New Orleans Memories

New Orleans Memories: One Writer's City

Carolyn Kolb
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvn7z
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    New Orleans Memories
    Book Description:

    Carolyn Kolb provides a delightful and detailed look into the heart of her city, New Orleans. She is a former Times-Picayune reporter and current columnist for New Orleans Magazine, where versions of these essays appeared as "Chronicles of Recent History." Kolb takes her readers, both those who live in New Orleans and those who love it as visitors, on a virtual tour of her favorite people and places. Divided into sections on food, Mardi Gras, literature, and music, these short essays can be read in one gulp or devoured slowly over time. Either way, the reader will find a welcome companion and guide in Kolb.

    In bringing her stories up to date, Kolb's writings reflect an ongoing pattern of life in her fascinating city. Since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, some of these things remembered will never return. Some of the people whose stories Kolb tells are no longer with us. It is important to her, and to us, that they not be forgotten. Kolb, and her readers, can honor them by sharing and enjoying their stories. As Kolb says, "When things fail, when the lights go out and the roof caves in and the water rises, all that remains, ultimately, is the story." This collection of such stories was made with love.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-977-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 11-14)

    Memories of New Orleans seep through a special atmosphere of the senses. In this city, even the air is different. It hangs about you, lank and sultry. When you see things through this air, they are changed in some way.

    What I recall about living here, what I have seen with my eyes, heard with my ears, felt, tasted, and caught the scent of, I can pass along. And I can pass along the stories of others, because we, each of us, have our own stories, and they are precious.

    I have been as truthful in this writing as I...

  2. PART ONE Food

    • (pp. 15-19)

      New Orleans has given the American palate a precious gift: a cuisine that has a universal appeal. There are so many good local recipes, and so much available as raw ingredients, that it comes as no surprise that New Orleans is a city obsessed with eating.

      Beginning in the summer of 2011, Orleanians could sign up at the Crescent City Farmers Market for the annual “locavore” challenge. Could you go for a month eating only local items, things grown in the region? This is made a little easier since both sugar (from sugarcane grown and refined here) and salt (from...

    • (pp. 21-23)

      If you live in new orleans and your last name is Kolb you get used to two things:

      First, since everybody here pronounces the name “cob,” you always have to spell it out: “That’s Kolb, K-O-L-B.”

      And then you have to say, “Like the restaurant—but no relation.” My husband’s father isn’t from here, and some quick calls to various Kolb names in the New Orleans phone book turned up no relations to the Kolb’s Restaurant family either.

      We Orleanians have our own memories of Kolb’s, which closed its doors over a decade ago. Judy LaBorde remembers her wedding, held...

    • (pp. 24-28)

      Like most orleanians I tend to obsess about food—it is no surprise that when my husband and I go out to eat, just the two of us or with others, we usually spend a lot of time at the table talking about other places we’ve eaten. Try this: next time you eat out in New Orleans, be quiet a minute and listen to the other tables—besides laughter (people around here laugh a lot more in restaurants than they do in other towns) I guarantee you will catch snatches of restaurant reviews or recipes.

      Even when the restaurants or...

    • (pp. 29-33)

      Besides eating in restaurants, Orleanians have always eaten well at home. New Orleans recipes, the classic ones, rely on simple, local ingredients. Some of them, even in the city, you could find in the backyard: gardens had herbs and vegetables like tomatoes and peppers and mirlitons (chayotes). Trees could yield bay leaves, pecans, oranges, and even alligator pears (avocados). With the ingredients and the kitchen skills, you can keep a New Orleans kitchen wherever you are. Obviously, not everything can be found around the house. You had to go to market, and in New Orleans, even that could be an...

    • (pp. 34-38)

      Sitting at the computer and using the Internet to “make groceries” is possibly the most joy-killing use of technology since the admission of cell phones to restaurants.

      There has always been something special, almost sacred, about the task of stocking a New Orleans larder. It’s more than just shopping. Even today, going to market is a ceremony celebrating life, not a mundane chore. Fond remembrance of past shopping experiences is something that haunts us all, even today.

      Granted, somewhere back in the long-distant past I can recall the beautifully arrayed vegetables at “N. Lala Stall No. 14” in the French...

