It was reported recently that our energetic and active mayor has decided to do something about the French Market. As a 20-year activist in food systems with a 40-year family residency in the French Quarter, I was certainly excited to hear that, although I think the setting has already been improved a great deal in recent years.The main reason this seems opportune is 1) the limited availability of any public spaces in the city to try small, discrete pilots that center around cultural connections and entrepreneurial zeal means that this might be a unique moment, and 2) also because the current FM Director has been quietly impressive.
Part 2 (Part 1 here) of my four part post:
then Katrina happened:
By September of 2005 while still in exile, we (meaning the parent org of the Crescent City Farmers Market, then known as ECOnomics Institute) created an online bulletin board and chat room for our vendors and for customers of the Crescent City Farmers Market to keep in touch and to tell us when and where they wanted the markets reopened.
Once we knew that we could come back and reopen farmers markets in New Orleans ( because enough producers had product, enough consumers wanted fresh food, and we had places to live) we began to discuss where to put them. Because the “sliver by the river” area of town had not flooded, we knew it would be one of those areas. This was not to ignore the flooded areas, but since any and all space for construction drop off or house demo had to come first, a pop up market was simply in the way in those early days. The Girod Street market location had some damage, so that was out. That left the French Market and Uptown Square as the two locations under consideration, but we quickly realized that the French Market was barely functioning.
Even so, we were still trying to help them by meeting with its director in those early days. I remember that we had dinner with him in early October, discussing how to use the French Market to help rebuild the city. We suggested that they allow Red Cross to use it as a station, and to have city departments set up there. Unfortunately, none of that happened for various reasons, probably most due to the inertia of the complicated system that the French Market was and is managed under. It is important to point out that the public-private partnership it operates under is hard enough, and then one must take in its multiple roles:
- the largest manager of city-owned historic property which stretches from Jackson Square (and includes the upper Pontalba building) down to Esplanade (and that was before the Crescent Park opened);
- the retail manager of all of the storefronts included in those properties;
- the manager of the parking lots bordering the river and those on Elysian Fields;
- the operator and manager of the 2 open sheds at the end of the French Market, including its hundreds of itinerant, permanent vendors;
- one of the primary event creators and managers in the lower river section of the Quarter.
The reason I bring up the post Katrina era (and the earlier revival era that I wrote about in Part 1) is because the future of this venerable place has a lot of baggage to carry with it, and also has some hard truths of the surrounding area that cannot be denied before we can discuss what to do. And the city is almost a completely different one that what existed on August 28, 2005. I’d like to see that history really analyzed, much more than I have done here, and make that analysis public.
For example, for any of us here at the time and now, it is clear that the post Katrina era gave the French Quarter some new life. Residents who still had property moved back in while they redid their own houses, others grabbed every rental available (which because there was no damage did not see its prices tripled as many other areas have done which was great cuz rents for larger, redone apartments there were already on the highest end of the spectrum), and -AND- the great luck of still having a walkable, vibrant area with public space, groceries, and cheery nightlife on the inner edge of the grey, sad, often toxic other 80% of our city was a comfort to all. So it became boom town for a little while and today, it still has an increase in renters and homeowners from the low population numbers it had a few decades previously. The Homer Plessy Community School is livening up the corner of St. Philip and Royal, a number of creative and unique shops are doing well (altho commercial space is at a premium), and a whole lot of activism and street life is still happening here. Interestingly though, still many locals repeat the old story about the French Quarter being “over” as a neighborhood when it is far from that.
That is another issue.
But in any case, the French Market didn’t capitalize on that boom. And unfortunately, lost great anchors such as Horst Pfeiffer’s Bella Luna who grew tired of waiting for his building’s roof to be repaired.
It simply didn’t have the structure or even the mandate to do capitalize. Instead, it remained an gentle afterthought in a booming Quarter, Marigny, Bywater which were (are) full of millennials terrified of being seen as participants in any setting that lacked an ironic twist or didn’t include a new take on an old place.
