New orleans

I promised Top Cat that I WOULD NOT DIGRESS this week (he says my posts are getting waaaay toooo loooooong) while I take you to Monet’s famous garden in Giverny (Normandy, France).


I promise to Keep It Short since my previous reports (last week and the week before) on my recent visit to France have been rather wordy and some readers [Top Cat] say I make it toooooo looooong toooo reeeeeeed. So I’m cutting my three-day exploration of All Things Monet in Giverny down to this one post, probably. But pardon me while I set the scene:


For my first two nights I stayed at a marvelous B&B called Le Coin des Artists, which used to be a cafe/grocery in Monet’s day:


The Breakfast part of the B&B was quite wonderful (see: below… those are the same chairs that you’ll find in Monet’s dining room at Giverny and there was always Katie Melua on the CD player. I highly recommend starting your Giverny days hearing Katie Melua sing “Closest Thing to Crazy”   and eavesdropping on the Belgian couple talking about the high price of French toll roads compared to the ones in Belgium but I’m not telling you that story because I Will Not Digress).


And ahhhhhh!! The Bed part of this B&B was heavenly! I really missed my Top Cat when I saw my room because nothing is more romantic than a fauteuil, n’est-ce pas?


Fauteuil only means “armchair” even tho it sounds kind of dirty.

The windows of my room looked out into the courtyard:


In the evening in this same courtyard the delightful hostess at Le Coin des Artistes, Madame Laurence Pain, serves chilled Loire Valley wine with the resident chow (see below: those orange protuberances at the end of the table are chow ears):


I could tell stories about the dogs of Giverny, who seem unable to contain their curiosity and excitement  to be in the company of such world travelers as  moi...


…or the cats of Giverny ,who don’t


…except for this little girl (below) who must be part Siamese for all the talking she did here in Giverny’s “Medieval Quarter”, which consists of one rue…called Rue aux Juifs (Street of Jews) if you can believe it…


…but I will not digress!!!  Neither can I tell you about the many stone walls I had to climb to snoop  into courtyards that are hidden from the street, such as this one (below) where they hide Monet’s so-called “Blue House” where he used to grow his vegetables…


…but Non! Non! I will not digress! We are here today to visit the Monet’s garden at Giverny, so let’s get to it:


This is the map (above) at the entrance to the garden — they do not sell or give away maps of the garden when you pay your 9 euro ($12.50) to get into the garden, which I was telling the young Canadian couple on line with me, who were on the second day of their 6-week driving tour of France  (so they took an iPad photo of this wall map to take with them) and then the guy, whose hobby is geology, wondered what kind of rocks this was in the wall because to a rock hound the world is one big rock puzzle, to whom I said well, if you like rocks and you have a car you  should go see one of the Wonders of the World (rock-wise) at Mont St-Michel close by here in Normandy and they said “Mont What?” etc. but I Will Not Digress


…although you see the guy with the dog (above) on the typically looooooong line to buy entrance tickets: Yeah, me too, I asked myself, “What kind of nincompoop brings a dog to Monet’s garden???” but I saw him later  outside the garden sitting with the dog and I offered to watch the pup while he went inside but he said no thank you, it’s his wife who wanted to see the garden — they have been here before as they often sail their boat from England and moor it on the Seine in Vernon (closest town to Giverny on the Seine ) which goes to show you that people have the most surprising stories if you take the time to chat… but I Will Not Digress… Let’s get to the GARDEN!!!

This is what you see after you enter the garden through the gift shop and pass the lavatories:


Those are espalier’d apple trees IN BLOSSOM!!! and the sign that points to “House” is of course pointing to Monet’s famous pink house:


I timed my visit to the garden so that I’d get there at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and yes, it was still plenty crowded.


But I like crowds. In case you haven’t guessed, I like talking to people when I travel because, well, I’m a professional travel writer and in order to write about travel I need stories. What better way to get them than to get people to tell me theirs? Like this mother/daughter pair (below) I helped because they didn’t speak French and the ladies working in the gift shop are, excuse me for saying, kind of snotty, but I Will Not Digress:

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And I LOVE Chinese tourists because they wear the best hats:

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And for the most part, even tho it’s crowded,  people are aware of other people trying to get a Monet Garden picture and do not walk right into your shot…

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…but not always. And then, if you’re me, you hope that someone with an outrageously fab Monet-Garden-Visiting-Outfit steps into view…


How the gardeners work amidst such teeming humanity I don’t know…


…although I trailed two women gardeners who were pulling off the dead tulip heads with such a delicate manouvre that I was entranced by their gentle touch but I Will Not Digress


But let us rejoice that some people, even in the madding crowd, are able find their private moments…


…which I, as your typical Nosey Parker…


…am only too happy to butt in on. But here’s my redeeming feature: I am the person who, when I see young couples taking “selflies” in places like Monet’s garden, I walk up and I ask “Would you like me to take your picture?” and then I art-direct them so that I get great shots of them in situ (I’m great at setting a scene and getting informative background) and I even tell them “Go on, kiss!” and they DO because I have that kind of trustful face and all.


Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 1: If you hang around past 5 o’clock, all the day trippers leave and the place becomes very empty and even the guards are so happy that the day is almost over that they relax their eagle eyes and go MIA so there is no one to yell at you for taking pictures of the rooms…


…so you can stand in Monet’s bed chamber and snap away all you want (photos of furniture are forbidden!)…


…and there isn’t the usual looong line to get the permitted photo out of Monet’s window…


…so you can take in the view that Monet himself woke up to. I usually try to get people in my photos of landscape so you can gauge the scale so…Merci, straggler tourists who are in my picture of the overcast skies of Giverny at 5:30 May 10, 2013:



I want to live like Alice Monet and see a garden like this when I walk out of my kitchen.

This (below) is Monet’s other bedroom window seen from the ground (the house is very narrow) , part of a series of pictures that I took of all the edges all around his garden property because you never see that part of his garden but I Will Not Digress:


I like this picture because it catches the wind that blew in from the depths of Normandy all through Giverny, fluttering the tulips and the tourists:


So. Here I am, the next day, enjoying a lunch of hard boiled egg and baguette sandwich (which I made from breakfast items at the B&B) after trudging to the top of the hill that looms high above Giverny…


…when through the telephoto lens of my camera I peer unto the Jardin de Monet in the valley below…


…and I see that the D5 (a local highway that in this bend in the road is grandly called Chemin du Roy — King’s Way ) runs right past Monet’s garden. This road is built on the old railway line that bi-sects Monet’s property — his famous Water Garden is on the far side of the D5 there. And I think to myself  This I gotta see  but I have nine hours of DIGRESSION to achieve before I check out this Chemin du Roy from ground level:


It’s 8 o’clock in the evening and I am the only soul walking along this stretch of highway…


…where you can  see the paradise that is Monet’s garden, big as you please!  Without paying 9 euro!



The only barrier here is a spike fence and some scraggly shrubs:


All you have to do is walk up to the fence and stick your camera between the fence railings and you get the most beautiful scenes of an empty garden…


…and vistas that are just not available to you when you are actually IN the garden with the hoards of tourists :


I loved being here, in this silent and lonely twilight…


…taking photos of the landscape that really makes much more sense from this perspective:


These are the famous “paintbox” beds of flowers that oh! Made me tremble with pleasure seeing them like this (as compared to seeing them from inside):


You can not get a better shot of the alley than this, from outside the garden walls:


It helps that Normandy is so far north…


…that you still get the gentle evening twilight…


…that best illuminates the spritely colors of flowers…


…so much better than daytime sunlight:


Amazing, right?


Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 2: Walk along the D5 after closing hours in Giverny and have this impossibly beautiful garden all to yourself. I did not see another soul the whole time I lurked here. This last picture, you can see, is blurry, which told me that I was losing the light…


…so I walked back into town,  to Rue Claude Monet, the main drag of Giverny…


…and I wished I weren’t so far from home…

P1160915…and went to bed with sweet dreams of my Top Cat and the pictures I would paint of “my” Giverny.

The next day I paid my last visit to Monet’s garden. (I also moved to the town’s only hotel which I did not like so I Will Not Digress further.) It was sunny, which is not so great for photographing flowers so I will only show you this picture (below), which shows the hill on which I sat when I got my bird’s eye view of dear Giverny (that white boxy thing in the background is a pumping station that you will pass half-way on your climb to the top):


This is the last photo that I took of the garden…Farewell, Giverny:


I know that we did not get to the famous lily pond in Monet’s famous Water Garden in this post so I’ll have to show that to you next week when I’ll have a Giverny Triscuit for you, which I did not paint this week because  I’ve been very busy making sure that the backyard cats aren’t dead :


That’s only Bibs, who looks dead but he’s just snoozing under Oscar’s watch.

And keeping an eye out so that the indoor cats don’t kill each other :


That’s Cindy, glaring up at Taffy who is hogging her chair.