    • (pp. 39-43)

      Orleanians know that there is one culinary staple our local cuisine requires: French bread. And it has to be the kind with the crispy crust and the light interior, the kind you can squash down on a poor boy, or hollow out for an oyster loaf, the kind that soaks up the butter and garlic until it turns ooze-ie yellow when you make garlic bread.

      We might say French bread, and there are other bakeries, but mostly we mean Leidenheimer’s. Their trucks are emblazoned with the Vic and Nat’ly cartoons of Bunny Matthews, and their long poor boy loaves in...

    • (pp. 44-48)

      The muffuletta is the other iconic New Orleans sandwich—and Leidenheimer makes a bread for this one, too. The muffuletta also represents another culinary ancestor of New Orleans cuisine: Italy (more properly, Sicily). Today most Orleanians have spaghetti and red gravy with meatballs as a normal family meal, proof that Italian cooking has had a lasting impact on New Orleans tables.

      One of my own favorite food memories involves the muffuletta. When I was very young, my father took my mother and me to a small shop deep in the French Quarter to get one of these sandwiches.

      What a...

    • (pp. 49-52)

      In new orleans you would often see a rack or a box of these little desserts near the checkout counter—including in hardware stores. If there is a preferred dessert for New Orleans construction workers, it’s the Hubig’s Pie. Since the bakery burned in a disastrous fire in July of 2012, hungry Orleanians eagerly await their speedy return, certain that the familiar pie will remain the same.

      There is a little smiling chef on the familiar Hubig’s Pie wrapper—his hat reads “Savory Simon.” As you might expect, there’s a story behind it.

      It started at the beginning of the...

    • (pp. 53-57)

      Pecans nowadays most often appear in neat clear packages of shelled nutmeats. Orleanians also can encounter pecans underfoot, since the city is still dotted with the trees. Before Katrina, the wide neutral grounds by the University of New Orleans had huge pecan trees, their limbs sheltering a crowd of bent-over pickers when the annual crop hit the ground.

      Pecan shells sometimes become garden mulch, but I can personally attest that a broken pecan shell is sharp enough to cut a gash in your scalp. Even when harmlessly encountered, pecans present difficulties: the meat is delectable, but getting it out is...

    • (pp. 58-62)

      Doberge cakes are a New Orleans tradition and fantastic sweet dessert. There is something incredibly celebratory about having a birthday cake in so many, many layers. I am one of those who can never decide whether I like the chocolate, or the lemon, or the caramel doberge best. Personally, I like the little squares, rather like ornate petit fours, so you can have one of every kind at one seating. None of this would have been possible without a remarkable woman.

      “Oh, Mimi made the most beautiful roses!” photographer Catherine Ledner said of her grandmother’s skill with sugary icing. When...

    • (pp. 63-66)

      You know that sound you make when you suck on a straw and there is nothing left at the bottom of the glass? In my family we called that the “drugstore blues” (and you weren’t supposed to make that rude noise, either). Well, when there is nothing left of your nectar ice cream soda, you have good reason to be blue. That is the quintessential fountain treat.

      New Orleans has always been an ideal place to enjoy a soda, preferably with whipped cream. John Besh’s new retro soda fountain at the World War II Museum is not only charming new...

  3. PART TWO Mardi Gras

    • (pp. 71-78)

      Mardi Gras is such an intrinsic part of every Orleanian’s inner calendar that, for those who are away from the city in the first quarter of the year, life seems unbalanced. Why isn’t this coffee cake ring decorated in purple, green, and gold? How come no one is drinking out of garishly decorated plastic cups? How could they think “Mardi Gras Mambo” is a Latin dance number?

      The rest of the world just doesn’t seem to get it. Or, they get it wrong. Mardi Gras has a lot more to it than people pulling up their shirts to get beads...

    • (pp. 79-82)

      From the beginnings of the Rex parade, dignitaries and city officials have watched the floats pass in front of Gallier Hall, once our city hall, on St. Charles just across from Lafayette Square.

      Back in the late 1950s, Mayor Delesseps S. Morrison tried to switch routes and dignitaries over to the new city hall on Perdido Street, but it didn’t stick. Somehow if it wasn’t on St. Charles it wasn’t right—for whatever reason, the mayor went back to Gallier Hall.

