Celebrate the birthday of the Baroness Pontalba

How funny- Maybe I should ask the Baroness a few questions since I am researching the commercial history of Jackson Square and of the Pontalbas. (And I wonder if the Grand Duchess will come back in town for this?)


At the Upper Pontalba Building, Jackson Square
THURSDAY, November 3th 5-7 p.m. 500 block of St. Peter Street
Meet the Baroness—Shop—Eat Cake—Enjoy Opera

A Celebration of the Life of Micaela Leonarda Antonia Almonester y Rojas, Baroness de Pontalba (Born: November 6, 1795, New Orleans, LA; Died: April 20, 1874, Paris, France). The Baroness Pontalba is the namesake of and responsible for the design, development, and construction of the Pontalba buildings on Jackson Square, the oldest continually rented apartment buildings in the United States. The Upper Pontalba Building is managed by the French Market Corporation and is part of the French Market District.

***Spend $25 in one of the participating Shops at the Upper Pontalba on Saint Peter Street and get a raffle ticket to win items from the Shops at the Upper Pontalba! You must be present to win. Raffles will be at 5:30 p.m., 6:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. **

Event Schedule:

Enjoy extended shop hours, retail specials, live opera, historical characters in costume, and a chance to meet Dr. Christina Vella, the author of the definitive biography of the Baroness Pontalba, “INTIMATE ENEMIES”
Signed Paperback copies of the book will be for sale at Muse at 532 St. Peter Street throughout the evening
5:00-7:00 p.m. Louisiana History Alive presents The Baroness Pontalba in person!
5:30 p.m. Raffle #1. Spend $25 in one of the participating Shops at the Upper Pontalba on Saint Peter Street and get a raffle ticket to win items from the Shops at the Upper Pontalba! You must be present to win.
6:15 p.m. Raffle #2!
5:45-6:30 p.m. New Orleans Opera Association performs from a balcony above the Shops at the Upper Pontalba
6:00-7:00 p.m. Book signing by Christina Vella, author of Intimate Enemies: The Two Worlds of Baroness de Pontalba
6:30 p.m. Happy Birthday, Baroness! Join us in singing Happy Birthday and sharing cake
6:45 p.m. Raffle #3! Spend $25 in one of the participating Shops at the Upper Pontalba on Saint Peter Street and get a raffle ticket to win items from the Shops at the Upper Pontalba! You must be present to win.

How Tacky T-shirts Became Contraband in New Orleans – Reason.com

I like some of this tacky stuff and also like the welcoming attitude for our millions of tourists of having many kinds of shops.I do think some of the shopkeepers could try a little harder to find a new niche, rather than crowding more of the same on doorways and on racks with nuclear-level lit interiors and blasting Cajun music across the Quarter. HOWEVER, I agree with a friend of mine interviewed recently in this blog who think incentives and marketing assistance to find new niches may work better than a crackdown, especially one that seems uneven in its focus on certain retailers.
This article makes some very good points here although I might suggest that the author’s comment about “there is little reason to believe they will be replaced by wine cellars or art galleries” is a light slap and one that has no basis in reality, as art galleries do exist in the Quarter, as well as some of our city’s finest antique stores. The culture of our city includes those things and just as some of our loveliest restaurants and best bookstores are found in our city center, those others can and will be found here too.

While a small store owner like Azemas would have to carefully calculate the number of New Orleans Saints shirts he could display in his storefront window when the Saints kick-off their first home game this September, large nearby retailers such as Walgreen’s or H&M can stock rack after rack of New Orleans themed gear without any fear of crossing the 35 percent threshold.

Certainly, no one wants to live in a city overrun with tacky tourists shops, but as the residential population of the French Quarter shrinks, souvenirs are a retailer’s safest bet. Even if opponents of t-shirt shops succeed in getting a few shut down on Bourbon street, there is little reason to believe they will be replaced by wine cellars or art galleries.

