Day 9: Of Books and Birds

Friday, 16 April 2004
New Orleans

After our morning ritual of café au lait and beignet, (where we had a star sighting and saw George Engel—Georgia Engel??) waiting in the takeout line) we took a quick tour through the Beauregard-Keyes House, pretty much the last historic home that I hadn’t yet visited in the Quarter. The main home (the older building with the impressive façade) was interesting; the back portion built and lived in by author Frances Parkinson Keyes, a popular (but now forgotten) author, was less so. The house was built in 1826. Confederate General P.T. Beauregard lived there for only 18 months following the war.

Next, we drove over to the Garden District to my favorite book store, Octavia Books. This store is smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It’s bright, all in light wood and windows, and has a tiny courtyard with a clever metal waterfall the full height of one wall—a perfect place for reading. The size of the shop is not too big and not too small, with an interesting and eclectic selection. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable, the music playing in the store sets a nice mood, without being canned or distracting, and when I’m there I always find an armful of great books to read, many of them surprises that I’d never heard of. In short, my ideal neighborhood book store. This time, I went with a gift certificate in hand which I had no trouble spending.

Next stop—another meal! We headed past Tulane University to Camellia Grill for its fine diner experience and tasty food of shiny hamburgers, fries and the BEST pecan pie in town. This place has atmosphere to spare. All seating is at the counter, allowing you a front row seat on the action; the waiters and fry cooks have a patter and routine that beats any show in town.

Afterward, we went over to Audubon Park to visit one of my favorite destinations, a place I call Bird Island, located in the middle of the park. This is a great city park, with many beautiful live oak trees, a path for biking and walking, and this great island that’s home to hundreds of birds. Ibis, snowy egret, black-crowned night heron, great blue heron, great egret, snow geese, wood ducks, and mallard. This is a beehive of activity, a veritable avian airport on a Thanksgiving weekend, with birds flying in and out of the trees, and a constant sound of birds cooing, squawking, clucking, flapping and chirping.

Two years ago when we were here in May, the nests were filled with squawking youngsters, beaks in the air. Parents were flying in and out, feeding their hungry young. This time, the activity on the island involved nest building, in preparation for laying the eggs that will hatch in May. That afternoon, we watched blue herons, egrets and black-crowned night herons fly into the trees with sticks and twigs in their beaks, building their nests. I came prepared with a couple of loaves of bread to feed the ducks and hundreds of turtles, wading just below the surface like round, mossy submarines.

We took a friend’s recommendation to eat dinner at Jacques-Imo’s Café in the Carrollton neighborhood, and nearby where we’d spent the day. The two hour wait was definitely worth it. This is a funky restaurant, oozing character. Locals and tourists were packed tight in the place known for its southern soul food, and in particular the fried chicken. I had a dish humorously called “Godzilla Meets Fried Green Tomatoes.” Godzilla was a stuffed soft shell crab, so of course I couldn’t pass it up. It was out of this world!


2 thoughts on “Day 9: Of Books and Birds

  1. Trip sounds great–and sooofood-filling. And I’m just dying for a decent bagel. Makes me want to trash my life, cash in my IRA and spend the rest of my days eating down younder. Send me a map.

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