But we still have the Paris Triscuit to give away!


And the Triscuit goes to…Jen A.!!!  Congratulations to a long time reader of this blog who recently sent me hummingbird feathers to add to my collection — you have never seen feathers soooooo small and so sparkly as hummingbird feathers but I Will Not Digress, no sir, not meThat’s for next week!


See you next time under the wisteria!






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Some days, nothing works out the way you planed. But…P1150574…if at first you don’t succeed, or if at second, third, and fourth you don’t succeed (see above) then pour yourself a nice big gin and tonic and sit around listening to sad songs (I prefer old Motown, the Temptations Since I Lost My Baby and the like) and feel sorry for yourself and seriously consider writing novels (ewwwwwwwwwww) or anything that doesn’t require having to come up with  illustrations, and then take two aspirin AND START OVER AGAIN.

Yes, dear readers, I preloaded my post today before I went to France and it’s a good thing I did because it turns out that I hate blogging on my iPad with a PASSION but before we continue with our previously recorded program (still in NOLA, watercoloristically speaking) here are some pics I took on the aforementioned iPad to show you the beautiful weather in Paris:





My hotel room in the 6th arrondisement came with this:


I took these pics with my ipad and boy do I hate blogging on this thing.  So that’s all the Paris I can give you for now, but do read my friend at ParisBreakfasts for her report on my arrival on her home (Paris) turf!

For today please enjoy the following tale of watercolor redemption, and take heart. Sometimes it’s necessary to paint ugly in order to get to the less-craptastic stuff.

Let’s get back to this:


The problem, it dawned on me after four really awful attempts at painting a most beautiful garden in New Orleans (see above), was that I had  gotten hold of the wrong concept. My original idea for this garden was that I would illustrate it in a  format that I call a “squint”.

The format had worked well for me throughout Le Road Trip, where I used squints frequently:





These squints — the long, narrow strips of paintings that I used (above) were a lot of fun to do and I think they are vey successful when it came to illustrating France. For the Damn Garden Book I had planned on using vertical squints, rather than the horizontal ones in Le Road Trip:


This is my thumbnail sketch for a two-page layout using vertical squints. But as you can see (way above, those crappy 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th attempts) it was NOT working for me in regards to this fabulous New Orleans garden I was trying to  paint.

And then I realized that I’d gotten the wrong point of view. Not only were the squints not going to work, but I’d been painting the garden from a very boring full-frontal point of view. You see, the most important feature of this garden path that I’d been trying to paint is the garden gate that had been imported from France, but I’d been depicting it straight-on:


Oh lordy, this stinks. It does no justice to the story I am trying to tell about this garden. It looks fake fake fake fake.

Luckily, when I was visiting this garden in New Orleans, I had taken many reference photos of this gate so I went back to the drawing board and re-did this gate from an entirely different perspective:


So let us begin again.

First, I apply masking fluid with my trusty toothpick in the itty bitty bits:


I use the tip of a paintbrush to apply the masking fluid over the bigger bits:


When I failed to draw a pleasing mulberry tree branch in the upper right hand corner the first time…


…I erased it and drew it again, but it was still too gormless to keep:


So on the third attempt I got a decent-looking branch drawn, and I sketched in leaves.


I put masking fluid on those leaves and I’ve ever done this before and I have no idea how it will turn out. We’ll see. But I’m already a bit discouraged. This picture as given me a lot of trouble and I’m in a bad mood. So, while the masking fluid dries, I go make myself a cup of tea.


I want a fancy-colored sky here because this illustration is more about mood (it’s New Orleans, baby!) than meteorology.


Quickly, I do the wet-in-wet background foliage:


Even when the paper is only damp, you can get nice little bleeds:


For brick work I mix two colors of Grumbacher paints with two colors (brown and burnt sienna) of Windsor Newton, for richness:



See how there’s a Triscuit in the middle of this picture?


For the Tahitian Dawn Bougainvillea in the foreground I dab pink, orange, and red in wet blobs:


I lay down a base color for the garden path:


The stuff behind the garden gate will be tricky:


Now, for the rambling roses that are big pom poms of bluey-pink:




Dirt here:


So far, so good. Now, all I have to do…


…is peel off the masking fluid and not screw up painting the gate.


To heighten the rich brown color of the wooden gate I mix blue…


…and brown directly on my paintbrush…


…so when I apply it to the paper I get a wonderful bluey-browness here:


Now for those mulberry leaves, which I have  no idea what I’m doing,  I pray to the big DoG that I won’t blow it this late in the game:


Exhale. They look OK.

