THE FRENCH QUARTER - NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
The visitor will find in the French Quarter a strange and fascinating jumble of antique shops, flop houses, tearooms, wealthy homes, bars, art studios, night clubs, grocery stores, beautifully furnished apartments, and dilapidated flats. And he will meet débutantes, artists, gamblers, drunks, streetwalkers, icemen, sailors, bank presidents, and beggars. The Vieux Carré is definitely the place in New Orleans where people go to live their own lives.
—New Orleans City Guide (WPA, 1938)
The sun rises as a man wearing a crooked pirate hat staggers and stumbles down Bourbon, still drunk from the night before. The street-cleaning trucks are like big woolly mammoths criss-crossing the narrow streets, spraying water, wiping the slimy, smelly muck off the pavement. Fresh fruit and seafood is brought in via hand trucks and shoulders. Many take a break and a puff leaning against brightly colored walls before starting a day at work.
The French Quarter of New Orleans has not slept, but begins its daily cycle once again. Throughout the day, the streets will see dog walkers, boozy babes, musicians, revelers, conventioneers, gutter punks, cops, maids, and dandies. There is constant movement by foot, car, bike, and mule. Beignets are powdered and oysters are shucked. Exclamations are shouted and secret corners are found. The haunting notes of the calliope soar in from the water’s edge.
At first glance, one might assume that The Quarter is frozen at a point in history for the enjoyment of tourists. It only takes a couple of blocks to experience otherwise. There is a daily rhythm, but the magical part of The Quarter is that it has a part for you to play. It requires you add to the life and times of this place and to keep it moving forward.
I work in The Quarter digitizing historic documents and photos. Before, after, and during these hours I roam the streets finding the special people who add to the impressive timeline. I am inspired by August Sander and Atget, Katy Grannan, Joan Didion, and more. I am fueled by the power of this place and plenty of iced cafés au lait.
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Tammy Mercure is a State Guide to Tennessee and co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. A photographer living in New Orleans, Louisiana she enjoys photographing just about any event that includes loud noises and fast moving things. She was recently named one of the “100 under 100: The New Superstars of Southern Art” by Oxford American magazine. Follow her on Tumblr or on her website, TammyMercure.com.