Friday, March 21, 2014

A tourist in my own home town

This week/weekend I'm attending the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival in the French Quarter. Just finished two days of Master Classes for writers at The Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal Street. Great classes, spot-on topics (for me, anyway). Two writer-lecturers were particularly helpful: Laura Lippman, author of the Tess Monaghan P.I. novels, spoke on point of view, and I learned some ideas about it have changed since I studied it in high school and college. And Ann Hood talked about the "art" of revision -- it's far more than fixing commas or spelling errors! I bought her new book, Knitting Yarns, and she autographed it (actually she's the editor). Knitting Yarns is a collection of 27 essays by writers about knitting. I've been knitting now for a little less than two years. As a pastor, I knew it was a spiritual practice, but who knew that writers knit too? Seems to me the connection between writing novels and knitting projects is that both take a long time to finish and a lot of patience! And sometimes you have to rip out a bunch of stuff you did because there's a mistake back there...

Anyway, when I took the streetcar to the French Quarter on the first day, I tried to remember the last time I'd been down there and I couldn't. My last memory is more than ten years ago, which is something I probably shouldn't confess. I'm like a New Yorker who has never been inside the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. In my youth, I used to go down to the Quarter just about every weekend, albeit to buy underground newspapers from hippies who sold them on street corners to pick up a little money. As an adult, sadly enough, I never go to the Quarter unless I have a reason to be there, like to meet friends from out of town for a meal. I've missed a lot.

In some cases, being down there felt like a bad case of "Ain't Dere No More." The buildings are still there, but the businesses have changed. With a shock I remembered how I used to drool over the display windows of Hurwitz-Mintz, the furniture store on Royal Street, when I was in my teens. Now the Royal Street windows are used by an antique shop (still displaying beautiful furniture), and Hurwitz-Mintz has a huge store out in the 'burbs. And a number of their beautiful pieces now grace my home. Sometimes it is good to grow up and be able to afford those things you could only dream about when you were young.

But the Quarter is humming with new shops (new to me, anyway) and lots of tourists, even on a weekday in March, which, by the way, is a good time to visit New Orleans, before the hot weather sets in. Street musicians can be found on each block of Royal, playing a variety of music from jazz to blues to bluegrass. And the city really is cleaning the streets early every morning. When I'd walk down Royal early in the morning, I could still see the suds at the curbs.

I stopped in at 520 Royal, the former home of WDSU-TV. A gas-light maker now occupies that space. I walked through the main corridor out to a courtyard in the back. I had never seen it before "for real." But I have a painting over the fireplace in my dining room of this courtyard, described as "Brulatour Court," done in the 1930s by the well-known New Orleans artist H. Alvin Sharpe early in his career. My grandfather must have been impressed with his work, because there are several of his pieces in the house. Wow. I had never seen the real deal before, because it was part of the TV station's headquarters. It was neat to see it at last.

If you live elsewhere and are still wondering if the city has come back after Katrina, let me remind you that the Quarter didn't flood -- it's the original city and was built on high ground -- and damage from the storm was relatively minor. That said, things are booming and there are more restaurants than you can ever dream of eating in, even if you live here. Come on down.

On another note, for months now Blogger has been whining that it doesn't support my Internet browser. It's Internet Explorer 10, people. Upgrade your software. I don't know of any other websites that are having problems with it.

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