For the lantern I intend to use an old trick I’ve been using for years.


You have to use Grumbacher paints for this trick, because you need the chalk that makes their colors so matte. I first apply a layer of yellow Grumbacher, and then I make an edge of darker orange and I let it dry thoroughly:


Using very clean water, I then use a wet brush to pick up the paint in the center:


And we are DONE:


I hope you can see how the lantern “glows” from the way I “erased” a bit of the yellow/orange paints. I decided to leave certain planes of the garden gate white — that is, blank paper — because I think the white bits make its unusual shape  pop more this way. It’s also very attention-getting and this gate is really the subject of this picture in the first place.

Oh yes, I am much happier with this point of view than the one I tried, and tried, and tried, and tried to make work before. Right?

I will still be on the road next Friday, so there won’t be a “live” post here, but I could maybe take you on a tour of my work space / studio, which is where I keep my paints, paper, feathers, files, and threads:


Yes, long before I painted gardens, I used to embroider them.

So if this sounds interesting to you please leave a Comment below…or otherwise I’ll just wait until my return on May 24 to throw something together if I’m not toooooooo jet lagged. Studio tour? Yes or No?


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Yes, that’s me, trying to paint New Orleans. It was not a happy experience.

But first — Cat News!! There has been a  recent appearance of a possible new member of our herd of backyard cats:


This handsome fella has  shown up on the back patio for breakfast a few days this past week in spite of the fact that Bibs and Taffy get all North Korean on his ass every time they see him. I call him Newton. Hey Newton, if you’re reading this, I got some cat nip just for you (at the end of a Have-A-Heart trap).

Now, what is this I hear  (from Rachel and Sarahsbooks in Comments to last week’s post) about The Bed-book of Travel???

First of all, I thought I had written the bed-book of travel…

High res Cover

…to be put bed-side for excellent late-night reading.

But it seems that somebody else, namely Richardson Wright, beat me to it in the 1930s:


The Bed-book of Travel is a collection of short pieces to be read (preferably in bed or berth) by those who have been places, those who are going somewhere, and those who have wanted to go; Together with seven travelers’ tales. This book is now very rare and the one copy I found on-line last week for sale for $70 is already gone. I snoozed and loosed because I spent a few days mulling over this purchase, wondering if I really wanted to read this book seeing as how, if it turned out to be soooooo much better a bed-side travel book than mine, I will want to quit writing/illustrating bed-side books forever.

But the book that I really dread reading is this one:


This is Richardson Wright’s 1929 Bed-book  about gardening (in paperback re-print from The Modern Library) which I  am awaiting delivery of, and if it’s half as good as its reviews say it is I AM TOAST. And not a nice slice of hot-buttered whole wheat served with a steaming cup of Assam tea kind of toast, nope. I mean a hunk of cardboard-like salt-free rancid Melba that’s been sitting in the cupboard leaning on the stack of Size D batteries waiting for cassette playing boom boxes to come back in style  kind of toast.

I wanted my Damn Garden Book to be THE go-to gardening book for reading in bed…but if it’s already been done I might as well retire my paintbrushes and take up something useful.

Useful, like dancing all day in the French Quarter with my own dear Top Cat.


Ah, Love of my Life, nobody does a Grateful Dead-inspired free-form solo version of  Zydeco Swing  like you:



Well, seeing as how I am not yet a reclusive former bed-side travel / gardening book writer  illustrator, I better get with the travel / gardening book illustrating. It’s time to do New Orleans!


This is the pencil sketch for the full-page illustration that will start the NOLA chapter. It is designed so I can drop text into the middle of it. It is rare (never) that I use a ruler to draw a scene but in this case it was unavoidable with all those necessary straight lines of wrought iron railings and all those pesky perspective lines to get right. To answer Laura’s question from last week, I never attempt to erase pencil lines once I’ve put watercolor over them. It’s impossible to erase thru the pigment. Most times, tho, I don’t mind seeing a little bit of pencil in a painting because it is a ver authentic part of painting.

When it comes to erasing the watercolor, however, I have been known to use a nail file to clean up very small bits.

First, I painted in a quick bit of background architecture in pale blue, to represent a white building in bright sunlight (which will become more evident later in the painting):


Dab in the background greenery:


Working wet-in-wet I dab in the pale greens and add detail until I like the shape of the foliage:


Commentor Judy Jennings asked about getting “natural” shades of green. To tell you the truth, all my greens are unnatural in that I edit nature all the time. My shades and hues are mostly close to the scene that I’ve observed, but if I need to lighten bits up and darken others for the sake of the picture, I do it. I also edit the shape of foliage all the time — see above. I make it a pleasing shape for my composition first, and true to nature second.

