I knew getting up “early” on Christmas Day would reveal some rewarding shots. “Early” in New Orleans might be 9am. An empty and foggy French Quarter with no one around. The day was spent wandering around lobby of the venerable Roosevelt Hotel, Reveillon Dinner, and a night-time streetcar ride down St. Charles Ave.
Reveillon Dinner. Visitors to New Orleans during the Holiday Season may want to sample an old Crescent City tradition that dates back to the early 19th century. In French, New Orleans’ original language, the word “reveillon” means “awakening.” The Creoles, some of the city’s earliest inhabitants, celebrated the start of Christmas in the early 1800s, with a big family meal when they returned home from midnight mass. 2am may be an odd time to start a feast consisting of chicken and oyster gumbo, game pies, soups, souffles, lavish desserts, brandy and coffee, but this is how it was done back then. It was a tradition the Creoles inherited from their European cousins as a way of breaking the daylong religious fast leading up to Christmas Eve. [From NewOrleansOnline.com]
Of all the sights, sounds, smells and sins of New Orleans, the street car is my favorite – specifically the St. Charles Avenue line. Here’s why: I finished my PhD in 2001 and was eager to get started teaching. I had always loved New Orleans and when a teaching appointment opened up at Tulane, I was fortunate enough to land the position. At the time, the head of my department, Dr. Jim Mackin, was moving out of his apartment near the intersection of Napoleon and St. Charles. He simply told the landlord that I would be moving in. She said OK, and sight unseen, I took over the rent and he left me the keys. I was in heaven. I don’t even recall signing a lease.
The St. Charles streetcar travels up and down St. Charles Avenue, obviously, and I could hear it creak and rattle and pop, all day and night. The sound always comforted me, and reminded me that I wasn’t alone, although I was. I had no friends or family in New Orleans. While Sinatra said of New York, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” I think New Orleans is a hard city to make it in. It is a city of contradictions: In one sense, it cannot be broken (see 49 of the 273 hurricanes that made landfall between 1851 and 2004). But if you have demons, they’ll find you, even in that swamp, and you will be the one ending up broken – not her. Remember, this is the city where Andrew Jackson led 4,700 men in the defeat of 14,450 British soldiers in the final major battle of the War of 1812 and the most one-sided battle of that war.
I digress. The streetcar was my siren and a sort of escape. I rode it to work. I rode to the Quarter. I rode it to Audubon park in the Spring. I rode it to the gym when it was too hot to run the neutral ground. I rode it when I was bored. It was a block outside my door. Best of all, I can still smell it. The overhead electrical power lines gave off a subtle ozone smell when it was near, like a recent lightning strike in the summer.