      I myself once spent Mardi Gras Day in the Gallier Hall stands, sometime in the Morrison era. Sad to...

    • (pp. 83-87)

      Back in new orleans in the immediate post-Katrina era, there were large areas of the city that had no lights at night. When we would drive through those neighborhoods, especially in the older parts of town near the river, the city had a special, spooky charm. With the old houses surrounding me in darkness, I could get a sense of what night in the city had felt like in the past century.

      Sometimes at Mardi Gras, you get that same feeling of being in the past. Standing in the dark, maybe shivering in the cold, you wait in anticipation as...

    • (pp. 88-91)

      Another old-fashioned part of Mardi Gras that is still with us is the use of four-footed animals. From mounted parade riders to mules pulling floats, Mardi Gras is still running on horsepower.

      Several decades ago, a group of Mardi Gras krewe members gathered one night near some stables. Accompanied by flambeaux carriers and a few musicians, they proceeded to bang on kettles and yell while a group of waiting horses stood somberly watching with their grooms. “We just wanted to be sure they were parade ready,” one krewe member remembered. “It was the first time we were renting from that...

    • (pp. 92-96)

      Every one of us has a favorite Mardi Gras memory—mine involves the year we wore monk’s robes and had “church keys” around our necks—and, while that was memorable, it wasn’t something to build a future career on.

      But then, I’m not Henri Schindler, who could say of “the first night parade I ever saw” that “it changed my life!” That’s a strong statement from Mardi Gras guru Schindler, but he’s happy to pay that tribute to a longtime Carnival club, the Knights of Babylon.

      As Schindler explained, “There were no parades during World War II, and 1946 was...

    • (pp. 97-101)

      The virgilians are the stuff of Mardi Gras memories—the krewe dissolved some years ago, but it is still fondly recalled. A Virgilians ball invitation was something to be prized—and you had to be a truly hard-core ball aficionado to sit through one of their lengthy extravaganzas. I admit, I never attended Virgilians. My grandmother always said that people who loved opera would be the ones to appreciate that krewe—but then she never attended a Virgilians ball, either. I take it on trust that they were fabulous.

      “People used to arrive at the Municipal Auditorium before noon and...

    • (pp. 102-104)

      One happy mardi gras memory for me was the day-long parties in the French Quarter. In college, one fraternity got the L.S.U. and the Tulane chapters together each year and rented a huge space just off Bourbon Street. My husband and I were once in a group that rented the old American Legion Hall on Royal Street, now the 8th District Police Station, and had a band and lunch. That’s the sort of party the Bourbon Street Bounders had, and believe me, that is one fun way to spend Carnival Day.

      “Back in those days, everybody wore a costume,” reminisced...

    • (pp. 105-109)

      It used to be said that, because of Mardi Gras, New Orleans had the highest per capita champagne consumption in the country. That may or may not be true. But I would suspect that New Orleans is one of the last places where ladies might still have a pair of kid gloves, opera length (that goes all the way up your arm) in their armoire. And mine is probably not the only closet in which there are some floor-length dresses or skirts that can be brought out when needed. Mardi Gras balls require a certain wardrobe, and there are various...

    • (pp. 110-114)

      The big mardi gras balls, especially in the old-line krewes, always depend on a dance band, actually an orchestra, for their music. After the dancing begins, you hear a special bouncy beat that seems to vaguely satisfy all ages of dancers. If you make it to a number of balls, and you have the occasional big debutante party in a given year, you get accustomed to that year’s favorite tunes. Plus, there are always New Orleans dance standards: that can vary from “Stardust” to the Meters’s “They All Ask’d for You.”

      One of my longtime favorite bands was René Louapre’s....

    • (pp. 115-119)

      For years, the big Mardi Gras balls were held in the Municipal Auditorium on Rampart Street. When the auditorium closed and was used as a casino until Harrah’s moved to Canal Street, ball-goers became accustomed to going to hotels. In my opinion, since sometimes they serve refreshments to the audience, the hotels were, and still are, acceptable substitutes. The auditorium, meanwhile, was damaged badly in Katrina and has not been rebuilt.

      However, there were always a few balls that picked another spot for the event. And one of the possible spots was the conveniently located Jerusalem Temple on St. Charles...