Some charge that the attack on t-shirt shops is really an attempt to sanitize the French Quarter and push poor and middle-class people out. Many of the stores are owned by Asian immigrants, and they cater to lower- and middle-class tourists. As an example of zoning enforcement being applied unequally, business owners point to new shop Fleurty Girl. The locally-owned, upscale t-shirt boutique opened a French Quarter location after the 2011 ordinance went into effect—without any major objection from the VCPORA.


Flowering locally

The mayor of Filettino… wants his town in the hills east of Rome — population 598 — to become an independent state under a monarch.
Secession is a tough subject, but in the Italian city’s own words:
“If that’s what it takes to keep the town autonomous and protect its natural resources,” said the mayor, Luca Sellari, who was elected in May.
I’m not really advocating secession for the city of New Orleans (although I recommend that it warns the state of the possibility at times!), but it seems like a darn good idea to at least think about adding a local currency that is heavily marketed in the French Quarter. Not only will we be able to track the currency and promote local owners better, but people tend to hold on to local currencies for keepsakes too.
“Filettino has even printed its own currency, the fiorito, which means “flowered” (“like the town will flower in its new guise,” the mayor explained) and which harks back to the florin, the money first coined in 13th-century Florence. If fioritos become legal tender (so far they are just souvenirs), the exchange rate is supposed to be set at two to the euro, or about 72 cents apiece.”

And our Grand Duchess and her extended family would be happy to continue to serve their people in the village. (See the Grand Duchess category to the right for an explanation.)

Italian town talks secession

Revolution in a Can

Spoiling walls and doors and windows is shocking and difficult to understand, but for some, it is their choice of activism. I have never raised a can to a wall and probably never will, but it doesn’t mean I don’t notice the anger and get the point when I see it used as a tactic.

(you’ll need to register to read it, but then can delete your account.)
Revolution In A Can

See my interview with the Grand Duchess on her take on graffiti in an earlier post by searching categories for “graffiti” or “Grand Duchess

Grand Duchess floats back to town

The last time I heard from the GD was during the French Quarter Festival, when her neighbor delivered a message to me from an alert Duchess, who spied me from her balcony. That post
As I know that the Duchess locks up her house for the summer and takes long trips east and west (“never South or North my dear; there’s been entirely too much traffic in THOSE directions over the years”), I was surprised when I noticed the curtains blowing out from her 3rd story. I rang the bell and was admitted warmly by her live-in, Miss Maude who looked fresh as a daisy in the 96 degrees, as all true New Orleans ladies do.
I knew to wait for the Duchess in the cool, darkish middle room on the second floor, which is where she receives guests in the summer. I sat in the large wicker chair after making myself a lemon ginger drink from the tall pitcher, mixed together with ice from the bar freezer and mint from her glorious garden.
garden description

I could hear the muted chatter from nearby streets and feel the fans churning above me. The second floor seems cooled by old-fashioned architecture and strategic breezes rather than too-large air conditioning machines (as the Duchess calls them).
I sat relaxing and cooling and opened my eyes when I smelled verbena. The Duchess had entered and was shooing one of the fattest of her cats to the next room. Soon after, she sat in her usual straight-backed chair across from me.
“I am surprised to see you home in the summer, Duchess”
We believe that in moments of high drama, our citizens need us to be alert.
“I assume you are referring to the historic river levels?”
We are referring to the Mississippi and Atchafalaya river levels, yes. It is our wish that no one suffers on behalf of the village’s residents, but unfortunately, this time some will suffer to save the old city. We hope that our cousins in the Louisiana provinces know that our gratitude and empathy rises to them at this time
“Do you believe the levees will hold?”
We have personally inspected the levee in our village and believe it is safe. However, I cannot vouchsafe for the other villages surrounding ours and hope their royal servants are taking their citizens safety seriously.
“Duchess, I do not believe the other neighborhoods have a Duke or Duchess such as yourself that watch over them.”
(She looked at me sharply as if to gauge my seriousness and then shook her head sorrowfully)
If that is true, our concern is profound for those places. We hope that someday they can restore a personage to serve their needs.
In any case, we must all remember that water is both our saviour and our curse. We cannot control the mighty rivers forever, so must live in such a way as to not draw their ire and still prepare for the days that the water will change its course. We have been thinking a great deal on this subject and offer these decrees:

All villagers must teach each other basic swimming techniques.

