The Great New Orleans Adventure, Day Five

The Arcadian bookstore. This does not begin to capture the horror.
The Arcadian bookstore. This does not begin to capture the horror.

We got off to a leisurely start, sleeping in until nearly 10. The idea of going out for breakfast yet again made me cringe; I don’t normally eat breakfast because my stomach wakes up sometime around 11. So I had the bright idea of running over to the corner market and getting juice and granola bars, which I thought I could just about bear to face. It turned out to be a really good idea, and we snacked our way across the French Quarter to the first of the bookstores on my list.

The French Quarter’s new and used bookstores are an interesting mix of eclectic and mundane, but they all have such character it’s hard to regret visiting them, even if you don’t buy anything. Unfortunately, we hit a snag almost immediately. Dauphine Street Books was closed–not just closed, but with a little handwritten yellow sign saying it wouldn’t re-open until October 20. We’d passed it just the previous night, and it had been open then (it has the longest hours of any of the shops, I think), and we both felt really stupid at not having stopped in earlier. Me, especially, because there was a chance this was the store that had inspired my new series The Last Oracle, and I wanted to take pictures of it. We trudged away, hoping I was wrong.

The crates are full of books in multiple layers, and there are multiple crates. "Multiple" is a good word for this place.
The crates are full of books in multiple layers, and there are multiple crates. “Multiple” is a good word for this place.

And I was. The store I wanted is Arcadian Books & Art Prints, and I assure you that while I might have forgotten the name, there is no way I could have forgotten the place. Books are piled on other books and stacked on shelves in ways that ensure you can’t see more than a fraction of the titles. They stretch high above the reach of the casual shopper (these buildings have extremely high ceilings) and are packed into plastic flats originally intended to hold milk jugs. It is impossible for more than one person to pass along the “aisles” between the bookcases, all of which stand at odd angles to each other. It is a store that makes the inner librarian in all of us scream, and then run for a dolly to start rearranging the poor books.

And yet it’s organized. Once you look past the seeming disorder, you see that books on a particular subject are all grouped together. Books by an author are grouped within the subject categories. I found entire trilogies stacked neatly in one place, waiting to be purchased. If you’re willing to shift books, and have an hour or more handy, Arcadian is a real treasure trove. I found three books, none of which I’d gone in looking for. The theory behind The Last Oracle is that disorder increases the possibility of finding what you want when you’re not looking for it; nobody knows what’s there, therefore anything could be there. I have no idea what the owner of this store has in mind, keeping the store in this condition, but it’s worth noticing that it’s been there for at least the five years since the first time I went to New Orleans. Somehow, it’s staying alive. Maybe it really is magic.

A bridge of books over the other books. The fan isn't supported by anything but wishful thinking.
A bridge of books over the other books. The fan isn’t supported by anything but wishful thinking.

We hit Faulkner House Books next. It’s not a used book store, specializing in the classics and contemporary literary fiction, mostly high-end limited edition stuff. The real draw is it’s where William Faulkner lived and wrote when he was in New Orleans at the beginning of his career. I almost bought Slaughterhouse-Five, mainly because I was thinking about Vonnegut after the WWII museum, but it was one of those fairly expensive hardcover editions and I just wanted something sloppy. Total books purchased there: none. Total in the journey so far: three.

Believe it or not, there's a path there.
Believe it or not, there’s a path there.

After this, we went to lunch with an old friend and I had a catfish po’boy that made me happy to be a fish-eating mammal. For what’s really a garbage fish, catfish is incredibly delicious. We had a brief tussle over who would pay and I lost.

Returning to the quest, we headed for Librairie Book Shop on Chartres St. This is a more typical bookstore, like one you might see anywhere, but it’s in one of the narrow little buildings off Chartres and that gives it charm. I dithered over several books, but ended up buying only one. Curse you, baggage weight limit! We went on to another store mapped out on my phone, but it turned out to just be a magick shoppe with a row of occult books, and not very interesting ones. That cost us about twenty minutes, but I did get to listen to one of the shopkeepers lecture a ten-year-old girl on why they don’t do readings for minors. Poor kid.

We were starting to come up against our five o’clock closing time (many shops in the French Quarter close at 5) and had to hurry, because Beckham’s Books is all the way at the other end of the French Quarter from the magick shoppe. It was about 3:30 p.m., and the place was starting to fill up with weekend partiers crowding the sidewalks and stepping out in front of traffic. We were on the wrong side of Decatur and it was hot and I was sweaty and tired. But I remembered getting a lot of books from Beckham’s the last time I was here, so I didn’t want to miss it. Beckham’s is probably the largest of the French Quarter stores (Crescent City may be larger, but they’re on the wrong side of Canal St. so we didn’t go there) and is laid out like a proper bookstore, with two floors and maps to each one. It even has a store cat. I find Beckham’s comforting.

Unfortunately, my bookfinding mojo was turned off today, and I only found one book I wanted to take home. There were a lot of old favorites on the shelves, but I already owned all of them. Including Mollie Hunter’s The Third Eye, which I went to a great deal of trouble to find and probably paid too much for, just sitting on the YA shelf. The Plot Whisperer picked up some books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a new-to-him author that looked interesting. So it wasn’t a total loss, and yes, I couldn’t have got all the books home if I’d found them, but still. Total purchases for the trip: seven, plus a free book on yoga pressed on us by someone on Bourbon St. hawking hats for a good cause. This is why we don’t go down Bourbon St.

