Naming Names in New Orleans

We have no problem with Dr. King, it’s just that he wasn’t a Greek muse.  -The Coliseum Square Association president explaining that Melpomene Street, named for the muse of tragedy, couldn’t be changed to honor MLK because it would spoil the series of parallel New Orleans streets named for muses.

Whenever I go to an unfamiliar place I want to study the buildings. I want to see the churches and high-rises and the self-conciously edgy museums. Mostly though, I want to see the houses. I want to see ramshackle duplexes  and well-worn cottages as much as the grand homes and custom originals. I think this is just an extension of my curiosity about people and how they live their lives.

Recently, my family and I travelled by train from our northern California home to New Orleans. This was not only my first visit to Louisiana, but the first visit to the south for this California child of a Brooklyn mother and a Midwestern father.  We got off the train in the quiet New Orleans station, squinting in the bright sunlight on a bitingly cold January day, were helped into a cab by a deep-voiced, welcoming valet, and whisked to our hotel by a very friendly cab driver. (Note: It seems that everyone who lives in New Orleans is welcoming and friendly.)

We dumped our luggage in our surprisingly comfortable suite at the Drury Hotel in the business district, and actually ran to meet up with a 5pm. historical walking tour of the French Quarter. This had to be the best way to orient ourselves in this interesting place as we were instantly immersed in the stories behind the street names and the buildings of this beautiful city.

On Bourbon Street in New Orleans

The first stop our tour guide made was in front of a strip joint on BourbonStreet which happened to be the former home of a Jewish lawyer who both fought with and ultimately became fast friends with Jefferson Davis. More on Judah Benjamin to come, but for now I just want to remember the rapt look on my ten-year-old’s face as she tried to take in the guady stripper signage and raucous music and imagine that this was once the home of a early New Orlean’s bigwig.

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