All villagers should keep a flotation device available.

The staff of Loyola Avenue must ask for widow’s walks or wrapping galleries to be built on all new buildings above one story.

Second and third floor windows must have an exit path.

Those villagers with means should store expandable ladders of 15 feet or more on second floors or in attics. Rope ladders are more useful but must be inspected regularly for strength. (DW-I mentioned the usefulness and long life of nylon rope, an idea which pleased the Duchess and she begged me to insert the word nylon to the decree above.)

All villagers should make the acquaintance of at least one neighbor who seems to be alone and then to be responsible for that person in times of environmental or federal crisis.

After her decrees were stated, she rose, bade me to follow her into her library and showed me a brass bell and a beautiful old oar from a small boat. She told me they had been given to her by a grateful river pilot many years ago. As she went to ask Maude to show me out, I noticed an first English edition of Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” near the items and surreptitiously opened it to find this confounding inscription:

To the gracious lady downriver who watches over us all. Mark Twain

To read the original post explaining our Duchess:

Grand Duchess adds to her earlier Festival decree

Our good Duchess has contacted me during this year’s festival calendar with some new thoughts on her decrees. In her unusual way, she sent the information to me via messenger directly to my chair set up on Royal…or was it Bourbon? She must have spied me weaving fast and purposefully through the crowd and noting my destination, sent a card down her marvelous stick and basket system she keeps at the corner of the balcony, asking the neighbor on their stoop to hand it to me. I remember a tug and had a card in my hand before I had even fully turned. “From you-know-who” was yelled in an amused tone as the messenger headed back to their perch and it was true that the verbena fragrance had indeed given away its owner.
the original set of her decrees
My Dearest Darlene,
We are pleased to see your presence throughout the festive weekend, although chagrined at your choice of beverage.

(She had spotted my limed Go Cup; she rued my love of cheap gin)
However, we are glad to see you looking so well. We once again ask for your assistance in publicizing our words to the Vieux Carre citizenry and as always, thank you in advance.

We decree that all festivals held in the village should entertain the idea of using those adorable blow up couches, simple pine benches (for ease in storing after) or, temporary trees to invite our visitors to sit in places that do not block our service or retail doorways.
We explain thusly:
How lovely to see the citizens using the streets so well during the planned parties. However, when the day closes and the storekeeper tallies their sales, one would hope for the type of success which depends on feet entering the establishment.

We also decree that for that very same purpose all tents of our temporary merchants be set only on blocks in which 75% of the offerings are residences. And, that any storekeeper on those streets can register their disapproval of a particular temporary merchant when the items detract from the storekeeper’s sales. The storekeeper would be required to list the central items that their store has long sold that the temporary merchant is offering. This does includes food or beverages. That storekeeper(s) disapproval should be weighted to such a degree that the residents must explain why they would want that temporary merchant to stay in the face of the storekeeper(s) opposition.. If the temporary merchant is moved, then the next choice to allow in that block must be significantly unlike the first.

We explain thusly:
Our long time storekeepers should appreciate new ideas and welcome new merchants to the area, as the small stores are, if you will, the 5th chakra of the village and need new energy to thrive. However, this does not mean that storekeepers can or should overrule any and all temporary merchants. Those those who impede on their central business should be the only ones that they may oppose. In other words, two silver jewelry sites on one block (or two gelato offerings) can be confusing and unnecessary when we have so much space to offer.

We also ask that the Loyola staff continue their excellent work to study the needs of cyclists in our village and find ways to secure their property more carefully. Clearly, we need to invite more 2-wheeled conveyances and reduce the attraction of the 4-wheeled variety, as evidenced by the continuing stand-still every festival weekend on our Old Levee Street. (DW-Old Levee was changed to Decatur Street in 1800s).