We finished up the day with an early dinner at the House of Blues–probably too early for me, as I was still full of catfish. And the key lime pie wasn’t nearly as perfect as we remembered. But they always do a good meal, and the music is lovely. On the way home I had my second brilliant idea, which was to stop at the market and buy juice and granola bars enough for breakfasts for the rest of our stay. Now we can sleep in as long as we like!

Tomorrow, the streetcar (probably) and the Garden District.

The Great New Orleans Adventure, Day One

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This house is just a couple of streets over from our hotel. There are several of these much-decorated houses throughout the French Quarter.

This year is my 25th wedding anniversary, which stuns me. To celebrate, my husband and I are in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, for a week. The last time we were both here, it was June, which is a crazy time to go, and our anniversary is actually two days after Christmas, so we settled on October as a good not-too-hot time of year. It’s beautiful here, actually, particularly when it gets a little overcast and the breeze picks up.

Getting to our hotel was not at all a given. Our taxi driver was going 80 on the freeway, in and out of traffic, and his little minivan (note: most of the taxis serving the airport are minivans) had no working seatbelts. So I pretended we were at Disneyworld and the driver was just a disgruntled dwarf working the Mine Cart ride. He did get us there in one piece, deposited us right at the door of the Inn on St. Ann. The Inn on St. Ann is near the edge of the French Quarter, within spitting distance of Louis Armstrong Park (which has a big ol’ arch over the entrance) and is in two parts: the Inn, and the Marie Laveau Annex. We’re staying in the Annex.

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The view from the door into our living area. There’s a refrigerator in the cupboard where I store Coca-Cola, one of Nature’s essentials when you’re out walking all day.

Unfortunately, the Inn was locked up tight. Ringing the bell did nothing. The instructions said to go to their sister hotel, the Inn on St. Peter, if no one answered. So we picked up our bags and, after a short wrong turn, ended up at St. Peter, where they told us we were in the wrong place and of course there was someone at St. Ann. We trekked back in the company of a lovely Sherpa assistant, and they got us straightened right out.

The garden tub. This was definitely not part of the original slave quarters, or whatever this building used to be.
The garden tub. This was definitely not part of the original slave quarters, or whatever this building used to be.

Our room is up two flights of stairs, but it’s worth it. Bedroom, marble-floored bathroom, and a living area…just what I need for unwinding after a day of sightseeing. (I’m also supposed to be working on this vacation, so the computer came along.) There is a robust air conditioner right above the couch, so it’s downright chilly–very welcome after the heat of the day. It’s not terribly hot, but I was dressed for the weather in Salt Lake City and that was just a little too warm for trekking back and forth, dragging my little wheeled suitcase, carry-on bag, and purse. I worked up a sweat and was extremely grateful for the air conditioner.

We made a quick expedition to the corner market, which also sells sandwiches and po’boys, to get some Coke (ah, sweet elixir of life!) and scope out the neighborhood. The last time we were here, for the Plot Whisperer’s business conference, we stayed at the Marriott, which is on the other side of the French Quarter, and we rarely got out this way. St. Ann (the street the hotel is on, naturally) is home to a lot of bars, and it wasn’t until we went out a second time, for dinner, that we got far enough to find restaurants. You have to go most of the way toward Jackson Square, past Bourbon Street, to get a place to eat. We chose Pere Antoine’s mainly because we were hungry and it was the first non-Chinese restaurant we came to. (Of course there are Chinese restaurants in the French Quarter. There are Chinese restaurants on Mars.)

The bedroom. We've got a tangle of wires behind the headboard because we are hopelessly attached to our electronics.
The bedroom. We’ve got a tangle of wires behind the headboard because we are hopelessly attached to our electronics.

One of the things I observed on my last trip was that it’s impossible to find a truly bad meal in the French Quarter. This time I intend to see if that’s true. With Pere Antoine’s, it certainly was. I ordered red beans and rice with sausage–stick to the basics, I say–and the first bite nearly killed me, it was so good. I love how it’s served with the rice on the side so you can sop up the beans with as much or as little as you want. And the flavor…just the right amount of burn. The sausage might as well have been lagniappe–a charming custom of giving some little thing for free on top of your purchase. The Plot Whisperer, who is a creature of habit, ordered an omelet. But it came with the cousins of the sausage I had, and he said it was incredible–ten times as good as a regular omelet.

Fat and happy, we rolled out of Pere Antoine’s and decided we might as well go as far as the Café du Monde, though when we got there, we were too full for beignets–delicious puffy pastries dunked in about a gallon of powdered sugar. So we walked back, passing the cathedral and the buildings flanking it, the Cabildo and the Presbytere, both of whose facades are under construction. Fortunately, the museums themselves are open, so we’ll be going back. It was past twilight at this point, but the Tarot readers and palmists and Reiki experts were still at it around Jackson Square. I had to wonder how the palm reader could manage her craft in the near-dark, but she seemed content to simply enjoy the quiet evening.

We returned to our room, tired and ready to call it a day even though it wasn’t much past 8 local time. Tomorrow we have a cemetery tour scheduled, and maybe a few more museums. Right now, I’m in the relaxed state I think most visitors to the French Quarter end up in, relaxed and content even if I’m not in a beignet coma. That day will come.