    • (pp. 120-124)

      If i had to pick one pivotal Mardi Gras, it would have to be the one right after the 1969 film Easy Rider. Granted, the French Quarter is always going to be crowded at Carnival time, and young people were expected to join in. But no one could have predicted the huge numbers of kids who turned up.

      The plot of Peter Fonda’s hip epic had to do with young motorcycle riders, a narcotics deal, and a trip to Mardi Gras.

      In Easy Rider, the sequence filmed in St. Louis Number 1 Cemetery is the one that most of us...

  4. PART THREE Literature

    • (pp. 131-136)

      New Orleans, as a setting or as a topic, has never left any writer at a loss for words. Probably since my earliest days, lying on the floor looking at the Young People’s Page in the Times-Picayune, I have been reading things written in or about this city. It is endlessly fascinating to me and, obviously, to a number of writers who keep churning out more pages about it.

      New Orleans has long thrived on its image as a city where drinking, racy possibilities of entertainment, and a lush European look all combine to produce a place where tourists might...

    • (pp. 137-141)

      Frank yerby’s novels always provide a good, page-turning story. The books may not be great works, but they are good reads. I grew up sneaking into the adult section of the public library, and these books were magnets for a teenaged reader. I knew nothing about Yerby himself, but knowing more about him makes him more interesting.

      Marcus Christian was someone I came on when I seriously began work on New Orleans history. The library at the University of New Orleans has his papers (lots of them) and his work was wide ranging. He was part of the Federal Writers’...

    • (pp. 142-147)

      When, as a teenager, I first met Estelle Lenoir Fontaine, Frances Parkinson Keyes’s heroine in the 1945 novel Crescent Carnival, I thought she was the most romantic, saddest heroine I had ever known. On rereading the book, I decided she had no gumption at all and just needed a good dose of courage. Still later, I decided that Estelle was undoubtedly passive-aggressive, totally dysfunctional as a parent, and deserved everything she got.

      Reading this book again is rather like visiting the home of old friends—you find the same flaws and the same good qualities, and if the flaws outweigh...

    • (pp. 148-151)

      During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries New Orleans was a big newspaper town—there is even a section of Camp Street between Lafayette Square and Poydras that used to be called newspaper row for the number of papers published there. Somehow all those different papers evolved into the one daily paper serving the city today. The Times-Picayune (denoting two original newspapers, the Times and Picayune,) until recently was also formerly known as the Times-Picayune States-Item, with the States-Item (two more names) as the Picayune’s afternoon paper.

      Prior to 1958, the Times-Picayune published an afternoon paper called the States, in...

    • (pp. 152-155)

      Any discussion of the good old days of New Orleans journalism would have to bring in the name of Roark Bradford. In the French Quarter of the 1920s he provided a measure of literary excitement in the city, and he and his wife, Mary Rose, were known as fun-loving party-givers extraordinaire.

      Oddly enough, Bradford will be forever associated with Christmas: first, for a character of that name he helped invent, and second, for a brief piece of fiction published just after his death and purporting to relate the true story of that annual holiday.

      He was born Roark Whitney Wickliffe...

    • (pp. 156-159)

      Jill jackson was a New Orleans native who began her career here and was the first female sportscaster in America. She was still a Hollywood gossip columnist into her nineties, and she boasted a namesake salad on the menu at Brennan’s—you just can’t get much more famous than that!

      On New Orleans airwaves in the mid-twentieth century, this blonde with a pageboy hairdo was a top local media personality. And everybody who rode a bus or streetcar read her entertainment column in Rider’s Digest, a pamphlet produced for transit riders by New Orleans Public Service, Inc. She was a...

    • (pp. 160-163)

      Patrons checking out books at the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library need never be bored. There, on the wall in front of them, stretches a giant mural, sixty-three feet long and ten feet high, a cartoon map of Louisiana with illustrations telling the history of the area, the culture of the region, the products and the wildlife and, indeed, the story of the state. The mural was a gift of the students and teachers at Dillard University. The lines of the mural are simple but the design work is deft and clever. There’s obviously a little genius...

    • (pp. 164-168)

      In a city like new orleans it shouldn’t seem strange that you might find yourself living in what was once the home of a famous writer. I am fortunate: that has happened to me twice.