The French Market did however, add some very interesting counter restaurants in the sheds who continue to animate that very difficult space. And it also moved community radio station WWOZ into the Red Store building. And the Dutch Alley Artists Co-op continues to attract local artists willing to operate the storefront as a collective. How do those additions change it is the question. Do they? Are they as important to this French Market as Cafe du Monde and the Creole Tomato Festival were to earlier users?
And how does the new New Orleans (shudder) and the new life in the Quarter affect what is or should happen at the French Market?
-Part 3 will focus on the flea market on the end of the French Market, which must be dealt with, even though its history and its activity is not all as horrible as some residents make it out to be. As a place to show off the diversity of the entrepreneurial community new and venerable, it wears that well. The question is if newly arrived residents are still able to access the French Quarter? The shift in population for immigrant communities moving away from the city center and to the suburbs and even rural areas seems to make the idea of a French Market business a little less ideal for those communities. The answer may be found in some sort of a organized incubator for those business at the French Market or even assistance in product development that may even cater to residents as well as visitors…
Apr 6- Apr 7
What: an art event featuring exciting artwork by regional artists ,plus an opening parade, food and beverages for purchase, and painting demonstrations by some members of the association.
Visit noartassoc.org, or contact Wanda at firstname.lastname@example.org for a prospectus, if you want to be an artist- participant.
Sunday, April 1st
1. French Quarter Easter parade
Begins at 9:45 a.m.
The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade travels from @antoinesnola at 9:45 a.m. in time to make the 11 a.m. Mass at the @stlouiscathedral . After Mass, participants take a walk around Jackson Square. This parade was previously operated by a group known as the Friends of Germaine Wells, a legendary FQ restaurateur who died in 1983.*
2. Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade
Begins at 1 p.m.
The French Quarter icon leads her 34th annual parade from the @omniroyalorleans , then it heads up Royal Street to Canal Street. From there, it takes a right on Canal Street before turning onto Bourbon Street, then heads on to St. Philip Street to Decatur to St. Louis Street and ends back at the Omni Royal.
3. Gay Easter Parade
Begins at 4:30 p.m.
The 18th annual Official Gay Easter parade travels from Bourbon Street to GrandPre’s, 834 North Rampart St.
The first 2 parades are slightly connected in that the parade founders were and are two of our most vibrant and glorious women leaders, known for their business acumen but also for their joie de vivre and love and care of the French Quarter.
Germaine Wells was the daughter of Arnaud Cazenave, founder of Arnaud’s Restaurant. Wells, who reigned as queen of 22 Carnival balls, introduced her Easter parade in 1956 after seeing the NYC Fifth Avenue Easter Parade. The New Orleans parade, with horse-drawn carriages, throws of stuffed animals and candy, Easter bonnets and fancy Easter baskets continues today. Back then, it would start at Wells’ house on the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Chartres Street and stop at St. Louis Cathedral for Mass at noon and then to Arnaud’s Restaurant for lunch. Around 2012, the parade began to start and end at Antoine’s and became more commonly known as the Historic French Quarter Easter Parade.
Chris Owens began her own Easter parade in 1983. Many histories identify the founding of her parade as coming after Germaine Wells’ passing, but that seems inaccurate as Wells died in December of that year. The Owens parade is beautiful and has an extensive route to try to catch a throw from the Grand Duchess of Bourbon Street. Owens is one of my favorite celebrities in town, not only for her amazing club act which I have been lucky to have caught more than a few times but also for her astute sense in building and operating a club, managing retail and residential property to the impressive level that she has maintained for decades at St. Louis and Bourbon. All Hail Queen Chris.
Tomorrow the Maid of Orleans celebrates her 606th birthday. In the old quarter, a group of dedicated volunteers will stage one of the most beautiful parades of the year in her honor for the 10th year in a row. And directly after, fireworks will celebrate the 300th year since our city’s founding.