My biggest guess regarding Judy’s question about getting a “natural” paint color is that you must always keep your water CLEAN. I constantly dump out my water and get clean fresh stuff. Especially if I am going to mix yellows into green I always get a brand new glass of water. And if I have to work wet-in-wet with lots of yellows AND greens I have two glasses of water handy, one for rinsing the yellow brush-fulls and one for rinsing the green brush-fulls.


For shadows I use blue with a bit of burnt umber mixed in it instead of black or grey:




Now I use masking fluid to cover the table and chairs so I can cut loose with the stuff I want to paint behind them:


While waiting for the masking fluid to become bone-dry, I do the middle-ground stuff:



I pretend the table and chairs aren’t there and paint the railing-drapping greenery right over the masking fluid:


I could never do this without masking fluid. Well, I could, but it would either look bad or would take me forever to paint:


Fore ground:



Peel off masking fluid, paint what is revealed underneath:


Even down to the stems of the wine glasses, which I measured or you and are three millimeters high:


Take a look, and add whatever else this picture needs:


Not there yet::




I Hate It. This will definitely require a re-do!!

So now I’m off for two weeks in France: Paris and Giverny; then to Marrakech to see the Majorelle Garden. To give you a preview of the two posts that I have for you in the queue, next week we will see how I manage to paint four really, really, really, really hidious stoooopid pictures of my New Orleans Fragrance Garden…


…before I happily get it right finally (no, that’s not it above — this picture above stinks!!!!) ; and then the week after that I give you a tour of the knicks and knacks of my workspace:


I will have my iPad with me in France etc. and Carol of  the highly chic, fabulously popular  Paris Breakfast blog is going to show me how to post from any cafe … so I might be able to send you all a few pictures and a quick update while I’m on the road.

How much you want to bet that what I post will be photos of great French cats?

P.S. Comments on this post will close after five days (nothing personal; it’s the spam, and closing Comments after five days keeps the spam to a manageable level of about 3,000 messages per week).


Next time we meet, one of us will be in Paris!!

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I’ve been back from New Orleans a whole week but I’m still under the spell of that city’s tropical secret gardens…

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…especially since it is still cold (still cranking up my electric blankie at night, and dressing in fleece from head to toe during the day) and dismal (rain today, and yesterday, and tomorrow) here on Long Island. Ahhhh, to be back in the French Quarter…


…where every cup of tea is full of  possibilities, both psychic


…and esthetic:


And as if that weren’t enough bliss to get you through the day, the Quarter also has a fantastic book store culture. I started my Book Shop Quest with Beckham’s Books on Decatur Street:


First things first. Before I paid any attention to the books I had to get a good picture of the book shop cat, Juniper:
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Who, of course, was not going to help me one bit.


You’ll notice that while not running away altogether, Juniper did everything possible to stay out of focus.


There’s ten more photos of more of the same blurry cat-like object…and even some pix of a disappeared cat:


So let’s focus on the sure thing at Beckham’s Books: GREAT BOOKS!


Finding this on my first day in New Orleans was the omen that convinced me that this was going to be the best New Orleans trip ever:


I already treasure my copies of The Silent Traveler in Paris and The Silent Traveler in Edinburgh Chiang Yee (1903 – 1977) was a traveling memoirist, like me, who also illustrated his wanderings in ten books under his “Silent Traveler” persona in the 1940s to the 1970s. Yee was in San Francisco in the 1950s but his book wasn’t published until 1963.


Cable car on California Street.

I love reading travel memoirs from The Golden Age of Travel (capital-T Travel died in 1978), and if there’s pictures, so much the better:


Japanese Bridge at Golden Gate Park, the same bridge I romped on in 1966 when I was 10 years old.

It was when I went back to Beckham’s Books two days later that I finally got a good picture of Juniper, the Book Shop Cat:


Ever seen a cat bird-dog someone’s cafe-au-lait? Only in New Orleans, my dear readers, only in New Orleans.

And I found another treasure!


Irwin Shaw (1913 – 1984),  author of the 1970s best seller Rich Man, Poor Man, writes here about his first visit to Paris on the day of its liberation from the Nazis on August 25, 1944 and of his life as an ex-pat in The City of Light in the 1950s – 1970s. And as if that weren’t thrilling enough, there’s illustrations by Ronald Searle!


