For those of you who just happened upon this blog , I’m originally from New Orleans.
As often happens in the dead of winter, especially a miserable snowy winter like the one that seems to be wrapping up, I’m thinking of warmer climes, including my hometown.
Mardi Gras just passed, and while some are
slogging through the days of Lent, I thought I’d write about a nice autumn run I took through the less-visited parts of New Orleans.
Here is my route:
New York is the city that never sleeps, in theory, but New Orleans is quite sleepy around 7am.
The humidity generally lingers overnight, even as the weather cools.
If you’re lucky, you can choose a slightly less muggy day to do this run, and I’d recommend you do it as the sun is coming up, or earlier, given the lack of traffic and heat.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to run with a group of insane folks who call themselves the “5:20 club,” who begin their runs in City Park at that time of the morning.
offer the only real light you’ll get, but you’ll also avoid Vietnam-type heat if you finish by 7am.
I admire and empathize with New Orleans runners, who suffer this heat much longer than we do up North.
The upsides, perhaps,
are the complete lack of hills, and, as I’ve experienced, Abita Beer at the end of any organized race.
For this run, I was out with my stepsister, who does the majority of her running in Minneapolis, another incredible place to run, at
the Mississippi River’s other end – its beginning.
We set out from the French Quarter, and headed along Decatur Street and the bend of the river to the East.
moves you quickly past Cafe DuMonde’s beignets, Jackson Square, Central Grocery’s muffaletta shop, and stretches along the French Market, which is divided into two parts.
The first is the produce section, which has the usual suspects – delicious Creole tomatoes, along with some seasonal vegetables and fruits.
I remember my best friend’s father making trips to the French Market to get produce for his two restaurants.
There are lots of snack vendors and touristy areas where you can also get good New Orleans coffee pre-packaged, gumbo seasoning, and the like.
It’s a nice walk, and close to everything else.
The second part is where, as I kid, I hung around on the weekends, sorting through the Flea Market.
The usual doodads were there, things you might see at an average New York City street fair in the summer and fall,
art vendors – these things were once entirely invisible to me.
At the time, I was more interested in the martial arts selection – nunchucks, throwing starts, baseball cards, oddities, skeletons in jars.
As my friend likes to say, I was afflicted with a disease known as “boy.”
I’m sure my mother did not love the items I toted home, but with a sons whose
best friend grew up in the French Quarter, she’s probably lucky that I didn’t bring home any worse.
Running past the vendors setting up the Flea Market at 7am on a Saturday morning brought all of that back, along with the funky smells of the night before wafting in the air.
At the spot where the French Quarter ends, Decatur hits Elysian Fields and Esplanade Avenue, both street names whose significance never entered my mind until years later, as I was strolling in Paris.
Esplanade would take you directly to City Park in a few miles (perhaps 2-3 miles, max), and Elysian Fields would take you all the way to the Lakefront, if you wanted to do something a bit longer.
Mostly, My stepsister and I wanted to look at old houses and see what had been going on in neighborhoods quite devastated by
The neighborhoods close to the French Quarter are the Marigny, Bywater, Treme, St. Roch, and St. Claude.
You’ll see that we touched through most of these areas.
The Bywater has seen probably the most gentrification, modernizing century-old shotgun houses and restoring gorgeous old facades.
(The Preservation Resource Center has a great Shotgun House event coming up soon.
Check it out here.)
We smelled PJ’s coffee beans roasting in their Riverfront roasting warehouse and
saw preparations being made for the Mirliton Festival to be held later that day (pronounced “Meh-lih-than,” in case you want to know).
It’s a fast run, scooting past the new NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts), brightly painted shutters, quiet side streets, and
you soon reach the turn onto Poland Avenue, where things turn industrial rather quickly.
Heading North, you will see small bridges along the Port of New Orleans that would take you into the Lower Ninth Ward, made famous by media outlets after Katrina’s devastation.
Brad Pitt and his Make it Right Foundation established a Musicians’ Village, and Habitat for Humanity and a zillion other organizations
send high school kids and adults to New Orleans to do rehabilitation work.
This work clearly
is still necessary.
Poland Avenue is not that exciting, generally,
and probably busier a street than you’d want to stay on for long, so hitting the side streets in St. Claude would be advised.
You’ll see a great deal of homes still in disrepair.
This is much better done by bicycle or on foot.
The drive-by will not give you enough time to process, though walking through might get boring in a hurry.
Another reason I love running.
The streets in St. Claude and reflect the rich Catholic history of New Orleans, named after the various families who lived in the area, such as the Almonasters.
Here are modest homes and a tight knit community that was in many ways torn apart by Katrina.
I have lived away for so long that I can’t speak in enough detail or with enough expertise, but the sunny morning we ran through painted a clear picture of things coming back, but very slowly.
We headed across a little bridge, over train tracks dividing St. Claude from St. Roch, making our way toward the Marigny, its windy streets all bent like a glassblower working in Venice, conforming to the River’s turn.
These homes get larger and more detailed as you approach Esplanade from the East.
Hitting Esplanade, we wanted to tack on some additional miles, which took us North toward City Park.
Bed and breakfasts line the street, and heading through Treme, an area which was not all that nice during my childhood,
we could see how the gentrification and restoration of majestic homes has taken root.
Historic Preservation is alive and well in New Orleans – one of the things the city government seems to be doing well is helping via tax credits to get homeowners and investors to restore and improve dilapidated homes.
Recently, I’ve gotten involved with the Preservation Resource Council of New Orleans, a terrific organization
that works to keep New Orleans’s special character from being lost.
Quite an organization.
Eventually, my stepsister gave up and headed back to the hotel, while I soaked in a few more side streets.
I finished with a sprint down Royal Street, which in an hour or two would be bustling with coffee and cocktail-drinking tourists looking at art.
A strong finish to a 10-miler always feels great!
As ever, I would encourage you to mix your tourism with some running, and certainly to combine that with a trip to New Orleans!!
I will always feel lucky to have been raised in a city with its own language of music, food and culture – a distillation of the energy and creativity on display in my home of
New York City.