There may be no better way to understand the deep determination of people here to remain – and to not just to remain but to live with ease together and to honor the history we safeguard – than the Carnival season. This one, held during our tricentennial, should be especially exciting.
In many ways, the best and worst of what we represent is on display during these weeks every year: the DIY creativity, the peaceful takeover of public space (described best by writer CW Cannon in his New Orleans Manifesto), the informal conviviality among all groups gathered on a parade route. But also note the divide between rich and poor and people of color and white people: gauge the city’s interest in litter control or infrastructure repair between the worlds of St. Charles versus Claiborne, or check out the cordoned off areas for the politically connected on the grandstands in front of Gallier Hall for the big parades. Cannon points out “the social purpose of the Uptown route parading tradition was to standardize, control and express who the bosses of the city were in a striking visual spectacle.” If you doubt it, note where the Rex, Proteus or Comus flags on homes are all located, the debutante photos (and same names) on the news sites, the pic of the middle-aged man who will be Rex in 2018 and his 20-something “Queen.”
(And don’t forget the groups of mostly young white men who illegally camp out days before a few unnamed parades in order to to be upfront and able to push others aside to get plastic beads and children’s toys and get pukey-drunk on the neutral ground.)
Even so, the season offers something good for every New Orleanian old and new, permanent or temporary. For most, it is a season of deep sociability and a slew of political or cultural indicators of the current mood sent by the people to their elected officials.
As a Quarterite, I tend to stay here to celebrate the season, venturing more often downtown than Uptown. One reason is that the city stopped allowing float parades in the Quarter in the 1970s and after some years of inactivity, the walking parade has taken over on our streets with a great deal of style. Joan of Arc’s parade- although not directly a Carnival parade as it would roll on her day no matter when it was-is the perfect way to begin the downtown season. With its handmade costumes and candlelight, it offers a humorous, educational, moving set of tableaus dedicated to one of the saints that New Orleans considers theirs.
I remember the first one in 2008 where I met it in the Square and then again at “Joanie on a Pony,” the golden statue now found on Decatur , where the parade ends and a few dozen bystanders shared king cake with the cold and wet but jubilant masquers who had pulled off their first parade.
What is significant about that date is that it was in the depths of the rebuilding of our city after the federal levee breaks and was about the time that the initial joy at returning had worn off and the long slog ahead to recover became quite evident. I was living in a FEMA trailer in MidCity and upon returning back to it and my still-empty street after the parade, found myself smiling at the memory of what I had just witnessed and enjoying the slice of king cake shared by its krewe.
Because it honors our connection with France, celebrates a plucky teenager who heard voices and decided to follow them and resist, uses a route that shows off the Quarter beautifully, is generous with its throws, truly offers tableaus, and is made up of diehard and joyous New Orleanians, the January 6th Joan or Arc parade is royalty among parades in my book.
See what happens when good people get together over music? They come up with something like this, a site dedicated to listing the musical history of our city, place by place.
Jazz, big band, gospel, soul, brass bands, funk, blues, second-lines, hip-hop, bounce, r&b, pop, zydeco, rock, classical all have substantial roots here in the Crescent City. This site will do more than just set tourists to a wandering around; as a visual map, it can help save some of these places and to connect the dots about the development of some of America’s greatest art forms.
The A Closer Walk (ACW) project and site is presented by WWOZ New Orleans and produced by five partners: Bent Media, e/Prime Media, the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation, Randy Fertel and WWOZ.
ChazFest is my personal pick too.
May 3, Truck Farm (3020 St. Claude Ave.)
Threadhead’s event has some great music for sure. Their label includes some of our best but it looks like it is sold out. Maybe buy a ticket earlier next year if you are disappointed eh?
May 2, Old Ironworks (612 Piety St.)
The Ace Hotel has been programming the shit out of their hotel since they opened:
April 27-May 7, Ace Hotel (600 Carondelet St.)