Searle (1920 – 2011) has a delicious sense of humor about Paris that is both timeless, and very 1970s (Paris! Paris! was published in 1976).


In Ronald Searle’s Paris even the dogs smoke Gaulois.

There are 35 wonderful illustrations in Paris! Paris!



The good people and cat at Beckham’s Books offer a free map to all the other book shops in the French Quarter, so my next stop was at Crescent City Books on Chartres Street:


And to prove that my entire visit to NOLA was charmed, I got there just as their book shop cat went on duty:


I can vow to the 100% truth of this sign:


Oh, Isabel, I love you so:


Upstairs at Crescent City Books you will find the Gardening Section, near Isabel’s bed (on those old wooden stadium seats) and her litter box (under the Sale table).


Is this not the best title you ever saw for a gardening book?


Of course I bought it. It was published in London in 1973 and I don’t know if you know anything about London in 1973, but that was not a sparkling year for garden writing of the bedside variety.  I imagined stories of delightful garden get-aways, fantastic garden follies, quaint garden indulgences, dreamy garden escapes…


…instead, I got a book of guaranteed garden enervation.


In 1970s England, Less Common Vegetables were egg-plant, sweet pepper, and “cob corn”, which the reader is instructed to boil for 15 minutes before eating. Y-a-w-nnnnnnn.

So I guess it does live up to its cover, in a sleep-aiding way. So that means that if I want to read my perfect Gardener’s Bedside Book I’ll have to write it. Unless one of my dear readers does it first. Any volunteers?

Next, I hit the elegant Faulkner House book store on Pirate’s Alley…


…and I bought a book (I always buy something when I go to a book store, because I want book stores and their cats to always be there for me), a new guide book about New Orleans.


I asked about a book store cat, but they have a book store poodle here and she was napping upstairs. “She’s in a mood today,” I was told.

Next it was on to Kitchen Witch on Toulouse Street…


…which sells nothing but cooking and food-related books, which is why they use an old oven as a book case:


They had three dogs on duty here, but I only took a photo of Jackson the Basset Hound because I did not want to disturb the other two, who  were sleeping in a corner. I did not by a book here — see those amber bottles on the table in front of the toaster (below)? That’s the house’s special red-beans-and-rice-spice that they sell, which I bought so I can not only read New Orleans when I am back home on dreary Long Island, I can taste it too.


Lastly, there was Arcadian Books on Orleans Street:


It’s run by a French-speaking American scholar with a strong French-speaking clientele and a slight hoarding tendency:

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You can read more about this amazing place here  but let me quote from a previous visitor:

Some day in this place, the wrong butterfly will land on the wrong bookcase, which will tip over, and the whole joint will go down in a cloud of book dust and really heavy hardbacks…Meaning, this is the most chaotic, crammed, beautiful bookstore in the city. It’s like a portrait of the whole project of reading/knowledge: messy, hard to make sense of, and full of more than you’ll ever have time to take in or understand.

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The proprietor, however, is shockingly put together and squeaky clean…

And handsome, too, I might add…and on his bulletin board behind his desk, this Frenchcartoon made me laugh out loud:

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Then again, I always find the conditional subjunctive tense hilarious. It loses something in the translation, but this obviously well-to-do sweater-vested middle-aged inhabitant of the seizieme is using a very literary kind of speech to say to his plump little wife, “I should make myself acquainted with a great poet, so that he can have  the benefit of my melancholy.” (Note to Jain: I know you’re reading this on your iPhone, so here’s the French caption that you can’t see in this photo:  Il faudrait que je fasse la connaissance d’un grand poete, afin qu’il puisse beneficier de ma melancolie. Yes, it’s much funnier in French.)

Note the cat under the coffee table (in cartoon above) — that counts as the book store cat.


This, dear readers, is my last post before I head off to Giverny, Marrakech,and Paris, where I hope to make the acquaintance of a great poet so that he can make good use of my melancholy.


P.S. Dear readers, because of renewed spam activity, I will have to close Comments on my blog after five days. So, if you are reading this on Wednesday or later, I’m sorry to say that you will not be able to leave your message but it’s nothing personal. I’m here every Friday — hope to see you here too.


