Not All Who Wander in New Orleans Are Lost

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.

25 Comments, RSS

  1. Deborah

    Wow! My coffee got cold while I took your NOLA tour (and learned a new language: NOLA-ese). The fleur-de-lis also the symbol for Louisville, but they clearly could learn a thing or two from New Orleans about how to use it. The two also have in common confusion about how to pronounce the name. I want the wild color of NOLA. In my yard.

  2. I love all these painting ops you had.. I can just imagine a full box of Triscuits and tea bags..
    I’ve never husband has..
    And I can’t believe they have more FDL than we do (It’s our flag!)..but they do..way more..
    I love the quirky window decor..the colors..
    Lucky you..and TC and Chris..
    I look forward to Friday mornings.

  3. Carol

    I sit here, surrounded by work, my son’s wedding plans, the loss of a very dear friend, my mother-in-law’s dementia, the events in Boston and West, Texas … AND WHAT DO I SEE????
    New Orleans! Vivian, what a treat. In the midst of life, THERE IS life. I love the pictures and the prose and the color and the cats!! Thank you for taking us out of ourselves and into the world!!

  4. Bunny

    Wowie, Vivian, what a treat! Great photos, and a great story line as usual. I love my Friday mornings, when you take us, the readers to places we may have been, but you show us how to see in a new light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.
    I have been to the crescent city a couple of times in my life, but you have a way to really visit and see the city. Thanks for sharing and opening up a world I would never notice on my own. I can’t wait to go back and see all that I have missed! You are a “SAINT”

  5. Patricia

    fleur-de-lis can be found on top of the first posts in on both ends of the gate… Speaking of posts, love your digressions all over NOLA…

  6. LadyVee

    Vivian, I loved your talk at the Rotary last week (we all thought you were funny, smart, inspiring) and have ordered your book so I can catch up with your travels.

    Sounds like you love New Orleans as much as New Orleans loves you.

  7. MarshaMarshaMarsha

    I want to thank Vivian for being such a fab leader for our impromptu reading group last Wed. Bet you never thought you’d be kidnapped by NOLA book lovers but when I found out you were a visiting author I had to get my girlfriends together for a flash mob/book club and talk about travel + publishing + writing + art. A big MERCI from the Big Easy!!!!!

  8. Souxie

    You forgot to tell us what the psychic said! Did she mention anything about a best selling garden book in your future? Look forward to watching you paint New Orleans gardens too bad you can’t add scents to your paints. Ha!

  9. TinyDancer

    Oh I needed a get away this morning. I read a bit, then go warm up the coffee, I read a bit more, answer a phone call, read some more, feed the cat, read another few paragraphs, go warm up another cup of coffee. I feel like I am wandering around New Orleans with a great tour guide.

  10. SandraK

    My turn! My turn! I’m going to send you my address so that if you are ever near my city you have to come to my book club and talk to us about travel/writing/publishing/art/ and New Orleans!

  11. Mary

    I loved your blog today as usual and I sent it to my friend in NO and she LOVED it!! You have an open invitation from her (I’ll send you details) to come back and visit any time and she’ll show you more of NO than what any average tourist gets to see.

  12. The spears on the gate. And wow — what a great tour! I haven’t been to NOLA in a good 30 years (What? Really? Yes… really) and it sure looks like where I’d like to be on this cold and windy day! It may be a damn garden book, but it’ll be a pretty one if that’s part of your inspiration!

    Happy weekend! Cuddle up with a cat — bet they missed you!

  13. Karen in NOLA

    Thanks Vivian for including my sweet little dog in your photo essay! Looking forward to seeing you back here soon – perhaps to look at a pied-a-terre in the ‘Quarters? I’ll supply the initial fleur de lis decorative object!

  14. Glorie-A in the heart of NOL-A

    What MarshaMarshaMarsha said! Great to have you as our honorary ring leader in our book-talk circus.

    BTW, I think those gals in the go-carts are waving Hand Grenades (the alcoholic kind), not Hurricanes. Meet me on Bourbon Street and we’ll take notes on which one is well worth the hangover.

  15. Joan

    Sounds like a wonderful (work) trip! Love all the pix and little tidbits about NOLA, a city I most want to visit. It’s on the bucket list.

    I’m sorry I didn’t win the little triscuit painting, but I’m sure I’ll have a chance at another time.

    Thanks for posting my little bit of fun on Friday. It’s a great way to end the week.

  16. Parisbreakfast

    OMG it looks so absolutely Fabulous! And you had the best guide plus sat next to the best airline seat companion or whatever…well I can’t make any sense at all this morning. I’m bowled over by you post and fabulous trip!
    I need To go back to NOLA!!!
    Love all the cats and dogs on chairs and tables…

  17. Laura

    Of all of the great American cities Williams could have selected; Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo…., he chose CLEVELAND to represent, perhaps, “a typical average American city”. I understand that the CLE reference is intended to be a punchline but as a Clevelander, I can be proud of that. You know what they say, “in Cleveland, you’ve got to be tough”.
    I have not yet visited NOLA, but I feel that this post is the most accurate portrayal of what a visit would bring to me. I am more curious than ever to go.

  18. NJ Nadia

    Seriously I love your blog. I just discovered your book When Wanderers Cease to Roam and now I find out that you have ANOTHER book and I have to have it asap. All that and New Orleans too…what a treasure.

  19. Denise

    Wrought iron, beautiful gardens and bookshops with cats! Sounds like my kind of city, putting it on my list of places to visit if I ever make it to the US.
    Thanks Vivian, I love your travel posts which I can enjoy sitting in my chair, without the anxiety of having to get on a plane ( its white knuckles all the way for me too)

  20. Jeannie

    I have traveled all over the US, but never to the South. It is on my list, because I love old architecture. Charleston and NOLA are top on the list. Then I see all the fleur-de-leis and I want to hop on a plane right now! Thanks for the tour!

  21. I have never been to New Orleans but I so enjoyed your tour that I’m thinking I need to put this on my must visit list. All those gated gardens would have been hard to pass by.

  22. Oh no! I have never seen or eaten a muffaletta sandwich with fried clams and oysters! Salame, cappaletta, two or three kinds of cheeses and OLIVE SALAD–that’s a muffaletta. No fried seafood. No chopped lettuce. Other than that huge faux pas, I loved your tour of New Orleans, one of the best cities in the world.

  23. Kathryn

    I couldn’t see the ADORABLE cat. Usually my cat-spotting skills are impeccable! Very sad and in need of a triscuit to cheer me up!

  24. janet bellusci

    was a bit “off the grid” while i visited my dad in florida this week, so didn’t have a chance to read your fantastic NOLA blog until today (the following thursday) !! i went through vivian withdrawl. but the wait to get home to my laptop was worth it! what a wonderful pictorial tour of a funky, fun, delicious and beautiful town. it just moved way up on my short list of places to go and dance in the streets!! thanks again for having such a wonderful eye!

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