      My husband and I had an apartment at 431 Royal Street in the French Quarter—right next door to Brennan’s Restaurant. (Brennan’s was a great neighbor. One Thanksgiving they filled up a casserole for me with oyster dressing: mine was a dismal, salty failure.) But 431 Royal was also the place where Tennessee Williams rented a room on an early New Orleans visit.

      My first...

    • (pp. 169-172)

      Sometimes a nickname is so apt, so perfect, that it fits like a glove: the way the “the Big Easy” has become synonymous with New Orleans.

      Tracking the term “the Big Easy” provides a happy, if rambling, stroll through New Orleans memory—the way following a walking club on Mardi Gras Day can give you a skewed city tour.

      Is it an old term?

      “‘The Big Easy’? That’s a modernism,” local historian Sally Reeves says—and certainly she is about as familiar with historic New Orleans as anyone alive is likely to get. The city’s founder, Bienville, can be credited...

    • (pp. 173-176)

      Just across broadway from the old Newcomb College campus, at 7221 Zimple Street, there long stood a vacant yellow building. It was only one room wide, maybe three rooms deep, and had a few weatherboards missing. There was little to hint that this was once a major literary mecca of the South.

      When the Basement Book Shop and its proprietor, Tess Crager, were in their prime, this was a literary force to be reckoned with. Tantalizing guest lists for autograph parties, memorable anecdotes regarding famous authors, almost as many stories as there were volumes on the shelves—the Basement Book...

    • (pp. 177-180)

      In new orleans we are getting a little blasé about the movies. Because of some smart tax laws, the state has a big-time film industry. Just last month, I could walk around the corner from my house and see Harrison Ford between takes in a science fiction production.

      It may seem odd, but including this movie essay in the literary section makes sense: it won an Academy Award in the Motion Picture Story category in 1951. Moviemaking is a thriving New Orleans industry today, but having a big-time motion picture made on the streets of New Orleans was an event...

    • (pp. 181-186)

      In late may of 2012, New Orleans was dealt a tremendous blow: the owners of our newspaper suddenly decided that we no longer needed a daily paper and could make do with a three-day-a-week one. The plan was to go into effect later in the year.

      As I write this in June of 2012, I cannot remember a day in my life when I did not have the Times-Picayune to read.

      When I was little, the paperboy left it at the end of the sidewalk—eventually my father had someone build a little wooden box on a post for it,...

  5. PART FOUR Music

    • (pp. 193-199)

      If I tried to think of something that was enjoyable, that always brought a smile to my face, and in which I had a continuing interest, there’s no doubt in my mind: it would be New Orleans jazz. Nineteenth-century New Orleans was the place jazz began. Why here? Well, I believe that New Orleans, in that period, was unique in providing just what musicians needed to bring forth that new music.

      New Orleans offered freedom for musicians to experiment with different sounds, inspiration directly from African drum rhythms, a music-and dance-loving culture, immediate access through numerous music publishers to American...

    • (pp. 200-204)

      “A lot of times people take the present for granted; they only think the past is important,” said Eleanor Ellis. “But Dick Allen knew it wasn’t going to go on forever.”

      In the 1960s, Ellis had recently graduated from Newcomb College when she went to work for Allen at Tulane University’s Hogan Jazz Archive at the university’s library.

      “You were supposed to go out and hear music,” remembered Ellis.

      “That was part of the job description, if there was one.

      “How could you ask for anything better?” she added.

      In that ideal job, Ellis worked as a research assistant in...

    • (pp. 205-208)

      Neighborhood dance halls used to dot the city, offering live music, no cover charge, and a nice choice for a night out on a budget. If I had a favorite dance hall, it would have been Munster’s—we used to go on Saturday nights, and Tony Fougerat (with his Kings of Poverty band) had a constantly changing program that kept you on your feet. It was a dingy place, truth be told, but what it lacked in décor it made up in attitude. We were not the only New Orleans couple who appreciated what a dance hall could offer.

      “At...

    • (pp. 209-213)

      Few other cities prize the ability to dance as much as New Orleans does—everyone, male or female, is expected to be able to take to the dance floor at the slightest provocation. It isn’t surprising that a number of Orleanians are good enough for the big leagues, that is, skilled enough to be professionals. Those dance pros include a number of New Orleans men.