Lastly, we must search for an expansion of sites for our musicians in non-festival areas and on non-festival weekends (see our earlier decrees) but not at the expense of the residents. We ask that Miss Darlene’s idea concerning adding busking stations be explored.

(DW-huh. Once again, she confounds me. I had raised the idea of adding busking areas in some areas of the Quarter, but how had she heard of it?
Buskers is a term used for itinerant musicians or performers and some cities or other public entities paint musical signs on the ground where musicians could set up on festival days and weekends. I thought we should close Wilkerson Row on weekends and allow buskers on that street, as well as on the Royal end of Pere Antoine Alley next to the Cathedral, as well as next to Bienville’s statue (with its hierarchy of the smaller standing priest and even smaller sitting Native American at the end of Conti) and in the corner of the Cabrini Park under the overhang; there would be painted musical signs where groups could set up for a half-day but then they MUST to move to another space on the next half-day . This is designed to offer more underused spaces for entrepreneurial musicians, while ensuring that merchants or residents don’t have to listen to the same musicians under their window every day.)
We hope that the Loyola staff can attend to some of our decrees in the midst of their busy Uptown paving schedule and in the meantime, welcome all to our village.

The Grand Duchess thinks about the Baroness

Over the last few weeks, there has been a back and forth about the Lower Pontalba rent prices. As many of you know, the Pontalba apartments are among the oldest in the country, having been built as apartments by Baroness Pontalba in the 1850s. As I have written before, you can see the inside of one by going to the 1850 museum in the middle of the lower block. It’s a self-guided tour with an apartment set up as it would have been in the 1850s (maybe they lived without the groaning a/c) and has some plaques explaining some of the family history of those who lived there then. The city manages the uptown side of things and this management falls under the French Market Corporation which has been having its own upheaval recently.
Rental prices are being debated for these treasures, since the councilwoman  has found out that they are rented well below the market rate for apts like that AND should be primary dwellings, which anyone who spends any time on the Square can tell you few are. Lights are generally on at most of them only a few days a year, and I assume you know which days I am referring. CM Palmer has also found out that they of course are rented to very prominent people at these lucky rates. However, in all likelihood, a few rents will increase but things will go on the same for most people there. The truth is that at market rate, few people who live in New Orleans full-time can afford it.
Although I would love to have stopped and sat on a particular sunny balcony to chat with the Grand Duchess to hear her views personally, I knew she was leaving for a hurried trip to the Middle East this very week. I instead left a message on her machine that I looked forward to talking with her on this subject when she returned. A suspicion that she enjoys my offer to publish her views was confirmed with the speed of her reply: within a day a call came from her live-in, Maude. Miss Maude told me the GD had sat down and written something as she was leaving and handed it to her, asking her to call me to read it. Miss Maude apologized before starting as her sight is not what it was and “with the intricate handwriting…”
but I suspect she just about got it word for word .
“So Miss Dar, here is what she says”:
Residing at the Pontalba is a privilege. 1/4 of these to be set aside for long-term employees of the stores below and/or those who work at Cafe DuMonde and should cost 1/4 of their monthly rate of pay.
She also says:
Those who get this privilege should have the good sense to have loads of parties and invite artists and dancers and musicians and serve excellent food and strong liquor and let the friendly noise drift over the Square… And to festoon their balconies with lovely crepe paper and greenery, changed every season of course. Also, as it should be remembered that crime is an issue in our village, one dweller should act as the block captain for 6 months at a time. This captain should walk through the Square weekly, noting any broken or missing valuables. They should chat with the eyes of the square (artists, musicians and sun seekers) discussing their concerns as well.
P.S. And all should remember to take a strong cup of coffee outside every morning and drink it gratefully with a silent nod to our dear Baroness. Our own Micaela who always chose gaiety over decorum and would do it again if she could….

Your health,