Peek in New Orleans!
In the beginning, there was spice… and God saw that the spice was good
New Orleans was named after Philippe II, Duc d'Orléans, Regent of France. It is one of the oldest cities in the United States, and in my opinion, holds the most maintained culture of any city in the United States. Hundreds of years of tradition, custom, celebration and food- not to be diluted by time or influx of new blood. The old blood is far too concentrated, and it seeps in to all new inhabitants as if they were newly embraced vampires.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French. Fifty-five years later it was under Spanish control until 1801, when the French reclaimed reigns. During the Spanish period, there were two great fires that destroyed most of the French buildings. In some ways, this was a benefit to the Quarter. The buildings prior were constructed to French climate, with small windows and little ventilation. In times before fans and air conditioning, this was hard living in such humid temperatures. After the fires, the Spanish rebuilt the French Quarter… so the architecture you find there today are right in line with those found in San Juan, Puerto Rico… and other Spanish island cities. Large, lengthy windows and high ceilings.
During those early years, New Orleans was at the height of the slave trade, and curiously enough had the highest population of free persons of color, which were prosperous business people and well-educated. An enjoyable read of Anne Rice’s ‘Feast of All Saints’ will give you a great insight into white/black relations of the time.
New Orleans has retained this French, Spanish, and African culture as if it were a mere generation removed. It is America, it is still very proud of the people that found it, created it, nurtured it, and sprayed it like a male cat on its territory. This city belongs to all those people. There will be no denial.
Be fruitful and get in dat kitchen!
Beignets, po’boys, muffalettas, étouffée, jambalaya, gumbo, and red beans and rice are a few of the very local, and unique foods found in New Orleans. With a mixture of French, Spanish, Italian, African, Native American, Cajun, and a hint of Cuban traditions… you find a very distinct local flavor.
Beignets are also referred to as French doughnuts. You just can’t come to New Orleans without visiting Café Du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee. That’s a simple ‘must’. Po’boys are very similar to submarine sandwiches, or hoagies… but they are made with French bread, and sport many fried seafood variations. Back in the early immigrant days, the immigrants would order gravy sandwiches with no meat. These sandwiches became known as po’boys, because that’s all the po boys (poor boys) could afford. Today, there is definitely more than gravy on ‘em.
The accent… ah yes. Back in 1992 when I met my first local, I was in the Marine Corps. I remember asking him where he was from, he told me to ‘guess’. My first guess, as most would, was New York. No, he was from Chalmette, Saint Bernard Parish. Saint Bernard neighbors New Orleans’ 9th Ward.
I’d never assumed this was what New Orleans ‘sounded’ like. But I learned fast that television and movies sorely warp the accent. There is no Southern accent here. The ‘r’ is usually left off as in New England states. Interestingly enough, New Orleans immigrant groups mirror those groups going into New York at that time. Irish, Italians, Germans, and Jewish immigrants came to New Orleans for work through this major Southern port. Algiers Point has often been called 'Brooklyn of the South'.
It just wouldn’t be New Orleans if it wasn’t different. Here we sit in the South, and are removed from the Bible Belt. New Orleans is predominantly Roman Catholic. Steadfast European roots. There is also a significant Jewish population- again paralleling this city to New York with it‘s large Catholic and Jewish faiths.
Yes, there is Voodoo here. And much of that Voodoo is colored by Catholicism. A very rich understanding of local Voodoo can be found on the Special Features option of the DVD ‘Angel Heart’. I highly recommend taking a look at the well-done documentary, that sheds truth on what real Voodoo is.
*Coming soon to this page- Mardi Gras, King Cakes, and Jean Laffite
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