New Orleans

I’m always interested in how writers write. That’s why I am fascinated by their rough drafts:

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This (above) is a David Foster Wallace rough draft. Or, more accurately, it’s his notes for a chapter of one of his books. What interests me is that he’s not a linear list maker. He makes notes like a left-hander, rounding thoughts up in a non-hiearchical fashion, and then later culling those thoughts and hammering them into sentences and paragraphs. (Was David Foster Wallace left-handed? Stay here while I go check….

…I’m back. I couldn’t find any information about D. F. W.’s handedness but I’d be wiling to bet that he was a southpaw.)

Now, what I make of Marcel Proust…

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..is that the was a very organized thinker, and fearless about writing crappy first drafts (look at all that writing!) and passionate (all those huge vigorous Xs!) about editing out fluff or preciousness. I see that Proust wrote out all the bad ideas (the lightest and most fleet that come first to mind) and dug deep for the good stuff that lays low, in the back of consciousness.  It takes a lot of courage to not fall in love with your first concepts, to delete all the stuff that would have made your life easier if you had lower standards, pages and pages of it.

Here is Honore Balzac, correcting proofs:

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Back then, words must have looked so very, very different when seeing them in print for the first time, is how I account for these copious “corrections”. These days, the good old word processor gives you a sense of what cold, hard print looks like. Did I mention that I’ve been writing for days, weeks really, on end, trying to wrassle my Damn Garden Book into being? Writing makes me very tense. Very. Tense. But I’m on a word processor, so I get the shock of seeing my words in cold, hard print a.s.a.p. Yay for the modern age.

To soothe my nerves, I did paint an extra New Orleans picture…

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Truth is, so much less can go wrong with a painting than with a paragraph.

…but we’ll get back to that later. This is Don Delillo, whose books I do not read:

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And this is Chuck Palahniuk, also whose books I do not read:

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No judgment there against Don and Chuck, who are both literary and marketplace superstars, it’s just that reading fiction is a colossal waste of time. But I like following Chuck’s train of thought there, the one that ends with  “BOY IN COMA”. Fun.

I am an amateur graphologist, and the give away here (below) is the so-called “lyrical D“. That’s when the lower case “D” found at the end of a word resembles a musical note — see it?  I count eleven such lyrical D‘s here, in the words “and”, “world”, “wind”, “thread”, “round”:

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The “lyrical D” denotes a sensitive nature, a person whose general  wiftiness is because of artistic temperament, not stupidity. Not that these things aren’t mutually exclusive. The writer of all these lyrical D’s is…

…Walt Whitman.

So, as free-associative as his poems appear, they are actually meticulously composed, going by this rough draft.

Graphologically speaking, this next writer is very intellectual (vertical letter formation, straight downstroke formation to the lower case “Y”, very angular script). The “WAR IS PEACE” stuff gives it away:

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This is George Orwell’s rough draft for his novel, 1984. Raise your hand if you remember reading this in high school and thinking Jeeze…1984 is soooooo faaaar awayyyyyyy in the far, far future……Back in high school, I could not imagine a reality in which I would be 28 years old in 1984. But let’s not digress.

Next, we see that even geniuses revise:

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Yes, that’s Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. I can imagine that when he wrote the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in capital letters, he did so because the whole notion of a United States of America, the foreignness of those words, the power and danger of them, made his heart pound. He wanted to imagine what they would look like in print, he wanted to make monuments of those words. And yes, there’s that “lyrical D” again.

And then there’s the rough draft that shows the writer’s eternal obstacles and inconveniences, as seen here in a 14th century hand-lettered manuscript painstakingly inked by some anonymous monk or scribe,  recently discovered in some Ye Olde English archive, a vellum hand-bound book that has been gathering dust for centuries:

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Looks like Fluffy did a toe dance in the ink pot again.

It revives my faith in humanity, and not incidentally the written word, to see that literate men from time immemorial have chosen to share their intellectual lives and learned work and cloistered hearts with their pain-in-the-ass pet cats.

I have always said that I am a writer who illustrates. I say that because I wrote stuff long, long before I ever illustrated stuff. I only started to illustrate because I wanted to create a reading experience that depended on a visual element and I was the only illustrator who could stand to work with me. But let me be clear, as a person who does both: Writing is much, much, MUCH harder than illustrating. Paint is ten times easier to deal with than words, is all I’m saying.

Writing makes me very tense.

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If I’ve spent a day writing drivel and the obvious, I can’t sleep at night. If I paint a lousy picture, I forgive myself and try again; if I write a putrid sentence, I question my raison d’être.