      “Any boy we had in the department who finished the course of study became a professional,” Denise Oustalet remembered. From 1976 to 2000 she guided dance students through the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts...

    • (pp. 214-218)

      One of the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the destruction of Pontchartrain Park, a 1950s-era subdivision built near Lake Pontchartrain for New Orleans’s African American middle-class families. In 2003, I had met one of the residents, Elise Dunn Cain, when I was researching the B Sharp Music Club. She was a charming woman, proud of her family, and a true music lover. I was horrified when I realized the storm had destroyed her home and her neighborhood. And I wondered what had happened to the club.

      Fortunately, Ms. Cain herself is safe, and had moved to Maryland, near...

    • (pp. 219-223)

      I was an occasional Werlein’s customer. You could always find guitar strings, sheet music, and concert tickets. If you are going to have a musical city, you have to have supplies for the musicians. And having a one-stop shop for instruments, repairs, and even lessons was certainly important to New Orleans’s musical heritage. Werlein’s served a purpose, and, in many ways, the music store permeated all of our lives.

      The deep male voice over the phone intoned the familiar phrase: “Guitars, drums, organs, pianos—everything musical at Werlein’s.” Then, the caller would hear the time and the temperature.

      The voice...

    • (pp. 224-227)

      New orleans has been home to an amazing number of talented singers gracing opera stages around the world.

      Barbara Faulkner Bernard (1958), Lavergne Monette (1960), Shirley Verrett (1961), Natalia Rom (1979), Jeanne-Michelle Charbonnet (1990), and Elizabeth Futral (1991)—all of these opera singers have New Orleans ties, and all of them enhanced their singing careers through the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a program dating from 1954.

      However, back in 1952, a New Orleans tenor named Caruso tied for first place in what was then called the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air, which began in 1935.

      The winning Loyola...

    • (pp. 228-231)

      I knew nothing about the Preisser Sisters, a Ziegfeld Follies dance act from New Orleans, until I was working on my master’s thesis at the University of New Orleans. My topic was Harry Hopkins, famed for his Depression-era work with the Works Progress Administration. Hopkins spent World War I with the American Red Cross in New Orleans. I was surprised to learn that his Chicago-based son, David, had married Orleanian Cherry Preisser, one of the dancing sisters, and that their daughter, Dr. June Hopkins, was a historian. Dr. Hopkins was very helpful, and we corresponded.

      Then, while I was having...

    • (pp. 232-235)

      New orleans has long been a magnet to musicians.

      A Swede, a Briton, and a onetime New Yorker—Lars Edegran, Clive Wilson, and Bruce Raeburn—have all brought their considerable talents to New Orleans, and traditional jazz is the better for their efforts.

      “I did not come here first, you know, I went to Chicago,” explained musician Lars Edegran. The Swedish Edegran was a blues fan, and at a blues concert in Germany he went backstage, where he met a Chicago record store owner who offered him a job if he decided to go to America.

      “I saved up my...

    • (pp. 236-239)

      When you hear the gravelly recorded voice of Edmond “Doc” Souchon singing “If Ever I Cease to Love,” the Mardi Gras anthem, you can tell it comes from the heart, and you can readily believe that the happiest man in New Orleans on Carnival Day, 1949, was most likely that singer.

      Souchon’s daughter Dolly Ann was reigning that year as Queen of Carnival, and the foremost practitioner of the music he loved best was reigning as King of Zulu: Louis Armstrong. Life doesn’t get much better than that for a jazz fanatic who was willing to get up at dawn...

    • (pp. 240-243)

      There is something special about a piano bar. First, as music historian Jack Stewart notes, the piano really gets the patron’s attention. “The piano is the entertainment—they turn off the television.”

      New Orleans has always been a good town for piano bars (several are available today, including the revolving Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Hotel, where Stewart spent a recent evening). “Tuts” Washington at the Pontchartrain Hotel, “Cousin Joe” (Pleasant Joseph) at Poodle’s Patio—the piano entertainers of the past left their mark on New Orleans memories. In fact, if you want to track sites of jazz history, check...