If you grew up in Mississippi in the 1950’s, your world was defined by two cities of which neither was within the State. There was Memphis on the northern border, just barely across the Tennessee line, and New Orleans to the South. If you lived north of Jackson you watched WMC Television and read the Commercial Appeal and the Press Scimitar, and did your serious shopping at Goldsmith’s, Lowenstein’s and Oak Hall.
If you lived south of Jackson, you watched WWL-TV, read the Times Picayune and shopped at Masion Blanche and D.H. Holmes. Jackson had TV and newspapers, but they were considered too provincial. Little Rock probably had both, but that would have been like listening to Radio Free Albania. It was so not Southern.
We went to Memphis for football, shopping, selling cotton and doing business. We went to New Orleans for eating, drinking and sinning. Memphis was a brash, cotton trading river town, and New Orleans was a tropical, French speaking enigma, a Paris on the Bayous kind of place. A trip to New Orleans roused the adventurer in me when I was 10 years old, and it still does today.
In the 1950’s it was a good plan to take the train to New Orleans. Highway 61 ran through the swamps once it got south of Hammond, and it was two lane the entire trip. It could take up to ten hours to get from Cleveland, Mississippi to New Orleans by car. It was much better to drive to Winona and catch the City of New Orleans or the Panama Limited. It might take almost as long, but you would travel in comfort and would end the trip within blocks of the French Quarter.
I want to be your guide on a trip to this Mecca of music, food and mystery. Today the combination of the interstate highway system and Amtrak make driving a far better choice. New Orleans is accessible from all parts of Mississippi by either I-55, I-10 or I-59. One way you enter to city is on the western edge of Lake Pontchartrain and the other is on the eastern edge. The approach through the swamps filled with cypress trees and Spanish moss will enchant the most skeptical visitor with an exotic sense of impending excitement.
The elevated expressways, providing a bird’s eye view of the suburban neighborhoods as you near the city, makes it clear that this is not Kansas. Most buildings are one or two stories and are painted in the pastels of the colonial islands. Palm trees and palmettos accent the large spreading live oaks and flowers are everywhere. One knows, as this aerial view unfolds, New Orleans is a city of churches, cemeteries and bars, and nobody is much concerned with zoning.
We have quite a few choices of inns and hotels in the greater New Orleans area, but we are basing our visit in the French Quarter or the Vieux Carre, which means “old quarter” in French. This is a 78 square block area encompassing the original site of the French Colonial Settlement founded in 1718. It is bordered by the Mississippi River and stretches inland to Esplanade Street and runs from Canal Street to North Rampart. My personal favorite of all New Orleans hotels are the Audubon Cottages at the Masion de Ville.
The hotel is located at 727 Toulouse Street and offers 16 well appointed rooms in the main building and 7 accommodations in the Audubon Cottages, which are located several blocks away in an enclosed compound. The hotel offers valet parking which is a necessity in the French Quarter and will deliver your car to the cottages upon request.
The entrance to the Audubon compound is a plain door in a typical French Quarter façade. It leads to a lush garden area with ivy covered Colonial cottages connected by old brick walkways. In the spring and summer, the air is filled with the sweet aroma of jasmine and gardenias accented by the gurgling of pools and fountains. Each of the seven cottages has an outside seating area perfect for alfresco drinks and le petit déjeuner.
The interior of the cottages are each different, but all share colonial furnishings and rustic décor. One feels the ambiance of the French countryside. Each cottage will have a well appointed common room, an equally well appointed kitchen and from one to three bedrooms. The surroundings are enchanting and the service is impeccable. Maids seem to pop out of secret closets and wash every glass and dish you use and the hotel’s room service is prompt, accurate and friendly.
I will continue our visit to the Crescent City in my next newsletter.
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Categories: As I Like It!