Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bacchus Says: Mardi Gras Approaches

I'm taking a break from wine for a few days while visiting New Orleans, but the wine culture continues to materialize in front of me. Yesterday, we rented bikes in the French Quarter and rode up Elysian Fields Avenue to the University of New Orleans. That wasn't our destination. We were headed to Lake Pontchartrain for no reason other than that I'd never had a close-up look. It took some effort to get there, apparently because construction crews continue to shore up the city's levees. The lake is on the north edge of the university, but roads here and there were closed, and three times security guards stopped us from taking this route or that in our efforts to reach the lake. Eventually, we got there, finding choppy waters on a windy but otherwise balmy day. Absolutely no one was on the lake. While riding through a park along the shoreline we stumbled across Mardi Gras Fountain, built and dedicated in 1962 to pay tribute to the dozens of carnival krewes largely responsible for the late-winter revelry. The fountain is surrounded by colorful free-standing ceramic plaques replicating the royal crest of each of the krewes. There are krewes named for the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, Cleopatra, Aphrodite and Zeus, among others, but the one I lingered over longest was Bacchus. If nothing else, I guess this crest reminds us of the ancient and enduring role of wine in a wide range of societies, even one where Abita Amber Ale, Pimm's Cup and the Sazerac look to play a much more active role. Incidentally, the fountain is more pond than fountain, not at all spraying water as originally intended. The sponsoring Orleans Levee Board must still be jittery about seeing moving water.

We headed west along Robert E. Lee Boulevard, ambling through the stylish estates of Bucktown, then moseyed south on Marconi Drive, skirting City Park. From there we angled back to the French Quarter and kept going to the Lower Ninth Ward, the neighborhood virtually wiped out by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flood. Today, it's a vibrant construction zone, where traditional New Orleans architecture is being reinterpreted in a series of post-modern single-family energy-efficient homes striking in their bright colors, sharp angles - and tall foundations. The actor Brad Pitt has had a hand in this revival, and I saw someone who looks like him standing on a balcony of one residence nearing completion, but he wasn't wearing a tool belt so it must have been someone else.

For me, whose previous trips to New Orleans were pretty much limited to the French Quarter and nearby commercial zones, the ride through quiet, leafy and elegant neighborhoods was soothing and reassuring. I saw a lot of pride in the preservation and restoration of historic homes, the cleaning and manicuring of parks and waterways, and the opening of new businesses. Yes, many homes still stand vacant and scarred, but more have been patched up and again shelter families. Despite hurricane, flood and oil spill, New Orleans continues to bounce back, and may be more handsome, animated and self-assured than ever. The New Orleans Saints could have a lot to do with that - their fleur-de-lis emblem is everywhere, on flags waving over front porches, in window signs, and on t-shirts worn more by locals than tourists. You don't hear or see as much support of the city's NBA franchise, the New Orleans Hornets, but in passing through one neighborhood adjacent to City Park we did come across this bright vintage Cadillac. I can't recall seeing such brazen and mobile support for the Sacramento Kings, but now that I'm heading back to town I'll be more watchful.

1 comment:

  1. Just back from a trip there myself, Mike, and did a similar neighborhoods exploration and trip out to the bayou. People who live there love that city, something to think about given its problems. If you have a chance, Elizabeth's is a great neighborhood restaurant about a 20 minute walk out of the quarter. Melanie