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If you love the fleur-de-lis you’ll love New Orleans:

I don’t know if they put fleur-de-lis ornaments on their Christmas trees in France but I’m sure they do in New Orleans…


…because in New Orleans they put the fleur-de-lis on everything:


Neither the fleur-de-lis nor the famed New Orleans frame of mind (Laissez les bon temps rouler) is just for tourists…


…because it wasn’t only tourists who were dancing in the streets for French Quarter Festival last week:


Of course, you don’t need a festival in the French Quarter to laissez les bon temps rouler  — the good times roll on every street corner:


…and IN every street:


Just some fun loving gals taking their Hurricanes for a ride.

Only in New Orleans is it OK to take your Hurricane to go in a fleur-de-lisgo cup“:


Or, you can just “Go” with Michael Jackson booming from the woofers in your hi-rise Chevy as your rouler down Chartres Street:


The driver got a round of applause from the Sikh bros on the left. Only in New Orleans, dear readers, only in New Orleans.

The only reason that the Segway is not more popular in NOLA…


…is because there’s no damn cup holder for your Hurricane. No cup holder needed here:


Where I live on Long Island, I can go years without seeing a guy in kilt walking down the street. I was in New Orleans for four days and I saw two guys in kilts:


This fella from Houma, LA swore that this is the Louisiana tartan. I never doubt the word of a guy wearing a kilt with a go cup in his hand. But I digress…weren’t we talking about how much the fleur-de-lis is beloved by New Orleanians? Right:


I saw this guy (above)  keeping it real in golden threads in Treme. And when I had my Tarot cards read at Bottom of the Tea Cup in the Quarter, my psychic was keeping it real in rhinestones:


You never know where you’re going to find the fleur-de-lis:


You never know:


What New Orleans garden would be complete without a fleur-de-lis?


You see, my visit to New Orleans was work. Oh, yes, I was working, thank you very much!

Wait a sec. I have to stop laughing. Work. In New Orleans. That’s a good one. But if anybody from the IRS is reading this yes, I was working while I was in New Orleans!!  I was there to hunt down that special New Orleans garden voodoo for my upcoming Damn Garden Book. (Bragging rights to whoever can spot the flour-de-lis in this picture:)


This is me, hard at work, interviewing the inspirational gardener Karen Kersting on her lush rose garden in the heart of New Orleans:


That’s Little Bee on my lap. Her name is really Bijoux but that’s too big a name for such a pocket-sized pup so she’s called Little Bee. I wish my cats would let me have a dog.

Yes, dear readers and any lurking IRS investigators, I was working to hunt down garden secrets in NOLA, peeping into every hidden courtyard…


…sticking my nose through any iron grille between me and any archbishop’s private sanctuary…


…photographing any hidden Eden when my head wouldn’t fit through the gate…


…no refuge was too private for me to trespass. Note the ADORABLE cat door here:


You know I had to take every opportunity to meet the cats of New Orleans, like this good ole boy we came across while visiting Top Cat’s alma mater Tulane University:


I did not know New Orleans until Top Cat took me on the Top Cat New Orleans Experience for the first time in 2004 and made me crazy for NOLA — and every visit since then has only made me more besotted with the place. Top Cat was a philosophy major at Tulane and, as you can see from above, Tulane has a gracious campus full of gracious scholars and no, that’s not Spanish Moss hanging from that gracious old Sawtooth Oak in one of the many gracious quads on campus:


This photo makes me wonder why on Earth anyone bothers to go to college anywhere else:


In a future blog I will have to tell you all about the fabulous bookstores in New Orleans and their fabulous book store cats…


…or dogs, as the case may be:


But today I am telling you about how New Orleans loves the fleur-de-lis…especially the City of New Orleans:


City government can’t get nothing done without a fleur-de-lis:





The French government gifted the City of New Orleans with this statue of The Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc) and that’s the city flag flying its fleurs-de-lis next to the French Tricoleur, all at half mast for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing:


Evil will not prevail.

Homeowners fly the flag, too:



Even in the ritzy Garden District, they fly the flag:


Windows like this tempt me to turn into a Peeping Tom for the fleur-de-lis:


I think I might have to explain that this is perfectly good English in New Orleans:

P1150222Here’s a clue:


The Saints are New Orleans’ Super Bowl-winning football team, by the way.

To correctly use the word Dat in a New Orleans sentence, all you need to do is say :

Who Dat

Who Dat

Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Beat Dem Saints?


New Orleanians love the fleur-de-lis so much…


…they even bury themselves with it in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1:



But oh! The colors of New Orleans!


Oh! The color of nature in New Orleans!



Every house is a garden color!





And the windows!


On Royal Street the windows speak the truth:


America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland. Don’t  blame me (I love the Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Art but you have to admit, the name Cleveland is perfect for a punch line — anybody from Cleveland want to weigh in?) — Tennessee Williams said that.