Anyhoo. I wanted to show you, dear readers, my rough drafts. First, my rough draft is an actual physical object…it’s a three-ring binder notebook:

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Each page is held in a plastic sleeve, to protect the art work while I fiddle with the lay-out:

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First Chapter, above, Edinburgh — I map out each page, do the illustrations, and paste  in the text:

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The yellow Post Its (above, recto side — right hand page) show me how I need to format text when I do my next re-write. But since the illustration is the easy part, and since every writer worth her salt procrastinates the act of writing as long as possible, I do the illustrations first:

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This is the title page for the Rio de Janeiro chapter (above), and a two-page spread for the Rio garden for which I have not yet written text (below):

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More Key West with me being ever so clever with the horizon across two pages:

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Japanese garden pics, with space for text:

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London garden chapter:

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And a garden here on Long Island:

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You can see that I’ve tried to vary the way I do illustrations, give the reader a “chocolate box” reading experience (you never know what’s going to pop up, not literally, when you turn the page).

But I can not emphasize enough how horrible it is to write a book. I’ve been at it for a year and I am just now getting the hang of it. Last month I was so discouraged that I Googled my mood: miserable gardener. I wanted to see who out there in the universe shared my pain. Try it. Google miserable gardener and see what you get.

Alright, I’ll tell you. Here’s what you get:

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The miserable gardener is a pure bred border collie named Chess who gardens and blogs in the desert of Colorado. HE IS AMAZING. In addition to all kinds of expert info about Colorado gardening, Chess also blogs about the bunnies in his backyard:

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It’s been very hot in Colorado and this is how a bunny keeps cool.

And get ready for unbearable cuteness…Chess also blogs about     Baby      Bunnies:

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AND AND AND, recently Chess had a blog about something I’ve never ever ever seen before…

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BABY     BLUE     JAYS.

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I could keel over from the cuteness. Do drop by The Miserable Gardener (he’s actually not all that miserable) — or you can click here to catch up. You will be glad you did.

Thank you, dear readers, and deepest gratitude to all you wonderful Commentors, for your understanding and empathy for the loss of our dear Oscar. My mother reads this blog and she always tells me that I have the best Commentors on the interwebs. I agree. Merci.

And, since we haven’t painted together recently, I’m going to end this post with a French Quarter illustration I did last week when the writing was going nowhere. It’s times like that when I’m really glad I have a paint brush handy.

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Note the little bit of masking fluid I’ve laid down in the back ground. That little bit is really quite important to the picture. If I don’t get that right, the whole illustration will be useless.

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I find that painting a repetitive form, such as the black lines for these shutters and door frames, is very relaxing:

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It’s time to peel off the masking fluid and see if I can make this illustration work:

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This is a full page illustration — the blank space of the porch (called a gallery in New Orleans) will be filled with text. And yes, I keep a tape measure on my desk to get the dimensions, and I write accordingly. I decided to leave the hanging plant as is, which is very different than what I usually do — as an amateur illustrator I tend to paint a lot of detail; but this time I was struck by the free-ness of this plant so I didn’t go over it as I’d intended, and paint in fronds. I think it still works, as the picture already has enough frou frou with the cast iron, nest-ce pas?

I do not write in the same room in which I paint. How about I give you a tour of my writing room next week? Anybody interested in seeing that?  I will, of course, be accompanied  by my writer’s mandatory  pain-in-the-ass assistant:

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Lickety, showing off his ambidexterity.

Have a wonderful weekend, my dear readers, and see you next Friday.

(Note: Comments are open until 11:59 pm Tuesday, July 30.)

 

 

 

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Yes, that’s me, trying to paint New Orleans. It was not a happy experience.
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But first — Cat News!! There has been a  recent appearance of a possible new member of our herd of backyard cats:

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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…

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…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:

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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:

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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.

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

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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!

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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):

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Dab in the background greenery:

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

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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.

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

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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:

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

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

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

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Fore ground:

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Peel off masking fluid, paint what is revealed underneath:

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

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

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Not there yet::

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THERE:

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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…

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…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:

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

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

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

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

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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:

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…and IN every street:

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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“:

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

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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…

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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You never know:

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

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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:)

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

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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…

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

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

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

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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:

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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:

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

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

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…or dogs, as the case may be:

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

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

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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:

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Evil will not prevail.

Homeowners fly the flag, too:

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

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

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

P1150222Here’s a clue:

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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?

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

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

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But oh! The colors of New Orleans!

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Oh! The color of nature in New Orleans!

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Every house is a garden color!

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And the windows!

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On Royal Street the windows speak the truth:

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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.

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This hot new dining spot…

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

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

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

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…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:

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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:

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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.

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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…

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

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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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