever remembered. The oak-lined streets and avenues of New Orleans, particularly Saint Charles and Carrollton Avenue, backdropped by a variety of old homes, from ante-bellum to Victorian and beyond, would rival any thoroughfare, even the Champs-Elysées. A long walk under the oaks on a path circling Audubon Park was enough to make anyone a believer.
The influence of France is everywhere in “La Nouvelle Orléans.” The Fleur de Lis, the city’s official symbol and a symbol on countless European coats of arms, is absolutely everywhere and on everything. If there is one thing to take home as a souvenir of the city, it’s something displaying the Fleur de Lis. For many years my family lived on Fleur de Lis Drive, just one block from the 17th Street Canal, whose levee broke during the hurricane, contributing heavily to the flooding and ruination of the city. The symbol holds a special place in my heart to this day, although in France, it’s considered a symbol of Royalists and therefore in direct opposition to the current Socialist administration.
It is impossible to be in the United States without comparing the lifestyle to the one to which I have become accustomed in Europe. I say ‘Europe’ because one part of the difference is certainly the lifestyle in France, but it’s broader than that, because Europe is so homogenous in so many ways, in spite of the fact that it’s made up of 45 different countries with almost two dozen different languages spoken. New Orleans is also a cornucopia of different ethnic origins, having experienced waves of immigration over the centuries, each contributing something special to the city.
It was founded by the French in 1718, then controlled by the Spanish for a period, then briefly under French rule once again before being acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. French was spoken well into the early 20th-century with one-fourth of the population francophone and another 50% able to understand perfectly if not speak. The French influence is evident in every nook and cranny of the city, particularly in the names of the streets and in the dialect and pronunciation of many words, particular to New Orleans.
I grew up with words like “faubourg” (suburb), “lagniappe” (a little something extra), “making dodo” (going to sleep, from the French “faire dormir”) and “parish” (county, from the French “paroisse”). In our family, we pronounced words like “comfortable” and “vegetable” like “cum-fur-tible” and “veg-e-tible” almost as if they were French. As kids we played on the “banquette” — another word for sidewalk, thanks to the French word for the footpaths along the river banks.
New Orleans is one of those rare cities that maintains more of a European flavor than almost any other. Not only is the architecture a throw-back to European style, but the lifestyle still holds similarities. Cafés such as Café du Monde and Morning Call are still serving up coffee and “beignets” (donuts) to locals and tourists at both indoor and outdoor settings. In just about every European city, one can step out of their door and head to the local café where he/she can sit outside, smoke a cigarette, drink coffee and watch the world go by, if not talk with the neighbors at the nearby tables. Café culture is a benefit of European living that would be tough to give up. It’s the café culture Starbucks has tried to copy, but has yet to really master. New Orleans has always had it and I suspect always will.
So, when I consider where I might live in the United States after living so long in Europe, there’s really only one place that seems like a reasonable solution: La Nouvelle Orléans, of course.
A la prochaine,
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, Inc
(in all her…finery)
Respond to Adrian
P.S. If you love life in the French countryside, purchase your own share of “Le Muguet.” This two-bedroom, two-bath medieval fractional ownership property is located in a quaint village in the heart of Provence. Le Muguet has only two shares on the market, priced at 49,900 each. Visit Le Muguet for more information, or virtually visit the Provençal home in a video.