Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New Orleans - prelude to JazzFest

"Only in New Orleans" was Irvin Mayfield's frequent refrain
when we were listening to him at Lafayette Square Wed.
eve before Jazz Fest. We arrived in New Orleans a day
and a half early to explore and savor the city a bit before
setting up at the Contemporary Craft Show section of

During one part of the concert, students joined
him. The 10 year old trumpet player and 16 year old sax
player pictured above with the band show the future of jazz
is alive and VERY well in NOLA. At the end of the concert,
a brass band led the crowd through the town down to the
Royal Sonesta Hotel where Mayfield's club is located. We all
became part of the classic "second line". One image I won't forget:
a woman on a bike twirling her purple parasol brought from
Colorado, hoping she might have a chance to dance with it.

Sights and sounds in New Orleans are complicated,
sobering and celebratory. We saw the excellent exhibit
"Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond" which just
opened up this past October in the French Quarter
at the Louisiana State Museum :
The experiential exhibit plunges one into the reality of the
experience for New Orleans residents, details exactly what
happened and why, gives historical perspective, and highlights
the resilient character of the people who live in the region.

There is new construction and rehabilitation of structures
in many neighborhoods, but plenty of areas where damage is
still very apparent. As we wandered in the "Garden District"
I looked at the ancient oak trees whose gnarly roots were
protruding and seemingly taking over the sidewalks.

These are trees which are there to stay, hang on deep
and persistent. I reflected on the depth of connection
and persistence of the folks for whom New Orleans
is home and will always be.

Thanks to the suggestion from Boston artist friends that
the best gumbo in New Orleans is served at Dooky Chase's
restaurant at 2301 Orleans Ave, we went there for lunch.
We expected and tasted the excellent gumbo, but had no
idea we would be walking into a place so steeped in history
and tradition, especially for the African American Community
in New Orleans. The restaurant was flooded, as was much of
the immediate Treme neighborhood during Katrina, but Dooky
and Leah Chase , not exactly youngsters, did not give up.
The restaurant, open since 1941, reopened in 2008...only for
lunch and special events for now while they wait for the rest of
the neighborhood to catch up. Again those deep roots that hang
on tight holding the fabric of community together.

This includes honoring and displaying extraordinary art.
Eating in the restaurant is like eating in a museum.
My favorite was this one by Dr. John Biggers (1924-2001)
entitled "The Upper Room" :

I plan on spending some time investigating the work
and imagery of Dr. Biggers. This trip made it clear how
many well known artists I had ashamedly never heard of.
But after all, learning and discovering is the point of travel.

We entered our hotel that night preparing to set up for
the show the next day filled with story and music, but also
feeling extremely fortunate. That Wednesday when we were
savoring New Orleans, massive tornadoes were sweeping
through the path we had driven through the day before.
Another reminder of how quickly life can change.

Next blog post.. Jazzfest!

Adventure on! Wendy


  1. There was a John Biggers exhibit at the MFA I belive and I know Barry Gaither knows a lot about his work. His images of shot-gun houses so prevalent in communities down South. And Dookie Chase's restaurant is just wonderful. They published a cookbook a while back.
    Glad you had a good trip to NOLA.

  2. Thank you...We took lots of photos of the shot-gun style houses. Will look for that cookbook...and connect with Barry on Dr. Biggers.