I Came, I Saw, I Drank; I Had My Fortune Told and I Bought Books in New Orleans.

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.


31 Comments, RSS

  1. Parisbreakfast

    I LOVE that top watercolor!
    You’ve really got this down
    Gardens Forever!
    Love the chat/cat too…
    Definitely NOLA is 4 U Girl!
    Do it

  2. Parisbreakfast

    PS yr ‘triscuits’ usage is becoming part of the vernacular…
    Did you know?
    As in…Oh that place is the size of a triscuit. Etc…

  3. I never get tired of reading about your NOLA trip.And how you can find a cat ANYWHERE.

    Looking forward to the pictures of Top Cat dancing in–the street, did you say?
    Fridays always start with a treat of Vivian stories and observations.
    Thanks again…….

  4. Denise

    Only one thing could possibly improve those bookshops with resident cats , and that’s access to good coffee. I’d happily while away most of the day in any one of them.

  5. NJ Nadia

    Don’t know where to begin…that London garden! That tea cup cocktail glass! That cat! And that other cat! Searle’s illustrations, a gardening bedside book, and the dream of spending an entire day roaming the French Quarter…

    …and I haven’t even had breakfast yet. I’ve always loved Fridays but your blog makes it even more delicious.

  6. This is my favoritest one yet of yours…The watercolor..

    I love the way you want to go down through those gates too!
    The ironwork and greenery and the man..It seems I cannot paint anything with a depth of field or 3 dimensions:(
    Practice practice practice.

    I would have bought those spices also..and maybe I should put my cookbooks in an old oven..
    Your melancholy will be non existent in Paris..
    You will be with JOY.:)
    Tis true what Carol wrote..Triscuit/ Tea bag size will be part of Merriam Webster soon:)

    I am quite taken with the tea cups on pedestals too:) I’ve glued them to copper as bird feeders..why not for us?On stems..

    There is a wine.. have you seen it?
    Goats Do Roam?..Perfect for one of your travel /garden books.
    I enjoy different quirky shops..plus it makes me look like I don’t actually keep everything.

    Bon Voyage~

  7. Loooove all the bookshop photos. What’s better than a good bookshop, I ask you. Well okay, maybe a good garden. (Lucky us, we get them all in one blog post, from you…)

    If you are looking for another bedside garden book, try Richardson Wright’s “The Gardener’s Bed-Book.” Original is circa 1930, but it’s been reprinted in softcover. I don’t think it has pictures though, which is okay, otherwise it would be Too Perfect.

  8. Carol

    Oh, cats!! Cats with jobs. I’ve got a big picture of Pumpkin getting a job. I have had to leave my bed unmade the last two days because it has been cold here in Texas and he likes to snuggle in the covers. Good thing I don’t believe in owners spoiling pets!! Marrakech!! Have a safe trip and a wonderful trip. I know you will bring us back LOTS of pictures and wonderful ideas/comments/thoughts! Happy Friday to Top Cat and the Gang!!

  9. just a breath of fresh spring air this morning wafting off your colorful page. loved the book tour with you, how you manage to find just the right books for your artistic eye… you must be more delicate then a butterfly because i think the shelves are still standing~

    as a native ca i enjoyed seeing sf, every blog is paris smitten, its wonderful to see the good ole us of a too!

    so cracking up, yes i could see zip on my iphone this morn, so i plugged in and that means you get some lengthy droning on comment you may not even welcome, but i truly love the wonderful chapters you share each friday when i am peering at my cell phone way before the crack of dawn. frankly you need to be seen BIG to get the full impact, heck if you are painting a tea bag size, which is larger then my phone, do the math, i am seeing an infinitesimal portion of your talents!

    eager to see a top cat dancing in the streets, you are just like a tv show with a giant teaser forcing us back week after week! and i can’t wait for you to share more of your travels, i missed the part where you were skipping over to morroco too, what an exhilarating trip you have planned! and the very very best part is you are kind enough to share with us, and you always have such a wonderful slant on life to expose us to so many things we may have missed. have you ever been to kuekenhoff? you can catch the tail end of one of the most gorgeous gardens in the world…

    in case you are not aware, you can monitor your comments so they don’t post until you approve them, then the spammers don’t stand a chance and your loyal viewers can comment 24/7/365 and never feel deprived of pandering to your talents 🙂 i just realized i bet all your commenters told you this already, i never read others comments, seems like tampering with the mail and extra snoopy, but in case they haven’t informed you i am just tossing out the facts mam!

    happy trails to you, i so appreciate your lengthy posts, i know you must work long and hard to share with us and i am thrilled you do!

  10. janet bellusci

    what fun it was to visit the NOLA bookstores with you!! the librarian in me enjoys your special “finds” and the cat lover in me adores all those darling bookstore furry friends!

    as for the hidden garden gems, that’s how i spent my time while visiting CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA. (that, and eating/comparing bowls of she-crab soup!!) every gate i peered through had yet another magical space, and the architecture was inspiring!! all i can say is you must be too much fun to travel with!!

  11. Rachel

    Thanks to Sarahsbooks for getting there first, Yes, Richardson Wright is wonderful. He wrote others in the Bedside series as well, all good. I LOVED visiting the bookstores of NOLA with you, the gardens with you and can hardly wait until next week for dancing in the streets. Woot! And almost Bon Voyage.

  12. Deborah

    A mystery — What is that man in your painting reading?

    And a melancholy — the elusive poodle. I hope it was a standard.

    But mostly enchantment at your view of NOLA.

