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NOLA Contradictions

 If you visit New Orleans (known as NOLA) be sure and go down to the Café Du Monde on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. Sure it’s what the tourist do, but hey, you’re a tourist so enjoy yourself. Odds are you won’t find a seat unless it’s very early in the morning (the café is open 24 hours a day). Instead of waiting, get in the take away line and order a bag of beignets and a large coffee au lait and then go back to Decatur and find a bench to sit on. If you’re lucky there will be a small jazz band playing in front of the café. The last time I was there, there was a three man band – trombone, trumpet and drum - playing some damn good jazz. I sat and ate my beignets, drank my coffee and listened. When I was done I dropped some bills in their bright red pail.

Café Du MondeYou might also go around the back of the Café Du Monde where you can watch people making beignets. A beignet is a square piece of dough, deep fried and then covered with a lot of powdered sugar. Apparently they are always sold in threes. My advice, go to the viewing window after you’ve eaten your three. It’s fun to watch but in no time at all you can’t help but see all that deep frying and begin to wonder. They say each human being, assuming they are not hit by a bus or die early from disease, has about the same amount of heart beats – around 2,210,000,000, actually. But standing there watching those squares of dough being tossed into the deep fry vat and then covered with powdered sugar, you can’t help but think your total allotment of beats is being reduced with every beignet you eat. A second word of advice, eat them while they’re hot. The pleasure goes downhill quickly when they’re cold, but you still get your reduction in heartbeats.

Now walk east along Decatur until you come to Dumaine Street and hang a left, which is the only way you can go because Dumaine ends at Decatur. Walk up Dumaine until you come to a large road called Rampart Street. Directly in front of you, across Rampart, you’ll see the entrance to Louis Armstrong Park. It’s a nice park, though the locals still have some bad feelings about it. It seems a number of homes of people who had lived in Treme for generations were demolished to create the park. It is also locked up tight by 6:00 pm. People don’t like that.

As you cross Rampart Street you are walking north of the French Quarter and entering Treme, the oldest African American community in the United States. Treme is located on part of the Morand-Moreau plantation that was sold by Claude Treme in 1810 to the city of New Orleans. It was known as “Back of Town” and at times is still called by its French name Faubourg Treme. 

Congo SquareCongo SquareAs you enter the park you will see Congo Square. In the 17th and 18th Centuries both slave and free Africans were given Sunday off and they would congregate in Congo Square, which has been called Place des Negres, Place Publique, Circus Square, and Place Congo. There under the sycamore trees they would sing, dance and drum as Africans, not African Americans. If you like NOLA jazz you can thank enslaved Africans at Congo Square. And if you have a particular sensitivity stand under the two beautiful sycamores and imagine. Though I cannot find any source to verify it, those trees may have been there during the Sunday celebrations.

Leaving the park to the east you will find St. Philip Street. Walk north until you come to Villere Street. On the corner of St. Philip and Villere you will find the Treme Coffeehouse. My suggestion is to stop and have a coffee and sandwich. It’s a great and friendly café where you more than likely will meet people living in Treme. The owner’s name is Tracy. Tell him Dale said hi, and if he hesitates tell him the guy who wrote The Woman in White Marble. He’ll get it. Diagonal from the Treme Coffeehouse is the Treme Center where often a Second Line will begin. If there is one coming, Tracy will know about it.

One block north on Robertson Street you’ll find the Candlelight Lounge where the Treme Brass Band plays on Wednesday nights. If you want some authentic NOLA jazz, this is the place. The band will start playing between 9:30 and 10:00 and will fill the small room with music until after midnight. You won’t be the only tourist there. The night I was there it was about half tourist and half locals. It was a great night, down and dirty. So claim a table or sit at the bar and have a beer.

St. Anna's ChurchVictim of Violence Memorial WallFinally, walk east along Villere until you come to Esplanade Street. Across the street and to your right is St. Anna’s Episcopal Church. There you will find a witness to NOLA violence called the Victims of Violence Ministry. When someone is murdered in NOLA there name goes up on the Victim of Violence Memorial Wall. Since 2007 they have written 2000 names on their wall. It’s worth taking a moment. No band is playing, though I suspect some children of slaves who once danced in Congo Park have their names on the Memorial Wall. Is it morbid, hopeful, futile, honest? I leave it to you to decide.

It’s a nice walk of contradictions. It’s here and now and long ago history. It’s enjoyable and disturbing. It’s NOLA.

Copyright © 2015 Dale Rominger

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