Visiting Old Haunts in the Big Easy

August 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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Midnight on Julia StreetThe new-and-improved edition from Sourcebooks-Landmark of my second “woo-woo” novel, Midnight on Julia Street hit the bookstores and online retailers August 1, but in June, I had a wonderful chance to revisit some of my old haunts in New Orleans and environs.  The American Library Association was holding its convention in the Big Easy and my publisher asked if I’d be willing to sit in their booth and sign books.

Well, yes! Yes, indeed, I would!

Next to my home city of San Francisco, New Orleans is one of my favorite places on the planet.  After  spending over a year researching Julia Street, I did what so many lovers of that city do: I bought a place in the lower (residential section)  French Quarter on Ursulines Street between Dauphine and Bourbon where the pace is slower and the sense of history surrounds you on every corner.  We loved our tiny piece of Le Vieux Carre, but after a couple of years, found it difficult to manage it properly from 2000 miles away and have since sold it.

Since Julia Street’s plot was deeply embedded in the on-going struggle to preserve and maintain the city’s incredible  historic architecture, I decided to revisit some of key spots depicted in the novel.  On an early, steamy Monday morning, I departed the fabulous view of the Mississippi River from my room at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street, and headed over on foot–as does Corlis McCullough, the heroine in the novel–for my favorite morning ritual:  a cup of cafe au lait and a beignet at the famed 7/24 establishment Cafe du Monde.

The coffee, of course, was already flowing, though the chairs outside at 6a.m. hadn’t yet been lifted down from the tables where the floor had been cleaned in the wee hours of the morning. As usual, there were lines waiting for that first cup of steaming, chickory-laced brew and the decadent confection of deep-fried puff pastry dredged in about an inch of powdered sugar.


(Tourist tip: do NOT wear anything black when eating a beignet!).

I munched on this ambrosia, read my morning copy of The Times Picayune, gazed across Decatur Street and into the gated park at Jackson Square dominated by the three-spire magnificence of St. Louis Cathedral (which you can see on the cover of Julia Street).  I found myself offering up thanks to whatever Muse originally gave me the idea for a book about the good fight waged daily by a stalwart band of dedicated preservationists to save various aging structures around the city from the wrecking ball.  The “Live in a Landmark” program and other efforts sponsored by the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans have gone far to keep the city’s historic “built environment” alive and well–and still live-able.

Once I’d dusted off the powdered sugar that had rained down on my T-shirt and jeans, I began a leisurely stroll through the streets I’d come to know so well.  The Rue Royal, as you see here, Ursulines, where we’d owned our cottage, and eventually I circled back to Canal Street where the Salin buildings still stand with their less-than-esthetic 50’s-era metal cage, behind which are a row of stunning 19th century townhouses that some officials in the City of New Orleans and some developers wanted to tear down at one point to build a high rise hotel.  The metal cage encasing the old buildings is still there, but so are those precious structures behind it (which you can see a glimpse of, if you look carefully). What makes them especially noteworthy is that in the 19th century they were built and owned by a consortium of local citizens that included Free People of Color, and some prominent white citizens, among them: Paul Tulane of Tulane University fame. It was a very early version of a “Rainbow Coalition” when Cotton was King.

Apparently, post-Katrina, the fight over this particular issue is at a Louisiana stand-off, but in Julia Street –a work of fiction, remember–I devise a plot (and a fate for these buildings) that I hope the reader finds satisfying.  However, I’m not telling what happens, here, but just wanted to share the wonderful time I had in one of the most wonderful, brave, enduring places in America.



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