  13. Susie

    So much to comment on, book shops, The Silent Traveler books, cats, Top Cat dancing (yes, please), your techniques for watercolor, and lots more….
    I’ll pick one thing:
    Those bookstore cats. Notice that the cats you showed were of a same type for color and markings? Cats marked like this are my favorite, they’re always just very nice cats. (we have 2 like this and have known several) But they do need to have the body color on their noses, not white. Makes all the difference. Really.
    Thank you for a great treat today…the sun is shining in western New York state at 12:30pm, but it is still cold.

  14. TinyDancer

    I want to go with you to that London garden.

    Love love love the way you “garden” with watercolor. I look t the photos over and over and I SEE you do it, but I can’t UNDERSTAND how you do it. It’s like magic.

  15. SandraK

    Carol made me laugh. Cats with jobs. I read somewhere that even when cats are given “jobs” such as Chief Book Store Lounger, they always remain self-employed.

    New Orleans has it all: booze, beignets, beads, and BOOKS.

  16. Sandy R

    I adore your painting demos, you have a lovely light touch! I too fell in love with NOLA but did not hunt down any book stors. The music, the food, the people, the history! – Fantastic.

    As I look out my CT shoreline window, I long for spring as well, maybe in another month we will be there, then summer will hit with humid avengance!!

  17. I remembered this evening that it’s Friday and had to come see the rest of your trip. Loved the second part of NOLA even better than the first. I’m addicted to old bookshops and OH MY these are wonderful. I could spend days in just one of these joints, with Isabel on my lap for company. The quote about the butterfly in the bookshop had me tittering, there’s a place in Halifax it reminded of, he has hand drawn maps posted to help the uninitiated.

  18. Tracey

    What a wonderful post! I’m going to London soon and will definitely see bookstores and gardens. I also buy a book when I visit a book store.

    I had a tuxedo cat who recently died at the age of 20 who liked both my morning cafe au lait and my afternoon tea with milk.

  19. Yes to photos of Top Cat Dansant in NOLA!

    My co-worker and fellow Vivian Swift fans reads your post first thing on Friday morning whereas I save reading it for the and of the day as a reward for getting through the week.

    Either way it’s wonderful!

  20. annie

    Hello everyone,
    I have been a silent follower of this delightful blog for several months now and am also, of course, a devoted reader of your entire oeuvre, to date, Vivian.

    LOVED everything about this post! Especially the bit about Juniper the cat, who happens to be the spitting image of mine.
    Am looking forward, with the others, to pics of Top Cat dancing in the streets.

    (Hope you all had a good National Hairball Awareness Day!)

  21. annie

    oh, I meant the Hairball Awareness Day remark to be amusing, but I see it looks as if I’m promoting it, which I’m not since..aren’t we already aware of hairballs?

  22. Rachel, yes! I also have Richardson Wright’s “The Bed-book of Travel” which is also wonderful. He was editor of ‘House & Garden’ magazine for twenty years, and really knew how to deliver the goods.

  23. Jeannie

    Now I really want to go to NOLA! Bookstores are the household weakness. No trip to Portland, Or. is complete without a stop at Powell’s and some others. Looking forward to seeing Top Cat dance!

  24. Judy Jennings

    Thank you for letting us know about those old and wonderful book shops, AND showing photos of the insides. I collect pictures like that. This weeks “Vivian” painting is the best. Your “greens” amaze me because they are so hard to “get.” That is, there are a million greens you can mix, and many shades straight from the tube, but mine never look “natural” the way yours do, which are perfect. Is there a secret?
    By the way, I’ve read many blogs and they haven’t held my attention long. Yours and one other called “Hooked on Houses” are the BEST I’ve ever seen, and yours alone is fabulous for the knowledge you share and demos you do. Pure unselfishness…. You wouldn’t HAVE to do that. Bless you.

  25. Laura

    Tea Rooms! oh when will we catch on! The ubiquitous American coffee shop would be complemented by the gentle elegance of a competing tea shop. Here is the next business venture, if you’re looking for one.
    How about a book on independent book shops? Or tea shops?
    Thank you for introducing me to the Silent Traveler. What a gift.
    Would you please share some more about watercolor and pencil line layers. I’d like to learn your experience with different brands of paints, eraser varieties and paper. I have had mixed results with trying to erase pencil lines through dry watercolor. I would appreciate your take on this technical aspect. Thank you.

  26. Patricia

    I do love the wonderful comments fellow blog lovers leave … especially agree with Laura about a book about the disappearing indy bookstores. Would love your interpretations of the wonderful winding trails thru piles of books, cozy nooks and hidden corners. And bookstore cats! I’d buy that.
    I was thinking “she MUST go to Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech” when I finally got to the end of your post and saw “YOU ARE!” Must go when it first opens, otherwise you’ll get stray people in every photos. Loved it, loved it, loved it…

  27. Cat H.

    Thank you so much for your blog. Just wanted to write to wish you all the best on the Garden book, and great trips ahead to France and Morocco (and elsewhere as they come up!). I wish you lots of sunshine and wisteria at Giverny, and I hope Spring comes to Long Island very soon. All the best.

  28. Christine

    You could own a bookshop and call it “When Wanderers Cease to Roam.” You could have bookshop cats and serve tea and champagne. You could have a huge old wooden library table where you paint. It would be wonderful.

  29. OH, all my favorite things — book stores, shop cats, travel, gardens… and yes, the painting is lovely! If that’s NOLA, I think you are getting your groove there! I love Searle’s work — have three repros of his cats dining out which make me smile whenever I pass by them in the hallway. You had mighty good finds.

    I think Rick feels I don’t write about him enough either, though that will probably change in coming months as he’ll be helping me back to health. So, he’ll deserve good posts!

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