A Knitter in Transition

My adventures - in knitting, marriage, and moving across hemispheres.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Secret Gardens

No knitting content, just homesick for New Orleans. I miss the Quarter. Send chickory and half and half po'boys, fully dressed, baby.

If you've ever lived or spent time in New Orleans, you'll know all about secret gardens. The French Quarter is a treasure trove of hidden jewels that most of us will only ever see the tiniest glimpse of through narrow wrought iron alley gates.

The best part of the whole experience is the unexpectedness of it! In the Garden District, you see 10,000 square foot three story wedding-cake confections of gingerbread and leaded-glass, and it's a given that everything inside it and on it's grounds will be fabulous. But, you when you walk through the French Quarter, it's a crazy mix of history and neon lights, homes that have been the same color for a hundred years with slave quarters and carriage houses, all mixed in with Lucky Dog vendors, Voodoo shops and Bourbon Street. You have no idea what's on the other side of the brick walls and sherbet-toned shutters. But, take a peek into someone's alley gate, and you'll see a whole other world.

You might think nothing of the front of the Court of Two Sisters,

but when you get into the courtyard for your Jazz Brunch, you'll gasp:

In the summer, the grape arbor fills in and give full shade to the lucky ones who sit underneath. This is where I had my bridal shower! It is so beautiful and so very New Orleans, it's perfect!

It only looks like the homes are piled on top of each other. It's an illusion that the homes that back up to each other share alarm clocks and soup-can phones. The truth of the matter is that there may well be enough room between the homes for a carriage and small stable. The courtyards are very private! No looky-loo neighbors, your courtyard will probably have your neighbor's solid 2 or 3 story brick wall on one side. The larger, multi-story homes in the heart of the quarter are likely L or U shaped: a grand front faces the street with ornate wrought iron balconies, and the long side(s) holds the slave quarters, kitchen, etc. Sometimes, they look like this, the St. Louis hotel:

A grand New Orleans home, with fancy front, bedrooms along the courtyard sides (you can barely see the edge of the slave quarters on the right), and an adjacent formal garden. The Beauregard-Keyes house street-front:



The best part is the back-yard. They used brick for a reason in southern building. Especially in an area with as high a water table as southern Louisiana, the brick foundation will extend into the earth for 6 or more feet, wicking water up into the brick and cooling the entire building. The courtyard would have been paved in brick, giving the same cooling effect. Coupled with heavy planting and an overhead breeze, a courtyard has the potential to be a (relatively!) pleasant outdoor space well into the summer months.

Anyone who's ever been to any inner city knows that no amount of concrete can pave over the basic human need for greenery. The Quarter is no different. Some streets are tree-lined, most balconies sport ferns and flowers and potted palms. You see ivy in the windows and roof top gardens. But courtyards can be miniature french gardens gone wild. It's like Giverny went to Tahiti and came back with a sarong and cornrows. This is the courtyard at the St. Louis hotel, and is where the Lt and I had our wedding reception. It really does look just like this!

On your next NOLA vacay, and I suggest you visit the city, don't stay at some chain, there's no personality there, no history. Stay somewhere you've never heard of, it's a good thing! Besides, the chains charge out the ying-yang for faking what the others have the real deal in. May I recommend St. Louis hotel, they are super nice there, and the A/C is cold!!


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