This hot new dining spot…


…reminds me that I haven’t told you about the food. Oh, the food of New Orleans!


Beignets at Cafe du Monde is just the appetizer! (Southern people love their sweets, is all I can say about the photo below.)


You know what they say: If you weren’t already five pounds overweight when you got to New Orleans…


…you will be when you leave.

This is ONE sandwich, a five-pound fried clam/shrimp/oyster sandwich with chopped lettuce etc. called a muffuletta:


Top Cat’s lunch. I just watched, in awe.

You can also get it with a side bowl of gumbo at Johnny’s Po Boy:


Thanks to Chef Kevin Belton (“Big Kevin” cus he’s 6’9″ 300 lbs) at The New Orleans School of Cooking we now know how to whip up some chicken étouffée, and how to correctly pronounce New Orleans.


Note the fleur-de-lis on Big Kev’s apron. Just saying.

Big Kevin says that “New Orleeeens” was bastardized just so it could rhyme with “Do you know what it means / to miss…” The proper way to say it is “New Or-lee-ins” or, if you are tenth generation Cajun or true Creole, “Nawlins”.

Meanwhile, over at the famous Mother’s Restaurant…


…I had a bowl of their specialty Baked Spaghetti Pie (with green beans and corn):


Yeah, that’s Velveeta on top.

I can’t say it was the best thing I ever ate. But Top Cat keeps saying over and over that the charbroiled oysters at Drago’s oyster bar are THE BEST THINGS HE’S EVER EATEN IN HIS WHOLE LIFE:


Of course I had to go to THE Sazerac Bar in the swanky Roosevelt Hotel to have my Official  New Orleans Sazerac Cocktail:


Behind my debonair bartender that’s a silver yachting cup won by one of the Astors in 1910. There is no Roosevelt memorabilia in the Roosevelt Hotel because that would make too much sense and this is New Orleans, baby.

We also had dinner there in the Roosevelt at Domenica’s (astonishing Italian cuisine) — because on the flight out of LaGuardia I had the good fortune to sit next to a NOLA native who recommended the place as a worthy adjutant to NOLA seafood while she also advised me that a dose of  Xanax might reduce my screaming at take-off. I’m petrified of flying — just what you’d expect from a Travel Memoirist, right? — but then Valbourg invited me to meet her circle of friends over coffee who included the great  Travel Writer Millie Ball (read her latest round-the-world article in the L.A. Times here and yes, she said it: Queen Latifa is her muse) and Millie confessed that she doesn’t know how to pack. So I’m in good company when it comes to Travel Writer Irony. This still makes me laugh…

Also while I was WORKING in New Orleans (wait a sec…still laughing) I was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club in The University District and  I mentioned that I would move to NOLA but then I’d have no place to spend vacation. So OF COURSE one of the Rotarians said “Move here and you’ll always be on vacation” because THAT’s THE WAY THEY DO IT IN NEW ORLEANS. And then Rotarian Michael B. swept me and  Top Cat off to Bywater for an outstanding Turkish dinner because THAT’s THE WAY THEY DO IT IN NEW ORLEANS.


Dear readers, I regret that I only took 463 photos during my 94 hours in New Orleans. I wish I had recorded every 5,640 minutes of my visit — every second, every breath of New Orleans air is precious to me. Thank you Karen, Valborg (violist with the New Orleans Philharmonic), Michael B., Selena, Dougie, Mme. Trudeau, Glori-A, and the many citizens of NOLA who serve food, drive trolly cars, keep hotels, sell books, play music, walk around in kilts, make gardens, cook crawfish/oyster/shrimp/etc., write stories, give tours, and preserve and renew The Crescent City on a daily basis: you make me know what it means to miss New Orleans.


And now, I announce this week’s winner of my Triscuit of NOLA is…

P1140785 Chris W.

Here’s how this works: On blog post day I see how many Comments have been posted on the last blog and I say to Top Cat, “Pick a number between One and [However Many Comments Are Posted On The Last Blog] and he picks a number and I find whose Comment is that ordinal. I always think that whoever wins the give-away watercolor of the day is exactly who I would choose…but this just goes to show you that my Top Cat has access to the spheres. Chris W., congratulations.

I’ll be back next week with a watercolor tutorial — in the meantime feel free to browse this previous Watercolor Turtorial because it’s cold and grey and dull here on Long Island and this is the only thing that’s good about being here instead of New Orleans.

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